“At this point in my life, I am happy to live with uncertainty and in precarious freedom, rather than hunker down in the false security of institutions…”
So says Spence Burke in the intro to “A Heretic’s Guide To Eternity.”
This book makes it clear that being called a heretic by organized religion is not a bad thing. Most reformers, many scientists, and pretty much anyone who doesn’t let the “church” do their thinking for them, have been given that moniker.
Bono, of U2, said “I don’t see Jesus Christ as being in any religion. Religion is the Temple after God has left it.”
Chapter one elaborates on this theme that no religion, including Christianity, has dibs on Jesus. I know in the institutions I’ve been a part of, we would never of said we “owned” Jesus, but that was pretty much the mind set. We then proceeded to isolate ourselves with “christian” TV, music, magazines, schools, businesses, and any other way we could find to keep away from “them.” (Except, of course, when we were engaged in the business of “converting” them.)
One of the many subjects in Chapter two, “Grace Beyond Religion,” is the “age of accountability.” This is another of those widely believed church doctrines that is nowhere to be found in the scripture. But “Somehow the idea of a baby going to hell just doesn’t sit well with most people.” Fortunately, “Spirituality has been separated from religion in profound ways today, and frankly, I’m not sure there is any going back to religion anymore…”
“AHGTE” also includes a brief history of religion, and a section on the inquisitions.
It’s a good thing we don’t torture so-called heretics anymore, but honestly, I know many who I believe would if they could. The self-righteousness, hatred, and fear of ideas outside of their narrow world-view is certainly present. Of course, many who call themselves Christian do, actually, advocate for the death of their enemies. This requires a great perversion of the scripture, and willful ignorance of Jesus’ teachings, but that’s never stopped anyone.
There’s some discussion in Chapter 4 of how the church has gotten in such a mess. More church history, with dates and events. There’s some talk of how “indulgences” were big business for the church in the Middle Ages. Of course, money has always been a big part of organized religion. Personally, I’m all for removing the tax exempt status from churches. If people no longer have their giving government subsidized, it will be interesting to see how they continue to give. One of the great quotes from this chapter is
“People are not leaving churches because they’ve ended their spiritual journey or have abandoned their commitment to the teachings of Jesus. Nor are they trying to escape life or responsibility. On the contrary, people are leaving the church because they want to embrace something more than abstract ideas and religious dogma.” [Emphasis mine]
Chapter five is about how religion actually inhibits the flow of God’s grace into the world. “Time and time again, institutions seem to use their religious views as a pretext for an aggressive and adversarial posture against the wider culture.” “Christians” are known for their anger, protests, boycotts, and screaming. Jesus said they would know us by our love. We really do need a “separation of church and hate.” The kind of people who see Constantine as a hero are likely to still want to force the christian religion on others by legal means. Of all the things people take litterally, “Love your enemies” doesn’t seem to be one of them.
Later, the book gets into the focus on the end of the world, that many Christians seem to have, rather than focus on the life God has for us here and now. Like other authors, Burke touches on how the book of Revelation is the “revelation of Jesus Christ,” and not a “literal ‘revelation’ of the end of the world.
“To make salvation simply about what happens when we die is to make it less than it is meant to be.” “A hell-obsessed theology of salvation makes for self-centered humans who actually negate the role and function of grace by striving to corral people into heaven.”
Also, like a number of others, Mr. Burke suggests the possibility that grace may be an “opt-out” situation, rather than an “opt-in.”
There are ideas about “love not the world” vs “God so loved the world.” Thoughts on evangelism, discipleship, salvation, heresy as a way of life, and the journey as the destination. There’s also a good amount on what Spencer calls “mystical responsibility.”
You’ll find much to “chew on” in these pages. If you’re on that ever-important journey out of religion, this should be another companion along the way. There are probably books I consider more important to start with (Velvet Elvis, He Loves Me, A New Kind of Christianity, Jesus Unplugged). If you’ve already read those, then definitely read this. Or, start with this, and then read those. I’ve found each to be life-changing in some way. Hopefully, you will, too.
Buy The Book HERE
Here are a couple of other very short reviews:
“Yes, yes, YES! Buy this book! Breath of fresh air doesn’t even begin to say it…”
(www.christianbookshops.org, November 2006)
“Newsflash! Luther’s church at Wittenberg has a back door! Spencer Burke has found it and removed it from its’ hinges. The old church has now been flooded with sorely needed illumination and a refreshing, life-giving breeze. Yet, there’s more. The door Burke has blown through is a passageway that leads us outside, beyond the building, to the bountiverse, a new dimension for living Christian spirituality that is transforming, rejuvenating and ripe for living…now. Read this book! Live this life! Trust me. This isn’t just a great book. It’s a sincere, deep, heartfelt invitation to journey beyond wherever you’re at, embracing the God of More. Thank you Spencer!”
And, of course, some quotes from the book.
If we adopt some misconception as absolute truth, it will actually prevent us from ever truly reaching the truth. Even when truth come knocking, we will not recognize it. Sometimes what we think we know becomes an obstacle to the truth.
“Churches assume their role is about eternity when in fact eternity is God’s business. The landowner in Jesus’ story [Matthew 13:24-30] is very clear that his workers cannot separate the wheat from the weeds, for they might pull up perfectly good wheat in their zeal to remove the wayward weeds. When explaining this story to his followers, Jesus makes it clear that the task of determining who is in or out is not the responsibility of humans, no matter how qualified they believe they are. I would likewise argue that the church should not be so focused on eternity. The church’s task is to help people follow Jesus here on earth.”
Rather than binding and gagging grace behind the walls of Christianity and making access to it conditional on the acceptance of culturally created ideas, I believe we need to present the message of Jesus outside of brand Christianity.
Maybe the greatest gift the Christian religion can offer the world right now is to remove itself from the battle for God.
— Spencer Burke
Buy the book HERE.
For more recommended reading,