I just finished reading Spencer Burke’s book A Heretics Guide to Eternity. It was an enjoyable and easy read overall. His thesis could probably be summed up in a few sentences found on page 61…
“Religion declares that we are separated from God, that we are ‘outsiders.’ Grace tells us the opposite; we are already in unless we want to be out.”
If the book does one thing, it assures anyone worried about getting into heaven after they die that they don’t have anything to worry about and that they should just focus on following Jesus here and now. The entire book is saturated in grace talk and Burke’s journey of understanding exactly what this grace looks like and how it fits into his theological understandings. While I’m not much of a Theo-buff, I know a lot of the things that he is saying flies in the face of what I grew up understanding all through my church upbringing and Christian university experience. This isn’t a bad thing. I think it takes books like Spencer’s to challenge what we take for granted in our theology and our lifestyles. So I won’t critique his theology, I’ll leave it up to the theologians to do that. Either way, I love his heart. I love that he is trying to take his understandings of love and make it work with the scriptures that he loves. I love that he can say universalism, and question it and tip his toes into it, because when it comes to loving people, which you can tell he’s doing, it is an option that makes sense. You can really see how his love for people clashes with the institutionalized church and the clash is necessary.
I would however make a few changes of the book if I had a say in the process. For the most part I feel like his message is good and his heart is good but he draws it out way too long. I think everything he had to say probably could have been written in one solid chapter (maybe two). The book may have been more beneficial to write his original plan of “stand-alone heresies” that he believes as each chapter. Another issue still as I believe (which I think Bob Hyatt pointed out a bit ago) is the use of the word heretic. While a lot of though as obviously gone into it, because it’s in the title, red flags go up when I think of trying to be a heretic. He says that everyone should be a heretic, but in my understanding of heresy, that would mean that no one is a heretic. I agree though that Jesus definitely was a heretic, heck I spent half my life in the Pentecostal church being accused of heresy whenever I challenged them and I never would have changed a thing. I think it is exactly because I challenged what was thought as normal I am where I am today, but I wouldn’t encourage people to challenge what is normal just because it is normal. I think society and religion has gone a long way and some things that are normal are where they should be. Instead, I would encourage people to challenge what doesn’t look like Jesus, and if it means going against the status quo, then do so, if it means the opposite, then so be it. So I understand Burke is resisting a long history of religion and probably experiences where heresy was the only option, I would be careful of being so quick to the word heretic because being a heretic can also be just as harmful in other circumstances.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is trying to understand eternity and grace and how the two work together. Spencer does a great job of trying to reconcile a loving God with religions understanding of hell and punishment. It is definitely a book that needs to go on a reading list for this subject because he is very honest and shares his journey not just what he thinks you will agree with him on the right answers.
3 thoughts on “A Heretics Guide to Eternity”
In my readings of the Old Testament to date (man I have made it all the way to Nebuchadnezzar laying a beating on Jerusalem I have too much time to myself up here) the talk of hell and the after life isnt mentioned. When people died, it occasionally says he went to be with his ancestors.
Man this conversation is a hurting one. If we turn our back on the thoughts of hell then isnt that the thoughts of a universalism?
I have talked to elders I respect on the matter and they say I dont understand the process of hell, I would also like to believe there isnt a hell; but there is.
For many, hell justifies them for the life they lead of being a Christian. Going to heaven and not hell is like their reward for being faithful all their life. Imagine telling them that the guy selling drugs out side will be your neighbor in paradise.
What about the serial killers, the rapists – There welcome as well? I think we all want to believe there is this place of burning for the sins they have committed onto others.
But if sin is sin and Jesus says none of us are worthy, I really think we need to reprocess who is in and how is out.
In the OT, some great people (whom God loved and revealed himself) they made idols for themselves, had many wives and killed many people. Yet when they died, all it says is he went to be with his ancestors.
If there isnt a hell, is there a heaven?
Hi, Im John from Melbourne Australia.
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Ron, if you want to see hell watch the “news” on TV.
i dont agree that grace tells us we are already in unless we want to be out. grace tells us there is a path that leads us to god, grace has given us the map, grace has invited us to come on up…the one thing that grace does not do, is include us automatically, its not a matter of all in unless we take one step back, grace says, god has given each one of us a gift. but we cannot have it unless by faith we get up off our chair and go out to the curb to claim it. otherwise, it just sits out there.