Tonight with Spencer Burke

Tonight’s conversation.

Spencerburke Bio Photo Bw 1Is Spencer Burke REALLY a heretic? Spencer is probably the only guy i know who has been accused of heresy by people both outside AND inside the emerging church. Maybe we will find out. Spencer and I have a date next Wednesday, June 13th at 7pm (UK) or 11am (PST, USA). It will be a podcast on the Soularize site and if you want to ask him anything, let me know.

How did this come about?

Someone brought up Spencer Burke’s name on a TSK blog conversation this week and I said I would talk to Spencer about it. Spencer has called himself a heretic before, and has written a book called A Heretic’s guide to Eternity. But I would like to know more about his views, about The Ooze and Soularize in the Bahamas, and I think he wants to talk to me about some issues related to new forms of church popping up around the world. So join us if you can.

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Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Helen says:

    Neat – I’m glad Spencer responded to your e-mail with by suggesting a date 🙂
    When you say he’s the only person you know who’s been accused of heresy outside and inside the emerging church, do you mean he’s the only person you actually know, as in, personally know?
    There are lots of others. I just wrote about Spong’s latest book Jesus for the non-religious on my blog. He doesn’t even believe in a personal God at all.
    And, closer to home, what about Brian McLaren? Hasn’t he been accused of heresy by parts of the emerging church? Maybe they haven’t used the word ‘heretic’ but I continually see emerging church people distancing themselves from Brian McLaren’s theology with comments along the lines of “He doesn’t represent all of us!” Doesn’t that mean “he’s somewhat of a heretic but I’d rather not be that direct and blunt”?
    Or maybe it means “heretic is too all-or-nothing for me. I’d rather say – I agree with some of what he believes but not all of it.” After all, that’s probably what Brian would say about everyone else – it’s what he did say in Generous Orthodoxy.
    Anyway heretic is a good word to throw around if you want to get people stirred up (that’s an observation, not a value-judgment; getting people stirred up is not necessarily a bad thing if it leads to interesting constructive discussion)
    I need to go find out more about what Spencer believes so I can figure out if I have any questions.

  • Jeremy says:

    Boy – it’s been at least a couple of years since I’ve visited I remember it being a pretty happening, avant-garde website at the time. I’ve had a hard time following all the emerging church stuff – Brian McLaren is a fellow Canadian and so I’ve tried to follow him a bit, but I’m definitely not current on his “status” as heretic or not… It’s times like these where I’m just tempted to hunker down with my Bible get a refresher on how Jesus lived – things seemed to work out pretty well for Him.
    Great blog, Andrew!

  • The “heretic” label is a common one thrown around in any Christian circle. It generally just means “you are not exactly like me, so therefore you are a heretic.”
    I find it amusing that Spencer (generally disliked by most Christians within and without the emerging church – its sad the number of people who attempt to “warn” me about him) created the Ooze. While at one point a fascinating anti-institutional site where questions were welcomed, it has (since the 2004 american presidential elections) become a place for the conservative reformed mafia to wage war. Basically a bunch of guys showed up to make the Ooze their mission field by telling the liberals, feminists, and emergents how evil and wrong we all are. It made continued conversation there rather nauseating.

  • Dana Ames says:

    I don’t believe that Spencer is a heretic. I think he brings up subjects and throws out thoughts, and most evangelicals are incapable of grappling with those thoughts and subjects. It’s not a matter of intelligence, but (sometimes) fear of departing from “The Truth”/certainty, and/or inability to approach ideas about God from some other theological/philosophical means than foundationalism, or the questions/thoughts simply sounding “weird”. I haven’t read Spencer’s book, but I’ve heard him on podcast and I’ve read plenty of his writings on the Ooze. I think even as excellent a thinker as S. McKnight has somehow missed something in the interaction with Spencer’s thoughts.
    Andrew, I think you two will have a very good conversation.

  • lance white says:

    Spencer is a humble cool dude that enjoys stirring the pot, not smoking it 🙂
    We are alike in that way!
    I am sure that this will be a good conversation with alot accomplished. Right now there is a thread on about this so check out what we are saying on their too!

  • Mike Clawson says:

    Like Julie said, the Ooze message boards have been taken over the by Reformed mafia in the past few years. I used to love interacting there but it is no longer a safe place. The rest of the Ooze (the articles, resources, etc. – i.e. the parts Spencer and his moderators can have direct control over) is still pretty good though.
    Maybe you should ask him his thoughts on the extreme, antagonistically conservative turn the Ooze boards have taken and whether anything can be done about it without violating the spirit of open conversation.
    Or I guess I could just ask him myself next month when he comes out to our Midwest Emergent Gathering here in Chicago. 🙂

  • bob says:

    Spencer is a really great guy and very sharp. I’m glad you are having a conversation with him. I get what he’s saying about “Being in unless you opt out”, but unfortunately it just doesn’t make sense of all the biblical data. He has responses to many scriptures, but I think he has yet to deal with the vast bulk of the NT which points us towards “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved”… which is very different than “Just don’t actively reject the grace of God and you will be saved.”

  • As one who embraces heresy as a virtue, I’d say that I sure hope Spencer is a heretic. 🙂 The title of his book seems to imply that he thinks he is one as well.
    Always remember, just because something is labelled “orthodox” doesn’t mean it’s true. Heresy is often just the rejection of accepted error.

  • Helen says:

    Ok, here’s my question (and I respect your choice whether to bring this up or not):
    Spencer, why not go all the way to the universalism lots of people already think you espouse? Why not figure that no-one who understands who awesome God is would opt out. Why include the opt-out clause?
    I can envisage these possible responses (I may nor may not think they are valid and some of them may overlap):
    1) Scripture teaches an opt-out clause – we can’t go against what the Bible teaches
    2) It’s more important to God to allow people the free-will to make really stupid decisions, even eternally irrevocable ones with infinite consequences, than to interfere and take away their choices
    3) It takes away all reason to evangelize (or to do anything hard for Jesus’ sake)

  • Seraphim says:

    a shout out to Gandalf and MaraJade. Tis a shame how you generalize the Ooze that way. Here recently a super conservative crazy poster showed up and we all, conservatives liberals etc. came together as a family and defended each other.
    ah well. But it’s always easy to talk about a place when you are no longer there.
    LY both

  • lance white says:

    I just want to see open dialogue that gives mutual respect to one another whether we agree with them or not. If we feel that the other person is wrong then there are ways to do express that with respect. It doesn’t always have to be a finger pointing display. To be honest, I think that Spencer would say the same thing.
    Raise a fine BREW to open, respectful, dialogue!

  • lance white says:

    I just want to see open dialogue that gives mutual respect to one another whether we agree with them or not. If we feel that the other person is wrong then there are ways to do express that with respect. It doesn’t always have to be a finger pointing display. To be honest, I think that Spencer would say the same thing.
    Raise a fine BREW to open, respectful, dialogue!

  • Mike Clawson says:

    We’re still there Seraphim, we just choose not to engage.
    And I can’t even imagine how extreme this “super conservative crazy poster” must have been if even some of the guys on theOoze that I can think of thought he was too much.

  • Seraphim says:

    Gandalf! Good to hear from you. She went by veronica veil and was really bad. And honest, agnostics, liberals conservatives came together and acted like family.
    God’s Peace

  • Helen says:

    Seraphim does Veronica Veil have a blog?
    Did anyone try being nice to her or did you all just defend each other?
    Was Jesus part of a group which defended each other against outsiders? Do you think he was for or against that?

  • Seraphim says:

    I’ve hijacked enough. God’s peace to you all.
    And Helen, you’re welcome to browse the Ooze to get your answers.

  • hi Seraphim!
    I loved the Ooze, I really did. But when you have to give up something because the high levels of antagonism there increased the danger levels of an already high risk pregnancy, well sometimes its just better to back away.

  • nate says:

    I sat in on a conversation with Spencer at the 06 Emergent Gathering, he was charming, playful, and an excellent crafter of images and analogies. I had received a phone call telling me my grandfather had passed away earlier that morning, Spencer’s questions were really helpful in parsing the next two weeks.
    I think the two of you, chatting, playing back and forth will be quite a fun conversation to sit in on. My only request is that you engage with him as playfully as you engaged the subject of Emerging Poop Slides, that and talk for more then half an hour … 😉

  • Helen says:

    Thanks Seraphim – I’ll go look.

  • spencer says:

    Please feel free to join us on the conference call – call in to 218 486-1300, bridge number 900438 on June 13th at 11am PST. We will record it and post it later that day – you can find it on iTunes “Soularize Podcast”.

  • Green19 says:

    A conference call? Excellent! 🙂

  • Tim says:

    To answer your question, yes, people tried to be nice to VV. Even though I REALLY don’t agree with her rhetoric, I’ve become cordial, and to some degree, friendly with her. I don’t know if you’ve ever visited THE OOZE before, but it’s a very diverse place. I’ve been posting there for a little over three years, and moderating some forums for a little less than that, and I have NEVER seen someone catalyze the entire group into a united front. It was rather amazing, and I believe something that God used for His greater glory.

  • Anne says:

    I thought I’d just add my exclamation mark to Tim’s post. I’ve never seen such solidarity on the Ooze before when VV was making some brutal attacks on our Catholic sibs.
    Anyway, Helen, do stop in. We’d love to have you.

  • Helen says:

    Thanks Anne – I probably don’t have time to get involved there, though.

  • Helen says:

    Thanks Tim.

  • Bene Diction says:

    This is fun. If people are going to throw ‘heretic’ about, it might be useful to understand the term.
    Over at Faith and Theology, Kim Fabricius tosses out some meat with 10 Propositions on Heresy. Who knew?:^)

  • Matt Stone says:

    Should prove interesting

  • Timothy Wright says:

    Mutual Respect is overated. I can’t imagine respecting Hitler or Pol Pot’s position on almost every issue.

  • Tony Stiff says:

    Andrew perhaps the best way to begin this conversation isn’t by posing whether or not Spencer is a heretic but rather by asking what a ‘heretic’ is in the first place.
    Without clarity on that point I could see your conversation with Spencer turning into a ‘he said, she said’ kind of discussion.
    I for one would be interested to see how both of you wrestle with that question. I have wrestled with it a good bit myself, having friends that have been labeled as such and even carrying the stigma from time to time.
    In my mind ‘heretic’ as a label has been used for purely power-play reasons in theological and ecclesiological debates in the church, but it still remains a biblical way to define opponents of the gospel and must be used as a category if the emerging church is going to renovate the traditional church, and not become another separate historical development completely apart from the traditional church.
    Cheers on this convo…

  • andrew jones says:

    thanks tony. spencer has probably posted his podcast and i think i quoted spencers words on what he means by heretic and i interacted with him on that – how i understand what he is getting at – and perhaps Jesus was heretical in some ways – but that i dont use the word in a positive light because of its usage in church history and common understanding.
    but i see his heart on that. take a listen and see what you think.

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