Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Urantia Book: Not Credible (from Jesus in an Age of Controversy)

I once received a call from a young radio announcer for a Christian station, who wanted information on a Christian view of UFOs and life on other planets. After a few minutes the man reluctantly confessed that his interest was based on The Urantia Book, a revelation that supposedly supplements, corrects, and updates the Bible. Despite his Christian background, this man had doubts that Jesus had to die in order to atone for our sin and turn away the wrath of God. I spoke with him for almost an hour, earnestly arguing for the biblical teachings on Christ’s sacrificial death. Near the end of the conversation his troubled soul seemed to come back to the Bible. What is this Urantia Book and how could it lead someone away from the teachings of Scripture?

The Urantia Book (1955) is a mammoth tome that credits no human author. Rather, it claims to have been assembled by extraterrestrials entities or “Revelators”--with ostentatious names such as Perfector of Wisdom, Number, Divine Counselor, and One Without Name--and channeled by one unidentified human. This 2097 page volume gives a fantastically convoluted and obscure account of cosmology, anthropology, theology, and history. One of its more objectionable anthropological claims is that the black (or “indigo”) race was the most inferior; although it claims that these people “have exactly the same standing before the celestial power as any other earthly race.”[i] Martin Gardner observes that this “is exactly what southerners in the United States, including their minister, used to say about the African American slaves.”[ii]
One of Urantia’s devotees, Peter Bergman, of the comedy group “The Firesign Theatre,” said of it: “It’s been this major influence on my life since 1972. . . . I find it to be the most complete expression and explanation of our relationship to God and where we’re going and where we come from.”[iii] Under the leadership of the Urantia Foundation in Chicago, the book has gone through eleven printings in the United States, with translations in Spanish and Finnish appearing in 1993. Work is being done on Russian and Dutch editions, and there are plans for other languages as well.[iv]My search of the Internet yielded several home pages dedicated to spreading the gospel according to The Urantia Book. Some of the materials offered were aimed specifically at reaching Christians.

The Urantia Book supplies us with over 774 pages on the life of Christ--much of it concerning his supposed world travels during the “lost years of Jesus” not addressed in the New Testament (see chapters 7-8). It tips the extraterrestrial hat to the biblical Gospels, deeming them influential but inadequate, partial, and imperfect records.[v] From the alien angle, the New Testament was corrupted by the influence of Paul, Peter, and others, and only dimly reflects the real teachings of Jesus.[vi]

To attempt to fathom The Urantia Book one must descend into a dark and foreboding labyrinth of quirky terminology, pseudo-scientific pronouncements, and revisionist ideas about Jesus. In barest outline, the book informs us that God is a “Trinity of Trinities,” that humans are unfallen beings who have a divine spark within them (called a “Thought Adjuster”), that they can become fused with God through evolutionary development, and that Jesus’ death on the cross did not atone for our sin against God.

In its attack the idea that Jesus sacrificed his life for ours, The Urantia Book states that “the Father in Paradise did not decree, demand, or require the death of his Son as it was carried out on earth.”[vii] And: “Jesus did not atone for the racial guilt of man nor to provide some sort of effective approach to an otherwise offended and forgiving God.”[viii] Furthermore, the resurrection of Jesus was, it claims, spiritual and not physical, since his body instantaneously decomposed in the tomb.[ix] It says: “This material or physical body was not a part of the resurrected personality.”[x] These notions contradict the preaching of the Apostle Peter, who proclaimed shortly after Pentecost:

Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know--this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power (Acts 2:22-24, NRSV).

Peter was only echoing his Master, who solemnly asserted that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). The most ancient and reliable records available clearly teach that Jesus offered his life on a bloody cross in obedience to the will of his Father for the redemption of humanity. The first Christians, such as Peter, witnessed and declared that Christ rose from the dead in a perfected physical body, not as a disembodied spirit (Luke 24:36-43; 1 Corinthians 15:1-34; see also chapter 15). However, The Urantia Book, with its Gnostic devaluation of the body, would have us abandon the biblical record and embrace its own unhistorical and idiosyncratic perspective, which it claims is a revelation superior to the Bible or any other source.

The Urantia Book declares that “the gospel of the kingdom is: the fact of the fatherhood of God, coupled with the resulting truth of the sonship-brotherhood of man.”[xi] The true gospel as taught by Paul is that: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” and that he appeared to many witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). These apostolic words bear the marks of historical facticity and personal integrity. For these truths Paul lived and died. On these truths Christianity was born, survived through bloody adversity, and makes its unique appeal today. For all its physical bulk and metaphysical murk, The Urantia Book is devoid of this transformative authority and power.


[i] The Urantia Book (Chicago, IL: The Urantia Foundation, 1955), 725.
[ii] Martin Gardner, Urantia: The Great Cult Mystery (New York: NY: Prometheus Books, 1995), 24.
[iii] Quoted in Peter Stenshoel and Jay Kinney, “Audio Magicians: When is a Cult Figure an Occult Artist?” Gnosis, Summer 1994, 42.
[iv] Gardner, 11.
[v] The Urantia Book, 1341-1342.
[vi] Ibid., 2091-2093
[vii] Ibid., 2002.
[viii] Ibid., 2016.
[ix] Ibid., 2023-2024.
[x] Ibid., 2021.
[xi] Ibid., 2059.