The third section of Spencer Burke’s A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity is called “Living in Grace: Mystical Responsibility.” Again, I’ll provide here the main lines of his thinking:
Jesus is the first heretic. Why? “Sometimes you gotta break the rules.” In this chp, Spencer goes through a series of Gospel passages and puts together his thesis that Jesus broke all the rules as the original heretic.
1. The invalid at Siloam’s pool from John: Jesus healed on the sabbath.
2. Writing in the dust: Jesus never condemned the woman and offered her “good common sense … and I’d avoid this kind of thing in the future if I were you.”
3. Good Samaritan: there is no distinction between Jews and neighbors based on “genetics and ethnicity.”
4. Antitheses in Matthew 5: “Jesus didn’t rewrite the rule book. He threw it out and exchanged it for a new way of being in the world.”
5. Love commandment in John 13: “Love in the face of betrayal.”
Overall, “God is a relational presence, connecting with people via love, not regulation.”
Response: Spencer says something wrong about each passage, sometimes centrally so. So, here goes:
1. Somehow Spencer believes that Jews at the time of Jesus thought there were more than 600 laws that could be broken on Sabbath; he’s confused the 40 or so kinds of work with the 600+ commandments and prohibitions in the Old Testament.
2. Jesus never condemned the woman? Meaning what? His final words were “Go now and leave your life of sin.” Which means he called her a sinner, said it was wrong, and told her to repent. His suggestive translation above won’t cut the mustard of the context. I’m not sure what “condemned” means here, but if he means “finally judged” that’s fine.
3. Somehow he gets the Good Samaritan into a parable about treating the ethnically diverse as equals; nonsense. The fact is we don’t know if the one robbed was a Samaritan or a Gentile; he was probably a Jew, and it could have been a woman. The point is not to be kind to the Gentiles but to act like the Samaritan and be kind to everyone.
4. In treating the antitheses he has skipped Matt 5:17-20 where Jesus says explicitly that he “didn’t throw out the rule book.” He kept it and showed its true meaning.
5. There is nothing in the love commandment about meeting betrayal with love. In fact, the “one another” in “love one another” is sectarian love: love for the community.
Spencer begins this chp telling us that the reason he thinks Jesus was the original heretic was because “I do read the Bible.” Not very carefully is what I’d say. I’m sorry to say this so directly, but I’m saying what I see. There is too much sloppiness with the Bible.
Chp. 8 is about false views of God and reminds me of JB Phillips’ classic Your God is Too Small.
God is too distant, Christianity as a religion is too much about one-way tickets to eternity and getting saved and rules and regulations. It develops an exclusivist theology and a nostalgia theology. It keeps people from loving the world and is down with culture.
I will save my last post to deal with Spencer’s form of universalism.