Thursday, August 10, 2006

A Heretic's Guide to Eternity

I have another teaser/trailer for you all. As with Brian McLaren's book, The Secret Message of Jesus, I've again been asked to review an advance copy of another book, this time one entitled A Heretic's Guide to Eternity by Spencer Burke, the creator of, one of my favorite emergent websites. In this book Spencer questions our traditional notions of grace and salvation, proposing the heretical possibility that salvation might be an "opt out" deal rather than an "opt in". (As Spencer said to me at at conference I met him at once, "I'm a universalist that believes in Hell.")

I think this is an incredibly important issue for Christians to wrestle with, even if one doesn't come to a full agreement with Spencer's position. However, my prediction is that most Christians, even those within the emerging church movement, will likely have too much to lose to risk showing support for - or even a mild interest in - Spencer's ideas. Universalism (of any variety) is still a dangerous (and yes, heretical) idea in most conservative Christian circles. As a minister, to "come out" as a universalist will 1) get you fired; 2) cause people to leave your church; 3) lose a big chunk of your missionary support; 4) get your in-laws to start praying for you to recover your lost faith; 5) keep you from being taken seriously or shown much respect within evangelical circles ever again. In short you will be written off as a heretic, end of story.

Fortunately for Spencer, he has already largely disentangled himself from insitutional Christianity and the evangelical establishment over the past decade or so, and will probably not sweat it too much if he doesn't get a positive review in Christianity Today. Indeed, a good chunk of the book seems to be not just about universalism, but also about the stifling effect of institutionalized religion on true spirituality. At any rate, I fully expect this book to be mostly panned by evangelical (and even emergent) critics. I just hope that at least a few bloggers will have the balls to admit that they too wrestle with the questions of who is actually saved or not and why, and that they sometimes hope/wonder that God's grace might in fact be much wider than we're often led to believe.

Anyhow, I've just begun reading the book, so I'll post a real review of it here in a week or two once I'm all the way through. (I'm a pretty slow reader.) Stay tuned!

1 comment:

spencer said...


Great insights, I do sometimes feel alone out on the edge. Your points remind me of the days when I reported to "The Man" in the religious system. I do think many of the "big ideas" of the book are the same questions many people on the street are engaging - so I hope the church will take the opportunity to dialogue with-in and outside the wall of the "sanctuary"...

Thanks for taking the time to read the book for yourself and then post your thoughts, I look forward to your insights...