Item description for A Heretic's Guide to Eternity by Spencer Burke...
Distinguishing between religion and spirituality, Burke offers what he calls a new way of looking at God, one centered on the idea of grace. He emphasizes a God who is looking to save the world, not a God who seems more intent on condemning certain practices . . . . For Burke, God is to be questioned, not simply obeyed. His challenging thesis will appeal to many people today who have given up on organized religion but still seek some connection to spirituality.
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Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 9.1" Width: 6.2" Height: 1.2" Weight: 1 lbs.
Release Date Sep 30, 2006
Publisher John Wiley And Sons
ISBN 0787983594 ISBN13 9780787983598
Availability 0 units.
More About Spencer Burke
During the last 22 years of ministry, Spencer Burke has explored his passion for arts, technology, and the church. Spencer now serves at both THEOOZE and at his church, ROCKharbor, in Costa Mesa, California. As creator and sustainer of THEOOZE, Spencer has the opportunity to merge all of his passions together into one organization as he strives to understand what being a real and authentic follower of Jesus means in our world. ROCKharbor gives him the privilege to serve on the elder board, the speaking team, and---as strategic planner---facilitator and counselor to the staff.
Spencer Burke has published or released items in the following series...
Reviews - What do customers think about A Heretic's Guide to Eternity?
Stiring the pot of religion Feb 28, 2007
I have a friend who likes to "stir the pot". If there is a controversial side to an issue, he'll take it. If there are questions to be asked or alternate points of view to consider, he'll ask them and find them. He's something of an instigator, though to those he's questioning or instigating he's seen as more of a troublemaker. I'm not sure why he can't "just let things be". I don't know why he keeps upsetting the apple cart, maybe it is his personality, his disposition, or his spiritual gift. Spencer Burke and Barry Taylor do much the same in A Heretic's Guide to Eternity. The work is keen on instigation and thus, for those in Religious power-centers, full of troublemaking heresies. Burke and Taylor, though it seems that Burke's voice is dominant - either by the convention of writing or in actual fact, begin by setting the cultural and philosophical stage. The Enlightenment brought about the age of science and reason. It also ushered in the rise of secularism whereby religion, spirituality, and mystery were vanquished to the realm of private or non-existent. "Secularism's partner, technology, pitched the assurance of a better future and the guarantee of unending progress" (xix). However, it is clear that this dream has ended. In recent years there has been a marked rise of interest in things spiritual or mysterious. "God is coming back into the picture in new and different ways" (xxiii). It appears that the institutions that held sway in the modern era are either in decline or irrelevant to our current cultural situation. "As with government, many people no longer count on religion to deliver on its promises and provide meaning and motivation" (xxii). Note: to this reviewer it is worth noting that Burke's and Taylor's cultural analysis is not dissimilar from a myriad of books, websites, and sermons. In a word, they've said nothing new. It would seem that they have two paths they could take. On the one hand, they could suggest "X" (insert your favorite number here) ways of reinvigorating religion. On the other, they could envision a path beyond religion all together. They chose the second and spend the remainder of the book explaining why. "Spirituality in the twenty-first century is not etched in stone but fashioned out of the fabrics of our lives in new and ever-changing permutations. This is the focus and hope of this book" (xxiv). In many ways, the book is an amalgam of thoughts arranged more or less in a readable order. Stylistically it is not unlike the remixed spirituality that the authors are advocating. In many ways reading A Heretic's Guide is like reading a collection of blog posts around a general theme of remixed spirituality visa-a-vi tired old-time religion. In fact, it seems that Burke and Taylor have never met a provocative spiritual idea that they didn't like. The reading experience was similar to reading a RSS (Really Simple Syndication) aggregator of blog posts and news feeds. As to an assessment of the dichotomy played out in contrasting religion vs. spirituality, I must admit that I left the book feeling less than convinced. I believe they are essentially correct in their diagnosis of religions shortcomings in our global information age. The democratization of information and proliferation of technology has forever changed the fabric of our world. We most certainly need a new vision for what it means to be a person and a people of faith. A Heretic's Guide may provide stepping stones for that new vision, it may be the first glimmers of light before the dawn of a new day, but it does not go far enough. Mind you, I do not think the authors intend that it does. I suspect they are well aware of emergent nature of the things they are presenting. But the shortcoming I do see is that religion becomes something of a straw-man to get knocked down by ambiguous and all-pervasive "spirituality". But what happens when a group of people chose to live out a particular spirituality together? At what point does a corporate spirituality - organized and practiced in a local community - become "religion"? Obviously religion as it has been known has changed and will continue to do so. And I'm not advocating for tinkering with our religion to make it more relevant or palpable to a disinterested public. But to create such a polemic between religion and spirituality seems to do disservice to both. In summary, I believe that Heretic's is an intentionally provocative book and, for those who can stomach such agitation, it will probably serve as a helpful resource. But its helpfulness is mostly confined to deconstruction rather than reconstruction for a future faith.
Good ideas, not so great presentation Oct 3, 2006
I have to confess that this book took me by surprise. All the buzz that I had heard about it focused on Spencer Burke's supposed "universalism" and that's what I expected the book would mostly be about. But, as it turns out, that discussion is really only a very minor part of the whole book. Instead, the bulk of the book is about why Spencer thinks institutional religion's time is past, and how we need to move beyond religion towards spirituality. While I didn't agree with everything Spencer had to say, I think he did raise some good questions for conversation.
One of the biggest issues raised in A Heretic's Guide is the authors' dichotomy between religion vs. spirituality. Right away (and this is one of the things I didn't really like about the book), it's hard to get a handle on what exactly is meant by these terms. The book doesn't really give a clear definition. But to briefly attempt a definition (quoting Professor Scot McKnight's review of the book):
"Religion seems to be his term for institutional faith, esp Christianity, in its churchiness, its creeds, and its required commitments. It is finite attempts to capture the infinite and, as I read him, religion is a "consensual illusion". It is designed to "point the way to God, not to control the flow".
Spirituality is equality, a feminine/masculine sense of God, countercultural dynamic, mystery, experience, interconnectedness, beyond authority structures, holistic individuals, the particular rather than the universal, material as much as heavenly, authenticity and honesty, and a communal, holistic celebration of the sacred that eradicates boundaries."
Given these definitions, Spencer says a lot about how religion has become a barrier to people who are honestly seeking God, and how now, in our postmodern era, people are gradually learning to circumvent religion and approach the divine through the freedom of spirituality. He predicts that religion in its institutional forms are destined to die away, and suggests that perhaps we're entering an age when people will no longer look to institutions to help mediate their relationships with God. As he says on page 90-91,
"People are not leaving churches because they've ended their spiritual journey or have abandoned their commitment to the teachings of Jesus... On the contrary, people are leaving the church because they want to embrace something more than abstract ideas and religious dogma. They want a transforming spirituality that gives their life shape and meaning."
Personally, I think Spencer somewhat overstates his case, though I don't completely disagree with his assessment. Actually, I was never quite sure how far to take Spencer's comments. At times he seems to come down pretty hard on "religion", but I couldn't quite tell if he really thought that all forms of church and corporate spirituality were worthless or bound for the trash heap. In my own opinion, it is far too premature to write eulogies for institutional religion just yet. I also don't think that the church, even as an institution, entirely fails at leading people into a transforming spirituality. At least, I have known many people whose lives have been transformed for the better in and through the church.
What I had a hard time figuring out is whether Spencer was saying we needed less church or better church. Is the problem with institutionalized religion altogether, or do we just need better institutions (perhaps scaled back, and based more on horizontal rather than hierarchical relationships and leadership structures)? As someone who is in the process of creating an "institution", i.e. a local church, I would personally say the latter. I think there is value in the church, and really, I think some institutionalization is inevitable. Human beings like organization. Whenever you have more than a handful of people who get together on a regular basis for spiritual pursuits, you are going to need some kind of structure, some kind of system, some order. At any rate, I think that religion and spirituality are not always opposites. Often the church is an important means for people to find spirituality
At times Spencer doesn't seem to have entirely given up on the church either. Indeed, spencer himself still spends the bulk of his time speaking and interacting within the structures of institutional Christianity (i.e. churches, conferences, publishers, etc.), so I would guess that he still sees something there worth being redeemed.
Spencer's main complaint against institutional religion, however, seems to be the ways in which it seeks to exclude people from God's grace. He writes several chapters about how religion likes to set itself up as the gatekeepers of heaven, determining who gets in and who doesn't. Instead, Spencer suggests that we should stop worrying about who is "in" and "out" altogether. The important thing, according to Spencer, is "not a belief system, but a holistic approach of following what you feel, experience, discover, and believe; it is a willingness to join Jesus in his vision for a transformed humanity." The true purpose of the church then, "is to take on a facilitating role, helping people find their way with God rather than attempting to determine and control exactly what that relationship to God "must" look like."
This is where Spencer's "universalism" comes in. I say that in quotes because Spencer is not actually a universalist. While he uses that term in the book, he does so rather "tongue-in-cheek". He is a "universalist that believes in Hell", which is to say, not really a universalist. Rather, Spencer is an extreme inclusivist. His suggestion is basically that perhaps salvation is an opt-out rather than an opt-in. In other words, God's grace and forgiveness is already extended to all people. Because of what Christ did on the Cross, we are all "saved", i.e. recipients of God's grace right from the day we are born. However, because we still have free will, and because God will never force anyone to love him, we all still have the option of rejecting God's grace, of refusing his love. Perhaps, suggests Spencer, salvation is not so much about intellectually assenting to the particular doctrines of the Christian religion, but is simply about responding to God's love and accepting his free grace to us, in whatever form it appears. (Incidentally, I think this whole view would help greatly in making sense of what Paul says in Romans 5:12-19.)
Personally, I think Spencer is on to something. I think many of his ideas: his inclusivism, his opinion that faith is more about spiritual transformation than intellectual orthodoxy, and his vision for a church that serves as facilitators and tour guides to faith rather than as gate keepers to heaven - these are all valuable contributions to the conversation. They are ideas that are worth pursuing further - and many already have, from Brian McLaren to NT Wright to Dallas Willard. My disappointment however, is that Spencer himself doesn't do a very good job of supporting his ideas with much deep biblical thinking or persuasive argument. Of course, I don't think his intention in the first place was to try and convince Christians to all agree with him. However, these issues are important enough that I'd hate to see a lot of Christians simply dismiss them because of Spencer's lack of intellectual or biblical rigor.
In short, my own suspicions about this book was proved true: I liked some of the answers in Spencer's book, but not how he arrived at them. And I disliked some of his answers, but still really value the questions they were born out of.