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!


posted by Mike Clawson at 1:20 PM | Permalink |


At 8/11/2006 08:23:00 AM, Blogger dan h.

Didn't I see this post on the cggc site? You mean I'm not the only one to mistakenly put a post on the wrong site? :) (except I've done it multiple times).

Anyway, you're probably already aware, but Scot McKnight had quite a bit if dialogue about this book. Spencer even chimed in. But you should read the book first. :) Just in case, here are the links to Scot's: Heretic's Guide To Eternity 1, Heretic's Guide To Eternity 2, Heretic's Guide To Eternity 3, and Heretic's Guide To Eternity 4.

Enjoy; and I look forward to hearing your take.


At 8/12/2006 01:25:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Hey Dan,

I did put it up on the CGGC site but then I noticed that Brian had just put his post up a few hours before, and I didn't want to do two posts so close together. The content comes so infrequently on that site that I thought it would be better to space them out. Let Brian's post have it's day in the sun.

I've seen the dialogue over at Scot's blog. I think I agree with most of his criticisms, however, I think the questions are still worth asking. And I know Spencer, I've met him on several occasions and spoken with him on the phone a few times, and interacted with him over at the Ooze. And the truth is that Spencer is kind of a sloppy thinker. He asks good questions, and he makes excellent use of metaphors, but he doesn't do well at defining his terms or applying a lot of philosophical or biblical rigor to his ideas. I'm fully expecting that I'll like some of the answers in Spencer's book, but not how he arrived at them. And I'm fully expecting that I'll dislike some of his answers, but still really value the questions they were born out of.

But I'll let you know for sure after I've finished the book. :)



At 8/14/2006 12:48:00 AM, Blogger spencer


I look forward to your thoughts as well. I do think this is a "big picture" book and not a systematic theology for grace. The questions and stories should prove to be rich soil for the conversation, I just can predict what type of plants will grow... I think you will like the addition that Barry Taylor (coauthor) brings to the book (PhD Fuller) and the depth the Bibliography offers.


At 8/17/2006 04:55:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Hey Spencer!

Thanks for visiting my blog. I'll help get the word out about your (and Barry's) book as best I can. Oh, and I hope you know that I meant the word "sloppy" in the best way possible (it's kind of like "ooze-y"). ;)




At 8/22/2006 09:36:00 PM, Blogger Adam

Just read the book as well. I agree with you about the value in it. I actually probably agree with him concerning universalism (at least more than I disagree) but I found that distracting compared to what I thought was a more intriguing purpose of the book. That purpose being, the church must change, how will that work itself out with us, etc.

Anyways, just a thought. I've been trying to find others reviewing the book while I am doing that as well.


At 8/23/2006 09:29:00 PM, Blogger Scot McKnight

I think you are right: Spencer asks some important questions that the current generation wants answers for.

What I think we need is very, very careful thinking if there is any chance of exploring this issue (universalism, eg) with respectable integrity.

I look forward to your review.


At 8/26/2006 07:35:00 AM, Blogger Tripp Hudgins

Hey there.

I just received word from Amazon that the book is on its' way.


At 8/27/2006 10:30:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Hey Scot,

Thanks for visiting my blog. I try to keep up on yours as often as I can as well. I agree that we need careful thinking on the issue of universalism, especially if we actually hope to persuade anyone.

Personally I didn't find Spencer's view (on the universalism issue) to be all that heretical. In fact, I wouldn't exactly even call it "universalism". It seems more like just extreme inclusivism. What do you think?

And are there any other thinkers out there that you'd recommend that are writing similar ideas as Spencer's but maybe with a little more academic rigor? I'd be interested to read a more indepth, biblically based treatment of the topic. (I thought McLaren's book, "The Last Word", was a good start along these lines, but really just raised the questions and didn't provide much in the way of answers.)




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