A few years ago I joined a mailing list about Christian Philosophy. Ultimately the list was taken over by “Jesusonians” (a cult of christianity akin to scientology or mormonism). I spent many hours debating with these guys until they eventually banned me.
Andre was one of the guys I was debating, and eventually he sent me an email off list telling me he had rejected “Jesusonian” and their book, The Urantia Book.
Eventually he sent me this letter which I wanted to post as an example of, and a warning about these new age religions. Its quite long, but interesting reading.
SUBJECT: OPEN LETTER TO THE BODY OF CHRIST
Note: Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New American Standard version of the Bible. In the body of this letter, the term UB will be used to refer to the Urantia Book. The universal referencing system introduced by the Uversa Press edition of The UB (Paper:Section.Paragraph) will be used to cite passages from the UB.
Upon completion of this letter, I realized that I was opening myself up to a potential misunderstanding. Throughout the piece, I point out several times that it is not our belief in Jesus that saves us, but Christ’s saving work on the cross that does the trick. While this is certainly true, I don’t want people to think that I view belief as irrelevant or unimportant. Believing in Jesus is essential to salvation, and only believers will be saved. The point here is that God took the initiative in saving us; He came to us before we ever came to Him. Because of His unconditional love for us, He provided a way for us to be saved before we ever chose to believe. We are all potentially saved. It is up to us to receive that gift, but the gift was there for us long before we ever chose to receive it. I am not a universalist; there is a Hell, and many people end up there. It’s a question of emphasis in our presentation of the Gospel.
While belief is essential to salvation, it is not the basis of our salvation. That work belongs to Christ and Christ alone.
To my brothers and sisters in Christ,
The following letter is my humble attempt to recall, in honest detail, my spiritual journey, including my immersion in a false New Age religion, and my subsequent return to the Lord. I hope that my testimony will open the eyes of pastors, church leaders, and Christian apologists, assisting them in their efforts to minister to intellectually inclined seekers, as well as Christians with sincere doubts and questions about their faith.
I wish to dispel the myth that “real Christians” don’t doubt the Bible and never stray from the path of theological orthodoxy. In my case, I not only doubted cardinal Christian doctrines like the virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, and the physical resurrection of Christ, but I even spoke out publicly against these truths.
But thank God, we are not saved by our theology, as important as that is. It is Christ and Christ alone who saves. I am saved only by what Christ did for me on the cross, not by my belief in His atoning sacrifice. It’s about his faithfulness to me; not about my fidelity to Him or my adherence to correct Christian doctrine.
The same is true of repentance from sin. While it’s true that God’s kindness moves us to repentance (Romans 2:4), the Gospel does not begin with my repentance, but with Christ’s work on my behalf. It is God who took the initiative, for “we love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). I know now that I never lost my salvation, I just lost my faith for a while. I will elaborate more on this point later.
While it is ultimately true that God gets all the glory for my return home to His fold, I could not have done it without the gracious assistance of several Christian brothers and sisters. I would like to begin by thanking Dr. Freddy Cardoza, chairman of the Christian Education Department at Biola University, whose messages spoke to both my head and my heart. Freddy never patronized me, and always answered my theological questions to the best of his ability. He always made me feel like I didn’t have to check my intelligence at the door before I entered a church service. Freddy, you’re not only a great teacher, but a wonderful friend.
I would also like to thank Don Veinot of Midwest Christian Outreach, who also answered my theological questions, particularly about specific biblical passages, always clearly and in context. Many thanks also to Dale Essary, whose site, www.ubhoax.org, is the best refutation of the UB I’ve ever seen. And credit goes to Eric Pement, who has also done extensive work on the UB from a Christian perspective. In addition, I’d like to thank Tom Trento, who came into my life to remind me that things really were better in my Father’s house. Thanks are also extended to Grant Swank, who modeled the love of Christ to me, and is the very opposite of a self-righteous legalist.
This list would not be complete without the inclusion of three men who I have known for a long time through my background in Christian radio. The first is talk-show host Dick Staub, who I interned with in the 1990s. Dick never spoke Christianese, and showed me that it was perfectly possible to be a Christian and still be a well-rounded, well-read intellectual. The second is Rich Buhler, who validated my feelings and ministered to me in his kind and gracious way. And of course, how can I forget my dear friend, brother, and business partner Steve Carr, who continued to view me as my brother in Christ, even as I was spreading false teaching.
For most of my life, I have been searching for a sense of community–for an extended family that would love me unconditionally. For a while, I thought I would find this family among Urantia Book readers. But the truth is, my support group was sitting right under my nose. Three brothers in Christ stand out in particular: Bob Brasher, whom I have known since 1993 (Bob, you are as reliable as clockwork); Dan Lapinski, whose eagerness to love and serve others puts me to shame; and Don Roberts, who is just an all-around good brother. And how can I forget Jerry McGlothlin, who has provided employment for me for the last 10 years, and has stayed loyal to me despite my inconsistent and sporadic work habits.
Before I get accused of making this an all-men’s club, my heartfelt gratitude goes out to Dani Chaffin, whose struggles have been so similar to my own. Dani, you’re a kindred spirit, and trust me, that’s a huge compliment. I would also like to thank Julie Osgood and Julie Canny, who both showed me unconditional love.
And before I forget, I need to thank my good friend Roger Mansour, who led me to the Lord when I was fifteen. Roger, you have been a great friend, mentor, and father figure through the years. You even got me started as a standup comedian. Roger has a mission in Haiti, and I would encourage everyone who reads this letter to give what they can to his ministry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was born in Chicago on January 16, 1970, the child of 1st-generation immigrants. My mother, who is Ukrainian, escaped Communism with her family shortly after WW II, spending her first few years in a displaced persons’ camp. My father emigrated from Italy as a teenager. I grew up in a nominally Catholic home. My mother and grandmother attended a Ukrainian Catholic church. I went on occasion, but frankly, the whole experience bored the hell out of me. The emphasis was on ethnic traditions; many of which were beautiful, but I never heard the Gospel and never heard anyone speak of God in a personal or intimate way.
The one notable exception was my grandmother. She was an orthodox Catholic and believed in purgatory, but she knew the Lord intimately, despite some of her unbiblical theology. I can fondly remember her kneeling by my bedside and saying the Our Father in Ukrainian, along with the obligatory prayers to Mary and my guardian angel. It was clear to me that for her, the Lord was a deeply felt presence, not an abstract or distant deity. I never could tell what my mother believed; I don’t think she knows to this day.
My father was basically an atheist. Though he never labeled himself as such, he was strongly interested in artificial intelligence, and believed that human brain patterns could be replicated in the laboratory. After all, he reasoned, we’re just sophisticated machines, devoid of anything like a soul or spirit.
While I like to tell people that I got saved 2,000 years ago when Jesus died for me, I did have a few conversion experiences, where God made His presence known to me and assured me that I was His child. I was five years old, and riding the school bus home, when the driver turned to me and asked, “Would you like to ask Jesus into your heart?” She was a sweet Southern lady, and her son, a kid about my age, was sitting in the back seat. It was obvious she was raising him in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. “Yes,” I said, and responded in childlike faith. When I got home, I told my Mom that I had just asked Jesus into my heart. I don’t recall what she said, but it obviously didn’t make an impression on her.
Growing up as a blind child, I wasn’t as physical as other kids, which gave me a lot of time for solitary reflection. I spent a lot of time reading. I was a very precocious child, and was reading Greek mythology in 2nd grade. I even tried reading Mark Twain a year earlier. My favorite books were those that fed my imagination–fantasy, fairy tales, science fiction, etc. My mother hated reading me those stories; she preferred realistic books. As I look back on it, those books paved the way for my later spiritual pursuits; they gave me a glimpse of a possible world beyond this one.
I also spent a lot of time listening to the radio. While my sighted friends spent much of their leisure time watching television, I was obsessing over the AM signals I picked up from Canada, or my dream of one day sitting behind the microphone and spinning the tunes. My childhood hero was Steve Dahl, a local shock jock who made news with a stunt called Disco Demolition in 1979. I wanted to be the next Steve Dahl. I was obsessed with radio formats, and I would call up DJs and spend hours grilling them about the industry. I knew more about radio than any kid should be allowed to know.
Well, during my trips up and down the dial, along with the rock ‘n’ roll, I discovered Christian radio. In particular, I found a program called Unshackled, a radio drama series produced at the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. The stories were about people whose lives had been changed after they had received Jesus as their personal Savior. Honestly, the dramas were pretty tacky, complete with melodramatic organ music and bad B movie dialogue. But they still had an effect on me; I wanted what these people had. I wanted a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. I wanted my heart to change. I wanted Jesus as my best and closest friend. But I didn’t know how to get it; I had no Christians I could go to for help, so I was left to my own devices.
The summer before my freshman year in high school, I wrote a poem in a creative writing class. I normally don’t write poetry, but this one was an adolescent masterpiece.
I am the fish that swim in the ocean,
I am the catastrophe after the explosion.
I am the birds that sit in the trees,
I am the leaves that blow in the breeze.
I am the book you read before bed,
I am the thoughts you have in your head.
I am the past, the present, the future,
I am everywhere.
Pleased with my work, I read it to a friend of mine, who told his dad about it. Apparently, he was impressed; he thought I was some enlightened soul or something. So, next time I saw my friend, he introduced me to a book that would chart my spiritual course for years to come.
The Urantia Book
It was June of 1984, and I had just graduated from the 8th grade. My friend spent the night one evening, and after dinner, he told me about this book his dad had been reading for years. Called the Urantia Book, it claimed to be a revelation from angels and other superhuman beings. The term Urantia was a name these celestial beings had apparently coined for our planet. Anyway, I was scared and fascinated at the same time. Fascinated by the prospect of a book that claimed to be a revelation from another world, and attracted by the thrill of special knowledge. But scared because so much of what my friend had told me was contrary to what I’d been taught, and so different from what I’d been hearing on Christian radio. So, for those not in the loop, here’s an overview.
Overview of the Urantia Book
The Urantia Book (UB) is a huge tome, 2097 pages long, that consists of 196 papers, each one claiming to be written by a different celestial being. The alleged authors go by names like Perfector of Wisdom, Divine Counselor, Brilliant Evening Star, and Melchizedek.
The UB community makes a big deal about the “unknown origin” of the book, but there is a widely circulated urban legend about how it came to be. The consensus account involves a man named Dr. William S. Sadler, a student of Freud’s and a psychiatrist practicing in Chicago in the early 1900s. Apparently, a woman came to him concerned about her husband, who would go into a deep sleep from which she was unable to waken him. While in this trance-like state, this man was supposedly being used as a kind of clearing-house for various celestial beings, who spoke through this person. This man, whose anonymity has been protected, is known among the UB readership as the “sleeping subject.”
The spin is that Dr. Sadler was a skeptic of the paranormal. He was on a crusade to disprove the various mediums, psychics, and other occult practitioners that made the lecture circuit at that time. Sadler claimed to disprove every single case except the one involving the sleeping subject. So, in the summer of 1911, shortly after he discovered this guy, he formed a group of five people called the Contact Commission, designed to study the messages that were coming from the subject’s mouth. The process began in 1911, and went on for over 20 years. In 1929, Sadler wrote a book called The Mind at Mischief, in which he tried to show that most paranormal claims were based on self-deception, and could be explained away as either outright fraud or could be chalked up to natural psychological processes. But in the appendix to the book, Sadler mentions the case of the sleeping subject, and claims he has no explanation for it.
During the 1930s, as rumor has it, the papers began to mysteriously appear in Sadler’s drawer. By 1935, the Urantia Papers were completed. At the time, the papers had not yet been published in the form of a book, but Sadler gathered around him a group of close associates known as the Forum. The Forum members would meet on Sunday afternoons at Dr. Sadler’s office building at 533 Diversey Parkway to discuss and study the papers. Eventually, the papers were published by the Urantia Foundation as a book in 1955.
Teachings of the UB
The UB is divided into four parts plus a foreword. The parts are named as follows: Part I, The Central and Superuniverses; Part II, The Local Universe; Part III, The History of Urantia; and Part IV, The Life and Teachings of Jesus. Like most good science-fiction, the UB teaches that we are not alone in the universe. In fact, the text claims, the universe is teeming with life of all sorts, and contains a veritable plethora of beings, human, animal, and otherwise. Many of these beings, like humans, have the capacity to know God and to strive to be like him.
And striving to be like God is a huge theme in the UB. The authors take quite literally Jesus’ command to “be perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect” (cf. Matthew 5:48). [Editor’s note: the context of this UB mantra is more akin to “become perfect” in the sense of self-perfection, not the unattainable example of perfect love towards one’s enemies that Jesus of the Gospels had intended.] Since this perfection is obviously unattainable in this life, many lives are required to achieve it. But the authors are quick to point out that they don’t endorse reincarnation. Instead, we are offered a plan the UB calls the Ascension Scheme.
The UB’s worldview is essentially evolutionary. Human beings evolve from their animal origins and gradually evolve into godlike status as spirit beings. The Ascension scheme primarily embraces life after death, as mortals move through a series of worlds in various sectors of the universe designed to instruct them in universe administration and spiritual progress.
In other words, when we die, the UB teaches that we will wake up on a world where we will continue to learn and grow. Once we have finished learning our “lessons” in that world, we go on to the next one, and the next one, etc, until we become perfect and attain Paradise. Once entering Paradise, we don’t stay there forever; instead, we become part of an eternal group of volunteers called the Corps of the Finality. As a member of this corps, we go back out into the universe and serve in some unrevealed capacity among other evolutionary planets.
The UB claims to reveal an immense cosmic bureaucracy; a whole host of angels and other celestial beings with various specialized functions. The universe is said to operate on a three-branch system of government much like the American Constitution. And speaking of life after death, the UB rejects entirely any notion of Hell or eternal punishment. Rather than Hell, those who deliberately reject God will simply be annihilated; they will cease to exist.
The vast universe described in the UB is made up of various divisions. Our planet, Urantia, is part of a local system called Satania. Satania is part of a constellation called Norlatiadek, which is part of a local universe called Nebadon. Each local universe has 10 million inhabited worlds, and is part of a superuniverse, of which there are seven. Ours is called Orvonton.
Each local universe has at its head a being called a Creator Son. A Creator Son is the creator of each local universe and all its inhabited worlds. Each of the Creator Sons is of the Order of Michael. Our Creator Son, Michael, incarnated in the likeness of mortal flesh 2,000 years ago as Jesus of Nazareth.
According to the UB, a great gulf exists between God and human beings. But unlike the Bible, which describes this gulf as caused by sin, the UB instead says the gulf is just caused by distance. We are finite, and God is infinite; therefore, God needs some way to communicate to our finite minds in a way that we can comprehend. So, each Creator Son represents God to His local universe. This means that Jesus is not literally God, but is God for “all practical intents and purposes” (5:3.6). The UB tries to play both sides of the fence when it comes to the deity of Christ. On the one hand, Jesus loses His uniqueness as the second Person of the Trinity, but instead is relegated to being one of 700,000 Creator Sons who presides over his local universe of 10 million inhabited worlds. On the other hand, the UB makes several references to Jesus as God, seemingly affirming the doctrine of the Incarnation by referring to Jesus as fully God and
fully man. The book even calls Jesus the “father incarnate” (182:1.9). But this only means that Jesus embodies God’s nature; not that He is actually God. The UB’s take is that Jesus’ primary mission was to reveal the Father to us. So, he is a revelation of God, but not in fact God.
And speaking of the Trinity, the UB teaches this doctrine, but Jesus is not directly a part of it. The Paradise Trinity consists of the Universal Father, the Eternal Son, and the Infinite Spirit. Jesus is not the Eternal Son, but is an offspring of the Paradise Trinity, as are all the Creator Sons. So, when we pray to or worship Jesus, we are not addressing God directly, but only addressing Him through Jesus, who is God’s personal representation in our local universe.
Let me stop here and apologize to my readers, who may be confused by all this convoluted gobbledygook. You see, I found the UB fascinating intellectually. I had a very curious and speculative mind, so the UB appealed to my intellect. Unfortunately, it did nothing for my heart, which is why I eventually rejected it.
Part III of the UB is called the History of Urantia, and claims to reveal a host of lost facts about our planetary evolution and ancient past. The UB claims that planetary evolution is guided by revelation, and this revelation occurs in periodic times or epochs, and is thus referred to as epochal revelation. The UB claims to be the fifth Epochal Revelation, and is the only one in book form. The other four revelations have come to us in the form of various divine beings. Working backwards, the fourth Epochal Revelation was Jesus, the third was Melchizedek, the second was Adam and Eve, and the first was a being called the Planetary Prince. An Epochal Revelation’s purpose is to guide evolution in a Godward direction, and sometimes to give it a big boost, as in the case of Jesus.
According to the UB, the first Epochal Revelation occurred 500,000 years ago, apparently half a million years after the first human beings came on the scene. This aid to evolution came in the form of a being called the Planetary Prince, who came here with a staff of 100. The Planetary Prince was a superhuman being from another world whose mission was to uplift the primitive tribes and give them some semblance of culture and civilization. But our Prince, a fellow named Caligastia, decided to follow his bosses, Satan and Lucifer, in their rebellion against the rule of Our Creator son Michael some 200,000 years ago. This rebellion set our evolution back a bit, but with the aid of various spiritual influences, we can get back on track. And by the way, just for your information, Lucifer and Satan are currently doing time on detention worlds, a kind of universe holding pen, until their cases are adjudicated and they can be wiped out once and
for all. In the meantime, Caligastia and his pal Daligastia are still free to roam the Earth, but they don’t have much power unless you really want them to enter your mind.
The second Epochal Revelation was Adam and Eve. But, as should be obvious by now, Adam and Eve were not the first people on Earth. That distinction belongs to Andon and Fonta, a pair of twins born nearly one million years ago to parents who were pre-human hominids. No, Adam and Eve, in the UB’s telling, were a couple of beings called Material Sons and Daughters. They too, came from another world (about 38,000 years ago), and their mission was primarily biological. Get this, Adam and Eve were eight feet tall, had violet skin, and had halos around their bodies. Their mission was to procreate; to produce a million children, and these children were supposed to intermarry with the native stock and produce a genetically superior hybrid. I kid you not–it’s like the gods coming down from Mount Olympus.
And it gets even better. Some races got more of Adam’s blood than others; in other words, the children of Adam and Eve preferred certain ethnic groups to others. Yep, you guessed it–there are definitely racial undertones to this thing. The Nordic white races received a considerable share of the Adamic blood, whereas the African Negroid race received very little (if any) of the Adamic stock.
But this, too, turned into an evolutionary setback. It seems that Adam and Eve were getting frustrated with the progress they were making, so Eve decided to take a shortcut and mate with a regular human. Well, that wasn’t part of the plan. The UB authors make a big deal about evolution needing to take its course, and oppose any attempts to circumvent the process. So because of their “default,” Adam and Eve became mortal and were deprived of the sustenance that came from the Tree of Life, a shrub that essentially gave them immortality while they were here. In fact, they were supposed to stay here indefinitely, and build a base of operations from the Garden of Eden, which apparently was somewhere in the Middle East. So Adam and Eve did not get to have as many children as they were supposed to, and the blending of the violet race with the natives didn’t go as planned. So we didn’t get the full benefit of the Adamic infusion,
which is another reason why our planet is backward and is apparently quarantined from the other planets in our local system. We’re one of 37 such worlds that are isolated from the rest.
The third Epochal Revelation was Melchizedek, another superhuman being who essentially came to teach monotheism to a primitive, polytheistic world. Of course, his first student was Abraham (cf. Genesis 14:18), but he also sent missionaries out to other tribes to spread the Gospel of one God. But despite his influence with Abraham, the teachings of Melchizedek became diluted by the surrounding pagan cultures and were “lost” to history (cf. 93:7.3-4).
And finally, we get to Jesus, the fourth Epochal Revelation and the subject of the last 800 pages of the UB.
The gospel according to the UB
And just who is Jesus, according to the UB, and just what is his Gospel? Well, as indicated above, Jesus is our Creator Son, the sovereign ruler of 10 million worlds in our local universe. Apparently, before he came to Earth, he was just Michael, and not Jesus. While he ruled in the name of God the Father and perfectly represented God to the creatures of his domain, he needed some additional experience. In other words, he needed to know what it was really like to be one of his own creatures. This alone should dispel any claims that the UB supports the deity of Christ. If Jesus is truly God, then He is omniscient, and would already have direct insight into the minds of His creatures. But the UB takes a more nuanced view of omniscience. The UB says, “Never on all the worlds of this universe, in the life of any one mortal, did God ever become such a living reality as in the human experience of Jesus of Nazareth” (196:0.6).
The book’s view is that there are two types of omniscience, existential and experiential. The two levels of knowing might be analogous to reading a novel and identifying with the characters, versus actually being one of those characters and living in their skin. So, apparently Jesus had to gain that second type of omniscience in order to earn the full sovereignty of his universe. Jesus also came to reveal to us the true nature of God the Father. Because you see, we’ve got God all wrong, say the UB authors. We think God is wrathful, vengeful, or angry, which he never is; and apparently our present-day Christian faith has been contaminated with erroneous concepts of God, derived from the primitive religion of early backward peoples.
Our primitive ancestors just didn’t get it. They didn’t understand science, or causality, so when they went through a thunderstorm or an earthquake, they assumed it was God shaking the Earth in His wrath. And this whole blood sacrifice thing has got to go. The UB rails against the cardinal tenet of the Christian Gospel, that Jesus died as a substitutionary sacrifice for our sins and shed His blood so that we could be saved. The UB calls this doctrine “repulsive,” “barbarous,” and “unworthy of an enlightened age of science and truth” (4:5.4). The UB’s God is a loving Father, and only a loving Father; not a king or a judge.
While the UB does have a concept of God’s justice, God’s love transcends that justice, because “The infinite love of God is not secondary to anything in the divine nature” (188:4.8). In the UB, any sense of God’s justice is basically impersonal. In other words, if we break God’s laws, we may suffer the consequences, the same way a person might break both legs by jumping out a window and thinking they can defy the law of gravity. But God does not take a personal stand against injustice; he may grieve over it, but he certainly doesn’t get angry about it or take action against it. In fact, the authors go so far as to say that God doesn’t hate sin. You see, “towards sin God strikes no personal attitude (2:5.1),” for “sin is not a person” and “persons can only love and hate other persons” (2:6.8). So Jesus came to correct our understanding of God so we can grow up and get over our childish views of Him. But
before I get into the UB’s understanding of the Gospel, I’ll just give a little more background on Jesus as he is portrayed in the UB’s pages.
The UB claims to give us an extended and detailed biography of Jesus, including the so-called “missing years,” the events of his life between the ages of 12 and 30, which are absent from the Bible. The authors tell us that Jesus was born naturally, and was not the product of a virgin birth. He was also the eldest of nine children, and had to assume the headship of his family after Joseph died in a construction accident when Jesus was 14. Jesus was their brother, but also had to play the role of their father. I assume the authors were trying to make a point with this story, stating that Jesus is both our father and our brother; our brother because he assumed our nature and likeness so he could identify with us, and our father because he created us and serves as a surrogate God the Father for everyone in his local universe.
And this reminds me of something else. According to the UB, God is not actually personally present here on Earth or in time and space. He is only present indirectly through Jesus and the other Creator Sons. He is personally present only on Paradise and in a perfect universe of one billion worlds called Havona. But God is present to us in the form of fragments of Himself called Thought Adjusters. The Thought Adjuster, a central concept in the UB, is a fragment of God that indwells the mind of every person who is capable of making moral decisions. After our first moral decision, at about age 5 or 6, a person is indwelled by a Thought Adjuster, a fragment of God that guides a human being through life and in preparation for the next stage of the Ascension Scheme. At some point in a person’s ascension career, usually after death, they will fuse with their Adjuster, and the two will become one. But the presence of this Thought Adjuster is
not personal; it is pre-personal, meaning that God does not personally indwell our minds. He indwells our minds as a pre-personal fragment of Himself, meaning that when we fuse with Him, each fragment of God will get our personality. As one UB reader put it, God is becoming us.
Okay, back to Jesus. So after his daddy dies, Jesus works to support his family in various occupations; not only as a carpenter, but as a boat-builder, a caravan driver, and a tutor to the son of an Indian merchant. The book recounts his alleged travels to Greece, Rome, India, etc. During this time, Jesus grows increasingly conscious of his mission and his divinity. Then Jesus begins his public ministry. While UB readers claim that the enhanced “revelation” of Jesus only builds on, and does not contradict Scripture, the truth is that it differs from Scripture in significant ways and is essentially a re-write of the Gospels. While most of the miracles remain intact, a couple of them are missing. In the UB’s account, Jesus didn’t walk on water; this was just a dream that Peter had while he fell asleep in the boat. Also missing is Jesus casting demons into a herd of swine.
While the book doesn’t deny the fact of the cross, it denies its necessity for our salvation. Instead, the cross is simply an opportunity for Jesus to overcome evil with good, and extend love and forgiveness to his enemies. Jesus doesn’t rise in a physical body; instead, he is raised in a form the authors call morontia, a form that we will supposedly take in the next world after death. The biblical account of Thomas touching Jesus and putting his hands in His sides is rewritten to conform to this alternate narrative.
So, again, what is the Gospel according to the UB? Well, the UB claims that the Gospel that is present-day Christianity is not the actual Gospel of Jesus, but a distorted hybrid of truth and error that comes mostly from Peter and Paul, and not from Jesus himself. You see, Jesus did not come to rescue us from the consequences of sin, to bring us salvation or to make us God’s children so we can join God’s family. No, Jesus came to teach us that we are already God’s children. We don’t need salvation and certainly not redemption, because salvation is basically a given; it’s built into the mechanism of creation. We don’t have to become God’s children; we already are God’s children.
In fact, the UB deliberately alters John 1:12. The biblical text says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God.” But the term “become” is replaced in the UB. Instead, the passage reads as follows: “As many as received him, to them gave he the power to recognize that they are the sons of God” (40:6.2). So, all we need to do is wake up to our natural identity as God’s children. No act of redemption, forgiveness or deliverance is required to make us God’s children; we just need some corrective education. While the UB authors say it’s okay to call Jesus our Savior, the Jesus they portray is really more like a teacher than a Savior. In fact, the UB says in at least two places that we should simply take our salvation for granted (103:9.5; 188:4.9).
In reality, the UB is simply parroting a concept popular with liberal Protestant theologians from the early 20th century. The acronym for this concept is FOGBOM, which stands for the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. In even simpler terms, the Gospel according to this paradigm is: God is our Father, and we are all his Children. As the old song says, “With God as our Father, brothers all are we.” If we all treated each other as brothers and sisters, well then we would have peace on Earth.
So, I know it’s long-winded, but that is my summary of most of the teachings of the UB; though I know I’ve left out quite a bit. I feel I have to give all this background info so that readers of this letter have some idea where I came from theologically, and the kinds of doubts and questions I struggled with. While most people will not be directly influenced by the UB, these ideas are by no means unique to the book. In fact, the UB plagiarizes many of its concepts directly from external sources, and even admits to doing so. So, I hope that what I say in the rest of this letter will help those who are reaching out to people under the sway of these ideas.
Years of Conflict
After my friend told me about the UB, I started attending study-groups at his house, which his dad led. Except for Christian radio, my only exposure to religion at that point was the dry, ritualistic services I would occasionally attend at my family’s Ukrainian Catholic church. But this was something entirely different. I was a bright, analytical kid, and the discussions we had at the study-group were a feast for my intellect. And people took my ideas and questions seriously. It was like listening to a bunch of rabbis discuss the Talmud. But there was still something missing for me in all of this high-minded talk. I wanted the intimate, personal relationship with God that I heard the preachers talk about on Christian radio. I wanted to feel God’s presence, to know His warmth, and to experience His intimate embrace. While the UB spoke of having a relationship with a loving Father God, it didn’t tell me how to get this
Eventually, the study-groups felt more and more like an academic exercise, and less and less like spiritual nourishment. I was living in Rockford, Illinois at the time, but my family ended up moving to Barrington, a Chicago suburb. Though the UB originated in Chicago, I did not attend any more study groups until a couple of years after I moved. In the meantime, I was still listening to Christian radio, and I discovered a show called Rock Talk. The show was hosted by a couple of former rock musicians who had become Christians, and one of them, Roger Mansour, gave his home phone number out on the air. I used to call him up and argue with him; he and his friend Ronnie would quote the Bible, and I would quote the UB. I was a stubborn SOB, I tell you. The discussions would go on for hours. But at one point, Roger and Ronnie suggested that I look at a book called Seeds of Change by Kerry Livgren.
Kerry was a member of the rock band Kansas and he, too, had been a student of the UB, but had subsequently come to faith in Christ, the Christ of the Bible. So I got the book from the library, and my mom read me the chapter on the UB. I was very impressed with his testimony. Essentially, he articulated what I had always known; the UB spoke to my intellect, but the Gospel as presented in Scripture spoke directly to my heart. After hearing his testimony, I called my friend Roger, in a place of humility and ready to receive Christ. He led me in a prayer over the phone and I embraced Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. I felt wonderful, and I experienced a peace I had never felt in my entire life. I remember that night very well; I was even praising God in the shower. My mom even heard me, but she didn’t know what I was yelling about. I didn’t feel I could share it with her; it was something very personal, and something I
didn’t think she would understand.
I wish I could say that the road was smooth and free of rocks and thorns after that, but I would be lying if I did. Quite often, I feel that we in the body of Christ, in our public testimonies, are quick to present an image of a quick and clean conversion, an image that gives the impression that all our struggles are behind us and part of our past. We like to quote the verse that says, “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). After all, this was certainly the way it was presented on the Unshackled radio dramas I listened to. I can only speak for myself and say that that image was the farthest thing from my personal experience. Unfortunately, I had no Christian fellowship in my life. My close friends weren’t Christians, and I had no idea where I could go to church and get fed with good biblical teaching. So I quickly reverted back to the Urantia
Book. Of course, attending a public school didn’t help much either. I was being exposed to Eastern religion, humanistic psychology, and all kinds of other non-biblical or unbiblical philosophies.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s vital for Christians, even young Christians, to understand alternate worldviews, but I had no biblical foundation from which to judge such teachings. I was sixteen, young, idealistic and impressionable. And most of all, I was easily led and vulnerable to all kinds of intellectual temptations. After all, the UB was way more interesting than the Bible; at least at that time.
And the UB told me what I wanted to hear. It was much more appealing to hear that God was loving and merciful, that there was no Hell, and that God’s wrath was just a figment of primitive imagination. But the peace I had felt after placing my faith in Christ, the peace that passes all understanding, the peace that comes from being born again, was not with me when I read the UB. It fed my mind, but left my heart cold.
As a junior in high school, I got involved with a program that was mostly good, but that Satan used to reinforce my budding New Age views. It was called Operation Snowball, and it was a drug and alcohol prevention program for teenagers. We attended these retreats called Snowballs, where we basically got a natural high for the weekend. We got a lot of hugs and warm fuzzies, and bonded with kids our own age as well as some older staff members. Self-esteem was a big theme of the program, and self-esteem was something I desperately needed. I had grown up with a lot of verbal abuse, especially from my father. I was called every name in the book, and frankly, I both hated and feared my dad. Except for the wonderful peace I felt from being born again, I had very little experience with real unconditional love. I needed to be told I was special, and worthy of being loved; and I got plenty of that at Operation Snowball.
While there actually were some great Christians on staff there, it was still a secular program. And I mixed the positive strokes I got there with my evolving UB-centered worldview. In the middle of my junior year, I did find another UB study-group in my area, and started attending. Again, my experience was the same; a great intellectual exercise, but nothing to feed my soul. I remember asking the fellow who drove me to the meetings if he had a personal relationship with God, and he really didn’t know how to answer me. But I still craved the Father’s love, especially since my own father was so lacking in that area.
For years I went back and forth between the UB and biblical Christianity. This inner conflict intensified in college, where I came in regular contact with some honest-to-goodness Christians, people who really loved me and wanted to see me thrive in the Lord. They spent time with me, prayed with me, and spoke openly about God’s work in their lives. It was a far cry from the sterile intellectual fare I was getting at UB study groups. So, in January 1989, I rededicated my life to the Lord, and again felt His presence in a deep and powerful way. In fact, for a couple of weeks I didn’t sleep much; I was high on the Holy Spirit. I remember telling people that I had lost my mind and given it to Jesus.
But this blissful honeymoon didn’t last. You see, I am a person with a hard head and a soft heart. While my soft heart was being fed and nourished on the love of God and the love of other Christians, my hard head was asking challenging questions, questions that many of my Christian friends couldn’t answer; at least, not to my satisfaction. Many of these questions were objections to certain Christian doctrines, objections raised in the Urantia Book. For example, how can God be both loving and wrathful? Isn’t this a contradiction? Why did Jesus have to die in order for us to be forgiven? Isn’t forgiveness an inherent part of God’s nature? Isn’t the God revealed in Christ different from the angry, judgmental God of the OT? Some Christians tried their best, God bless them, to answer my questions, but they often gave me what I call cookie-cutter answers.
For example, when I raised questions about Christ’s death on the cross for our sins, I was simply told that God was loving and forgiving, but He was also holy and just, and that He could not look upon sin. So He needed a solution that would reconcile both His love and His justice. Some people, like British theologian John Stott, even went so far to suggest that God had a problem with forgiveness. Wow, I thought, we were the ones that had problems forgiving, not God. Besides, isn’t God perfect, does He really have problems?
The standard defense for the atonement doctrine didn’t work for me. I just shot back by raising the UB objection, which is that God is not a divided personality, one of justice and one of mercy (cf. 2:6.6). The UB claims that the doctrine of substitutionary atonement is based on the premise that God’s love and His righteousness are incompatible, and need to be reconciled. Frankly, the UB’s arguments seemed logical, compelling, and persuasive; and no one seemed able to refute them. But as usual, they gave me neither peace of mind nor assurance of salvation. I wanted desperately to believe in the Urantia Book; I wanted to believe that God was loving and kind, and not angry or wrathful. After all, I had grown up with an angry, verbally abusive father, and frankly, some of the supposedly biblical teaching I was getting in church didn’t help at all.
Going back to the Atonement, I was often told human beings were dirt; that we were detestable in God’s sight, and if it wasn’t for Jesus’ blood covering us, God would want nothing to do with us. While I currently embrace the Gospel as it is revealed in Scripture, I must confess that many of the presentations I heard were at best unsatisfying, and at worst, just plain wrong. I will return to this point, because it is vitally important.
I attended Northwestern University, a secular school with a decidedly liberal bias, and I dabbled in anything and everything; everything that is, except the Word of God. I read philosophy, theology, psychology, you name it; all of which were interesting, but much of which I’ve had to unlearn. But even amidst the smorgasbord of isms and ideologies, God was still forming me into the person I am today. For one thing, I rebelled against the politically correct atmosphere on campus and became a staunch conservative, or more correctly a classical liberal, which by today’s standards, means I’m about 90 degrees to the right of the average college professor. And even while I was dabbling in Urantia, Carl Jung, humanistic psychology, etc, my sympathies were still Christian. I would defend Christianity when it came up in conversation, and still hung out at Intervarsity Christian Fellowship meetings. I even tried to harmonize my Christian
beliefs with the Urantia Book, and led pro-Christian workshops at UB conferences.
And speaking of UB conferences, I attended my first one in the summer of 1987, and I was hooked. It seemed I had finally found UB readers who were not just intellectual students of the book. In their defense, I have to concede that the conference presenters really did their best to give us a truly spiritual experience, as they understood it. We worshipped together, prayed together, and shared our spiritual experiences.
For much of my life, I had been looking for a new family to make up for what was lacking in my biological home. For the first time in my life, I thought I had met people who I clicked with intellectually, but also bonded with spiritually and emotionally. They seemed like the most loving people I had ever met in my life. I really felt they loved me unconditionally.
I wish I could say the same was always true of my Christian friends, but I can’t. For many years, I led a double life–I would hang out with my Christian brothers and sisters, while secretly attending UB study groups. I didn’t feel I could tell them about my involvement in Urantia, for fear of being judged or rejected. I was afraid they would tell me I wasn’t really a Christian, since I was rejecting the doctrine of Christ’s death for our salvation which is, frankly, the heart of the Gospel. But I know now that it was Christ’s death for my sins, and not my belief in it, that is the basis of my salvation. I will continue to drive home this point, because I think it makes all the difference in how we present the Gospel.
So for years I went back and forth like a seesaw, with my head in the Urantia Book and my heart drawn strongly toward the Christ of Scripture. That conflict finally came to a close in November of 1996, when I was 26 years old.
Rejecting the UB, Round One
After graduating from college, I decided I’d had enough of school and wanted nothing to do with it as long as I lived. I had recently discovered talk-radio, which was a perfect fit for me. It combined my love of radio with a rich life of the mind, which I’ve always enjoyed. I could talk to authors, speakers, and politicians, all the while indulging my controversial, obnoxious, adolescent side. I loved it, and I’ve been pursuing a career in talk-radio ever since.
In 1993, I interned with a guy named Dick Staub, who hosted a local Christian radio show called Chicago Talks, which eventually became syndicated as the Dick Staub show. Dick was unlike any other Christian talk-show host I’d ever heard. He interviewed secular as well as Christian guests, and was deeply familiar with culture as a whole, not just the Christian subculture.
I was a regular listener, and caller. One day I casually mentioned to him that I wanted to go into radio, and he invited me to come have coffee with him and talk about it. And that was the beginning of my internship, and my radio career. Dick was one of the few Christians I felt safe enough to talk to about my interest in the UB, and while he disagreed, he always welcomed my ideas and never excluded me from fellowship.
After my internship, I got involved with a ministry called the Christian Connection, run by my dear friend Steve Carr. He had a radio show of the same name, and I eventually became co-host and producer. That lasted for two years, though the ministry was taken over by someone else, and the show became a kind of secular/Christian hybrid called Destiny, which was also the name of Steve’s new company.
It was the mid-1990s, Newt Gingrich was House Speaker, and conservatives were riding high. I started reading a lot of conservative publications, one of my favorites being Bill Kristol’s new magazine, the Weekly Standard. In November of 1996, I was reading an article in the Standard by a budding young journalist named Tucker Carlson. Titled “Eugenics, American Style,” the article described the pressure many doctors put on women to abort their Down’s Syndrome Children. I had always been pro-life, and was involved in a lot of pro-life efforts, even to the point of being arrested three times with Operation Rescue.
And for your information, the Urantia Book strongly advocates eugenics. What exactly is eugenics? The term is similar to euthanasia, the latter meaning “good death,” while eugenics means “good birth.” In practice, eugenics was an ideology that advocated restricting the reproduction of the “unfit,” with the goal of “race improvement.” Its worst result was of course Hitler, but even the so-called milder approaches took the form of coercive sterilization laws implemented in several American states during the first half of the 20th century, at least prior to WWII. Ironically, Hitler looked to America as inspiration for his own very similar policies. It’s probably no surprise that the UB supports eugenics, since the concept was fairly well-accepted among intellectuals during the time of the UB’s writing. Here are several examples of UB quotes that endorse eugenics.
“These six evolutionary races are destined to be blended and exalted by amalgamation with the progeny of the Adamic uplifters. But before these peoples are blended, the inferior and unfit are largely eliminated. The Planetary Prince and the Material Son, with other suitable planetary authorities, pass upon the fitness of the reproducing strains. The difficulty of executing such a radical program on Urantia consists in the absence of competent judges to pass upon the biologic fitness or unfitness of the individuals of your world races. Notwithstanding this obstacle, it seems that you ought to be able to agree upon the biologic disfellowshiping of your more markedly unfit, defective, degenerate, and antisocial stocks.” (51:4.8)
“The early development of a normal world is greatly helped by the plan of promoting the increase of the higher types of mortals with proportionate curtailment of the lower. And it is the failure of your early peoples to thus discriminate between these types that accounts for the presence of so many defective and degenerate individuals among the present-day Urantia races.” (52:2.9)
“. . . most worlds seriously address themselves to the tasks of race purification, something which the Urantia peoples have not even yet seriously undertaken. . . . It is the false sentiment of your partially perfected civilizations that fosters, protects, and perpetuates the hopelessly defective strains of evolutionary human stocks.” (52:2.10,11)
“It is neither tenderness nor altruism to bestow futile sympathy upon degenerated human beings, unsalvable abnormal and inferior mortals. There exist on even the most normal of the evolutionary worlds sufficient differences between individuals and between numerous social groups to provide for the full exercise of all those noble traits of altruistic sentiment and unselfish mortal ministry without perpetuating the socially unfit and the morally degenerate strains of evolving humanity.” (52:2.12)
There are many other similar passages, and I was never comfortable with them. Essentially, I had to rationalize them, which I did for several years. But Tucker Carlson’s article was a huge reality-check. I had a visceral reaction to it. I could no longer pretend that there was a humane approach to eugenics; I just couldn’t accept it in good conscience. And I could no longer embrace a book that supported it. So I ditched the UB, for 10 years.
My 10-Year Sabbatical
I had been reading a lot of Catholic material at the time, and was deeply impressed by the Church’s blending of faith and reason. It was refreshing to hear arguments backing up the doctrines of the faith, rather than simply being told I had to believe something simply because it was in the Bible. I wanted to know why the bible was true, and why the resurrection of the body was important, etc.
Well, that was fulfilling for a while; I was attending a small, very loving Catholic community at a retreat center about an hour from my house. They held masses outside in the summer, and had a warm family atmosphere. I was happy there, but I was not comfortable with the Catholic position on salvation. While most objections to Catholicism involve the role of Mary or the function of the priesthood, those did not concern me so much. I was more bothered by the Church’s teaching that our works contribute to our salvation, and we could lose it. Speaking about assurance was considered the sin of presumption. While I realize that many Catholics are truly saved, it is in spite of these Church teachings.
So I left Catholicism in 2000, and dabbled in various churches, including an Anglican one. Finally, in 2005, I thought I had found a church home. I’d rather not name the church, except to say that it was a Bible-believing congregation, and its theology was essentially evangelical. For a while, I was very happy there. The worship was great, the pastor was bold, and they seemed to have a deep sense of community. But before I share my church experience, let me backtrack just a bit.
A few years earlier, in 2003, I sought therapy with a Christian counselor over some issues that came up from my childhood. The memories were deeply painful, and I was kind of a basket case for about 18 months. In fact, I was probably technically in a depression, though it was a functional depression. I still worked and coped, but most of my friends knew I was struggling, because I let them know all about my pain. Some of them didn’t get it, but most were very supportive. The good news is that during that time I got very close to the Lord. I practiced something called listening prayer, which involved writing my prayers down on paper and listening to God’s responses as He spoke to my heart. I still practice this prayer technique to this day.
I came to know God in a very intimate way. I always knew I could come to God, but God also showed me that I could come to Him in my pain, and that He would be there to comfort me. It is one thing to know that intellectually, but it’s quite another to say, as I did to my friend Dan Lapinski, “There comes a time when only the Lord can comfort you.” I mention this because the God I experienced, whom the Bible calls the “God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3), was not always the God I was hearing about in church. Let me explain.
I don’t want to turn this into a church-bashing session, but I need to take a stand against many aspects of what is called “church culture.” There are many good things about church culture, but there are also many things that are shallow at best, and abusive at worst. And some of church culture is just not biblical. I am not referring here to things like false teaching or liberal theology, but more subtle things. For example, many evangelical churches, while otherwise orthodox, will sometimes take Scripture out of context to justify some aspect of church culture, or some man-made rule they wish to apply to their members. Unfortunately, this was often the case at the church I started attending in 2005.
But before I find fault, let me say one thing in the church’s defense. Many of its members were former gang members, drug dealers, sex addicts, etc, and it’s possible that the pastor may have felt he needed to be a bit of a drill sergeant at times. This drill sergeant mentality also extended to some small group meetings, where the concept of accountability was sometimes wielded like a club. Don’t get me wrong; accountability is a good thing, but like sponsorship in a 12-step program, it should be voluntary, not imposed coercively.
I don’t mean to condemn the good Christian people at this church; in most cases, they were probably just doing what they thought was best. But they were bathed in a church culture that embraced certain assumptions, assumptions that were for the most part unconscious, and left unexamined.
On the positive side, there was a great teaching pastor at this church, who had this wonderful way of speaking to both my head and my heart. I fondly remember our lunch meetings, where we discussed all kinds of theological issues. Finally, here was a church leader who honored my questions and appreciated my intellectual curiosity.
But I was still affected by the toxic elements of the church, and in a pretty negative way. I don’t blame the church, I blame Satan, who used my negative experience to tempt me away from Scripture and back toward the seductive siren song of the Urantia Book.
Back to My Mistress
While in college, and still on the fence about my faith, an honest evangelist I know spoke the truth to me in love and said, “Jesus is your wife, the Urantia Book is your mistress.” At the time I found this statement offensive, obnoxious and patronizing, but I now realize it was 100 percent accurate. When I wasn’t getting my needs met in the body of Christ, I would wander off to the other side of the fence to see if the grass might be greener there. And I did it again in 2006. Here’s how it happened.
I was sitting in church one Sunday morning, and the pastor was delivering a sermon in his typically confrontational preaching style. In fact, he started yelling at the congregation; at least that’s how it came across to me. He was referring to the verse in Jeremiah 17, which reads, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (v. 9; KJV).
“Our hearts are wicked,” he screamed. I resisted his message, for several reasons. First, he was talking to believers, and even if it’s true that our hearts start out wicked, can’t Jesus change our hearts? Isn’t that the whole point of our growth in Christ?
And secondly, it just didn’t make sense to me. After all, I know a lot of people who don’t have wicked hearts; and I don’t think my heart is wicked. But I didn’t feel like there was anyone I could talk to at the church who would hear my concerns and validate them. So I started looking for a more reasonable view of human nature. And I got sucked right back into the UB.
I started by re-reading the book’s last section on the life and teachings of Jesus, and believe me, I got answers. They were the wrong answers, but I still got answers. Note to pastors and church leaders: If people don’t get satisfying answers in church, they’ll go somewhere else to get them. If they don’t get their needs met in the body of Christ, they’ll try anything–drugs, sex, worldly success or, in my case, a cult. Again, I don’t mean to bash the church here, I’m just expressing my frustration, and I know I’m not the only one who’s frustrated. Countless millions of Americans are leaving church, including Christians. See Julia Duin’s 2008 book, Quitting Church.
Yes, the UB did give me what I thought was a more reasonable view of human nature. One thing the UB does is rewrite various biblical passages to conform to its worldview. At the time, I thought these revisions were necessary; I saw them as corrections to the flawed biblical record. I’ll cite a few examples.
Let’s go back to the verse that troubled me. In the UB, when Jesus quotes the verse in Jeremiah, he says “the human heart is deceitful above all things and sometimes even desperately wicked” (143:2.5). The term “sometimes” seems to change the meaning of the passage, implying that only some people are desperately wicked, but not all people. In another spot (145:2.6), Jesus allegedly says “oftentimes,” but the point is still the same; a wicked heart cannot be ascribed to all human beings.
And this resonated with me; it didn’t make sense for me to view all people, including my good friends, as having wicked hearts. And besides, I rationalized, the Bible needs to be corrected and modified; it’s not the word of God, but the word of men who recorded their particular understanding of God.
Another verse that the UB rewrites is the one where Jesus says: “If you, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11) Again, the UB softens the tone of this passage by saying “If you, then, being mortal and finite . . .” as opposed to “being evil.” This kinder, gentler version appealed to me, and smoothed my fragile ego, which didn’t want to be ruffled by such harsh words.
I also saw these revisions as a justifiable attack on original sin, which the UB flatly rejects. According to the UB, we are not born sinful, just imperfect; it is our free will which makes some people more sinful than others. In the UB’s worldview, there was no “fall of man,” as described in Scripture; God simply created us imperfect on purpose so we could grow. By the way, there are biblical answers to these concerns, which I will provide later in the body of this letter.
Well, I was hooked, at least my intellect was. I went running into the arms of Mistress Urantia and had a rather intense fling. And I really got involved; I went back to study groups and started giving presentations again at UB conferences. And In 2008, I even started an online UB-related radio show called the Cosmic Citizen, which I hosted with another person who had a prominent leadership position in the UB community. This went on for about two years, until I discovered something in the UB that caused me to renounce it forever, with no intention of ever going back.
My Return to the Lord
Before I begin this section, I need to make a few points. Upon returning to the UB for the second time, I wrote a letter, similar to this one, though much shorter, intended for the UB community. In it I claimed that I had “come home” to the UB after a 10-year hiatus. I point this out because some people, especially UB readers, may view me as a kind of religious flake, a person who lacks consistency and whose sincerity can’t be trusted. Well, I may be a flake, but I know I’m God’s flake, and Jesus died for all my inconsistencies. It’s not about my faithfulness; it’s about His faithfulness to me. The Lord’s grace is what counts; and it counts a lot more than my own fragile and weak faith. Praise God that He has never strayed from me, even though I’ve strayed away numerous times.
I’m also glad I have Christian brothers and sisters I can go to when I have doubts and struggles. If I ever get tempted to go back to the UB, I can confess my doubts to them and they will provide me with real answers, or point me to places where I can get them. But most of all, I treasure their prayers and encouragement.
Secondly, even though I got intensely involved in the UB community, I was still a Christian at heart. At the time, I thought I could have one foot in each camp; many UB readers do just that. They read the UB, while attending church, synagogue, mosque or temple, and try to inject UB teachings into the mix. They call it bootlegging; they don’t mention the UB, they just plant little seeds. I, too, was involved in this kind of stealth activity; most of my friends didn’t know I was leading a double life. I called myself a Christian, and in my heart, I really was. Some UB readers have an angry and hostile attitude toward Christianity, and I was never comfortable with this. I would defend Christianity and conservative Christians when the topic came up in conversation. Of course, I now realize that Christianity is completely incompatible with the UB, but my heart was loyal to Christianity, even though my mind was embracing heresy.
As I said earlier, I was intensely involved in the Urantia movement, even to the point of endorsing the UB publicly on internet radio. But things changed very suddenly in March of this year. At that time, Congress was ramming Obama’s health-care bill down America’s throat, and I was not happy about it. I was always politically conservative, and even joined an online group for conservative UB readers.
Well, when the healthcare bill passed the House, I was very upset; I might even say depressed. But the dry, sterile Urantia Book didn’t give me any peace. What gave me peace was thinking about how Jesus had paid the price for my sins and had given me eternal life. I needed something certain I could cling to. The abstract ideas in the UB just didn’t cut it. But thinking about Jesus, the real Jesus of Scripture, was the only comfort I could find.
I was very disheartened, and I talked to some UB readers about my concerns. I really was afraid America was on the road to a totalitarian socialist Hell, or at the very least, a soft European-style despotism. Ironically, one person suggested that I read a UB paper that contained the smoking gun that would end my love affair with this false teaching once and for all. The paper is called “Sin, Sacrifice and Atonement,” and the gist of it is that Christian teachings about original sin and substitutionary atonement are just relics of ancient pagan superstitions which held that the gods could only be appeased by the sight of blood. An obscure passage in this paper led me to an obscure passage in Scripture, and I began to do some investigative work.
It should be noted that I had accepted, for a long time, that the UB wasn’t perfect. It didn’t claim to be infallible, and even admitted to using human sources. So I was willing to accept errors, oversights, and a few mistakes here and there. But what I found here was more than that; it was an overt misrepresentation of Scripture. In other words, it was an act of deception, a lie. In order to understand the nature of this deception, it is necessary to look at two passages of Scripture.
The first is 1 Kings 16:34. In this passage, we are told of a king who rebuilt Jericho. “In his days Hiel the Bethelite built Jericho; he laid its foundations with the loss of Abiram his first-born, and set up its gates with the loss of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by Joshua the son of Nun.” Here we are told that King Hiel built Jericho, and lost his two sons in the process. We are also told that this was “according to the Word of the Lord which He spoke by Joshua son of Nun.” And just what was this word of the Lord that Joshua spoke?
The answer is in Joshua; specifically, Joshua 6:26. In this verse, Joshua speaks prophetically saying, “Cursed before the Lord is the man who rises up and builds this city Jericho; with the loss of his first-born he shall lay its foundation, and with the loss of his youngest son he shall set up its gates.” So, the curse of God upon the man who builds Jericho was fulfilled in 1 Kings 16:34. Why would God curse a man who tries to rebuild Jericho? Because God gave Jericho into the hands of the Israelites as a gift when He brought down the walls. The Jews did not take Jericho from the Canaanites by their own power; rather, God gave it to them by His power and His grace, its ruins forever serving as evidence of God’s judgment on the evil Canaanites. God had conquered the land of Canaan and had given it to the Israelites as a gift. Rebuilding Jericho was a slap in the face to God.
Now let’s look at how the UB distorts this passage for its own purposes. In Paper 89, titled “Sin, Sacrifice and Atonement,” the UB rehashes a lot of 1930s anthropology in its review of the history of blood sacrifice, both animal and human. In Section, 6, paragraphs 5 and 6, the UB discusses an ancient practice called a foundation sacrifice. The UB rightly points out that foundation sacrifices were commonly performed at the erection of new buildings, and that these sacrifices were often human, and even included putting slaves alive into city walls.
In Section 6, paragraph 6, the UB records the incident with King Hiel and the loss of his two sons while rebuilding Jericho. The book claims that Hiel deliberately sacrificed both his sons, one in the foundations, and the other in the city gates:
“A petty king in Palestine, in building the walls of Jericho, ‘laid the foundation thereof in Abiram, his first-born, and set up the gates thereof in his youngest son, Segub.’ At that late date, not only did this father put two of his sons alive in the foundation holes of the city’s gates, but his action is also recorded as being ‘according to the word of the Lord.’” (89:6.6)
The UB states that the Scripture record of this event indicated that this was done “according to the Word of the Lord.” Note the glaring omission in this passage. There is no mention of the “word of the Lord, which he spoke by Joshua the son of Nun.” Here the UB is implying two things. One, that the loss of Hiel’s two sons was actually an example of a foundation sacrifice, and two, that the Hebrew Bible gives divine sanction to this sacrifice, stating that it was done “according to the Word of the Lord.” So, not only did Hiel offer his two sons as foundation sacrifices, but according to the UB, the Old Testament writer has God endorsing it.
As I’ve shown above, there is no evidence that this passage refers to a human sacrifice–none at all. All the evidence points to Joshua’s prophecy being fulfilled, and Hiel being cursed with the loss of his two sons. Who knows how they died; they could have died in construction accidents, or from some sort of plague or disease. But there is no evidence that this is a human sacrifice. And note that the UB has to leave out the part which refers to Joshua in order to mislead its readers.
Even while immersed in the UB, I used to complain about the plague of biblical illiteracy among its readers. I would harp constantly that the UB quoted the Bible more than any other book, and that in order to understand the UB you need to understand the Bible. Well, interestingly, there is a book called the Paramony, which gives UB readers all the relevant Bible passages that parallel those in the UB. The problem is that most UB readers are so ignorant of Scripture and so entranced by the UB that looking up these passages alone won’t necessarily do them much good if they don’t know the context. Thanks to my good friend Don Veinot of Midwest Christian Outreach, I was able to discover the true meaning of this passage. It was he who led me to Joshua 6:26, where I found the context of this passage. At that point, I was already having second thoughts about the UB, and I longed for the peace I knew as a born-again believer. I had
gone back and forth before, but this was the final nail in the coffin for the UB. To me, this distortion of Scripture could only be deliberate, not just an oversight.
Of course, I asked some UB readers I respected for a response to my concerns, but I got no satisfactory answers. To most of them, my objections were just a quibble, and really didn’t mean anything. One person, considered a foremost authority on the UB, reminded me that much of Scripture was distorted. You see, the UB claims that the OT was rewritten during the Babylonian captivity as a propaganda tool to encourage a demoralized Jewish people. So, the Bible apparently idealizes Israel’s history, and whitewashes Israel’s past, and might deny that the Jews practiced any kind of human sacrifice. But there are two problems with this explanation. First, where is the evidence that the priests in Babylon rewrote the OT? I have yet to find any scholarly evidence to support this claim. Was I supposed to just accept it at face value as “revelation,” just because it was in the Urantia Book?
And secondly, the Bible doesn’t idealize Israel’s history at all; the Scripture record is rife with accounts of Israel’s sin, including the practice of human sacrifice. And by the way, this practice is always condemned in Scripture, and occurs in Israel only when the Jews whore after the pagan gods of the surrounding peoples; it is never condoned by the God of Scripture. Even while a UB reader, I often had doubts about the authenticity of the text, and was frequently drawn back to the Bible. In most instances, I was able to go to other UB readers for reassurances, and my doubts would be soothed for a while. But in this case, my fellow UB readers couldn’t provide me with any credible answers. And with that, I finally let go of the Urantia Book and came back home to the Lord.
The Prodigal Returns
I was overjoyed. I felt the same kind of peace that I felt at fifteen, when my friend Roger led me in a prayer to receive Christ. I knew I had truly come back home. I call this section the Prodigal Returns because that’s really how I view myself, and it says something about my view of salvation. I was still a child of God; I never stopped being a child of God; I had just strayed off the path a bit. I never lost my salvation. To those who might question the sincerity of my faith in Christ, I can only say that I know the Father never let me go. I was always His, which is why I felt so much turmoil as I tried to embrace a belief system I didn’t really accept. I tried talking myself into believing it was true; I wanted it to be true, but deep down, I knew it wasn’t. The joy I felt was indescribable. As one friend of mine put it, I was flying through clean air.
One important thing I forgot to mention. I am totally blind and read Braille very efficiently. I had even paid for my own personal Braille copy of the Urantia Book. But when I realized that I could never embrace the book again, it was like the veil had been removed from my eyes. I was not only blind physically, I had been blinded spiritually. I knew then that the Urantia Book was demonic, and I had to get rid of it. Its presence in my house was the presence of evil. I was going to donate the book to a library for the blind in California, but when my friend Dan boxed it up for me, the post office wouldn’t take it. It weighed too much. Braille books are divided into volumes, and we put all 38 volumes into one box. So, we took the Urantia Book and threw it in the dumpster, where trash belongs.
I am so glad to be rid of it; the truth is the Urantia Book was an albatross around my neck. I felt I had to read it in secret, and as I’ve said numerous times, it did nothing for my peace of mind.
I think one of the biggest reasons the UB was so unsatisfying is its failure to address a basic reality of the human condition; namely, our fundamental chronic brokenness. As I’ve pointed out earlier, the UB simply assumes that we are children of God; we don’t have to become God’s children, we just need to recognize that we already are. It says that our salvation should be taken for granted. There are a couple of problems with this view. First, how do I know that I’m saved? Remember that the UB rejects Christ’s death as necessary for our salvation. So, in the absence of His sacrifice, where is the objective evidence that I’m saved? All I can do is assume, or presume, that I’m saved. But what if I’m wrong? And, more to the point, what am I depending on for my salvation? I can’t depend on my own goodness, which of course is not enough to save me, and I can’t even depend on my relationship with God, which
fluctuates like a roller-coaster. Yesterday I was full of gratitude and immersing myself in God’s Word, but today I’ve been struggling with resentment and frustration. But thank God for His liberating grace. Thank God that I can look outside of myself, and outside my own human imperfections, for my eternal security. When I look to the cross, this is the objective evidence that I’m saved. I know I’m saved. Why? Because Jesus saved me. How do I know? Because He died for me and paid for my sins so I can be right with God. He made things right between me and God; he bridged the gap that I could never bridge. Yes, it really is that simple. I also never got the sense from the UB that I really need the Lord.
Back to brokenness again. Christianity teaches that there is something fundamentally wrong with me that only Jesus can fix. I was born into the world outside of a right relationship with God, and only Jesus can restore that relationship. That’s why I need a Savior, not just a teacher, or a spiritual counselor, but something much more radial. I need radical surgery. I need a new heart–what the Bible calls a heart of flesh, as opposed to a heart of stone. I am broken, bent, twisted, wounded, damaged goods. And those are exactly the kind of people Jesus came to die for. He didn’t come to die for a bunch of good people; as Romans 5 tells us, “Christ died for the ungodly” (5:6). Who is ungodly? I am.
So, the good news of the Gospel is not just that I need more information, or that our evolution got off track, but that Jesus came to fix the fundamental human condition. If I’m already a child of God, then I don’t really need a Savior. The truth is not that I’m okay; the truth is that I’m not okay, but Jesus loves me in spite of my glaring warts. I say all these things with no shame or self-condemnation. It is so liberating to admit my brokenness before the Lord. I can stand with Paul and boast in my weaknesses, knowing that my only real strength comes from the Lord (2 Corinthians 12:9). In the same vein, there is not much in the UB to encourage dependence on the Lord. I want to cling to Jesus like a drowning man clings to a life-raft. Where is the sense of human desperation in the UB? It just isn’t there. In my natural state, I am not a child of God, I am only His creation. To become a child of God, I need to
receive Christ, get a new heart, and be changed from the inside out. That’s what it truly means to be born again.
One more thing I forgot to mention. I tried desperately to reconcile my interest in the UB with Christianity. At one time, I claimed that the UB acknowledged the deity of Christ, and was compatible with Christianity. I even wrote an essay called the Urantia Book and my Christian Faith, which was published in a UB-related journal. That’s how hard I was trying to have my cake and eat it too; I was trying desperately to squeeze compatibility out of two systems that are just not compatible.
And let me just say one more thing about my return home to the Lord. I was so on fire when I came back to Christ. I wanted to share the Gospel from the rooftops. I think I was so on fire because for the first time, the gap I had felt between my mind and my heart was finally bridged. The UB was no longer intellectually satisfying. And since I already knew that the Bible spoke to my heart, where else could I go? The Bible finally became intellectually satisfying as well. When I read the Bible, it speaks to my whole being, not just one part of me.
Additional Problems with the Urantia Book
For those who have never read it, it is important to realize that though the UB may sound on the surface like a bunch of far-out science-fiction, it is actually a deeply persuasive, compelling, logical, and internally consistent work. The problem is that a theological and philosophical system can be internally consistent, but still be out of sync with reality. In other words, logic alone is not enough; a worldview must be supported by evidence and must conform to reality. This means that faith must be supported by logic, evidence, and personal experience; one of those alone will not suffice.
For me, the UB passed the logic test, but failed the other two. But the UB’s approach to faith is fideistic, which means that for the UB, “religion is purely and wholly a matter of personal experience” (138:2.1; emphasis original). The word “wholly” always bothered me in this sentence. Of course personal experience should matter; that was one of my biggest complaints against the UB–that it didn’t speak to my heart, it didn’t work in my experience. But it also didn’t line up with reality. Here’s a glaring example.
The UB claims that most of the Old Testament passages that Christians cite as Messianic prophecies were “misapplied to the life mission of Jesus” (122:4.4). But the UB never backs up this assertion with evidence; it just makes this claim and expects us to take it at face value. Of course, many of the Messianic prophecies support the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, which the UB vehemently rejects. The problem is that Christ’s death for our sins is foreshadowed all over the Old Testament, in countless ways. I will just give a few examples.
The most often-cited reference is Isaiah 53, which is a direct allusion to Christ’s atonement. But it’s not even necessary to look to prophecy; the OT narratives also serve as types for Christ’s saving work. For example, God’s rejection of Cain’s sacrifice is one of our first hints. Why did God reject the sacrifice? Because it wasn’t a lamb. Jesus is our sacrificial lamb. The story of Abraham and Isaac is also an obvious example of substitutionary atonement. In fact, Abraham never actually sacrificed Isaac, and he knew that God didn’t really want him to do it; for he said, “God Himself will provide the lamb” (Genesis 22:7). And of course, the blood of the Passover lamb foreshadows the blood of Christ. Just as the blood on the doorpost protected the Jewish firstborn, so the blood of Christ protects us from the consequences of sin.
The UB can rail against the doctrine of atonement as being irrational and illogical, but how do UB readers get around these self-evident biblical passages? The answer is that most UB readers don’t know the Bible well enough to discuss the issue. And speaking of the Passover, the UB claims that it was just a coincidence that Jesus died during the Passover feast, and that he could have been crucified any other time. Essentially, the UB just dismisses these facts, in the same way it dismisses the OT Messianic prophecies.
In the same vein, the UB minimizes the significance of Psalm 22, which Jesus quoted while on the cross. While I agree with the UB that God the Father did not forsake Jesus, the UB goes further than that. The authors claim that Jesus was just reciting Psalm 22 as a means of comfort while in a delirious state. But what the UB completely fails to address is the Messianic character of Psalm 22; it’s a Messianic Psalm that predicts the Crucifixion. In fact, it’s pretty evident from the text that the Psalmist who is speaking is Christ.
Earlier, I pointed out the numerous ways in which the UB rewrites the Bible. I have already mentioned that the UB alters the resurrection accounts to conform to its Gnostic view that Jesus did not rise in a physical body. Here is how the UB authors do this. First, the UB modifies the biblical account of Thomas putting his hands in Jesus’ side. Instead, Jesus allegedly tells Thomas that touching him is impossible (cf. 191:5.4). The UB also has its own version of Mary’s encounter with the risen Christ. In the Bible, Jesus tells Mary not to touch him. The King James translation says, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father” (John 20:17). I never understood what this meant; the passage always seemed vague to me. But the UB, in accordance with its Gnostic view of the Resurrection, says, “Touch me not, Mary, for I am not as you knew me in the flesh” (189:4.12). At first, the UB’s take on this
passage made sense to me. I thought there was a contradiction in Scripture between Thomas touching Jesus and Jesus telling Mary not to touch him. It seemed to me that the UB had resolved this apparent contradiction.
What I did not realize is that much of this is a translation issue. I am so glad I found the New American Standard Version of the Bible (NASB). While it’s not quite as poetic as other versions, its accuracy and precision has helped me make sense of certain biblical passages. The one about Mary is a good example. In the NASB version, Jesus says “Stop clinging to me . . . .” When I read that, the lights came on for me. Jesus is telling Mary not to cling to Him, because he’s about to return to the Father. That’s it, it’s really that simple.
On a more foundational point, I can never embrace the Urantia Book because I no longer accept the theory of evolution. At first, I thought I could be a theistic evolutionist and still accept the inerrancy of Scripture. While that’s theoretically possible, I soon realized that evolution is ultimately incompatible with both Scripture and reality. If we accept the biblical account of Adam and Eve as the first human beings, then we can’t accept the evolutionary assumption that they were descended from hominids. Scripture clearly teaches that God created Adam and Eve as full-grown adults. The Bible says nothing about their infancy. We would have to concoct some story about Adam and Eve being children of hominids and having pre-human parents. Secondly, creationists used to tell me all the time that there is evidence for micro-evolution, but not for macro-evolution. I never understood this, but then, all of a sudden, it was clear to
me. There is plenty of evidence that species change over time, but I don’t see any evidence that species can simply change from one to another by either gradual or sudden mutation. While the fossil record clearly shows that certain species appeared at certain times, where is the evidence one species evolved from previous species? And why isn’t this happening today? Like so many things we learn in school, we tend to accept them uncritically, and our teachers do as well, which is why they teach these theories as facts.
Before I close this section, I must make one more brief but important point. I have come not only to accept, but to appreciate the wrath of God. The UB, of course, rejects divine wrath as a primitive, barbaric concept incompatible with the loving Heavenly Father revealed in Christ. Part of the problem is the English word “wrath,” which often connotes arbitrary rage or abusive anger. But the Bible says that God is “slow to anger” (Nehemiah 9:17), and since all of God’s attributes are magnified in Scripture, slow means really, really slow, like slow as molasses. And then there’s the issue of the anger itself. In the Bible, just what does God get angry about? He gets angry about injustice, and terrible evils like child sacrifice and oppression of the poor. I thank God for His wrath. I’m glad we live in a universe where evil is truly punished, not just by a set of impersonal laws, but by a just Judge who is outraged by
In the Bible, God is both just and merciful. God welcomes all those who gladly accept His mercy, and justly condemns those who spurn it. If a sinner repents, we can rejoice at God’s mercy, but if a sinner refuses to repent, we can rejoice that God’s just judgment sent that person to Hell. We don’t rejoice that the person is in Hell, for God says “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11), but we can still rejoice that the world really is like the fairy tales of our childhood, the good guys live happily ever after and the evil are punished forever. I, for one, am glad that suicide bombers face God’s judgment of eternal conscious punishment, rather than just being annihilated, as the UB teaches. Sorry guys, you don’t get off scot-free.
What I’ve Learned from the Urantia Book
This is probably the most controversial part of my letter, and I’m sure it will raise eyebrows in some Christian circles. But I’ve never shied away from controversy, so here goes. There are some things in the Urantia Book that are true. Otherwise, I would not have been attracted to it. This in no way should be taken as an endorsement of the book. I know it’s a false gospel, and ultimately, a lie from Satan. But like all Satan’s lies, it contains a good deal of truth. Satan knows our needs, and He will use those needs and even meet them on some level, to keep us away from the Kingdom. In my case, he didn’t keep me away from salvation, but he took time that I could have been using to build God’s Kingdom and wasted it on heresy. But since God uses evil for good, I am confident that He will use this experience for His glory. It’s also important for Christians to know what’s good about the Urantia Book, just in case we
have occasion to minister to someone currently caught up in it. Like Paul at Mars Hill, we need to build on the truth they already know, and show them how Christianity alone can meet the needs they are trying to fulfill through this false faith. I can’t prove this, but I suspect that in most cases, heresies develop as an attempt to correct a previous imbalance in church teaching. But, like many such human attempts, the result is an over-correction. And it’s up to us as believers to find the healthy biblical balance.
One good example is an overly pessimistic view of human nature. While the Bible definitely teaches original sin, it does not, in my opinion, teach that human beings are essentially evil or wicked. As I stated earlier in this letter, I was initially attracted to way the UB revised the verse in Jeremiah (17:9) to say that the heart is only sometimes desperately wicked. But after doing some research, I concluded that the KJV translation of this verse leaves room for improvement. The Hebrew word ânash, which the KJV translates as “wicked,” is more appropriately translated as “sick” or “incurable.” The New American Standard translation of this verse renders the phrase “desperately sick” (“beyond cure” NIV). This makes far more sense to me, and resonates with my own experience. I think we can all safely say that our hearts are incurably sick; that’s one reason we need a Savior. And it is true that we are all sinful,
but that’s a different thing from saying we’re all wicked. Therefore, the UB over-reaches in its attempt to “correct” this particular biblical passage.
Secondly, while the UB is entirely wrong in its rejection of Christ’s atoning sacrifice, some of its arguments against this doctrine are legitimate reactions to unfortunate presentations of this teaching. For example, the UB attacks the idea that God’s love and His righteousness are incompatible, and that God needed a sacrifice to appease His justice so that His love and mercy could flow freely. But unfortunately, I’ve heard many Christians use this argument to defend atonement. For example, British evangelical John Stott, in a speech I heard some years ago, actually said, “God has a problem with forgiveness. God has a problem with forgiveness because of who God is, in His blazing, and even blinding holiness.” Well, first of all, can we really say that God has problems? We have problems, not God. And does God really have a problem with forgiveness? Was the Cross the only possible way for God to forgive us? Was God
unapproachable apart from the Cross? Does God’s holiness make forgiveness impossible apart from the Cross?
The UB also says that the atonement doctrine is an attack on the unity of deity. “The affectionate heavenly Father . . . is not a divided personality–one of justice and one of mercy” (2:6.6). These are very good arguments, and we need to find a way to answer them. First of all, the cross was not necessary in order to unify a divided God who had to reconcile His love and His justice. The death of Christ on the Cross itself demonstrated the unity of God. If you owed me money, and I wanted to forgive your debt, I have two choices. The first is to simply waive the debt, which would be a fine act of mercy and forgiveness. The second is to have someone else pay the debt in your place. This would not only be an act of mercy, but an act of justice as well. In other words, yes, God is fully capable of forgiving us without satisfying His justice, but He went much farther than that; he arranged to have Jesus pay our debt.
You see, sin counts. If we hurt someone, we are not just sinning against that person, we are sinning against God. And while I can make amends to the people I’ve hurt, how can I possibly make amends to God? I can’t, and my sin would still remain. Sin matters because people matter; and God is grieved and hurt when His children are hurt. So, the UB has forced me to think more carefully about how I express my arguments in defense of atonement. One article that does a great job of defending atonement is “Father Forgive Them,” by Father Richard John Neuhaus, which appeared in the March 2000 issue of First Things.
The Urantia Book is also very optimistic about the future. While it is not naive in its optimism, it definitely proclaims a gospel of progress. Some years ago, when I first rejected the UB, I was afraid I had to reject this idea entirely. I thought I had to accept the traditional pre-millennial eschatology of the Left Behind novels. Thankfully, I was introduced to post-millennial views, and soon found that there were all kinds of ways to look at the Last Days, and that there was a lot of room for optimism about the progress we could still make to build God’s Kingdom here on Earth. Yes, I’m still an optimist, and not just because I know Jesus is coming back. I’m an optimist because I believe God’s people have a role in transforming civilization for Jesus Christ. I, for one, want to be a part of that process.
The UB is also a vocal critic of the Christian church. While it dos not condemn the church outright, it does warn against the dark side of institutional religion. As I said earlier, I don’t want to turn this into a church-bashing session; I currently do attend church, and have not given up on it. And isolation from church can cause its own set of problems; people who don’t sit under good teaching and claim that they are taught only by the Holy Spirit are in danger of falling into heresy and spiritual pride. Having said that, I went for several years with no church family, and I know many Christians in the same boat.
In fact, some of the most mature Christians I know have left the church, either because they aren’t fed spiritually, or because they can’t find ministry and service opportunities that truly utilize their gifts. I hate to say it, but many of the UB’s critiques of church culture sound like sentiments echoed by frustrated Christians. Again, great book on this subject is Julia Duin’s Quitting Church: Why the Faithful Are Fleeing and What to Do about It.
And finally, the UB has taught me a lot about love and forgiveness. In a paper called “Religion and Human Experience,” in a section titled “Problems of Growth,” the authors give an analogy that is dear to the hearts of UB readers, and I can see why. Readers are asked to imagine a caveman, a filthy, smelly, misshapen creature, with a club in his hand and a look of hatred and rage on his face. For most people, the immediate reaction would be disgust and contempt. But what if we enlarge the picture? In front of the man is a saber-toothed tiger and behind him a woman and two children. When we see that this man is just trying to protect his family, we see the beginnings of something fine and noble in the human race. The point here is when we see the whole picture, we can understand a person’s true motives and intentions. By extension, God sees all our motives, and can understand us completely, so it is easy for Him to forgive us.
The UB says in several places that when we understand someone, we will eventually learn to love them.
The same applies to forgiveness. There is even a French proverb that says, “To understand all is to forgive all.” While this concept completely sidesteps the issue of God’s justice and the need for atonement, I have found it to be true in my own experience. Virtually all of us have had the experience of being frustrated with a person’s behavior, and then we find out later that something awful just happened to them, or that they had a bad day at work. Then the lights come on for us, and we are able to forgive them. In fact, I’ll take it a step farther–we can probably get forgiveness down to a science.
The UB’s take on sin also helped expand my understanding of forgiveness. The UB redefines sin to mean “deliberate disloyalty to Deity” (89:10.2). In order for an act to be sinful, it must be rooted in a conscious attitude of willful rebellion against God. This, of course, is contrary to the Bible, which views sin as a natural impulse in the human condition, not so much an act of conscious rebellion, but a kind of human sickness that only Jesus can cure. But there’s a piece of truth in the UB’s view, and here it is. I’m convinced that one reason there is so much lack of forgiveness in the world is that people forget that most of the things we do that hurt people are not done on purpose. We hurt people unintentionally all the time, and if we see that a person’s actions are not malicious or deliberate, it becomes much easier to forgive them. Even Jesus absolved his own enemies on the cross with this insight when he said,
“Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). And the distinction between intentional and unintentional harm is made numerous times in Old Testament law, and may be the basis for our current legal distinctions, such as murder vs. involuntary manslaughter, etc.
Again, I don’t mean to endorse the Urantia Book. Its worldview is unbiblical, and it presents a false gospel that does not lead to salvation. And I certainly don’t believe the UB is a revelation. After all, the concepts I cited above that I find helpful are easily explainable by purely human insight. But they are still, in my opinion, valid insights that can be integrated into a person’s Christian faith.
Suggestions for Christians
When I first came back to the Lord, I was rather frustrated with the Christian church, meaning the institutional church but also the body of Christ more generally. But the Lord has softened my heart considerably. So, instead of complaining and finding fault, I’d like to offer some suggestions for us as believers when reaching out to those caught up in the UB or similar belief systems, whether they be Christians struggling with their faith, or folks who have never embraced the Gospel at all.
1. Don’t patronize those with sincere doubts and intellectual questions. Quite often, when I tried getting answers to questions about Bible passages or concepts that I found confusing, I was told that I should just have faith, or that I should not rely on my own understanding. Not only is this insulting, but it’s counter-productive. A person who wrestles deeply with doubts and questions can have their faith strengthened and renewed in the process. We don’t have to turn off our intellects when we read Scripture. There is nothing illogical or irrational about the Bible. In fact, when we examine it critically, it comes out smelling like a rose. We should expect people, both believers and nonbelievers, to ask hard questions and demand logical answers. Sometimes I think people approached my questions in a patronizing manner because they themselves didn’t know how to answer them. That’s okay, because there are numerous
resources, particularly online tools, which can help. I’ll just name one right now, because it’s the best one I’ve seen; it’s called www.christianthink-tank.com. I have never seen a better apologetic site in my life. Another good one is www.gotquestions.org.
2. We need to be careful how we present the Gospel. Most people caught up in New Age religions or liberal theology like to talk of God’s unconditional love. When I first heard the Gospel, I resisted it because I thought Christianity taught a God of conditional love. I thought God wouldn’t love me until I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. In fact, one girl in high school put it to me rather crudely. “Before you accept Christ, God is your enemy,” she said. “Then, once you get saved, God puts down all His weapons against you.” Not only is this view of God rightly disturbing, it’s not accurate. For some reason, I didn’t get the most critical message of the Gospel; the unconditional and unmerited grace of God. I somehow got the impression that getting saved was something I was supposed to do, not something Jesus had done for me 2,000 years ago. The truth is that God accepted us before we ever accept Him.
Even the Urantia Book makes this point, though it denies the most important evidence of God’s acceptance–His dying for broken sinners like me. When presenting the Gospel we must make it clear, as the Bible does in several places, that God came to us before we ever came to Him. “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Romans 5 is a great chapter that makes this point very well.
So, yes, God does love us unconditionally; He loves us so much that He has provided eternal life for us even though we don’t deserve it. We don’t have to accept Christ in order for God to love us, we accept Christ because His love for us compels us to do so. As Romans 2 says, “the kindness of God leads you to repentance” (2:4).
3. Don’t assume that a person is not saved just because they are proclaiming heresy and doubting the inerrancy of Scripture. I was doing all those things, and I was still saved. If you know a Christian who has strayed off the path, make sure you let them know that they still belong to the Lord, even if you disagree with their current belief system. This will make a person feel safe enough to share their doubts and struggles with you without fear of judgment. Pray for them, love them, and let them know they are still your brother or sister in Christ.
Let’s close in prayer, shall we?
Dear heavenly Father,
When I came out of my bondage to the Urantia Book, a UB reader I had worked with closely told me that she had found the God of her dreams. Well, I’m glad you are not the God of my dreams; you are far bigger and better; you are the God of reality. Comfort those who are afraid to come to you because they have distorted images of who you are. Help them to see that the God of Scripture is actually far more loving, kind, and merciful than the superficial god they have created in their own minds. Put people in their lives who can explain your Word logically and clearly. At the same time, give them an experience of your presence that they can feel deeply in their hearts; and not just as an abstract intellectual concept. Help them to place their faith in your Son, the real Jesus, the Jesus of Scripture, not a false made-up jesus, but the Jesus who came to rescue them from their sin, to fix what is broken; a Savior, not just a teacher, the way,
not just the way-shower. Help those caught up in false belief systems to find you, and to fall in love with you. Give them a hunger for your Word, and a hunger to know you deeply and to walk in your ways.
I ask these things in Jesus’ name and by the precious blood of His cross, amen.
Andre Traversa, Park Ridge, IL
December 1, 2010.