Christian Clergy Evaluate The Urantia Book - I
By Dr. Meredith J. Sprunger
For many years I have felt a sense of responsibility for informing the growing edge of Christianity about The Urantia Book. Since I regard the United Church of Christ as the most progressive denomination among the Christen Churches, I selected this group in my outreach plans.
During the last couple of years I have written around 8000 personal letters to ministers in the United Church of Christ along with some United Methodist pastors. We enclosed a pamphlet telling about the book and a card which they could return to receive a loan copy of the book for three months. Three hundred and twenty-nine ministers, or around four percent, asked for loan books. A little over twenty-four percent of those requesting loan books now have their own personal copies.
You may be interested in the type of responses we received. It is interesting to note that those who were most denunciatory kept the book only a short time and just skimmed the material. Here are some of the comments, beginning with the negative and ending with the positive:
"The Urantia Book is an unfortunate charade. In disseminating it, you not only do no service, you do harm to the reputation of serious gnostic study, as exemplified in the work of Elain Pagels...I will not only not recommend your book, but will publicly deplore it. With a prayer against thinly veiled deception ....”
"While the book is reviewed as modern cosmology like process philosophy, it uses neo-Kabbalistic jargon wholly inappropriate to the 20-21 centuries. It uses magical and gnostic language, viz the 'first Adam and Eve' in literal language. Its perception of the power of N.T. kergyma is still couched in the language of Neoplatonism. It is a bad book and brings no credit to the dynamic kergyma of the Gospels."
"Thanks anyway but this does not speak to me. When you said a synthesis of Whitehead and others, I expected something quite different. Your book seems to perpetuate a new dogma out of completely fanciful materials. Do we really need more mystical fictions, themselves in need of laborious and specialized interpretations?? I couldn't get excited about The Habbit--nor this."
"Having examined in considerable detail The Urantia Book, I am now returning it to your under separate cover. The process of evaluating the book was challenging and interesting and there is much therein to commend this mysterious work.
However, I have come to the tentative conclusion that this is a product of human reasoning and imagination, not divine, extraterrestrial revelation. Given that the book came into being in the mid-1930's I see a number of concepts that reflect the paradigms of that period, not necessarily what we know today, especially In terms of scientific concepts...
Finally, the organization of the universe follows hierarchical patterns reminiscent of the centralized 1930's. Using Occam's Razor, this explanation seems to me to be overly-complex and bureaucratic. Based on these criteria, I find it difficult to accept the authenticity of The Urantia Book. Thank you so much for sharing it with me."
"I have read portions of the book and find that it very neatly weaves the gospels into its narrative, taking care to add other knowledge that we now have of Jesus' time and life. However, it presumes to speculate a bit too much about events such that I might find it Interesting. However, as an authoritative work I find little to commend it. Sorry."
"I am returning your book and the cost of mailing it. I am sorry I bothered you with sending it. It really is not 'my thing.' I am sure it is very meaningful to many people but I am just not interested in it. Thank you."
"I am herewith returning the loan copy of The Urantia Book. Somehow I was not able to delve into its mysteries and moods, though I tried on several occasions.”
"Many thanks for the loan of The Urantia Book. I found the book to be interesting and helpful in some areas but I am not at that point in my own spiritual journey. God's grace and blessing on you and your work."
"I read and sampled various portions of the book. The experience was enlightening, comforting, confusing, shocking, disconcerting, intriguing, reassuring and hopeful. Do most people react this way on first reading from this complex book? ...
I am definitely interested In learning more about this disturbing-yet-fascinating book."
"Its a fascinating book. I've read large parts of it and the other materials you sent me but I must admit I don't know what to make of it. I am a liberal thinker, well read in biblical criticism, ancient mythology, Jungian Psychology, World religions, the history and theology of the Christian faith and the history of art, ritual and culture. I have an open mind. But I find it very difficult to relate the Urantia material to my world view of reality and my faith perspective. It seems to be a literal projection of the inner 'spiritual' realm of the Psyche on to the outer historical world. This is very dangerous ... If you have other material which might help me understand the origin and intent of the book (right now I am very suspicious of its esoteric nature and doubtful of its authorship and 'revelation') I would still be interested (even purchasing) in further reading."
"Thanks for sharing this copy of The Urantia Book. I find it beyond my comprehension and am unable to generate further interest in it”
"Thank you for the loan of The Urantia Book. I have perused the book and find that, from where I now am on my spiritual journey, the book does not speak to me in a powerful way.
I do however have some observations to share with you. I share them fully aware that I have delved into The Urantia Book only superficially.
The origins of the book are indeed important and not, as your pamphlet indicates, of little or no consequence to the content. In fact, content is most frequently determined by origin ... Finally, if the complex hierarchical view of the universe is set aside and the unusual terminology dispensed with, I fail to find much, if anything, new in this revelation.
Now again, let me confess that these are my observations resulting, not from an in-depth study, but from a casual gleaning. However, I appreciate the loan of the book and therefore wanted to give you my honest reaction. At another time in another situation The Urantia Book.may be most meaningful to me. At least now I am aware of its existence.
The Unitarian Universalist Ass'n. has a Psi Symposium for the study of psychic phenomena and the like. Since there are UCC people studying The Urantia Book, and since the president of the Spiritual Frontiers Fellowship (a few years ago anyway) was a UCC clergy person, I'm wandering why the UCC has no officially recognized organization for the study of things on the fringe of spiritual awareness. If you have any thoughts on this, pass them along."
"Thank you for sharing The Urantia Book with me. In the midst of a busy pastorate I found my time strained to deal with it adequately. Much of the content deals with a cosmic philosophical (imaginative) world through which I am neither compelled nor intrigued to fly. When I explored areas of active questioning—i.e. life and teachings of Jesus—I found the blanks filled with the same kinds of inspiration-imagination that I have seen In historical fiction and dramatizations."
"Thank you very much, for sending me The Urantia Book...I was glad to got a look at it, as it is an extraordinary book indeed, though I had never heard of it before your brochure came in the mail. Whoever wrote it had an incredible imagination and also a complex and beautifully structured mind, since as your brochures indicate, even a brief reading of parts of it give the impression of a highly unusual consistency amidst all the exuberant imagination.
It reminds me a little of Emanuel Swedenborg, yet without Swedenborg's concern for virtue and the ethical life. It strikes me that the author could have made a tremendous career in modern science fiction.
I don't say that disparagingly. We need people and literature which widen our horizons spiritually, and let us know that there are more things in heaven and on earth than dreamt of in our philosophy.
Where I find the book unsatisfying is first, the lack of relationship to the concrete realities of our world, the obstacles and difficulties which we actually face in living. It is like 'Dungeons and Dragons,’ seductively capable of drawing someone off into the higher spheres and losing all touch with the earth.
Second, the fact that the author or authors chose to conceal themselves is very unsatisfying. That again bespeaks the minimizing of history and of historical connections which the book presupposes. It's a kind of mammoth 'Gnostic' document for our time, attractive, I'm sure, to those who need to feel that they have some kind of superior esoteric knowledge not available to most poor mortals.
Finally, for all its claim to represent entirely new, indeed infinite levels of knowledge, there are already aspects of its language which sound quaint, passe, as in the references to the 'Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.' At least in the U.C.C., such one-sided sexist language is no longer acceptable."
"I have owned a copy for years. Have read much of it. Some of it is far out and bizarre, some of it is absolutely excellent!”
"Thank you for letting me experience The Urantia Book. I feel its not for me, but I wish you well and appreciate your means of disseminating the information.''
"I thank you for bringing to my attention The Urantia Book. I haven't had time to read much but the material, nonetheless, appears enlightening.”
The Urantia Book is brand new to me. I have never had the pleasure of seeing or scanning a copy. In fact, it is a bit difficult to know where to lay one's hands on a copy. I am impressed that a person with your background has found The Urantia Book such a lively compendium of philosophical, religious and psychological materials.
I will keep my eyes and ears open for a copy and will remain grateful to you for commending this fine resource."
"I am finding the book interesting and though-provoking, and thank you for making it available to me."
"I am absolutely intrigued with The Urantia Book. My only regret is that I have less time to read and think than I would like.”
" Didn't get finished with the book. Super piece of work."
"Thank you for loaning me a copy of The Urantia Book. It was fascinating reading!”
"Thank you. I find the book fascinatingly "
“Its a great book. Thank you for sharing it with me."
"This book was very enjoyable. Thanks."
"The Book has made a tremendous impact on the thought life of a number of faculty at the
University when I recently introduced it to them. I'm completing my doctoral studies
this year ...
Since the Book is making the 'rounds' at present could you possibly send another copy as well, since my wife and I are making a 4th reading of it."
"Even as a neophyte student of The Urantia Book it is clear to me that this book can at the very least be classified as first class wisdom literature.
One major theme appears to be that of understanding all change as some form of evolutionary process. While this is a thesis I have long held The Urantia Book surely carries it out in a grand and convincing scale. Thanks for introducing us."
"Thank you for the opportunity to peruse The Urantia Book. Impressive in its breadth and depth." "I found The Urantia Book fascinating. It clears up in good measure some long-standing questions at the back of my mind. Thanks for introducing me to The Urantia Book!”
"I appreciate the opportunity you afforded me to gain some familiarity with the book. The reading was fascinatingly!”
"I am finding it fascinating and have a lot more reading to do in it. As I received the book during Lent, I started with 'The Final Discourse' and read through to the and of the book. Since then I have gone back to the beginning of the section on the life of Jesus...
I think my daughter and son-in-law would find The Urantia Book interesting. Would it be possible for you to send them an offer of the loan of a copy?"
"I was pleased to receive your letter regarding The Urantia Book. Just a few weeks ago, I picked up a copy of the book in a bookstore. It was the first time I had seen it and I browsed through it briefly and my curiosity was piqued. For some reason, there was no price on it, so I asked the clerk and she looked it up. When I found out, I was forced to admit that I couldn't afford to indulge my curiosity to that extent. Hence, I am happy to accept your offer of a loan copy ...
The big problem for clergy in dealing with any of these, in my view anyway, is that one soon finds oneself at odds with generally accepted Christian Theology. My view is that the generally accepted view is really Pauline theology and is not born out in the life and teachings of Jesus. It seems to me that Paul mixed in a lot of other contemporary religious beliefs with his Christology and thereby stultified any real Christian growth ever since. Perhaps it is time to propound a new Christian Theology, or perhaps a Christine Theology, to distinguish it from the Pauline version."
"I already have a copy of The Urantia Book. But I am so excited to find a group of kindred souls within the church who want to take it seriously. Please send me more information about becoming a part of your Fellowship, and about any interpretive literature you may have. Praise God and thanks."
"Thank you for your letter regarding The Urantia Book; it helped give additional credibility to my frequent use of the guidance and revelation the book has provided me since I acquired it over three years ago.
I showed it to another retired U.C.C. minister a couple of years ago and his response was something like 'although parts of it seem far-fetched, the well written book seems to offer some truthful insight.' Thank you for the work you are doing."
"Last Sunday a clergy friend told me of The Urantia Book. He seems to convince me that it is an amazing source of spiritual wealth for modern man ..
I would much appreciate it if you could donate a copy of your book for our Center."
"I have appreciated reading in The Urantia Book. Although I did not read extensively because I've been involved in a million plus building program, I have read enough to think that I would like to purchase the book. I will write the Urantia Foundation. Many thanks for sharing this with me."
"I am still reading the book—a little at a time. I enjoy it, but find it challenging enough to take slowly.
Are there others in my area with an interest in The Urantia Book? Are there any U.C.C. folk among them? Thank you for introducing me to the book.!'
"I have appreciated the loan of The Urantia Book ... I am most interested in its message.
Every time I have started to package the book for return, I have put it off until another day. I realize that this is not in keeping with the spirit of our agreement. So, I have decided that I want to keep the book for more leisurely study. From some Christmas money I am enclosing a check ...
Thank you for your patience with me and I look forward to further study. God bless you in your work and ministry.”
"I am most enthusiastic about the literature and, as one of my friends shares that enthusiasm, I hope that you might send me another copy which the enclosed check would also cover ... I appreciate your patience and the opportunity given me to examine The Urantia Book."
"The book arrived at a particularly frantic time in my life, and I haven't had the opportunity to more than scan it. As you well know, scanning doesn't do the book justice, and I want to keep the copy until I have the time to delve into it more thoroughly ...
The little reading I was able to do served as a reminder of how pragmatic and earth-bound my intellectual pursuits have become, and how little time I seem to have for things of the spirit. Perhaps The Urantia Book will become the vehicle for changing that."
"Thank you for sending me a loan copy of The Urantia Book. I am finding it a fascinating study and hope to be able to purchase the book in the future ... There are many points at which the book corresponds with my own experience and convictions; others at which I disagree."
"I have enjoyed The Urantia Book and look forward to many pleasurable and instructive hours with it. Thank you for making this service available."
"Thank you so much for the quick delivery of The Urantia Book. I've been so impressed by its contents that I've decided to buy the copy you sent me."
"Thank you for introducing me to The Urantia Book. I noticed it in a bookstore years ago, but passed it by ... I already feel the need to find a forum for some discussion about this book. Even within the political restrictions of the professional ministry, there are some persons I can speak to regarding this work ... reading it has invigorated my preaching and restored much of my faith in Jesus as the Son of God rather then just a wise speaker and just man. While I am at liberty to refer to The Urantia Book with my secretary and friends here (at church), I still feel stifled as the urge moves me o use the book as a source document!”
These excerpts illustrate the varied reactions to The Urantia Book among progressive ministers in our society. It will be decades before most of them feel comfortable in reading The Urantia Book.
Now that I have completed introducing the existence of The Urantia Book to the ministers of one of the most progressive denominations of Christianity, I am content to let the Spirit of Truth and the evolutionary process determine the acceptance and influence of the Fifth Epochal Revelation in our Christian Churches and culture.
As most of you know, the American Academy of Religion hold a Consultation evaluating The Urantia Book for religious studies at their national meeting at Anaheim, November 23-26. It is clear from this first brief scholarly evaluation, as it always has been to many of us, that Urantia Book fundamentalism is just as untenable as Biblical fundamentalism. In the same way that higher criticism established sound foundations for Biblical studies, so must critical scholarship prepare the way for creative study of The Urantia Book. Just as the theologians of mainline Christianity have transcended the doctrine of the literal inspiration of scripture, so must contemporary scholarship deliver us from any illusions of literal infallibility regarding The Urantia Book. We will then be free from defensive, fundamentalistic attitudes and open to evaluate its spiritual insights, cosmology, theology, and its view of human origins, development, and destiny.