A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity Part III

Pages 100-150…

Page 107 ” No one recorded Jesus words at the time he spoke them, so we have no proof that they are indeed his words and what he did say, he said in Aramaic, which means that nothing in the Bible as translated into other language can be take literally anyway.”

If I could summarise the content of this section in one sentence it would be ‘we can’t know anything for sure’.

Much of what is here is both a critique of the institutional church described as ‘a post office in an email world’ (I like the analogy) as well as a questioning of how we arrive at our epistemology.

As Spencer notes in his comment on the previous post it is easy to pull out random quotes and make him say things that maybe he didn’t intend, or make him look even more of a heretic than he declares himself to be. Always poor form to do that to someone!

However that said, he does certainly push the boundaries in these 50 pages and I am not satisfied with his conclusions. I will try to be fair to him as I write and I’m sure he will feel free to interact if he feels misrepresented.

As well as ‘we can’t know anything for sure’, (my interpretation

see page 140) Burke also seems to be arguing that the main game is following Jesus and we don’t need to be Christians to do that. I can buy that, with no problem at all, because my overseas missionary friends will speak to me of ‘muslims’ (culturally) who follow Jesus (a C5 on the contextualisation spectrum) but I am not sure just what Spencer means by following Jesus…

This is where the dissection of language can be used both ways. If we don’t know what Jesus really meant by ‘I am the way truth and life. No one comes to the father but thru me’ then how can we know what he means by a more vague statement like ‘follow me’?

Does he mean, ‘be like me?’ Does he mean ‘do the things I do?’ Does he mean ‘admire me?’ And if we aren’t sure which parts of scripture are reliable (and scripture is our guide for following Jesus) then how do we know which bits to act on?…

I believe there is much good in the concept of ‘following Jesus’, but divorced from a commitment to the authority of scripture and the truths we have gleaned from Christian history in the form of the creeds it becomes a very nebulous statement in my opinion.

While I agree with Spencer that modernism has been overly propositional in its understanding of the gospel, a pendulum swing in the opposite direction is not what I would see as the answer. Paul seemed quite concerned to articulate his theology and if its important enough for him to do this then it would seem that at least some basic form of theologising would be important to us also.

Just for the record Spencer also says ‘he doesn’t not believe the Bible, it informs his faith in Jesus’ (p. 109) and he ‘does not believe all roads lead to God’. (p. 127)

Some other thoughts:

P.126 “When Jesus was talking about being the way, I don’t think he was talking about religion” Fully agree!

P. 131 – Spencer addresses the atonement question… and I’m not quite sure what he thinks. He states that an over-emphasis on substitution negates the other aspects of the atonement. But does he see substitution/penal atonement as acceptable? Not sure

P. 142 in relational to ‘spiritual bricolage’, i think the concept has some merit, but I am concerned that Spencer ditches the potential to be able to know and describe anything with certainty.

In this section Spencer calls us to think outside the box – to go ‘beyond Zebra’ – which is good – but, I think there is plenty within the box that is good also. I am less reticent to view the institutional church with such negativity.

To be honest, at times I do see it in a very negative light as it hinders much of what is central to the gospel, but by the same token it seems that everything has a tendency to go this way and there is also much good accomplished (think Tsunami aid) by institutions.

My concern here is less the critique of institution and more the question over the place and value of scripture which I see as integral to shaping faith and discipleship.

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