The Meredith J. Sprunger Archive
Clergy Evaluate The Urantia Book
Many of us as we read the Gospels marvel that the Pharisees and Sadducees did not perceive the high spiritual quality and wisdom of the teachings of Jesus. We tend to forget the great influence of tradition and the power of authority in institutional religion. Prophetic messages are usually opposed by institutional power structures for decades before the truth of their insights is generally recognized. This is the nature of religious growth. All individual and social development has a basic evolutionary component.
Some thirty-five years ago while serving as vice-president of what was then the Indiana-Michigan Conference of the United Church of Christ, Judge Louis Hammerschmidt, the lay member of our conference board, gave me a copy of The Urantia Book. My life has not been the same since. After several years of critical study and thought, I became convinced that it had an authentic revelatory message. It seemed that my entire existence and experience had been prepared for its transcendent spiritual vision.
I knew that my life must be dedicated to building an interface between this amazing book, which claims to the the Fifth Epochal Revelation in the history of our planet, and mainline Christianity. I spent years thinking about how this could be done wisely and effectively. After decades of bootlegging Urantia Book concepts in my preaching and teaching, it became clear to me that no amount of evolutionary eloquence or insight is an adequate substitute for the revelation itself. Through experience I became convinced that only the Fifth Epochal Revelation has the integrated spiritual dynamics to bring a spiritual renaissance in our society. Therefore, in 1979 we organized and incorporated the Christian Fellowship of Students of The Urantia Book to serve as an aegis for such a ministry.
Starting in 1983, we sent letters along with a pamphlet and an offer of a loan book to all of the United Church of Christ ministers in the United States and the United Methodist ministers in the Northern Indiana Conference. From the 8,000 personal letters sent,there were 330 ministers who asked for loan books. This 4% request for loan books was greater than the 1% which we hypothesized would ask for books. Around 25% of those who examined the book have purchased their own personal copy. As anticipated, we received both positive and negative comments on the book. The following is a representative sample of each.
"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 from 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 than 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 to use the book as a source document!"
"Having examined in considerable detail The Urantia Book, I am now returning it to you 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."
"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 carries it out in a grand and convincing scale. Thanks for introducing us."
"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 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."
"The book has made a tremendous impact on the thought life of a number of faculty at the University of 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."
"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 insights.' Thank you for the work you are doing."
"Thank you very much for sending me The Urantia Book...I was glad to get 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 Emmanuel 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 earth. Second, the fact that the author or authors chose to conceal themselves in 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 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!" "Its a great book. Thank you for sharing it with me." "This book was very enjoyable. Thanks."
We received many more comments but all pretty much reflecting these same positive and negative observations. Most of these ministers had the book for only three months and obviously did not have the time for an in depth, critical evaluation. The Christian Fellowship of Students of The Urantia Book is interested in stimulating knowledgeable people in all fields of learning, especially those with backgrounds in theology, philosophy, and science to undertake critical evaluations of the book. This is the way revelation is validated or invalidated in our society and culture. We believe The Urantia Book will hold up under such examination. In any case this is the acid test of truth which determines whether spiritual teachings live and nourish humankind or are passing phenomena on the human scene.
I should like to close this brief paper by quoting from a letter we received from a Professor of Philosophy who teaches in one of the well known universities of the country. He first heard of The Urantia Book in the early 70's and was unimpressed. Some time ago a former student suggested that he read the book. Since he respected the student's judgment, he got a copy of The Urantia Book and started reading it. Although the professor has not finished reading the book and therefore does not want his name attached to any recommendation, he is amazed at its substantive content.
He comments, "It is, in my judgment, an amazingly sophisticated, spiritually moving, and metaphysically insightful document, this Urantia Book! I have been reading philosophical and theological tracts (my major work has been in Heidegger and German philosophy) for many years, and I have never come across a work that is both so philosophically satisfying in its depiction of the Divine, as well as so uplifting, reassuring, and spiritually profound. Clearly, the appearance of this book is an important event in world history. Its description of and justification of the existence of a truly personal, although infinite, Divinity is simply beautiful. I'm not sure what else I need to say to you, except that I am interested in becoming somehow involved in a network of people who have encountered this text and who have been moved by it in a way similar to the way in which it is effecting me....
"What is it about this book that makes it, for me and for so many other people, such a compelling, persuasive, and moving work? I've read a great many spiritual tracts from a great many religious traditions, but none of them has had the penetrating power of this book. I really am at a loss of what to make of it, except to conclude that it really is what it purports to be. Of course, the very idea that—in effect—angelic entities communicated this work through a human being is absurd to the contemporary secular mind, but such a mind is very limited. We humans are barely evolved beyond the level of animals, so it is not surprising that we have difficulty imagining and taking seriously levels of reality that transcend our own."
This professor voices the reaction which most of us "religious professionals" have when we first look at The Urantia Book—"gnostic," "esoteric," "absurd." Then those of us who take the time to actually read the book find something quite different than we anticipated. It has substance, balance, spiritual insight, and an amazingly coherent universe picture of reality. Because of its great potential to contribute to the spiritual enhancement and well being of humanity, we think it is important for ministers, theologians, philosophers, and others to engage in a scholarly study, criticism, and evaluation of the book.
(Published in The Spiritual Fellowship Journal, Fall, 1991)