"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Thoughts
August 23, 2006

A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity – Conclusion

So there you have it, the good, the bad and the ugly. A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity is not the final word on any of the topics it covers, it’s not that kind of book. However, it is an authentic, hopeful exploration of one possible path to faithful living, of ‚Äúbeing faithful‚Äù in the world. […]

So there you have it, the good, the bad and the ugly. A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity is not the final word on any of the topics it covers, it’s not that kind of book. However, it is an authentic, hopeful exploration of one possible path to faithful living, of ‚Äúbeing faithful‚Äù in the world. The limitations in the arguments and oversimplifications in the examples. Those weaknesses, are in some ways integral to the logic of the book, they make it seem more personal. I suspect anyone who can‚Äôt sense that and live with it, won‚Äôt enjoy reading A Heretic‚Äôs Guide to Eternity.

The church today is broken; in so many ways it carries on with structures and practices that are almost impossible to justify. So much of the discourse of Christianity is zombie-like – dead ideas and dead debates that we just keep bringing back to life because hearing them in some weird way comforts us. Anyone who wants to be genuinely missional, genueinely faithful faces some tough decisions about this broken zombie-like state of affairs.

I’m all for dispensing with the illusions of Christianity and for jettisoning the broken structures. But, I thikn A Heretic‚Äôs Guide to Eternity goes further than I‚Äôm prepared to go. There‚Äôs something for me about church-ness that is not just an idea, or abstraction, but is a still a reality, hope and calling. I still believe that something church-like is part of God‚Äôs providential plan for the world.

Mainstream programatic religion is a poor fit for more and more people (despite being a great fit for many in that most postmodern of movements, the megachurch) who want to authentically grow in their faith. A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity is worth reading if for no other reason than its encouragement to place Jesus at the core of one’s spiritual journey despite feeling like an outsider. If it goes to far, we can at least be thankful that it shows us how far we can go; and we can go a long, long way towards a looser and more fluid sense of faith and spirituality.

See also,
A Heretic’s Guide To Eternity – The Good
A Heretic’s Guide To Eternity – The Bad
A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity – The Ugly

[tags] Spencer Burke, Heretic, Spirituality, A Heretic’s Guide To Eternity [/tags]

Responses
Jan McKenzie 16 years ago

“So much of the discourse of Christianity is zombie-like – dead ideas and dead debates that we just keep bringing back to life because hearing them in some weird way comforts us. Anyone who wants to be genuinely missional, genueinely faithful faces some tough decisions about this broken zombie-like state of affairs.”

I’ve been looking at your blog for about an hour. I don’t mean to be rude, but I don’t understand how what your doing here is that much different than what your criticizing. I’m not saying the discussion has no place, but how is it different than say a site that is devoted to something other than ecclesiology or culture? Several of your posts take the church or its theologians to task for doing what your doing here, except they are doing it in some other “ology”, textual criticism, or Biblical studies.

A Biblical theology, like faith, does not have itself as its object, even as it formulates a doctrine of the church or the church’s mission. It finds it’s meaning outside of itself. As was Paul, it is preoccupied with God in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. This is very different than a theology occupied with reconciling the world to itself and itself to the world.

Due to my schedule, I can’t keep up a discussion here and I apologise for that. But you do have my email.

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

Jan, thanks for your comment. I’m sorry if my posts seem to criticise Biblical Studies, that is not my goal at all. Part of my main concern with Academic theology is that it is often self-referential – that is takes “itself as its object” as you put it. I don’t think the answer is theology that reconciles itself to the world, but theology that addresses the world. That failure to address the world is part of my concern and the kind of theology I am trying to write is theology that does that.

Part of what inspired this blog in its current form is a significant pile of papers and notes precisely on the problem of how academic theology has abstracted from God’s mission in the world, from understanding the cultural realities within which that mission unravels and how that theology is often deaf to the practical challenges Christians face in being agents of that mission. Many of those papers spoke of the disjunction between what I was dealing with in Academia and what I was facing at the coalface of church leadership, creative ministry and outreach. The two should have connected more meaningfully, but they didn’t. The explanatory stories for how they could just seemed like wishlists. That was my drive in restarting this blog, sorting through that material and coming up with something more useful for myself and for others in a similar situation. I don’t claim to be good at what I do – I probably fail more often than I suceed, but that is what I am trying to write about. That’s what motivates me.

dh 16 years ago

After reading some of the chapters I could not respect the book. It promoted things that are contrary to God’s Word. When Jesus says “I am the Way” or I read Romans 1 Corinthians and the like I just can’t agree with relativism, universalism or mystical Christianity or any of those forms because those things take away from the true Gospel of Salvation by Faith in Christ alone. I personally believe heresy is what Paul referred to as “another Gospel than theone preached”. People don’t label something heresy. Something is heresy when it doesn’t match what God actually says in His word which is not subject to “….private interpretation.” like Paul says.

dh 16 years ago

I will say that many times the reaction to a problem can be worse than the problem that is being reacted from. That is what I see with this book.

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

DH, thanks for your comments. The way you focus heresy on “another Gospel” is helpful, because it gives us a way to distinguish the parts of the faith that must remain from those we can easily agree to disagree on.

I can also see why you would not like the book, in terms of universalism – that troubles me too. But, I’m not sure why mysticism should be an equally big problem.

dh 16 years ago

Mysticism is a problem because Gnostics were the ones the perpetuated the idea. Gnostics heresy was what Paul was in reference to when he mentioned “false doctrine” there were also other forms of heresy that he was referring to in the 1 st century when he mentioned “false doctrine” or “another Gospel than the one preached”.
I also have problems with relativism. Do you have problems with that as well? It seems that the book mentions that so much to the point it should be a concern that the body of Christ must put “these ideas to rest” so others don’t become deceived.
Salvation by Grace through our Faith in Christ from what He did on the cross by His literal death and resurrection alone must not be moved away from as it appears from this book, “New Perspective of Paul, ideas of “Coexist”, etc. that perpetuate false doctrine in the Body of christ.

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

DH, thanks again for your questions. I sense you have a real passion for the well-being of the church in all this.

If we are really talking about Gnosicism, then yes. Gnosticism was a problem for Paul because it denied the ground for testing our beliefs intersubjectivly. It wasn’t just the mysticism but the way of testing for truth. Paul was all about external assesment of our claims; the ground of our belief was not secret, it is was the public proclaimation of Christ. Second, the Gnostic view of reality (its cosmology), was deeply enmeshed with Greek Philosophy. In the end the problem wasn’t just that the Gnostic were mystics, it was that their doctrine was a little Christianity diluted with a lot of Greek Philosophy.

I don’t like rejecting the idea of mysticism outright – if God chooses to speak through the mystical experiences of Christians, then God will do so. It’s not for us to set those boundaries. However, Christian mysticism is measured against the greater body of teaching in Scripture.

As for relativism – I really don’t like the term. It seems to get used as a way to put a lot of ideas on a continum, which I do not see as connected. If you claim, as I would, that our cultural context shapes our way of seeing reality, then some would call that relalativism and connect that directly to denial of both the uniqueness of Christ and the possibility for “universal truth.” But that is not so.

The best example I have for this is the global church itself. Unless we hold that the only correct way to worship is what happens in one locale (e.g., true worship is always in english, always uses the KJV and the 1928 prayer book and always has a organ), then how do we account for the massive diversity of forms of worship amongst Christians who profess the same faith and the same lordship of Christ? We don’t just see different languages, there are different customs, different habits of prayer and speech, different cultural stories and references, meeting times, architecture, ways of handling the elements, orgainsing the week, customs of greeting and dismissal, etc. This kind of relativism is a fact of human existance. However, I don’t see that as either a denial of the uniqueness of Christ, nor the first step on the road to that.

As I mentioned in the reviews, where I see a glaring error in the book is with the cultural analysis; with the reading of postmodernity. It’s too simplistically black and white, between being “fundamentalist” or “postmodern.” It shoehorns the idea that if you do not see the world as the modernists do, as the fundamentalists do, then the obvious step is to move towards universalism. I think that is the real problem – it’s a false claim.

dh 16 years ago

I guess this begs the question what do we mean by “mysticism”

“1 : the experience of mystical union or direct communion with ultimate reality reported by mystics
2 : the belief that direct knowledge of God, spiritual truth, or ultimate reality can be attained through subjective experience (as intuition or insight)
3 a : vague speculation : a belief without sound basis b : a theory postulating the possibility of direct and intuitive acquisition of ineffable knowledge or power.

I guess I just don’t know about this “mysticism” for me the Bible is the source so to apply “mysticism” to it seems strange when the Bible isn’t subjective but objective.

With regard: ” (e.g., true worship is always in english, always uses the KJV and the 1928 prayer book and always has a organ), then how do we account for the massive diversity of forms of worship amongst Christians who profess the same faith and the same lordship of Christ? We don‚Äôt just see different languages, there are different customs, different habits of prayer and speech, different cultural stories and references, meeting times, architecture, ways of handling the elements, orgainsing the week, customs of greeting and dismissal, etc. This kind of relativism is a fact of human existance.”

This isn’t the type of relativism I’m talking about. I’m talking about the foundationsof the Christian Faith. Things that are mentioned directly in the Bible should be followed but there is a growing level of people who mention that certain things which are foundational are not and that is where I take issue.

Maybe I just abhore the term “mystism” because in the majority sense it is used in a bad way. Just like I kind of hate the term meditation, etc. It makes the whole conversation ambiguous when the majortiy defintion of the term is so bad.

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

It’s a difficult thing, because I think we get some forms of mysticism modelled to us in Scripture, especially in Apocalyptic and Prophetic. But also, the kind of mysticism I see as justified is in scripture like Psalm 8.

Jason Clark 16 years ago

Fernando, out of all the reviews I have read, yours has been so helpful for me, thanks.

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

Jason – Thanks.

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