The Heretic’s Guide to Eternity Part II

Pages 50-100… (warning – this was written with a shocking headache so nonsense is to be expected)

Reviewing 50 pages at a time is probably a lousy way to review a book, but its the best I can do right now with all else that is going on around about.

I am also aware that Scot McKnight has taken Spencer’s book to task on a number of items, but I’m choosing not to read Scot’s point of view until I have read it for myself. As a hack ‘backyard’ theologian I am likely to be influenced by people smarter than me so I am keen to let my own brain do some work here.

Whatever I end up saying about this book I appreciate that Burke has been willing to go public with some stuff that may be dodgy. He has had the courage to put his own thoughts out there for scrutiny – and who knows – if he’s onto something we all win. If he’s not then I reckon he may be gracious enough to accept the critique and cop it on the chin.

Ok onto the book…

I find myself waiting for the punchline… waiting for what Burke believes that is heretical and going to cause me to react. I’m not sure if it has come out yet or not.

So far he has offered some thoughts on religion, spirituality and grace, but I have found his definitions of each a bit fuzzy and open to interpretation. I generally choose to believe the best about people unless I am convinced otherwise, so I am still waiting… not yet convinced either way…

On p.52 he poses an interesting question regarding grace “is it something you get rather than something you already have?”

It picks up on the question of what happens to little kids who die. We would presume God would treat them justly and based on their ability to respond. The question that emerges is ‘at what point does this change – and what changes it?’

In this section he also contrasts religion and spirituality suggesting that religion has been institutionalised, is prescriptive and restricts people in how they enter and express faith while spirituality is much more open and embracing and suited to a post-modern climate. He’s probably right on most of that, but as I read it I couldn’t help feeling that ‘spirituality’ felt like shaky ground in which to earth my faith. While I completely agree that religion has its bad points, it has also helped to establish the boundary markers of orthodoxy. Spirituality as Burke describes it seems to pay less attention to orthodoxy or the things we have learnt previously.

It does sound a little like ‘religion = bad; spirituality = good’

I also placed a large question mark on page 61 where Burke says ‘Grace tells us there is nothing we need to do to find relationship with the divine. The relationship is already there we only need to nurture it.’ I am open to hearing more of his thoughts on this, because we are obviously created in God’s image, but we are also born sinful. How does this work?

On page 64 Burke suggests that ‘although the link between grace and sin has driven Christianity for centuries it just doesn’t resonate in our culture any more. It repulses rather than attracts’. I can’t buy this one. For people who know they are sinners then surely grace is as good as it gets!? It sounds here like accomodation of culture.

A question: are ‘grace’ and ‘religion’ mutually exclusive or do they intersect at some point/s?

The next section of the book begins entitled ‘Questioning What We Know – New Horizons of Faith’

Burke goes on to list 6 shifts in our religious world that affect how we express faith:

1. Pluralism

2. Emergence of a non-religious, non-institutional way of living out faith

3. Individualisation

4. The ‘this-worldliness’ of new spirituality

5. Holistic rather than dualistic spirituality

6. Service is no longer the exclusive domain of the church

Burke describes the system of indulgences where people bought they way into favour with God – that the church had turned grace into a marketable commodity. I think he is suggesting that indulgences are not dead but rather have morphed into religious behaviours – some of which are financial, but not exclusively. The church is still the domain of grace and we feel the need to enter thru it.

Burke writes that the church is no longer resonating with the culture and people ‘want a transforming spirituality that gives their life shape and meaning. The currency of the church has to change.’ (p. 91) Its a challenge to know where we resonate and where we conflict. I think he is right in that what we offer so often is a pre-packaged dull and domesticated institutional religion when people seek a vibrant faith. (he would say ‘spirituality’)

So far I am hearing Burke say that religious institutions inhibit people from encountering the life of grace that Jesus offers. But if we think in terms of spirituality then we can more easily encounter that grace and offer it to the world.

On the off chance you are reading this Spencer, am I representing you fairly here?

Ok… that’s enough for one night!

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