Last Friday, after getting a phone call the day before from Spencer Burke to see if we could stop by his home on Newport Beach on our way down to San Diego, we found our way down a few busy LA freeways to Newport Beach. We spent about 4 hours with him hearing his vision for what I would call a “post-emerging church.”
First, we got into Newport Beach only to meet a fog. So, before we called Spencer, we stopped at a Starbuck’s. I called him, only to find out that he was right down the street and he waved at me from about 300 yards while we were on our cell phones. Then he showed us where the “board”walk (really cement sidewalk) was so we could take our daily walk: absolutely beautiful.
We got back and went to a local place for Mexican food, and during that time we heard Spencer’s fuller vision for the future church … and, as Kris said to him, “My, you’ve got some big ideas. But, the Church does need big ideas.” He does: he thinks “church” has got to shift from the educational, preaching-based model to a more complete missional framework (he didn’t use that term that I recall).
I should say that we experienced emergicana with him: he showed us his garage, at the back end of his home two blocks from the beach, and it was in this garage that he has produced for so many years the defining emerging internet site, The Ooze.
Spencer has a new book coming out in August with Jossey-Bass called A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity. I read it in ms form, and Spencer gave me the bound proofs. He takes on what I think is arguably one of the most pressing questions the younger generation faces: the fate of those from non-Christian faiths. His view is some kind of universalism, but from another angle: he argues that everyone born is a child of God and that one stays that way until one chooses otherwise. In other words, we don’t choose to be a child of God, we choose not to be a child of God. (Which means at some level he is not a complete universalist.)
Perhaps we should call this approach a generous inclusivism, because one of its themes would be that those from other faiths would not automatically be excluded if they don’t respond to the gospel. Whatever you think about this, the issue is growing in significance for many who are connected to the emerging movement. Brian McLaren addressed it a bit in Generous Orthodoxy and in his The Last Word … and the Word After That, and there is an unpublished chapter from his The Secret Message of Jesus that I have read that re-addresses what John 14:6 means from a broader perspective.
At any rate, Spencer’s book argues for the longing to end “religion” by finding new unities among humans. He’s not for reformation of the Church but for transformation of the Church — in fact, for the transformation of all institutions of faith.
By the way, his use of “heretic” is provocative: a heretic is the relevant irrelevant, the subversive, following Jesus beyond religion and Christianity. His view of following Jesus is connected deeply to grace, a kind of grace that is bigger than religion. Spencer considers himself a heretic, in both traditional and provocative ways.
I could go on; you can read the book should you wish.
We had a good time with Spencer, and are anxious to see how folks respond to this book. He was wonderfully hospitable to a couple he had never met. He is thought-provoking, not terribly shy about having ideas that offend traditional Christians, but genuinely warm and sympathetic to God’s big, big Church. It will be easy for many to write off his new book, but I think instead we might try to discern what can be learned from a person who has given his heart and soul to figuring out what God is doing in this world.