Saturday, August 12, 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 many 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 courage to admit that even if they don't go the route of universalism, they too still 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!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Pastor Mike:
Thought-provoking post!

In searching Scripture looking for passages addressing salvation, one finds several that address those who reject Christ---and are condemned.

I have yet to find one single verse that states that the soul who never knew Christ will be doomed to hell.

Most of us will agree that a baby who dies will not go to hell---we trust in God's mercy. If so, we've already allowed for an exception, haven't we???

Looking forward to your review of Spencer's book.


8/15/2006 8:40 PM  
Blogger phil said...

In regards to salvation have you considered Rev. 3:5? It appears from this passage that everyone's name is written in the book of life either from conception or before creation. It appears that it is more a matter of rejection of Jesus, OT looking forward us looking back, that removes us from the book of life.
But there is also another part of the verse. This is to have our name acknowledged before the Father and His angels.
The first part can be an explanation of our belief in an age of accountablity. I have never come to an understanding of why there are 2 parts and what the 2nd part means Is it simply different sides of the same part. Any ideas?
Sounds like an interesting book.

8/17/2006 4:35 PM  
Blogger CGGC Conservative said...

Alright, I can stand it no longer. I have been reading many of these posts on the Emerging CGGC blogger, and have considered responding, but I held back due to my concern about identity theft. I did ask Brian a question one time regarding clerical collars, and the reason I didn't get a blogger account was due to my concern regarding identity theft. However, this "A Heretic's Guide to Eternity" blog was the "straw that broke the camel's back" for me. Let the hackers come. I can be silent no longer. By the way, my name is George Jensen and I am the pastor of the Enola First Church of God. I am proudly and unashamedly a TRADTIONAL conservative evangelical born again Christian. Although the emerging church movement has raised some excellent points, many of its themes are quite frightening to me; this is one of those.

In regards to some of the comments on this blog ("A Heretic's Guide"), I cannot believe we are even talking about this. If salvation is something we must choose to reject (if I am understanding some of the ideas presented correctly), then by all means let's call all of our missionaries home and tell them to "shut up!" If I believed that people can get to heaven by ignorance of the message of Christ, then I would be the first to shut my big fat mouth.

Is the CGGC in error in its Cross Cultural core values by saying, "We value obedience to Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations because God will receive greater glory when lost people find Him."?

Has the Churches of God since the time of Winebrenner been in error by affirming that if there's one non-negotiable fact it is that you must receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior in order to receive eternal life?

I don't know who all the folks are who are writing on this blog. If you are from denominations other than the Churches of God, then I have no problem with you expressing views like those recorded in this particular blog. However, if you folks are from the CGGC, I urge you to repent (that is turn away from) considering these dangerous beliefs.

Also, I am calling on all other traditional conservatives to get a blogger account and share your views on this "Emerging CGGC" blogger. I know you're out there; maybe you are afraid to speak up. Do not fear! Have courage! Be a prophetic voice for the truth! Do not worry about people viewing you as a "religious nut!" If they do, then so be it. Help save this denomination from falling into an unbiblical mindset before it's too late!

To God be the Glory and God bless the Churches of God!

-Pastor George Jensen
Enola First church of God

8/18/2006 3:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Praise God! Pastor Jensen, it is good to hear your voice concerning these matters.

This is exactly why the emergent movement is so dangerous! It is causing churches to drift away from their foundational beliefs by chipping away so subtly and a stealthily at basic core biblical values until one day the heresy becomes undeniable.

In regards to the issue of salvation raised in this post, I am heartsick. Truly.

First off, the Ooze is a pit of deception, and I'm devastated that this is one of your favorite emergent blogs.

Do we not trust God when He says that faith comes from hearing the Word? That is the whole point of the Great Commission; we are to go, preach the truth in whole, and make disciples. The Holy Spirit will draw those whom the Lord has chosen to receive salvation. This is the design given by the Lord for sharing the good news of the Gospel. What a privilege to be used in this way. God is in control and sovereign; who are we to determine that this isn't "fair" or that there must be some mistake in our interpretation. "His ways are not our ways," and "His paths are beyond tracing out."

Unfortunately, the emergent church is helping to make the Gospel message more man-centered than it already is. It is not about man! It is about glorifying God among the nations. He will have mercy on whom He has mercy, and He will save whom He will save. We are to be faithful to go and preach the Gospel, making disciples. If we keep our hearts and minds focussed on God, then our motivation will be because of our love for Him, our desire to honor His name and glorify His person, and because our hearts know that it is not His will that any should perish. We must trust His grace, mercy, and justice to save whom He will.

The emergent church would have us question all of this, chipping away at the inerrancy of the Scriptures, at the existence of absolute truth, at the purity of the Gospel message, and nudging us toward universalism. Rather, they would have us change our message to make it more palatable to the culture. Must we woo the culture into hearing what the church has to say? Heaven forbid. Be true to the message, and the Holy Spirit will take care of it all.

God has told us to be holy, for He is holy. This means separating ourselves from the world, not courting it (otherwise known as "engaging the culture.")

The traditional church that is being so chastised may have fallen short in the area of "going" to be the church among the unchurched. Rather than changing our churches within, including services, styles, methodologies, etc. we should be finding ways to get out there more. I do agree with this. In many ways, the church has lost its saltiness. Not because we need to be more relevant, but we need to be more consistent and holy, and we need to worship the Lord in Spirit and truth. We must be light in the darkness, and yet our batteries are flickering and the flashlights are going out. However, the emergent church philosophy is not the answer, but rather the catalyst for catastrophe. Once the church has lost its saltiness, can it be made salty again? I fear the emergent church will only serve to seal the tomb, not save the church.

In the end times, there will be a great apostasy. I believe the platforms of postmodernism, emergence, and universalism, including seeker-sensitivity and purpose-driven methodology are ALL leading the church down the wrong path.

The only answer is true repentance and a God-centered focus once again.

(I don't have the freedom to post my name, due to associations, sorry)

8/18/2006 5:34 PM  
Blogger Mike Clawson said...

Just as I predicted...

8/18/2006 10:47 PM  
Blogger bill Sloat said...


Re: "Just as I predicted. . .," (not your original post in this thread).

You are David Hume to my Immanuel Kant.

8/19/2006 7:51 AM  
Anonymous dm said...

RE: "Just as I predicted..."

How can you post such a controversial message, and not expect to hear traditionalists speak up -- of course they will. This HAS to be a passionate debate for it is at the core of what we believe.

Shame on you for not engaging the conversation, but only responding with an arrogant comment. Where is your desire for the conversation?

I agree with much of emergent thinking, but you will not get me to entertain the notion of rejecting our Savior as a way to "opt out". Emergents do not have to leave the basic beliefs of Christianity in order to stay emergent. These are the glue that keep emergents and traditionalists as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Reading his book to understand and deal with a universalist mindset is one thing, reading it to entertain these notions is quite another. I'll be leaving it on the shelf.

8/19/2006 8:12 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

John 3:18 says, "Whoever believes in him is not condemned but whoever does not believe in him is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son." I'm not a universalist. I believe the Gospel is Jesus saying to us, "Follow me," and we make a decision to follow Him or to follow our own desires.

Mike's questioning of the fortitude of people afraid to express universalism seems odd to me and unfounded. I have never been afraid to ask questions and I've never (rarely at least) been threatened, except when I've gotten arrogant.

Anonymous' comment about people only being saved who are called by the Holy Spirit does not sound like traditional CGGC doctrine to me. We believe in prevenient grace, that all are called by the Holy Spirit and have opportunity to respond. We are not Calvinist.

George is a passionate guy, who loves the Lord, and is of course welcome to express his opinion.

I'm not sure what EEGC stands for, but I would only use one E and I would make it lower case, eGC.

I am not a part of the Emergent Village movement, but I do long to be part of a movement of the Holy Spirit, and in fact, believe that I am. I would align myself more with

8/19/2006 9:41 AM  
Blogger Mike Clawson said...

How can you post such a controversial message, and not expect to hear traditionalists speak up -- of course they will.

You misunderstand. This is exactly what I expected. Hence my comment "Just as I predicted".

Shame on you for not engaging the conversation, but only responding with an arrogant comment. Where is your desire for the conversation?

Forgive me but I guess I didn't see much desire for conversation evidenced in the two posts above. What I did see was shock that we would even be discussing this topic at all. What I heard was an implication that we shouldn't even be asking these kinds of questions, especially if we're associated with the CGGC. And what I especially heard was anger and accusation towards anyone who would self-identify with a movement so "clearly" heretical as the emerging church, which is (and I quote): "chipping away at the inerrancy of the Scriptures, at the existence of absolute truth, at the purity of the Gospel message, and nudging us toward universalism... they would have us change our message to make it more palatable to the culture." These assumed beliefs are called "dangerous", "apostasy" and we all here at the blog are called to "repent" and stop bringing up such topics (stop asking questions?) anymore.

I'm sorry, but these are not words that invite conversation. These are words meant to intimidate and attack (and to be honest, Brian, I do feel "threatened" by them right now). So you'll have to forgive me if I don't feel much like conversing on the subject.


8/19/2006 11:26 AM  
Anonymous dm said...

There have to be some non-negotiables in any religion. Christ as the only way to the Father is one of them for Christianity. Look past the passion you have stirred in these responses and find the heart of what they are saying. Mike, you've made it sound like we should all wrestle with this question, but our faith tells us no, this one isn't up for debate. You got the stirring you expected, but you didn't like the way it sounded. So what? Some are better at confrontation/debate/discussion than others. Look beyond the offenses and see that these are truly men and women of God who feel the need to defend the very core of their beliefs. As far as feeling attacked -- you may have made the first attack. Can you see your writing as such? Passion is a wonderfully scary thing when stirred.

8/19/2006 11:56 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

There were in fact two posts. The one that Mike quoted was anonymous. You can't equate the anonymous post as an attack from the establishment. Based on the theology, I would say they aren't CGGC, but I don't know.

I don't have any problem discussing Burke's book. But it is a clear fact that you can't be a Churches of God pastor and be a universalist. I suppose if you are an admitted universalist (though I didn't hear you say such), then your identity within the CGGC is threatened.

My problem with your post is that it had the ring of arrogance and provocation. It wasn't just awareness or discussion, it was a poke. And when you poke someone, you can confidently predict a response of "Ouch."

8/19/2006 12:04 PM  
Blogger Mike Clawson said...


Please note that I made no claims in my original post one way or the other. I did not say that I agree with Spencer's views, nor did I say that I disagree. All I did was raise the issue and say that it's worthy of discussion. Thus, if people react negatively to the post I can only assume that they're not just reacting to universalism per se, but also to my suggestion that it is a worthwhile topic to discuss at all. Indeed, you yourself just said:
"Mike, you've made it sound like we should all wrestle with this question, but our faith tells us no, this one isn't up for debate."

What that says to me is not "Hey let's converse and share differing viewpoints" (if that were the case I'd have no problem with more traditional folks here disagreeing with Spencer's ideas). What it says to me is "Some questions shouldn't even be asked. This is NOT worth talking about."

So let me ask you a question: What do you do when these questions do arise in your mind unbidden? Suppose you're a pastor and you start to encounter verses like Romans 5:18. And suppose your people start asking questions like "What about people who have never heard of Jesus?" or "Do children go to Hell if they die before accepting Christ?" And suppose some of the traditional answers start sounding a little harsh and inadequate to you. What would you recommend? Would you recommend suppressing such questions? Would you recommend just ignoring the tugging and the doubts within yourself, hoping that they'll go away? Is it better to just not talk about it?

Because that's I what I seem to hear you saying. Forgive me if I'm misunderstanding you.



8/19/2006 12:15 PM  
Blogger dan h. said...

Gee, I guess I didn't really see any attacking, or even arrogance, in Mike's original post. Maybe I read it wrong.

And, perhaps you can't be a universalist and also be a CGGC pastor, but does that mean we can't discuss it? I wouldn't label myself a universalist, but I have to admit... it's a nice idea and it would be okay with me if it were true.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought the whole idea behind starting this blog was to give people "a place for free flow of thought and conversation". The tag line also states: "This blog has been encouraged by the CGGC but in no way reflects the official thinking of the denomination."

So what I don't understand is... if someone is not interested in discussing things of an "emerging" nature, then why would you want to read or participate?

I'm all for passion, but not so much being a jerk about it.

8/19/2006 12:16 PM  
Blogger Mike Clawson said...

Please forgive if my orginal post came across as "arrogant". That was not my intent. Cynical, yes, arrogant, no.

I am cynical about the ability of evangelicals to freely discuss such issues. And Brian, you know my personal history enough to know why I would say that even bringing up such topics can be dangerous to one's career. So you'll have to forgive me for my cynicism. Sadly the discussion here thus far has done little to diminish it. (Though I do appreciate folks like yourself Brian who are not afraid to talk about controversial issues.)



8/19/2006 12:23 PM  
Blogger Mike Clawson said...

"I wouldn't label myself a universalist, but I have to admit... it's a nice idea and it would be okay with me if it were true."

That's kind of how I think about it too.

8/19/2006 12:25 PM  
Anonymous dm said...

Here's the deal -- I have some bedrock beliefs that nothing can shake. Jesus as the only way to find salvation is one of those beliefs. To entertain other thoughts or options, in my opinion, is very dangerous. There are plenty of other things I would consider with a more open mind, but not this. So yes, I am saying that this is not a worthy question for discussion. If we were half universalists and half Christians, this topic would indeed be worthy. But instead, we hear one voice saying consider this -- a voice that is a Christian! That's scary, really. Maybe I should stop and ask you this: What is the purpose for considering this question? Where did you want this conversation to go?

As for Romans 5:18, I would couple that with Romans 10:9-10. The gift is to all men who believe. It is with our hearts that we believe and are justified, and our mouths must confess to be saved. Yes that raises tough questions about who won't make it to heaven. What is the "age of accountability"? What about those who live their whole lives and never hear? These are the questions I would rather discuss!

BTW, the only arrogance I felt was from your initial REPLY, not the post. And thank you for your continuing thoughts!

8/19/2006 4:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Pastor Mike,
You are a brave man.

There have been times when I've "heard" your posts as arrogant or confrontational. Then again, I realize that I can come across that way in an Internet discussion/debate where one does not have the advantage of seeing facial expression or hearing tone of voice. ( and, admittedly, sometimes I simply am being arrogant) ;-)

Nevertheless, I find you to be honest and courageous in stating what you believe in, or, as in this case, throwing something controversial on the table for discussion.

Because something is held as a "bedrock belief", does not negate the possibility of exploring it at a deeper level.

I'd like to pose a few questions to "dm"---- if you wouldn't mind responding, dm.

I do not consider myself emergent nor a universalist. Yet, I do wrestle with the challenge of how to reconcile the belief of Jesus as the only Way, with the mercy of God for the ignorant(those who never heard the Gospel).

So, dm, could you respond to those who ask, "Do babies and young children, severely mentally retarded, and mentally ill persons, go to hell?"


How do you interpret passages like John 15: 20-24 :

20 "Remember the word I spoke to you, 'No slave is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
And they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me.
If I had not come and spoken to them, they would have no sin; but as it is they have no excuse for their sin.
Whoever hates me also hates my Father.
If I had not done works among them that no one else ever did, they would not have sin; but as it is, they have seen and hated both me and my Father." ...

...and those I cited in my earlier post, that seem to allow for the possibility of God's mercy to the ignorant?

This is not a "challenge". I am trying to suppress my own arrogance and ask this in a spirit of gentleness. I would truly like to hear your thoughts on this.

Peace of Christ,

8/20/2006 6:59 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

This is more like a conversation every day. When I spoke of Mike's arrogance (and by the way, I know Mike and will see him tomorrow and played a primary role in bringing Mike into the CGGC), I was thinking of his original post (which he must have deleted) which questioned whether any bloggers would have the "guts" (not the word he used) to admit their doubts.

Mike is a tremendously honest and smart guy but I also think he enjoys tweaking conservatives and then intellectually grinning. Mike if I'm wrong, correct me.

Mike is the most "plugged-in" guy with the Emergent Village movement and his mention of the book was one that he was getting a preview glimpse, not something he was trying to tempt us with. We should view this as a benefit rather than a threat.

Unfortunatley, Mike hasn't shared his glimpses with us here yet, but on his own blog, he refers to Burke as a "sloppy thinker."

Dan H pointed out that Scott McKnight (who I don't know a lot about) posted about Burke's book. He had some problems with the universalist parts, but he said:

Here are Spencer’s central theses:

1. We need to get beyond religion.
2. We need to get beyond religion to find spirituality.
3. We need to discover that Jesus can get us beyond religion to find spirituality.
4. What we find beyond religion is grace.
5. People who will take us into that grace, where we find the “sacred beyond religion,” are heretics.

There are some interesting topics here.

8/21/2006 11:04 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home