The Meredith J. Sprunger Archive
Experiments in Interfacing with Mainline Christianity
Although I examined the Table of Contents of The Urantia Book in December of 1955, it was late in 1956 when I finished reading it and realized that it had epochal potential for transforming religion and religious institutions on our planet. During 1957 I shared it with a small group of United Church of Christ clergy and we started a ministerial study group. I also started a local study group of people in Grace church. Once during the year I mentioned the book in a sermon as an inspirational source worth examining. For twenty-five years I bootlegged concepts from the Urantia Papers in preaching and teaching.
Early Confrontational Events
One of the elders of the church whose family was miffed because the Parsonage Building Committee did not chose their plan, sent a letter to the president of the denomination, Dr. James E. Wagner, complaining about my involvement with The Urantia Book. Dr. Wagner asked two professors of Mission House Theological Seminary to evaluate the book. Some excerpts from their review show that it was quite negative:
" Much of the material strikes one as Gnostic. The Church rejected Gnosticism because it substituted speculation for faith and pretended to know more about Jesus Christ than the commonly accepted tradition of the Church....I personally have a hard time penetrating the depths of the Bible and appropriating its rich vocabulary. If I should spend further time acquainting myself with the ‘gobbledygook' of the Urantia Book, I would be ready to have my head examined!... We must remind readers of the book that the Church acknowledges God's final revelation in Jesus Christ. To claim that the Urantia Book is a new revelation is to excommunicate oneself from the fellowship of the Church. This book adds absolutely nothing to our faith in God as Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. It is superfluous."
Dr. Wagner then contacted the Rev. Henry G. Kroehler, president of the Michigan-Indiana Synod of the Evangelical and Reformed Church, who in turn came to Culver and talked to me about the complaint. My response was that I was not going to use The Urantia Book in church work and was ready to be examined on my theological positions at any time, but that no one was going to tell me what I could or could not read. Henry agreed with my point of view and later wrote a letter to our consistory informing them of the letter written by an elder of Grace Church. The President of the Consistory of Grace Church, Donald B. Hand, wrote Henry Kroehler the following letter, dated 2/25/58:
Dear President Kroehler and members of the Synodical Council:
Two weeks ago you brought to our attention a letter which had been written by one of our Elders to the President of our Denomination complaining of our study with Dr. Sprunger of the Urantia Book, and intimating that some measure of censure by the higher echelon of our church should be applied to us.
At a special meeting of the Consistory on February 19th the matter was presented and discussed fully. The identity of the Elder was not disclosed so that there would be as little cause for personal emotion as possible. From the discussion which followed, may I summarize the feelings of our Consistory: The action of the Elder, although sincere, was ill advised and certainly in direct contradiction of the Constitution of the Evangelical and Reformed Church; furthermore, it was an undemocratic request calling for an authoritarian action not only unwarranted but also inimical to the principles of our democratic processes, both state and church.
As a result of the discussion, the following actions were taken;
l. Motion made and seconded: "It is understood that every member of Grace Church shall recognize the lawful authority and procedures of the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Any complaint shall be brought first to our local Consistory. If the decision of the local Consistory does not satisfy the person or persons carrying the complaint they may appeal to the Synodical Council. If the decision of the Synodical Council is not satisfactory an appeal may be made to the President of the Denomination.
"If any member desires to bring a charge against the minister, this charge shall be made in writing to the Synodical Council of the Michigan-Indiana Synod. Any member not following this lawful procedure shall be liable to the judicatory action of the Spiritual Council of Grace Church." Supported 13 to 1 (Ballot vote.)
2. Resolution offered and supported: "It is understood that Dr. Sprunger will refrain from mentioning or teaching from the Urantia Book in any of his pastoral duties. As a private citizen of this community, however, we have no objection to his conducting a study group on the Urantia Book in his home, the parsonage, at 215 N. Slate Street, Culver, Indiana." Supported 11 to 1 with two abstaining (Ballot vote.)
Dr. Sprunger announced that since he considered this a controversial matter and not necessary to the welfare of the church, he would not conduct a study group in the parsonage even thought there was only one vote against it.
Following these motions, the Consistory members expressed their individual confidence in the efforts which Dr. Sprunger has made to bring us a larger and more meaningful vision of the truths in our Bible and a way in which to apply these truths to our daily lives. We reject any suggestion or pressure which would limit a minister or layman in respect to what he may or may not read or study in an honest search for truth, feeling that though a strong progressive approach to Christian thinking may step on some toes, such an approach is more desirable than that of preserving the "status quo" in which one progresses rapidly backwards.
Assuring you that we are not headed in that direction under our present leadership, and hoping that this satisfactorily explains our disposition of the problem, I am,
Donald B. Hand
President Henry Kroehler's reply, dated 2/26/58 is as follows:
Dear Mr. Hand:
First of all, let me express my appreciation for the contents of your letter of February 25. I also want to add that I thoroughly agree with the procedure which you have outlined in regard to the matter of complaints. At one or two points I would think perhaps a different wording would be more desirable. Yet I think the general spirit of the procedure which you outlined is wholesome.
It seems to me that you are perhaps somewhat unnecessarily severe in the censure against the elder involved in this particular instance when you speak of his action as "an undemocratic request calling for an authoritarian action." I agree that the contact was made through the wrong channel but I am not aware of any request for any authoritarian action. Rather I am quite certain it was primarily an expression of concern.
I also want to share with you and the members of the consistory in the expression of confidence in the work which Dr. Sprunger is doing in your midst. Dr. Sprunger knows that the concern which was expressed in this regard in no way reflects any hesitancy in expressing our appreciation for the excellency of the work he has been doing. I gather, however, from your letter that there might be some thought to hinder "a strong progressive approach to Christian thinking." I feel that I need to assure you that in the Evangelical and Reformed Church there has always been an encouragement for such thorough Christian thinking and that I am sure we shall continue with that particular emphasis. Nevertheless, this will in no way imply that legitimate objections will not be raised against the development of any unchristian thinking in our congregations.
With these comments I want to assure you again that I have every confidence that the congregational life in Grace Church will continue to develop in every Christian sense as it has in the past.
Henry G. Kroehler
On 2/27/58 Dr. Edward W. Brueseke, pastor of Zion Church in South Bend, and chairman of the denominational Commission of Church and Ministry, wrote the Rev. Herbert Meussling, who was a member of our ministerial study group, that in his opinion any minister who "accepts the claim and teachings of Urantia as authentic would sooner or later have to leave the ministry of the Evangelical and Reformed Church." The concern about our ministerial group studying The Urantia Book was also referred to a special committee of the Synod Presidents by Dr. James Wagner. It is important to recognize that all of this contact by church officials was done kindly and with a real concern for those of us studying The Urantia Book and for the church.
Arrangements were made for our group of ministers to meet with Dr. Robert V. Moss, Jr. on October 6, 1958. Dr. Moss was President of Lancaster Theological Seminary and Professor of New Testament Theology. He had examined some of the Biblical material in The Urantia Book and admitted that much of it was in harmony with the best scholarly views. Dr. Moss also acknowledged that the date of the crucifixion in The Urantia Book was one of the two dates which the research of the Biblical scholar, Rudolf Bultmann, indicated was the date of the crucifixion. But later Dr. Moss wrote in commenting on the book, "It is uncritical in its use of Biblical materials and the admixture of gospel materials with very late apocryphal materials (possibly as late as the 20th century?) is regrettable. My own feeling is that some of the sharper edges of the gospel materials have been left out and this is regrettable in a time like these." I received a letter from him dated October 13, 1958 saying, "It occurs to me that we did not deal with one basic question. As you know, Christianity is an historical religion and because of that the bases of revelation can be tested by scholarship. It seems to me extremely important that the source of the Urantia "revelations" be set forth in any serious discussion of its claims." I assured Dr. Moss that our group was already seriously engaged in researching the persons and events associated with the origin of The Urantia Book.
Introducing College Students to The Urantia Book
At this point in time I saw that it was fruitless to introduce church leaders to The Urantia Book. I reasoned that young people studying the sciences would be more open to the book. With this in mind, I joined the faculty of Indiana Institute of Technology where I had the opportunity to introduce hundreds of students to the book. In 1962 we started a Urantia study group composed of faculty members, students, and community people. We became a Urantia Society in 1969.
In 1964 I accepted a second position as pastor of Plum Tree United Church of Christ, some thirty miles south of Fort Wayne. This congregation was a former Christian Church whose theology reflected a fundamentalistic position. During the next 15 years I discovered that using appropriate language and frames of reference, the truths of The Urantia Book were welcomed with joy and enthusiasm. I was even able to introduce the book to a few of the congregation.
In preparation for my real interface with mainline Christian leaders, I retired from Indiana Institute of Technology in June of 1977 and from our pastorate at Plum Tree United Church of Christ in May of 1979. On April 17, 1979 we organized The Christian Fellowship of Students of The Urantia Book as a nonprofit corporation in the State of Indiana.
Interfacing with Mainline Christian Leaders
Following Jesus' approach in going to Annas who was at the top of the Sanhedrin power structure in starting his public ministry, we started our interface with mainline Christianity by writing personal letters to 88 theological professors in seminaries affiliated with the American Association of Theological Schools along with a pamphlet and an offer of a loan book. We received only a couple responses which showed no interest in examining the book. Later I tried to interest Dr. Walter Brueggemann, a highly respected and widely read theologian in the United Church of Christ, in taking a critical look at The Urantia Book. His response was, "I don't even understand the Bible, why should I spend time on a book like this?" Dr. Martin E. Marty of the Chicago Divinity School and a Senior Editor of The Christian Century, writes in a letter dated 2/15/80, "Through the years different folk have sent me the Urantia Book. I've taken a few running jumps at it, found my understanding thin and my curiosity quickly waning. Thanks for the offer." A couple years ago when Dr. Marty was at Plymouth Church here in Fort Wayne, I talked to him about The Urantia Book. He remarked that he didn't know much about the book but was impressed with the quality of the people who were studying it.
Partial List of Outreach Activities from 1979 to 1999
• Wrote "Interface with the Church." This paper outlines my preparation for interface ministry with the Christian Church and the objectives of the Christian Fellowship of Students of The Urantia Book . (5/17/79)
• Wrote "On Introducing The Urantia Book to the Christian Church." This paper presents a rationale for an interface ministry to the church.( 6/l/79)
• Wrote "A Synoptic Introduction toThe Urantia Book ." This paper was prepared for discussions with ministers covering the following areas: An Overview, Revelation, The Doctrine of God, Cosmology, Christology and the Plan of Salvation, The Church and the Kingdom of Heaven, and Prayer and Worship. (3/10/80)
• Wrote "Universe Christology: A Transplanetary View." This paper uses contemporary theological writing to support the Christology of The Urantia Book .(4/10/80)
• Gave a review of The Urantia Book to faculty and students at Indiana-Purdue University and spoke to several philosophy classes. (11/80)
• Wrote "The Atonement Doctrine." This paper anticipates criticism of The Urantia Book ‘s view of the blood atonement theory held by conservative Christians.(12/21/80)
• I gave reviews ofThe Urantia Book to a Sunday School class at the First Christian Church in Fort Wayne (12/14/80) and a little later to the men's group at the Unitarian Church.
• We sent 83 letters to the mainline ministers of Muncie, Indiana on 1/6/81 inviting them to a review ofThe Urantia Book at Ball State University. The few who attended wanted loan books. Called on several professors who showed interest.
• In January of 1981 we started a student discussion group at Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne and ran an ad in the student newspaper. Spoke to students in Dr. Mark Sheldon's philosophy class and Dr.George Washington's philosophy class.
• Sent 350 letters to the mainline ministers of Indianapolis on 1/26/81 inviting them to a review ofThe Urantia Book at the Indiana Interchurch Center (2/81). The half dozen ministers who attended wanted loan books. Called on several university professors; some asked for loan books.
• Wrote "The Church: Problem or Potential?" on 5/5/81. This paper which uses Urantia Book concepts has been presented at workshops in several churches.
• On 9/17/81 1 wrote a letter to the Spiritual Counterfeits Project magazine correcting errors in this fundamentalist review ofThe Urantia Book . The editor offered to dialogue but failed to do so.
• In late 1981 we sent around 40 letters with pamphlet to local ministers stating that we would call for an appointment. Sixty percent did set up an appointment and almost all wanted loan books.
• A donor offered to finance Urantia Book Research Grants for college students in late 1981. We decided against it, not liking the idea of paying people to read the book.
• We sent 83 letters with pamphlets and return cards on 1/9/82 to additional local mainline ministers. The return was minimal.
• Sent 90 letters with pamphlets and return cards for loan books on 1/15/82 to the Campus Ministers of the State of Indiana. The response was poor.
• On 5/28/82 I wrote "The Urantia Book and Christian Fundamentalism." This paper attemptes to speak to The fundamentalist's reservations about readingThe Urantia Book .
• "Outreach Ministry" was written 5/31/82. It presents levels of ministry in sharing The Urantia Book with our Christian culture.
• "Principles of Ministry" was written 6/l/82. It presents spiritual principles of ministry to the church and society.
• "The Future Development of the Christian Faith" was written 8/l/82 and has been presented in several church workshops.
• On 1/7/83 I published a 29 page "Brief Summary of the Religions of the World." We need familiarity with and appreciation of all religious groups.
• Between 1983 and 1985 we sent 8,000 personal letters with pamphlet and return card to the ministers in the United Church of Christ. Four percent (over 300) asked for loan books; around 90 purchased or were given books. A report of this project entitled "Mainline Clergy Response to The Urantia Book " was published in 1/l/1986 and in a Journal article (Fall, 1991) "Clergy Evaluate The Urantia Book " The general response was positive.
• During this time we sent personal letters with pamphlet to all of the United Methodist ministers in the State of Indiana.
• Sent personal letters with pamphlet to 1500 Fort Wayne Public School teachers with offer of a loan book. (1/84)
• Spoke to the Indiana-Purdue University Religious Forum on the topic "What is The Urantia Book?" (11/7/84)
• Presented a paper at the national meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Anaheim, California entitled, "The Urantia Book and Religious Studies," November 11, 1985.
• We sent 5,000 letters and a copy of "The Urantia Book and Religious Studies" on 4/30/86 to members of the American Philosophical Association asking if they would be interested in participating in research onThe Urantia Book ? Around ten expressed interest in such research.
• Formed a Clergy Network of readers of The Urantia Book and published a Newsletter. (11/86)
• Sent letter and poster to the Religion or Philosophy Departments at 2200 colleges and universities promoting "The Christian Fellowship Prize in Religious Research." The research topic was: "Compare and Evaluate Jesus' Concept of the Kingdom of God in the Bible and The Urantia Book." The first prize: $1000, second prize: $500, third prize: $300, fourth through tenth prizes: $100. The project was dropped because of a lack of interest. Only four papers were received. (9/87)
• On 9/10/87 I sent a letter and appropriate materials to the chairman of the Church and Ministry Committee of the Northeast Association of the Indiana-Kentucky Conference of the United Church of Christ supporting the application of a minister for membership in the Association who was being questioned about his interest inThe Urantia Book . The committee was favorably disposed to his membership in the association.
• On December 2, 1988 I was asked to give a review of The Urantia Book at the combined Sunday School at the Leo United Methodist Church. The response was positive and around twelve books were sold.
• "The Gift of Revelation" was published in 1/9/90. This 22 page booklet was designed to help busy ministers and academics to get a reasonably accurate picture of the cosmological, philosophical, and religious teachings of The Urantia Book in a reasonably short time.
• The first issue of The Spiritual Fellowship Journal was published April 9, 1991. The Journal seeks to interface with mainline Christian clergy.
• Over the next several years copies of the Journal were sent to all ministers in the United Church of Christ, United Methodist ministers in the State of Indiana, the Association of Unity Churches and ministers in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). A modest number have subscribed to the Journal.
• In December of 1992 Spiritual Psychology, A Primer was published by Jemenon, Inc., P. O. Box 725, Wilmette, IL 60091. Spiritual Psychology presents the basic truths of The Urantia Book in a brief and simplified form without any references to the book.
• In 1993, at the suggestion of the pastor of Grace St. John's United Church of Christ, Dr. James N. Westpfahl, which we attend, I have been teaching the Explorers Sunday School class on The Urantia Book. The class is composed of nine people who are leaders in the church and we have had great interest and excellent discussions. A Urantia Book class was taught for a while by Judy Smith, a member of our Urantia Society Study Group, at the Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Fort Wayne.
• The Program Committee of the United Church of Christ Northeast Association Pastor's Circle asked me to present a program on The Urantia Book at our February 22, 1995 meeting. After giving an orientation on the origin, nature, and secondary works associated with The Urantia Book, I gave a talk on "Urantia Book Deviations from Traditional Christian Theology." The response was interesting and mildly positive with a couple of pastors expressing an interest in reading the Life and Teachings of Jesus.
• After 40 years of interfacing with mainline Christian clergy, including sending The Spiritual Fellowship Journal to thousands of ministers from 1991 to 1997, it is obvious that most of the leaders of the Christian Church have too much at stake to seriously examine and evaluate a new spiritual paradigm. It will probably be generations before the Christian Church will recognize it.
The Rev. Dr. Richard L. Hamm
P. 0. Box 1986
Indianapolis, IN 46206
Normally Irene and I would not have attended the 50th Anniversary of the Associated Churches of Fort Wayne-we have a study group which meets on Sunday evening-but our pastor, Jim Westpfahl, and his wife, Lois, purchased tickets for us and asked us to attend the meeting with them. We are delighted that circumstances worked out to bring us to this meeting. I thought your historical analysis of the development and second de-establishment of mainline Christianity was brilliant and your spiritual vision for the future was inspired and inspiring. Hopefully, copies of your talk will be available. I also sense that you are a key person God is using to restore the spiritual vitality of mainline Christianity.
I would personally much prefer not to write this letter but feel led to do so. For many years I have been concerned about mainline Christianity and the relevancy of our spiritual message. As you know, I have tried to introduce mainline clergy to The Urantia Book. After almost 40 years of critical and prayerful evaluation, I believe its claim to be the Fifth Epochal Revelation is an authentic categorization of its content. I believe this not because the book makes such claim—I am turned off by any person or book making revelatory claims—but because of the high, self-authenticating quality of its spiritual insights. It is my conviction that it is the key to the renaissance of mainline Christianity and that our planet is being prepared for its reception.
It is pivotally important that The Urantia Book receive critical theological evaluation. Many years ago our group of young United Church of Christ ministers tried to get Dr. Robert Moss (Professor of New Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary and then President of the United Church of Christ) interested in evaluating the book. Dr. Moss did take the time to look as some of the Biblical references in the book and meeting with us said they were essentially in agreement with contemporary scholarship, but he questioned the books historicity and did not wish to take the time to read its 2000 pages.
Later I tried to get Walter Brueggemann who at that time was at Eden Theological Seminary to examine the book. His response was "I don't even understand the Bible, why should I spend the time to read a book like this?" A couple of years later after Martin Marty spoke at Lakeland College, I wrote him suggesting that he might like to look at The Urantia Book. He wrote me a brief but courteous letter saying others had recommended the book to him. "I've taken a few running leaps at it," he remarked, "but don't understand much of what I read." A year or so ago when he was in Fort Wayne at Plymouth Church I talked with him and he said he was impressed by the quality of some of his friends, like Norman and Lyn Lear, who were students of the book.
In the mid 1980's I sent personal letters to around 8,000 United Church of Christ pastors offering to send them loan copies of the book if they were interested. Hundreds of these ministers asked for loan books and many expressed appreciation for its teachings. Stemming from this response, we formed a network of clergy who were interested in using The Urantia Book as a resource in their preaching and teaching. This interest also resulted in starting The Spiritual Fellowship Journal in 1991. This month our Northeast Association Pastor's Circle Program Committee asked me to give a review of The Urantia Book for our program. I presented a paper entitled "Urantia Book Deviations from Traditional Christian Theology," which I will enclose with some other materials. The program was received much more positively than I had anticipated. New paradigms of Reality in both science and religion take generations to achieve acceptability by the mainstream of society.
For almost two years at Dr. Westpfahl's suggestion (he has not read The Urantia Book) , I have been teaching a Sunday School class at Grace St. John's UCC on The Urantia Book. Some of the key people of the church are members of the class and we have great discussions.One of the members of our Sunday evening study group also teaches a class on The Urantia Book at the Altersgate United Methodist Church with similar results.
Over 250,000 copies of The Urantia Book have been sold since 1955 without mass publicity, simply one person telling another. Many of these people are solid church members. It is important that this book receive critical theological evaluation. If the message of The Urantia Book is detrimental to the Christian faith, people should be warned of its danger. In any case, the theological community should take a hard look at its theology and cosmology.
Dick, I am not implying that you should be directly involved in this evaluation. In my judgment, it would be unwise to do so; it would harm your ministry which I believe is important to the church. What I am suggesting for your consideration is that it would be entirely proper for you to be concerned about the effect of The Urantia Book on the church and with your rapport with theologians you might approach a courageous and balanced theologian with this concern and he, eventually, could involve colleagues in such an evaluation. I leave this suggestion with you confident that you are open to the guidance of the Spirit, and realizing that you may come to a decision different than the one I might make in a similar situation. Finally, I would invite you to read the 700 page Life and Teachings of Jesus in The Urantia Book simply as a novel. It will, in all probability, enhance your appreciation of the singular importance of the life and teachings of Jesus.
Cordially and sincerely,
Meredith J. Sprunger
The Urantia Bookas an acceptable resource.
We are now (10/97) directing the Journal to a new mission to: "Promote Theological, Philosophical, and Polity Discussions Germane to an Appropriate Symbolism and Socioreligious Expression of the Fifth Epochal Revelation."
New Religious Institutions
Although our outreach ministry to mainline Christian leaders has been positive, we are well aware that it takes generations to change a spiritual paradigm in religious institutions and culture. Nearly 40 years of experience has taught me that anything purporting to be new revelation is not within the boundaries of current theological-institutional respectability. Most ministers are afraid to seriously examine The Urantia Book. This is understandable as their whole lives are centered in the traditional theological paradigm.
We will continue to interface with mainline Christian leaders, however, I think it is now time to give priority to other audiences and alternatives in outreach ministry. Historically, every major new religious paradigm has been carried to the culture, not by the leaders of traditional religion, but by laypersons. The most fruitful field for outreach ministry is among laypersons, many of whom are hungering for a larger and more satisfying vision of spiritual Reality.
Many of us who have our roots in the traditional Christian Church would love to see a renaissance and revitalization of the church by the Fifth Epochal Revelation. But a realistic appraisal of institutional dynamics suggests that new religious institutions have the best chance of becoming the channel through which the message of The Urantia Book is carried throughout the world. Richard Bain, one of my former students, has recently written an excellent article entitled, "A Urantia Church?" in which he observes that such an institution is not only desirable but that we are already on our way toward such religious institutions. "We may conjecture," he says, "about where or how a new religious organization will emerge as a result of the Fifth Epochal Revelation, but the authors of The Urantia Book make it clear that something will emerge— not if, but when!"
We are entering into a new era of outreach ministry. The solid core of the Urantia movement has come through tribulations with renewed dedication and balance. We have come of age. Spiritual freedom and participatory democracy have taught us that there can be unity of purpose in the midst of intellectual and political diversity. The Fifth Epochal Revelation will make its way and overcome any barriers placed in its way. We are standing at the threshold of "one of the most amazing and enthralling epochs of social readjustment, moral quickening, and spiritual enlightenment" on our planet. The preliminary, orienting growth developments of the Urantia movement are still in process; however, the potential of an exciting outreach mission of the Fifth Epochal Revelation is challenging us. The Most Highs have prepared us and our planet for the most thrilling vision of spiritual reality since Jesus of Nazareth walked on our world. This outreach mission will be many-faceted, pluralistic, and victorious!