Interview with author and influential thinker in the Emergent Church movement looks at Christianity 10,000 years from now.

heretic-s-guideJoin Skeptiko host Alex Tsakiris for an interview with the author of, A Heretic’s Guide to Eternity, Spencer Burke.  During the interview Mr. Burke is asked about the future of Christianity in light of discoveries regarding the nature of consciousness, “I take a long view of history. So let’s say 10,000 years from now the Christians look back at us in the early, nostalgic age of early Christianity in the year 2000. Think about all the understanding and knowledge they will have. This perspective gives us a little bit of freedom to hold things a bit loosely.  If I say, ‘what I have right now, if I lose it I lose who I am’… that’s a difficult place to be. But if I say, ‘here’s who I am today’, now I have the freedom and strength to continue to move forward without the fear or worry of discovering, learning, growing, evolving… whatever words you want to use… maturing in ‘the way’… why are we so afraid of that?”

Mr. Burke also examines the future direction of the Emergent Church movement he helped found, “…you know the pendulum swung so hard in some ways with the Emerging Church, and I love that, but it’s also got to find some reality and that’s my quest. Like in my book, Making Sense of the Church, I was struggling with the idea of saying all evangelism is just evil. And I’m like, no, just evil evangelism is evil. Leadership’s bad. No, bad leadership is bad. Isn’t there good leadership? Good evangelism? And I think what Skeptiko is doing with this in a beautiful way is maybe creating that hybrid. I think that’s what this next thing is.”

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Alex Tsakiris: Welcome to Skeptiko where we explore controversial science with leading researchers, thinkers, and their critics.

I’m your host, Alex Tsakiris, and for those of you who have been following this show for a while, you might realize that we’ve kind of been going down two tracks.

One track, of course, is exploring the science of consciousness. This has more-or-less been the mainstay of the show. We’ve primarily focused on evidence that this here-now mind model of consciousness, if you will, that is that everything that makes you you is generated by your brain right here and right now. That’s obviously the prevailing model in science. What we’ve been focusing on is that that model, that paradigm, is more-or-less being swamped by data that suggests otherwise. So on this show we’ve interviewed Rupert Sheldrake and Morphic Residence and Dean Radin and Presentience and Remote Viewing and Global Consciousness Project and on and on and on.

Lately we’ve been looking at near-death experience. All of these phenomena and the data that the research into them has generated contradicts this model that our mind is generated by what our brain is doing right here, right now, that chemistry. Overturning that model has such a profound effect for just about every area of science that you look at that it really deserves a lot of attention that we’ve given it on this show to really understand what that research is telling us.

At the same time, of course, we’ve had to look at the opinions of the hold-outs, the skeptics, and the folks that are saying, “Not so fast.” And this point of view is probably best expressed by Dr. Richard Wiseman, who’s been a guest on the show a couple times and who takes the position that sure, all that data is great, but it’s not enough to convince me. It may be enough for any other field of science, but for such a revolutionary idea it’s not enough. It falls under this “extraordinary claims, extraordinary proof” thing that you’ve heard me talk so much about on this show.

So that’s been the mainstay of Skeptiko, along with let’s add to that first track this idea that we’ve explored which is how do these new understandings of consciousness affect religious thought and the culture war issues of science and religion? And that’s been something we’ve explored as well on this show in really looking at how, in a lot of ways, many of the traditional religious institutions that we deal with, at least in the West, are just as wed to this model of materialism, this model of here-now brain. They’re just as wed to it as some of the old school scientists that we’ve talked to.

So all that’s well and good, but as some of you might have picked up and I hope you’ve picked up by now-there’s also this other track that I’ve been starting to explore because it interests me greatly. And that is where do we go with this new paradigm? So you jump the chasm of the here-now mind model and you say, “Okay, the data is so overwhelming that that model of consciousness, that it’s all right here formed by my brain, that really doesn’t seem to fit the data anymore. I’m going to go to the other side. I’m going to accept these new understandings. Where do I go from there?”

And some of the questions that emerge out of that are quite challenging. For example, what might it mean to say that our consciousness seems to survive our bodily death? I mean, what are the implications for that? Beyond science, what are the personal implications for that? What are the spiritual implications for that? However you define spirituality.

So as you can see and as you’ve heard in some of the recent episodes, these kinds of questions send us in a different direction. In a direction beyond pure science. I think that’s necessary if we’re really going to try and wrap our arms around the meaning of this new paradigm shift.

That’s certainly in line with today’s show, because on today’s show I’m going to introduce you to Spencer Burke, an author and thinker who’s been at the center of something called the Emerging Church Movement or the Emergent Church Movement or the Progressive Church Movement. It has a bunch of different names. But the idea behind this and why I find it so interesting is that it jumps outside of this win/lose cultural war paradigm that we’ve had on science and religion. It starts asking the kind of questions that I think you ask when you get to this new model of consciousness.

Spencer has always been somewhat of a maverick among Christians, all the way from the 60s when he was part of the Jesus People Movement. He was one of the first people in what has been dubbed as the Seeker-Driven Christianity Movement. But as you’ll see in this dialogue with Spencer, the ideas that he has and what he brings to the table really transcend Christianity per se and get at the deeper issues of how we deal with who we are in light of information that can seriously challenge our belief systems.

That’s what I think Skeptiko has been about, looking at information, data, science that seriously challenges our belief systems and causes us to rethink these fundamental questions of who we are. So in that sense, I think a look at the Christian Emergent Church Movement is really central to a lot of the issues we’ve been talking about here on Skeptiko.

I really enjoyed the opportunity to dialogue with Spencer. I really connected with a lot of his ideas and I hope you’ll enjoy this interview with Spencer Burke.

Alex Tsakiris: Tell us what the Emergent Church, the Postmodern Church, the Progressive Church, just for someone coming in cold, what’s this about?

Spencer Burke: The beauty of it is, someday somebody’s going to write the history and we’ll kind of know. From a little bit of an insider and now almost a little bit of an outside observing it from another direction too, is that it was this wonderful, amazing quest to ask some questions rather than seeing Christianity as married to the modern project.

You know, the whole idea of postmodernism-again, I don’t think there will be a postmodern Church-but the Church has been affected by postmodernity and so I think of all the questioning as much as the answers. It’s the breaking away from hierarchy and institutions for institution’s sake. The strong sense of trying to be non-dualistic, I mean, that’s a huge part of it and also kind of embracing an ever-evolving or progressive or progressing way of seeing all things.

Alex Tsakiris: See, because what I see when I look at this Emergent Church Movement and it’s coming from this perspective that we’ve had on this show in terms of following the data wherever it leads and looking at what the scientific foundation might be for these spiritual experiences that people do seem to have, and it’s pretty much undeniable from a scientific standpoint. What I see in the Emergent Church is a willingness to face the truth in a little bit more direct way than we kind of expected.

And the truth being in terms of New Testament scholarship and everything we’ve learned over the last 50 years and letting go of this inherent Bible. Letting go of this divinely inspired book. Letting go of this idea that Christianity is somehow singularly The Path. And I think that there’s such a freedom in letting that go and such an opportunity-I love the term emergent because I think so much can emerge by letting that go. I guess my question is am I misreading that?

Spencer Burke: I do think that but I also-in the sense that I have a little personal saying. I say, “If I’m not a little embarrassed by what I said yesterday, I probably didn’t learn anything today.” So there’s a sense of humility that comes along with following in the way of Jesus. But it also has this beautiful non-dualistic way of approaching it. So if someone does subscribe to a certain set of understandings, it’s when they force that on another person to the extent of control that it’s difficult.

I think as Thomas Merton asked way before his time-here’s this Christian who’s a Catholic and a mystic but he ends up even on his last meeting, I think it was Bangkok, speaking to a group of Buddhist Monks that are within a mystical tradition. And so it’s not that he ever asked who he was. In fact, he was invited because of his rootedness or groundedness in his understanding. But he didn’t have to judge another for this point to be valid. He didn’t have to destroy another person to somehow validate his own position.

Alex Tsakiris: One thing I really enjoyed, and again I have to point people to your website which is really like a portal to so many different streams that you can tap into. So if anyone’s at all interested in this topic and what might be emerging out of this new rethinking of Christianity, I really encourage you to check out Spencer’s website. But one of the video productions I saw, which is extremely well done, was this interview with Brian McLaren.

I really loved his questions of what this new Christianity might be, and I particularly honed in on the last one because I thought it takes what you just said about embracing other religions/wisdoms/traditions, whatever you want to call it, but it really took it one step further. It’s more that hey, I’m not going to cop some superior attitude over the Buddhists. It was fully, fully embracing that these other wisdom traditions may be just as valid, may be more valid, may be who knows? But that we can fully embrace other people who are having these spiritual experiences and these spiritual understandings and we might fully learn from where they’re coming from.

I think that’s such an interesting balancing act for a Christian to consider that they could really do both without one being superior or better or holding back and saying, “Yeah, but mine really is a little bit better.”

Spencer Burke: I wrote a book called, Making Sense at Church and there was a little line in there that didn’t get caught or any attention originally and then just recently it’s gotten me in a lot of hot water. I was like, “That’s a pretty old book.” But it was basically this idea of Thich Nhat Hanh. I think the book was Living Buddha, Living Christ and he talked so strongly about Jesus as The Way, The Truth, The Light.

Now here I’m coming from a conservative evangelical seminary, 22 years in ministry, I mean I’ve been preaching on this. And here is this wonderful, amazing, beautiful man who Dr. Ching had nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Merton called him a close spiritual brother. But he’s someone who I’m not allowed to preach on, talk about, or even read. He’s off the evangelical-approved list. But what he said was, thinking about Jesus as The Way.

Not as the definitive article the, but The Way as in The Tao, in the direction, the absolute God imprint, you know? And I’m like, “That’s it! That makes sense.” So the person who brought one of the largest Christian conversions in my live was a Buddhist monk. I mean that’s just a fascinating idea.

Alex Tsakiris: It is fascinating, and Spencer, it’s amazing that you’d reference Thich Nhat Hanh and in particular that book because I can remember specifically the moment-I was actually listening to the book on tape-but I remember the moment that I heard that.

I sent you this clip. I had a really interesting interview with Dr. Jeff Kripal, who is the head of the Department of Religion at Rice University, and is really looking at things from a comparative religion thing and has some other ideas about where this whole thing might be going. If I can, I want to play you that clip and see where that might take this conversation we’re having. Is that okay?

“I have no desire to return to a religious world view that is essentially dysfunctional now. I’m thinking more of creating a new religious world view. Not me, personally, mind you but as a culture…When a religious system starts out nobody knows where they’re going. And they never, ever, ever come out of nowhere. They’re always syntheses or fusions of scientific knowledge of the time and the different cultures that are interacting. And so where I’d place my hope isn’t on Church A or Synagogue B or Scientist X. It’s the future generations who can put this stuff together in a completely new way.”

Alex Tsakiris: Any thoughts on that?

Spencer Burke: Right, well, I wrote another book called, Heretic’s Guide to Eternity and it was a whole conversation about the idea of institutional religion and spirituality. Again, I don’t think we have to destroy one to get the other because spiral dynamics would invite us to allow everyone at every level to engage. So I want to be generous and not rude, I guess, to all those on their spiritual journey. But I would say as soon as I think I’ve got something, it changes.

And as soon as I begin to feel comfortable with something, my son who’s 12 is going to say, “Wait, dad, couldn’t it be this way?” And I may even have to, in love, let go of some of the comfortable things in my own personal journey to embrace him in his journey, as we journey together as well. So there are just so many different factors in playing this. But I do not believe in a static or stagnant relationship with God.

Alex Tsakiris: I think that’s awesome. For me, personally, I’m totally onboard with you. But if we take a step higher and wrap ourselves around this culture that we live in and these institutions that we have to navigate through in our lives, can we get there from here? I think that’s what Kripal’s really getting to. Can this institution that still has a very, very pervasive influence on our society, and this is traditional Christianity, can it make that leap?

Spencer Burke: I can only speak on a personal level and so when I talk about my last 10 years in the emerging Church, and then now moving more into this next resource Church, another good friend of mine, Ori Brafman, wrote a book called Starfish and the Spider. He talks about hybrids and I can’t remember exactly so I’ll probably botch this-check the book-but this is his basic idea. The reference is he talks about movements like Alcoholics Anonymous would have never happened without the Quakers because it was the network of those people that allowed this message to be shared and changed lives all over.

But again, it’s because the institutional Church rejected this program that he had brought to the Church. So one part of the Church might embrace it while the other doesn’t but we know that what’s alive and real will last and move forward. Those things that are dead will be able to be the fertilizer of what’s next. In Southern California they wipe it all out and whatever, but in some ways that’s the only way the next new seedlings can pop up.

Alex Tsakiris: I hear you and you’re coming through loud and clear that you’re not wedded to the institution of Christianity, but only using what you can resource out of it to propel you on your spiritual journey. I think that’s great. I mean, if I’m hearing you right. Is that more or less what you’re…?

Spencer Burke: Yeah, absolutely.

Alex Tsakiris: Then let’s talk a little bit about-since I can’t pin you down on the culture war thing there, and I think you’re smart to avoid it because it’s a nowhere discussion, but let’s talk a little bit about another thing that fascinates me about the spiritual journey and the way people process it.

It came up also with my interview with Jeff Kripal and I don’t have this clip for you to play, but it’s this idea-and I hear it from Christians and non-Christians alike. I think it’s also interesting that I haven’t really heard it from you, which I like. I like the fact that I haven’t heard it. And that’s this it works thing. So you push a Christian with the Apologetics and hey, does this really measure up? If you get into that kind of debate and then what you will invariably hear is, “Hey, this works for me. This works for me in my life. For the last 20 years following the Bible in this way has worked for me.”

Which I think on one hand is great, you know? But on another hand, I think there are a lot of people, myself included, that need to push that a little bit further because we all know that if we just go with what works, it can lead us in all sorts of strange places. And we can view other people out there who maybe we think have led to not-so-great places, the David Koresh’s or whatever religious cult, Jim Jones. Hey, weren’t they just following what works?

Spencer Burke: Right. Well, so a lot of times people try the things that work and that guides them to that point. Here’s a great example. When people say, “Wait a minute. We’re supposed to be the Light of the world. That’s what Jesus called us to be.” And I’m like, “I love it. That’s great.” But institutional Christianity and Old World Christianity kind of pushes away from science, pushes away from other progressive ways of thinking about our relationship with God, tend to say, “Let me tell you what light is.” And they’ll say, “You need a match. You need some oil or some fuel for it. And you need oxygen.” Well, the problem is that I don’t live in that world anymore. So when I think of light, I’m actually thinking about trying to get an alternating current, you know, that’s invisible. And then I’m looking for things that would be like gasses or filaments, you know? And just to make it brighter doesn’t mean that I have to throw more wood on. It may be just changing what I’m trying to illuminate.

Alex Tsakiris: So let me refine that a little bit. Is there an inherent tension between what works and what’s real? Because the mystics’ journey, and you’re saying some really mystical things which are no problem for me. I like living in that world. But I like balancing that world with this other world that we live in. So is there an inherent friction between the mystic and the scientist?

Spencer Burke: What I think is the next possible future is to see some of these things wed rather than divided. And so there are times when I think the science so informs us to a point-here’s a simple kind of illustration. My friend, Michael Dowd, he wrote Thank God for Evolution. He comes from much more of a scientific point of view, but like the idea of Original Sin, it was this kind of mystical idea that we’re all bad and beating ourselves up.

Well, Michael goes on to explain that if you have a reptilian brain but really the God Breath in us is the frontal lobe, the ability to reason and think, when I start out when someone starts to attack me, my ability to reflect God is to reason with them, not just to punch them out first. I’ve got to be careful of my weight. Long ago, if nuts and traps and sweets would give me one extra day because I wouldn’t get killed on the way to the refrigerator now, but it’s a problem I have to struggle with. The idea of sexuality. I have the ability to mate with everything, but at this point it’s not necessary. I can make a choice for fidelity.

You see, all of these things that we typically considered as sins really are just choices. So the science begins to allow me to understand words like “fall” where I struggle, I do those things I don’t want to do and the things I want to do I don’t do. Oh, and I’m fighting against the old man, the new man, and going like, “Wow, that could help me understand the idea of my instincts that are fighting against the possibility of making choices now.” But it’s not that I’m a bad person. It’s more that these are my inclinations and if the world was wiped out again, they’d be good inclinations. They keep survival going. And they would be important. Does that make sense?

Alex Tsakiris: Yeah, except it opens up the whole can of worms about evolution in terms of how valid it is as a theory. And purely from a scientific standpoint it’s just more like a collection of loose ideas that seem to fit some places and not other ones. And I’m not sticking any kind of ID label in there. I’m just saying that gets back to this culture war.

It’s this push against and it’s like we’re so against Fundamentalist Christianity, Creationism, that we invent this thing over here called evolution that heck, the guy didn’t even understand cell biology and DNA. He’s a great giant in science for his time but do we really want to follow him like a religion when it just doesn’t make sense in a lot of ways? There’s something more. And I’m not saying that it was…

Spencer Burke: I totally understand. And sometimes it’s the metaphor that comes out of an understanding. Like again, I am not trying to defend one thing or another. That’s the beauty of the position that we could take, is that the story-like some people might fight for a literal understanding of Creation. Others might fight for evolution. All of these kind of things. I’m saying where can we come to some common ground in understanding with this without trying to make one person right or wrong? I think that’s the hard part. I think we’re moving into a non-dualistic world that allows…

Alex Tsakiris: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. But I’m not sure I want to move totally there. I mean, that’s gets me back to Jeff Kripal. That’s exactly what he says. Hey, let’s look at the narrative and let’s look at these things as a narrative. Hey, I’m okay with that, you know? As far as it goes but I do think I have-and a lot of other people because our culture is kind of geared this way-have a need for the scientific truth, which is a tricky proposition.

So what I’d throw out on the table and then maybe we can move on is the Dali Lama, who famously says, “Hey, if science were to prove that any Buddhist teaching is incorrect scientifically, then Buddhism would have to change because we’re about the truth.” I just think that’s so profoundly obvious and yet so isn’t a part of what we understand Christianity to be. I mean, I think the world would change if every pulpit on Sunday the pastor, the preacher, whoever, stood up there and said, “Hey, we’re just about the truth. So there really isn’t any culture war here. Whatever the truth turns out to be, that’s okay because that’s what we’re about. That’s what Jesus was about. That’s what this whole thing is about is finding the truth.”

But you don’t hear that. Instead, we’ve introduced this struggle like your truth is not my truth and we can’t really find the truth. Or this fallback position that I really am not totally comfortable with is hey, it’s all a narrative. There are no real truths. Well, there’s some element of truth to that because our culture influences all these things but most of us feel like-especially men-we feel like there’s something in there that is more true than something else.

Spencer Burke: Right. Well, try this. It may be a certain way. And that is evolving absolutes. I think that’s what you’re saying is we hold a truth to be true until we learn that it’s not true. You know what I mean? And then it’s either ignorance up to that point and stupidity not to somehow integrate that into our understanding.

Take for instance-anyone who says that they’re a literalist and you can’t change the scriptures or whatever, you just take the case of slavery. There is no way of justifying slavery as immoral based on scripture. It’s just impossible. Paul talked about it. The whole book of Solomon is about taking back the slaves. And masters treat your slaves-that’s not employment by any stretch of the imagination. But there are a ton of other scriptures that talk about neither slave nor free. I mean all of these kinds of contents, but they seem like they’re in direct opposition.

Well eventually we came to a place where we go, “Wait a minute. We cannot own another human being.” Even though people justified ownership of a human being by scripture. I think they’re doing that right now with women. Some would say that they might even be doing it with gays. So there is this sense that I think we always have to be ready as the information comes. Again, this can some from science, from observation, from understanding. And it might even come from a mystical tradition, I don’t know. But it allows us to live our lives each day within boundaries, but always open to the possibility that the next is coming. And I think that’s what the Emerging Church or Emergence has done for us. But it also allows us not to get wed to that but always ready and open and able to adopt to the next.

Alex Tsakiris: Yeah, and there’s so many different ways to pull it apart.

Spencer Burke: Absolutely. Yeah, yeah. This is fascinating. I love that. Again, without the whole context I heard just a little bit and read some of the stuff. But I hope some of this helps expose some people-like I said, there are thousands and thousands, tens of thousands of people that are just beginning to ask these questions. I think what may happen is they’ll create other-just like you, you stepped up and said, “Hey, I’m going to create this website and this podcast.” And I think that’s what happens. We inspire each other to move forward.

Alex Tsakiris: Yeah, and I’ve certainly tried to do that. But it’s amazing, everyone’s like you said. Everyone’s at a different place and everyone can do different things and we all just have to do the best we can. What I’ve tapped into and I think it’s a reflection of where I’m coming from or where I’ve been is I think there’s a lot of people who label themselves as Atheists. I think there’s a lot of people who label themselves as scientifically-minded. They wouldn’t go as far as Atheism but they haven’t been really approached from where they’re coming from.

So people hit them with either a condescending or an adversarial kind of thing rather than to say, “You know what? Thank you. You’ve done a lot of good things here. Let’s also hold you accountable to what you espouse to.” That’s my angle. You espouse to critical thinking; you espouse to logic and reason. Okay, let’s apply those here and see if we don’t get to this other place, which is spirit seems to be real from the best we can tell. Consciousness seems to survive death. I mean, that’s my whole thing.

If you get to the point where you say, “Hey, if science has established that consciousness survives death, and we don’t understand all that means, but that seems to be what the data is saying. Don’t we have to go back and look at all those people that you were kind of scoffing at over there? All those Christians? All those Buddhists? All those other folks? Don’t we have to maybe go and revisit them and just see because they were saying that all along? Maybe they had some of the details right but maybe their overall ontology was a little bit closer to what we’re finding out than what you thought.”  I mean, that’s humbling too.

Spencer Burke: Right. You know what’s fascinating is in this next turn of events I think a lot of the things that-you know the pendulum swung so hard in some ways with the Emerging Church and I love that. But it’s also got to find some reality and that’s what my quest is. So listening to you it’s almost like some of these seemingly contradictory ideas can emerge. So like I see you developing a post-modern Apologetic.

Like in my book, Making Sense of the Church, I was struggling with the idea of saying all evangelism is just evil. And I’m like, no, just evil evangelism is evil. Leadership’s bad. No, bad leadership is bad. Isn’t there good leadership? Good evangelism? And I think what you’re doing with this in a beautiful way is maybe creating that hybrid. I think that’s what this next thing is.

In some ways the Emerging Church was as dualistic as the modern work and now we can move into this hybrid place that allows us to have these seemingly contradictory things begin to be expanded and explored. And that, I think, can be fascinating. It sounds like that’s going to be part of what you’re doing. I would love to continue in this journey and hear and see and watch that thing develop.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, I’ll make sure that that happens. And just to build on your last point, I think that’s why I tapped into Jeff Kripal so much. It’s like I used to be in my business life and I had a little company and all that, but I remember my sales training and when the guy said, “If you’re selling a suit and a guy comes in and he puts on the jacket and he says, ‘Hey, that looks nice,’ he’s not buying the jacket. But if he puts it on and he kind of swivels over this way and tucks this way and pulls that way, that guy’s buying the jacket because he wants it just right, you know?”

So when I dialogued with Jeff Kripal and he says, “Hey, it’s about the narrative. We can’t just be science, or the way Marcus Borg says that it’s ‘poetry plus,’ not science minus, you know? It irks me a little bit because wait a minute. What really is the truth? But at the same time I’m drawn to that because I think as you’re alluding to, that’s the evolution. The evolution is hey, you know what? It really is the narrative and we’re all just telling ourselves a story. We can look and see where our stories mesh and where we have this consensus reality, but we always have to check back and remember it is just a story.

Spencer Burke: Yep, yep, yep. No, I agree. And our ability-that’s the other part is our ability to begin to grasp and understand it today, and I probably shouldn’t say this, but basically I think the thing that’s going to be interesting because I take a long view of history personally. So let’s say 10,000 years from now the Christian Church or the Christians look back at us in the early nostalgic age of early Christianity in the year 2000. Think about all the understanding and knowledge and discovery that they will have had. It’s kind of looking back at the first century church or whatever. We just didn’t have some of the tools to be able to understand what we know now.

Alex Tsakiris: I think that’s so insightful and it points the way towards where that place might be. It sends your mind in a completely different place, doesn’t it?

Spencer Burke: And it might even give us a little bit of freedom to be able to hold things a little bit loosely in the sense of saying what I have right now, if I lose it I lose who I am. That’s a difficult place to be. But if you say, “Here’s who I am today,” now I have the freedom and strength in this position and place to continue to journey and move forward without the fear or worry of discovering, learning, growing, evolving, whatever words you want to use. Maturing in the way. Everything from science to religion has language to be able to let you do that. Why are we so afraid of that?

Alex Tsakiris: Spencer, you are onto something there. I think that’s awesome. That’s really beautiful and I haven’t heard anyone really articulate it in that way. So great, I am really, really fascinated to see where that goes for you. Tell us a little bit about where you’re going, where the OOZE is going, and why that is the next natural progression, at least from the way that you see it.

Spencer Burke: You know, I consider myself just kind of a host or a scout, maybe a guide, and so I don’t know if I’m heading down a rabbit trail or whatever, but for me I’ve got a journey down this way. So for instance, with OOZE, we’re actually going to archive the first 10 years to make it the first electronic document of some movement within the Church, and donate it to a seminary. So that should be interesting. So there’ll be an archived part and then there will be an active part, which is the message boards and articles. There are just tens of thousands of people just discovering this idea. Again, you’ve got to make room for everybody at each level to begin to engage it. So that will continue on.

Where I’m moving on to, and I just set up my own personal website,, where I’m going to start to explore some of these ideas, but I’m actually going to go back, I think into a hybrid way of rethinking what the Church is and the expression of the body of Christ as it’s sent out in scripture or whatever. I think it’s pretty much moving beyond the institution of religion and church but moving more towards a vested Church or I’d say in a positive way, a resourced Church.

So I think that some of the electronic tools that have helped people be able to share their ideas on the Web, so people have been able to write books without having to have a publisher. They’ve been able to create songs and movies without having to be green-lit projects. And the other part is, I think, people who have felt disenfranchised by institutions in the past and haven’t been able to find a life mate; all of a sudden a website comes up. It’s not that there’s online marriages, but I’m talking about tools that help people create physical things on the other side.

That’s where I think part of this next game is going to move, is kind of flattening the structure and allowing people to begin to engage their world with what I think the Gospel is, love. You’ve got to love your neighbor as you love yourself. And so I think there will be a social aspect of this, of how to volunteer and give to your community and to the world. I think there will be a relational aspect for people who feel disenfranchised being able to connect with each other. So we’re playing with the idea of resourcing the way of Jesus. Kind of a Church that’s built more on a smart model than it is on a hierarchical structure kind of idea.

Alex Tsakiris: It certainly sounds exciting. We look forward to seeing how that evolves. It’s quite a project you’re taking on there. [Laughs] Really.

Spencer Burke: [Laughs] I know.

Alex Tsakiris: You’re really suggesting you’re going to wrestle controls from some pretty powerful institutions, but hey, every revolution starts that way.

Spencer Burke: Right. And not thinking necessarily in a dualistic way. I mean, I think the traditional Church will be around forever. It would be rude to try to steal that from-you know, my relatives quite honestly, they love that. And 25 million have left the Church in the past few years. Then Bill Heidel was telling us with the Reveal Study that they’ve left for all the right reasons. These are people who don’t want to sit in a pew and stare at the backs of the heads of people. They want to get out in the streets and serve people. On occasion they want to dig deeper for that truth, you know, and not have a sugared-down idea.

Again, I’m not trying to say that that’s bad, but it’s not for me. It would not bring life to me. I’m very strong and clear about that. But that doesn’t mean that I can just sit around and not try to find what’s next for me and for those who I journey with.

Alex Tsakiris: Well, best of luck on that journey. I will be checking in to see where it takes you.

Spencer Burke: That would be great. And it’s so fun, I really enjoyed being able to journey with so many people, including you. I’ve really enjoyed checking out the website and I’m looking forward to continuing on our conversation.

Alex Tsakiris: Thanks again to Spencer Burke for joining me today on Skeptiko. If you’d like more information you can check out his website at or the All those links are provided in the show notes at There you’ll also find links to all our previous shows and an email on Facebook link to me. Don’t forget to tell your friends about Skeptiko. Continue to write about us, link to us, and blog to us. I certainly want to expand this community as much as it needs to be expanded. Your role in doing that is appreciated.

I have an interesting interview coming up next episode with Dr. Pim Van Lommel. Stay with me for that. And until next time, bye for now.