Spong's 12 theses

Thomas

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This is a 'stream of consciousness' response to the 12 theses posed by J S Spong - taking his theses at face value.

1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.
Disagree. I think it's not theism that's dead, it's a particular viewpoint of a particular philosophy that renders theism invalid on its terms. As long as that philosophy rules, there can be no reasoned argument for any knowledge of any form of theism. There can be no new way when any way is ruled out by the fact that man is utterly fallible.

2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.
The author implies that his philosophical position is the only acceptable position, even if it is the prevalent position. The Church would argue that any notion of God is inaccessible to post-Kantian post-modernism, and also that this is 'a' philosophy, not the 'only' philosophy - is not absolute.

3. The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
Philosophy again - by disallowing the concept of metaphysics, the author has lost the very richness of the text. Also he's somewhat wanting in the areas of form criticism and the understandiung of myth ... what about evidence to suggest that the human race descends from one genetic source - a woman located in Africa?

4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ's divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.
Not impossible - but a Mystery - we might find new info next week that makes it possible. I don't think science today says anything is 'impossible'?

5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
What about a Quantum world? What about the fact that the Newtonian world does not provide all the answers?
I would rather that the miracle stories are interpreted in a far more sophisticated manner, as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity, in this Newtonian world.

6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.
Hang on - remember these primitives - Aristotle, Plato, et al, gave us the philosophy that is still the foundation of our way of thinking - who was it said 'all philosophy is a footnote to Plato'.

They were barbarian times - to suggest anything else is to imply anachronism. Christians can believe in sacrifice, but not in a barbarian way. And it's unlikely that Rome would have come up with the lethal injection, although the Greeks had their lethal draught ... the barbarism is part of the point, and part of the Mystery, part of the Cosmic Drama of man continually rejecting the hand that reaches out to him ... Love is also a primitive concept, too ...

The 'idea' of sacrifice is universal, the method is contingent. There seems to be a confusion between the two?

7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.
Philosophy again. But careful - Scripture says resurrection, not resuscitation - the two are distinctly different - and the evidence of Scripture would seem to point to that fact that it was not resuscitation...

8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.
For those with no poetic or lyric sensibility whatsoever - in fact no imagination whatsoever - perhaps - but to those with a sense of symbol, there is absolutely no problem whatsoever ...

9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
No there isn't. Your point... ?

10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.
Why not? We are in human history - we are the very stuff of it - what other way can we act? Is prayer utterly useless then? Can God not act?

11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
So away with justice and mercy? Karma? Cause and effect?
The guilt issue is a massive question, and certainly a card played far too often and too loudly - but let's not kid ourselves - two things motivate the human race - gain, and guilt -

If man was always guided by his intellect, then OK, but often, and even the most intellectual, is not ...

... some would sugest Today we stand ever closer to the edge of total environmental disaster. What are we doing about it? As little as possible. In an ideal world, we can have ideal solutions, but in the real world, one has to deal with the real world.

Put another way - the hope of society cannot rely upon the law and the threat of legal action as a motivator of good social behaviour - so the judiciary and penal system ought to be done away with?

I'm not advocating fear - the most oft-used phrase in Scripture is 'fear not' - but I am aware that left to his own devices ...

12. All human beings bear God's image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one's being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.
Agreed - in principle. But surely society has the right to protect itself against the predator, and that last orientation is the foundation of a whole mess of troubles ... does society have the right to protect the weak from the predatory apetities of the strong?

Again - taking his prior points into consideration, how can he propose that man bears God's image? Surely this is a naive anthropomorphism? Pre-Darwinian, pre-Newtonian, pre-Copernican, fantasy? God doesn't have a body, therefore he doesn't have an image, therefore this point is nonsense, surely?

Thomas
 
Namaste Thomas,

I don't believe he is discounting the layers and depth of information found in the bible, nor metaphysical, metaphorical, or quantum possiblities...I think he is actually trying to get us to see them!

In reading the whole 'call for reformation' I get a little different picture. Yes what he writes could easily be seen as blasphemy, he is not a believer is repeated...and by others lucifer himself.

Is it possible that he is pulling at the rug to get folks to keep the lamp from tipping over? Is he asking tough questions that any 3 year old would ask but the answer is 'Just believe it, G-d says it is so, your gonna go to hell if you don't listen to me' Is it possible that it we are now adult enough to sit down and discuss the hard questions or do we still get the same answer? Or are we worried it doesn't matter how hard we hold on the to the lamp, the tugging on the rug will topple the whole house of cards?

I don't believe it is a house of cards, I am not willing to toss out the bible due to inconsistencies, or the multiple authors or the sexist racist nature of some of the passages.

I'm posting the piece so we may read it all. It was the lines just before and just after the thesis that caught me. (the highlights in those locations are by me)

---------

A Call for a New Reformation

by John S. Spong

In the 16th century the Christian Church, which had been the source of much of the stability of the western world, entered a period of internal and violent upheaval. In time this upheaval came to be called the Protestant Reformation, but during the violence itself, it was referred to by many less attractive adjectives. The institution that called itself the body of Christ broke first into debate, then acrimony, then violence and counter-violence and finally into open warfare between Protestant Christians and Catholic Christians. It produced the Hundred Years War and the conflict between England and Spain that came to a climax in the destruction of the Spanish Armada in 1588. That destruction was widely interpreted as a defeat for the Catholic God of Spain at the hands of the Protestant God of England.

Yet, when looking at that ecclesiastical conflict from the vantage point of more than four hundred years, there is surprise at how insignificant were the theological issues dividing the two sides. Neither side was debating such core teachings of Christianity as the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, Jesus as the incarnate son of God, the reality of heaven and hell, the place of the cross in the plan of salvation or the role of such sacraments as Baptism and Communion. These rather were faith assertions held in common.

Of course this conflict was not without theological issues, though they seem quite trivial in retrospect. Protestant Christians and Catholic Christians disagreed, for example, about whether salvation was achieved by faith alone, as Luther contended, or whether faith without works was dead as the Vatican, quoting the Epistle of James, argued. There was also debate over the proper use of scripture and the role of ordination. Despite the hostile appellations of "heretic" hurled at Protestants and "anti-Christ" hurled at Catholics, anyone viewing this debate from the vantage point of this century would see that, while an acrimonious and unpleasant fight, it was nonetheless a fight that pitted Christian believers against Christian believers. The Reformation was not an attempt to reformulate the Christian faith for a new era. It was rather a battle over issues of Church order. The time had not arrived in which Christians would be required to rethink the basic and identifying marks of Christianity itself.

It is my conviction that such a moment is facing the Christian world today. The very heart and soul of Christianity will be the content of this reformation. The debate which has been building for centuries has now erupted into public view. All the past ecclesiastical efforts to keep it at bay or deny its reality have surely failed and will continue to do so. The need for a new theological reformation began when Copernicus and Galileo removed this planet from its previous supposed location at the center of the universe, where human life was thought to bask under the constant attention of a humanly defined parental deity. That revolution in thought produced an angle of vision radically different from the one in which the Bible was written and through which the primary theological tenets of the Christian faith were formed.

Before that opening salvo of revolution had been absorbed, Sir Isaac Newton, who charted the mathematically fixed physical laws of the universe, weighed into the debate. After Newton the Church found itself in a world in which the concepts of magic, miracle, and divine intervention as explanations of anything, could no longer be offered with intellectual integrity. Once more people were forced to enter into and to embrace a reality vastly different from the one employed in the traditional language of their faith tradition. Next came Charles Darwin who related human life to the world of biology more significantly than anyone had heretofore imagined. He also confronted the human consciousness with concepts diametrically opposed to the traditional Christian world view. The Bible began with the assumption that God had created a finished and perfect world from which human beings had fallen away in an act of cosmic rebellion. Original sin was the reality in which all life was presumed to live. Darwin postulated instead an unfinished and thus imperfect creation out of which human life was still evolving. Human beings did not fall from perfection into sin as the Church had taught for centuries; we were evolving, and indeed are still evolving, into higher levels of consciousness. Thus the basic myth of Christianity that interpreted Jesus as a divine emissary who came to rescue the victims of the fall from the results of their original sin became inoperative. So did the interpretation of the cross of Calvary as the moment of divine sacrifice when the ransom for sin was paid. Established Christianity clearly wobbled under the impact of Darwin's insights, but Christian leaders pretended that if Darwin could not be defeated, he could at least be ignored. It was a vain hope.

Darwin was followed by Sigmund Freud who analyzed the symbols of Christianity and found in them manifestations of a deep-seated infantile neurosis. The God understood as a father figure, who guided ultimate personal decisions, answered our prayers, and promised rewards and punishment based upon our behavior was not designed to call anyone into maturity. This view of God issued rather into either a religious mentality of passive dependency or an aggressive secular rejection of all things religious. After Freud, it was not surprising to see Christianity degenerate into an increasingly shrill biblical fundamentalism where thinking was not encouraged and preconceived pious answers were readily given, but where neither genuine questions nor maturity were allowed or encouraged. As Christianity moved more and more in this direction, contemporary people, who think with modern minds, began to be repelled and to drop out of their faith commitments into the Church Alumni Association. Between these two poles of mindless fundamentalism and empty secularism are found the mainline churches of Christendom, both Catholic and Protestant. They are declining numerically, seem lost theologically, are concerned more about unity than truth, and are wondering why boredom is what people experience inside church walls. The renewal of Christianity will not come from fundamentalism, secularism or the irrelevant mainline tradition. If there is nothing more than this on the horizon then I see no future for the enterprise we call the Christian faith.

My sense is that history has come to a point where only one thing will save this venerable faith tradition at this critical time in Christian history, and that is a new Reformation far more radical than Christianity has ever before known and that this Reformation must deal with the very substance of that faith. This Reformation will recognize that the pre-modern concepts in which Christianity has traditionally been carried will never again speak to the post-modern world we now inhabit. This Reformation will be about the very life and death of Christianity. Because it goes to the heart of how Christianity is to be understood, it will dwarf in intensity the Reformation of the 16th century. It will not be concerned about authority, ecclesiastical polity, valid ordinations and valid sacraments. It will be rather a Reformation that will examine the very nature of the Christian faith itself. It will ask whether or not this ancient religious system can be refocused and re-articulated so as to continue living in this increasingly non-religious world.

Martin Luther ignited the Reformation of the 16th century by nailing to the door of the church in Wittenberg in 1517 the 95 Theses that he wished to debate. I will publish this challenge to Christianity in The Voice. I will post my theses on the Internet and send copies with invitations to debate them to the recognized Christian leaders of the world. My theses are far smaller in number than were those of Martin Luther, but they are far more threatening theologically. The issues to which I now call the Christians of the world to debate are these:

1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.
2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.
3. The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ's divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.
5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.
7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.
8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.
9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.
11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
12. All human beings bear God's image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one's being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.

So I set these theses today before the Christian world and I stand ready to debate each of them as we prepare to enter the third millennium.
 
Those reading this thread might be interested in also reading Archbishop Rowan Williams' response to retired Bishop Spong's 12 theses from here.

Rowan Williams replies...
Is it time for a new Reformation? The call has gone out quite a few times in the past three or four decades, and the imminence of the Millennium adds a certain piquancy to it.

The Right Reverend John Spong, Bishop of Newark in the US, is right to say - as he has done in his diocesan journal - that his own version of this demand is of a rather different order from the earlier Reformation; and this surely makes it imperative that his bold and gracious invitation to debate these theses should be taken up with some urgency and seriousness, not least on the eve of a Lambeth Conference that will undoubtedly be looking hard at issues of Christian identity and the limits of diversity.

So I had better say at once that, while I believe Bishop Spong has, in these and other matters, done an indispensable task in focusing our attention on questions under-examined and poorly thought through, I believe that these theses represent a level of confusion and misinterpretation that I find astonishing.

He has rightly urged the Church to think more clearly in many respects about issues of sex and gender; but I am bothered by the assumption here that the Church has failed to think through a number of central matters on which quantities of fairly sophisticated literature have been written over the entire history of Christian theology.

The implication of the theses is that the sort of questions that might be asked by a bright 20th century sixth-former would have been unintelligible or devastating for Augustine, Rahner or Teresa of Avila. The fact is that significant numbers of those who turn to Christian faith as educated adults find the doctrinal and spiritual tradition which Bishop Spong treats so dismissively a remarkably large room to live in.

Doctrinal statements may stretch and puzzle, and even repel, and yet they still go on claiming attention and suggesting a strange, radically different and imaginatively demanding world that might be inhabited. I'm thinking of a good number of Eastern Europeans I know who have found their way to (at least) a fascinated absorption in classical Christianity through involvement in dissident politics and underground literature. Or of some American writers who will, I'm sure, be known to Bishop Spong, from Denise Levertov to Kathleen Norris, who have produced reflective and imaginative work out of the same adult recovery of the tradition. Is this tradition as barren as Spong seems to think?

To answer that requires us to look a bit harder at the theses themselves. In a way, the first of them indicates where the trouble is going to come: for there are at least three quite distinct senses of theism current in theology and religious studies, and it is none too clear which is at issue here.

At the simplest level, theism is, presumably, what atheists deny. Spong doesn't appear to think of himself as an atheist, so this can't be it.

In a more specialist context, scholars of the phenomenology of mysticism have sometimes distinguished 'theistic' from 'monistic' experience - theistic experience being defined as focused upon a reality ultimately distinct from the self (and the universe), as opposed to a mysticism of final unification. I'm not convinced that this distinction is actually a very helpful strategy, but that is another matter; it may be that something more like this is what Spong has in mind.

But there is also the sense, recently discussed by writers like Nicholas Lash, of theism as the designation of that abstract belief in God independent of the specific claims of revelation that flourished in the age after Descartes - a sense quite close to but not identical with that of 'deism'. It is in this sense that large numbers of theologians would say that classical Trinitarian orthodoxy is not a form of theism.

I suspect that Spong is feeling his way between the second and the third senses. His objections seem to be to God as a being independent of the universe who acts within the universe in a way closely analogous to the way in which ordinary agents act. The trouble is that, while this might describe the belief of some rationalist divines in the modern period, and while it might sound very like the language of a good many ordinary religious practitioners, it bears no relation at all to what any serious theologian, from Origen to Barth and beyond, actually says about God - or, arguably, to what the practice of believers actually implies, whatever the pictorial idioms employed.

Classical theology maintains that God is indeed different from the universe. To say this is to suggest a radical difference between one agent and another in the world. God is not an object or agent over against the world; God is the eternal activity of unconstrained love, an activity that activates all that is around God is more intimate to the world than we can imagine, as the source of activity or energy itself; and God is more different than we can imagine, beyond category and kind and definition.

Thus God is never competing for space with agencies in the universe. When God acts, this does not mean that a hole is torn in the universe by an intervention from outside, but more that the immeasurably diverse relations between God's act and created acts and processes may be more or less transparent to the presence of the unconstrained love that sustains them all.

The doctrine of the incarnation does not claim that the 'theistic' God (i.e. a divine individual living outside the universe) turns himself into a member of the human race, but that this human identity, Jesus of Nazareth, is at every moment, from conception onwards, related in such a way to God the Word (God's eternal self-bestowing and self-reflecting) that his life is unreservedly and uniquely a medium for the unconstrained love that made all things to be at work in the world to remake all things. Jesus embodies God the Word or God the Son as totally as (more totally than) the musician in performance embodies the work performed.

I don't find this bankrupt; I don't find that it fails to make sense to those trying to learn the language of faith.

And the same point about God not competing for space is pertinent to several of the other theses. Exactly how the presence of God's action interweaves with various sets of created and contingent causes is not available for inspection. We have no breakdown of the relations between God and this or that situation in the world.

Theologians have argued that the holiness of a human individual or the prayer of a believer may be factors in a situation that tilt the outcome in a particular way. This is an intellectually frustrating conclusion in all sorts of ways, but seems to be the only one that really manages to do justice to the somewhat chaotic Christian experience of intercession and unexpected outcomes (miracles, if you must). If the world really does rest upon divine act, then whatever you say about the regularities of casual chains is relativised a bit by not quite knowing what counts as a 'cause' from God's point of view, so to speak.

Bishop Spong describes the resurrection as an act of God. I am not clear how an immanent deity such as I think he believes in is supposed to act; but if such a God does act, I don't see why it should be easier for God to act in people's mind than their bodies. 'Jesus was raised into the meaning of God'; yes, but meanings are constructed by material, historical beings, with cerebral cortices and larynxes. How does God (or 'God') make a difference to what people mean?

Spong clearly has no time for the empty-tomb tradition; so it is no surprise that he also dismisses the virginal conception (though why on earth this makes Jesus's divinity 'impossible' I fail to understand). I am aware that there are critical historical grounds for questioning both narrative clusters and I don't want to dismiss them. But I am very wary of setting aside the stories on the ground of a broad-brush denial of the miraculous.

For the record: I have never quite managed to see how we can make sense of the sacramental life of the Church without a theology of the risen body; and I have never managed to see how to put together such a theology without belief in the empty tomb. If a corpse clearly marked 'Jesus of Nazareth' turned up, I should save myself a lot of trouble and become a Quaker.

The virginal conception looks less straightforward, if you are neither a fundamentalist nor someone committed to the principled denial of miracles. Is it possible to believe in the incarnation without this? Yes, I think so (I did for a few years). But I also have an uncomfortable feeling that the more you reflect on the incarnation, the less of a problem you may have. There is a rather haunting passage in John Neville Figgis about - as it were - waking up one day and finding you believe it after all. My sentiments exactly.

Perhaps the underlying theme in all this is that if you don't believe in a God totally involved in and totally different from the universe, it's harder to see the universe as gift; harder to be open to whatever sense of utter unexpectedness about the life and death of Jesus made stories of pregnant virgins and empty tombs perfectly intelligible; harder to grasp why people thank God in respect of prayers answered and unanswered.

Perhaps, too, it has a bit to do with the sense of utterly unexpected absolution or release, the freeing of the heart.

The cross as sacrifice? God knows, there are barbaric ways of putting this; but as a complex and apparently inescapable metaphor (which, in the Bible, is about far more than propitiation) it has always said something sobering about the fact that human liberation doesn't come cheap, that the degree of human self-delusion is so colossal as to involve 'some total gain or loss' (in the words of Auden's poem about Bonhoeffer) in the task of overcoming it. And that human beings compulsively deceive themselves about who and what they are is a belief to which Darwinism is completely immaterial.

Of course, if you want to misunderstand Darwin as establishing a narrative of steady spiritual or intellectual evolution, you will indeed want to say that all existing ethical standards are relative. How, then, are you going to deal with claims by this or that group that they are moving on to the next evolutionary stage? In what sense can ethics fail to be about the contests of power, if there is nothing to which we are all answerable at all times?

Of course the parameters of ethical understanding shift: but the shifts in Christian ethics on, for example, slavery, usury and contraception, have had to argue long and hard to establish that they are in some way drawing out an entailment of what is there, or honouring some fundamental principle in what is there. In other words, these changes in convention have had to show a responsibility to certain principles that continue to identify this kind of talk as still recognisably Christian talk.

It makes for hard work - as is obvious with current debates about homosexuality or nuclear war; but it is hard work because of the need to continue listening to what is said and written.

But then we discover in Spong's theses that there is, after all, a non-negotiable principle, based upon the image of God in human beings. Admirable; but what does it mean in Spong's theological world? What is the image of a 'non-theistic' God? And where, for goodness' sake, does he derive this belief about humans? It is neither scientific nor obvious.

It is, in fact, what we used to call a dogma of revealed religion. It is a painful example of the sheerly sentimental use of phraseology whose rationale depends upon a theology that is being overtly rejected. What can it be more than a rather unfairly freighted and emotive substitute for some kind of bland egalitarianism - bland because ungrounded and therefore desperately vulnerable to corruption, or defeat at the hands of a more robust ideology? It is impossible to think too often of the collapse of liberalism in 1930s Germany.

It is no great pleasure to write so negatively about a colleague from whom I, like many others, have learned. But I cannot in any way see Bishop Spong's theses as representing a defensible or even an interesting Christian future. And I want to know whether the Christian past scripture and tradition, really appears to him as empty and sterile as this text suggests.

It seems he has not found life here, and that is painful to acknowledge and to hear. Yet I see no life in what the theses suggest; nothing to educate us into talking about the Christian God in a way I can recognise: no incarnation; no adoption into intimate relation with the Source of all; no Holy Spirit. No terror. No tears.

Does he know that generations of believers have argued the need to separate hope for life after death from earthly rewards and punishments? They believe that the present and future delight of enjoying God's intimacy made all such talk irrelevant.

Does he see at all that the recognition of God's image in everyone, in such a way as to drive people to risk everything for it (Wilberforce? Dorothy Day? Desmond Tutu? Bonhoeffer? Romero?), seems persistently to come from an immersion in the dark reality of God's difference and in the uncompromising paradoxes of incarnation of the Almighty?

Culturally speaking, the Christian religion is one of those subjects about which it is cool to be ignorant. Spong's account of classical Christian faith simply colludes with such ignorance in a way that cannot surely reflect his own knowledge of it. I think I understand the passion behind all this, the passion to make sense to those for whom the faith is at best quaint and at worst oppressive, nonsense.

But the sense is made (in so far as it is made at all) by a denial of the resources already there - to the extent that Spong's own continuing commitment to the tradition becomes incomprehensible.

Living in the Christian institution isn't particularly easy. It is, generally, today, an anxious inefficient, pompous, evasive body. If you hold office on it, you become more and more conscious of what it's doing to your soul. Think of what Coca-Cola does to your teeth. Why bother?

Well, because of the unwelcome conviction that it somehow tells the welcome truth about God, above all in its worship and sacraments. I don't think I could put up with it for five minutes if I didn't believe this; and - if I can't try to say this in a pastoral, not an inquisitorial, spirit - I don't know quite why Bishop Spong puts up with it.
 
Culturally speaking, the Christian religion is one of those subjects about which it is cool to be ignorant. Spong's account of classical Christian faith simply colludes with such ignorance in a way that cannot surely reflect his own knowledge of it. I think I understand the passion behind all this, the passion to make sense to those for whom the faith is at best quaint and at worst oppressive, nonsense.

But the sense is made (in so far as it is made at all) by a denial of the resources already there - to the extent that Spong's own continuing commitment to the tradition becomes incomprehensible.

Living in the Christian institution isn't particularly easy. It is, generally, today, an anxious inefficient, pompous, evasive body. If you hold office on it, you become more and more conscious of what it's doing to your soul. Think of what Coca-Cola does to your teeth. Why bother?

Well, because of the unwelcome conviction that it somehow tells the welcome truth about God, above all in its worship and sacraments. I don't think I could put up with it for five minutes if I didn't believe this; and - if I can't try to say this in a pastoral, not an inquisitorial, spirit - I don't know quite why Bishop Spong puts up with it.

I don't know why Spong puts up with it either, to tell you the truth. I don't understand how a guy who knows what he knows can come to the conclusions he does. He wants very badly for Jesus to by non-mythological, but his arguments shatter that possibility. He still thinks that Jesus is this great shiny thing, but I can't make out exactly what he thinks that thing is. Does the book give you a sense of what he's proposing that Jesus and God are, Luna? I've only read the one other book of his about reading the Bible with Jewish eyes.

Chris
 
Ditto. I'm with Archbishop Williams.

Rowan Williams replies...The Right Reverend John Spong, Bishop of Newark in the US, is right to say - as he has done in his diocesan journal - that his own version of this demand is of a rather different order from the earlier Reformation; and this surely makes it imperative that his bold and gracious invitation to debate these theses should be taken up with some urgency and seriousness, not least on the eve of a Lambeth Conference that will undoubtedly be looking hard at issues of Christian identity and the limits of diversity.

So I had better say at once that, while I believe Bishop Spong has, in these and other matters, done an indispensable task in focusing our attention on questions under-examined and poorly thought through, I believe that these theses represent a level of confusion and misinterpretation that I find astonishing.....

Living in the Christian institution isn't particularly easy. It is, generally, today, an anxious inefficient, pompous, evasive body. If you hold office on it, you become more and more conscious of what it's doing to your soul. Think of what Coca-Cola does to your teeth. Why bother?
Reading through it I think the most interesting to me is that he and many others at least give Spong the time of day, moreover they read his works and respond accordingly. They agree that these are issues worth discussing, despite the shock or schlock value they represent, and agree that many of us are misinformed and very much in need of this discussion.

While I agree with Luna I believe on another thread that Spong doesn't give the many pew sitters credit, I don't know if it is a majority, but do think that his real intention is to spur discussion, and reinvigorate the faith.

I think this is largely analogous with issues that Islam is facing. Clerics and the faithful not willing to stand up and say that terrorists are not good Muslims and their activities are destroying the religion that held culture through the dark ages...
 
Why doesn't this Sprong guy just get it over with and become a Buddhist?






ETA: In Archbishop Rowan Williams' response, I kept reading "Doris Day" among the examples of people who risked everything, and I just couldn't get the picture right in my mind. She seemed oddly out of place. Sure, she was a good actress, but...huh? :confused:

I had to read it three or for times before I read Dorothy Day. Lol. :p
 
I don't know why Spong puts up with it either, to tell you the truth.
I don't know why he chooses to remain in the church given all of it that he rejects, but I can understand it as a choice one would make. I think that the references made that he should be a Buddhist or he should go to UU amount more or less to calling him a heretic, although I can't help but have the same thoughts. I hope Spong stays in the church because I see him as one important pole and Archbishop Rowans as another, and heck even the conservative Bishops in Africa as playing their roles in creating the tension in which we all find our place in the living church. No tension = no movement = no room for the Holy Spirit to work IMO. Rowans seems to have been much more liberal, for example in his views about homosexuality, before he became the Archbishop. I'm not sure if it was a gradual change or an attitude he felt he had to adopt as the Archbishop, our figurative head, in his role of keeping the Communion intact.

I don't understand how a guy who knows what he knows can come to the conclusions he does. He wants very badly for Jesus to by non-mythological, but his arguments shatter that possibility.
It seems to me that he is charting a new course between dogmatism and secularism. I think its an interesting idea and good to the extent that it can help us shed some ideas that I think frankly are not Christian to begin with, such as the idea of persecuting others for their beliefs.

He still thinks that Jesus is this great shiny thing, but I can't make out exactly what he thinks that thing is.
I think it is no less difficult than the Mystery of the Trinity, or a Buddhist koan. I think he's missing the boat in throwing all of the traditional ways out, but he is being radical to point out the limitations and problems that our traditions can get us into.

Does the book give you a sense of what he's proposing that Jesus and God are, Luna?
He says God is being, is love, is life and that Jesus was a perfect example of this. Jesus changed things by showing us a Way (Love) that is released from our natural (evolutionarily instilled) bondage to making choices purely on our need for survival. To me it seems that Spong places divininty in humanity and so is proposing a kind of Christian humanism in which "Jesus is reduced to the role of teacher and good example." Spong agrees that n ineteenth-century liberalism did this and that it is lacking in power, but goes on to say that he is not portraying Jesus simply as a teacher and example. His words: "Jesus is to me far more than just an example. My primary vision of Christ is that he is a source of godly empowerment who calls me beyond my boundaries. When I have the courage to accept his invitation I enter another dimension of humanity that opens new and compelling doors to me. I am drawn by this experience deeper and deeper into life. What I see in the Christ is not an example to follow. It is a vision that compels. Risk and reward are balanced to build a powerful sense of motivation."

I admit I don't see how this is different than Christ being a teacher and example. Maybe he sees Christ in us as literally us being Christ, but he's not ready to say that because of how it would be taken by the church. But that's just my speculation--I don't think he ever said it that way.

He goes on to deal with the topic of evil and rescue, and if I have the steam I will start a new thread for discussion.

luna
 
I don't know why he chooses to remain in the church given all of it that he rejects, but I can understand it as a choice one would make. I think that the references made that he should be a Buddhist or he should go to UU amount more or less to calling him a heretic, although I can't help but have the same thoughts.
I'm going to see if I can't get him to take the test at Belief-O-Matic and post his results here...
 
Hi Luna, thanks for the reply, and thanks for the fresh topic!

From my reading of Spong, admittedly limited, I find myself wondering if he doesn't share the same dilemma I have: that Jesus and the Christ are different characters. It can be Jesus of Nazareth, born of a virgin, miracle worker, Messiah/Avatar; crucified and resurrected, or the Logos/Word whose mythology includes the Gospel story of the Jesus character. If Spong is really talking about his vision of the Christ, while using the name Jesus merely as a convention of speech, I wish he would come right out and say as much. This is what I find confusing, and maybe intentionally obtuse.

Chris
 
Hi Luna, thanks for the reply, and thanks for the fresh topic!

From my reading of Spong, admittedly limited, I find myself wondering if he doesn't share the same dilemma I have: that Jesus and the Christ are different characters. It can be Jesus of Nazareth, born of a virgin, miracle worker, Messiah/Avatar; crucified and resurrected, or the Logos/Word whose mythology includes the Gospel story of the Jesus character. If Spong is really talking about his vision of the Christ, while using the name Jesus merely as a convention of speech, I wish he would come right out and say as much. This is what I find confusing, and maybe intentionally obtuse.

Chris

"clap clap clap", oh, sorry :eek: :D

I'm just pleased to see a serious consideration on both sides of the issue.

v/r

Joshua
 
lunamoth said:
It seems to me that he is charting a new course between dogmatism and secularism. I think its an interesting idea and good to the extent that it can help us shed some ideas that I think frankly are not Christian to begin with, such as the idea of persecuting others for their beliefs.

... I think he's missing the boat in throwing all of the traditional ways out, but he is being radical to point out the limitations and problems that our traditions can get us into.

I kinda feel about Spong the way I do about Noam Chomskey: that he's vital and precious intellectual commodity, and his voice is ever so needed, but that there's no practical way to achieve what he's suggesting. I figure that being a Bishop makes one also a politician to some degree. Perhaps this is why Spong never closes the deal; never takes his theses to their ultimate conclusion. In the end he weiners out and won't, at least publically, take his own medicine. He sounds passionate about his new vision of a personal Jesus, but his description of who that Jesus is is so generic and fuzzy that I wonder what in the heck he's trying to convey.

Chris
 
I kinda feel about Spong the way I do about Noam Chomskey: that he's vital and precious intellectual commodity, and his voice is ever so needed, but that there's no practical way to achieve what he's suggesting. I figure that being a Bishop makes one also a politician to some degree. Perhaps this is why Spong never closes the deal; never takes his theses to their ultimate conclusion. In the end he weiners out and won't, at least publically, take his own medicine. He sounds passionate about his new vision of a personal Jesus, but his description of who that Jesus is is so generic and fuzzy that I wonder what in the heck he's trying to convey.

Chris

I really can't distinguish what he says from humanism, placing divinity back in our selves and giving up the idea that there is Something More. On the one hand I think that he's right that God acts only through our thoughts, words, and deeds; that it is impossible to think of a God Who manipulates time and space to answer some prayers but allows the vast majority to go on suffering. But I don't see any salvific power in a God who is nothing more than some kind of projection of my self, even if it is my best self.

I am able to accept that God is Mystery, Something I can't ever fully wrap my brain around, which seems to be something Spong cannot do. He's also hostile to tradition, which I think is a mistake. All the things he hopes to accomplish are already being done via tradition: in a way he's trying to reinvent the wheel and call it something else because of all the bad connotations 'wheel' has taken on. Bad things have been done in the name of tradition, I agree. We need to focus on what our scripture and rituals and doctrines point to, trust that path without being so caught up in the literalism. Borg's idea of "more than literal" strikes a cord for me. But Spong has a point in that we need to stop bludgeoning each other over creeds and doctrines. When we do such things it is evil.

There are some things I can't explain. Reading Spong does send me on a roller coaster ride, but I figure that if I can't read something that challenges the way I believe and think critically about it, then I am not really trusting my faith, religion, or God. God speaks to me in the liturgy. I went through over a year when I felt like I would enter church with a question in my heart and the readings of that day, and the sermon that opened the readings, would address my question so specifically it seemed it could not be coincidence. Last night I sat down to pray with just one thing on my mind: Lord hold on to me. I then opened a little book of short homilies that go along with the day's readings that I sometimes use and read : "In our darkest hours we pray to be held tight in the arms of God, and our faith helps us to know that we are indeed held close and we have peace." I had not looked ahead to this page, had not even looked at this booklet in over a week. I don't know how to explain why this kind of 'answer' comes to me so often...I just accept it as a gift.

luna
 
Chris, One more thing about Spong that I thought might ring your bells. He talks a lot about the need for us to give up our security, that non-theism or post-theism or whatever he calls it is about learning to live without the illusion of security, harking back to Paul Tillech's Courage to Be. I think he is onto something with this. The problem with the illusion of security is that with every event which undermines the dependability of that security, we cling more and more tightly to the shell of our religion, and in our fear (which we deny) end up not loving others as we wish to be loved.

2 c,
luna
 
Chris, One more thing about Spong that I thought might ring your bells. He talks a lot about the need for us to give up our security, that non-theism or post-theism or whatever he calls it is about learning to live without the illusion of security, harking back to Paul Tillech's Courage to Be. I think he is onto something with this. The problem with the illusion of security is that with every event which undermines the dependability of that security, we cling more and more tightly to the shell of our religion, and in our fear (which we deny) end up not loving others as we wish to be loved.

2 c,
luna

I disagree, and agree. Freedom, true freedom, re-enforces courage. Courage is facing our fears, despite our fears. Security (the other extreme) saps courage. It generates cowardice.

What bothers me about the good bishop is his take away from the closeness of (intimacy with) God to man. He calls that security, that should be backed away from. I opine that that intimacy is what generates and propogates a desire for freedom, and courage to act on that freedom. Take chances for self, based on the secureness that God is right there cheering for us.

does that make sense?

v/r

Joshua
 
I disagree, and agree. Freedom, true freedom, re-enforces courage. Courage is facing our fears, despite our fears. Security (the other extreme) saps courage. It generates cowardice.
True freedom must be faced with courage--is that what you mean?

What bothers me about the good bishop is his take away from the closeness of (intimacy with) God to man. He calls that security, that should be backed away from. I opine that that intimacy is what generates and propogates a desire for freedom, and courage to act on that freedom. Take chances for self, based on the secureness that God is right there cheering for us.
I don't agree with everything Spong says, and I'm not sure I'm fully understanding some of the distinctions he makes. I don't think he takes away the intimacy between God and humanity--that's what Deism does and he is not being a Deist I don't think. Instead he connects God intimately, indistinguishably IMO, with humanity. God is not Other/Creator according to Spong, God is Divine in us (I think that is what he is saying anyway). I think God is Something More. God is Mystery and More than I can comprehend, yet I can also relate personally to Him.

I think I understand what you are saying about security, as opposed to false security, and I agree. Only when we have complete trust in the Love of God can we also love freely and completely. Our courage to be comes from our trust in a God Who loves us unconditionally. The false sense of security that Spong refers to is the idea of a rescuing God. I think God does rescue us spiritually through His Love, but this is different from expecting God to swoop into history and, for example, take your side in a war. And before this goes off on a tangent, I know people (including you based upon the things you've told us here) have experienced what they understand to God's presence or angels physically manifesting in the world. I'm not trying to deny those experiences, although I can't say that I've experienced them myself.

For the record, I'm not trying to sell Spong's new Christianity by any means. But, I think some of his ideas have merit and he brings up things (some liberal ideas) that need discussing. Not least of which is that there are lots of people out there who have become alienated from Christianity because, for one thing, they feel that they are not allowed to discuss these post-modern ideas or they find that the Christianity they were raised with strains reason to the point of breaking. My take on it is not that Christianity is fundamentally wrong or off-track, but that we are not really listening to people or doing a good job explaining what Christianity really is all about. We leave people with a superficial, elementary school concept of God, Christ, and our faith and as such our religion can't address their adult questions in this rational world.

luna
 
True freedom must be faced with courage--is that what you mean?
True freedom is not free. It comes with great price. Courage is the whereforall to accept that price, and the 'feedom' may not be given to the one who accepts that price, but rather those who follow. It is a Jesus simile, that soldiers who die every day emulate. Does that make sense?

I don't agree with everything Spong says, and I'm not sure I'm fully understanding some of the distinctions he makes. I don't think he takes away the intimacy between God and humanity--that's what Deism does and he is not being a Deist I don't think. Instead he connects God intimately, indistinguishably IMO, with humanity. God is not Other/Creator according to Spong, God is Divine in us (I think that is what he is saying anyway). I think God is Something More. God is Mystery and More than I can comprehend, yet I can also relate personally to Him.
God and man are not indistinguishable. We are seperate and isolated, but through Jesus' sacrifice for us. The bishop tends to minimize that fact. There is no intimacy between God and man, but on a case by case basis, and the bishop tends to ignore that fact. There is the Divine in our design and creation, but not in our state of being. That requires a concerted effort on our part to seek out God (who is more than willing to meet us more than half way), but is possible.


I think I understand what you are saying about security, as opposed to false security, and I agree. Only when we have complete trust in the Love of God can we also love freely and completely. Our courage to be comes from our trust in a God Who loves us unconditionally. The false sense of security that Spong refers to is the idea of a rescuing God. I think God does rescue us spiritually through His Love, but this is different from expecting God to swoop into history and, for example, take your side in a war. And before this goes off on a tangent, I know people (including you based upon the things you've told us here) have experienced what they understand to God's presence or angels physically manifesting in the world. I'm not trying to deny those experiences, although I can't say that I've experienced them myself.
understood, and agree wholeheartedly Luna.

For the record, I'm not trying to sell Spong's new Christianity by any means. But, I think some of his ideas have merit and he brings up things (some liberal ideas) that need discussing. Not least of which is that there are lots of people out there who have become alienated from Christianity because, for one thing, they feel that they are not allowed to discuss these post-modern ideas or they find that the Christianity they were raised with strains reason to the point of breaking. My take on it is not that Christianity is fundamentally wrong or off-track, but that we are not really listening to people or doing a good job explaining what Christianity really is all about. We leave people with a superficial, elementary school concept of God, Christ, and our faith and as such our religion can't address their adult questions in this rational world.
Liberal is not a dirty word. Liberal politicians make it so. Same with conservative politicians, and their take on running man's affairs. (they both disgust me as of late).

Christianity is among other things a strict set of rules on how to live. In short, there is no deviation from those "rules". There is also a strict criteria on what and who a true "Christian" is. There is no deviation from that criteria.

Ironically, for example, Zorastrianists believe in the Single God the Father, but also in lessor gods. Muslims believe in Allah, but also in Jinns. Jehovah's Witnesses believe in Jehovah (Yahweh), but Jesus is a lessor god. Mormons believe in the Father (as one of many fathers), and Jesus as first born of this ruling planet (but each human can become a God for their own planet, except for women, who will be eternally pregnant for the god's pleasure).

Christianity states, Jesus is God, equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit, but all the same God.

I don't condemn anyone for their beliefs, but the fact is that many are not what they claim to be. Spong is just one outspoken variant of these.

v/r

Joshua
 
Luna said:
For the record, I'm not trying to sell Spong's new Christianity by any means. But, I think some of his ideas have merit and he brings up things (some liberal ideas) that need discussing. Not least of which is that there are lots of people out there who have become alienated from Christianity because, for one thing, they feel that they are not allowed to discuss these post-modern ideas or they find that the Christianity they were raised with strains reason to the point of breaking. My take on it is not that Christianity is fundamentally wrong or off-track, but that we are not really listening to people or doing a good job explaining what Christianity really is all about. We leave people with a superficial, elementary school concept of God, Christ, and our faith and as such our religion can't address their adult questions in this rational world.

Yeah, that's exactly it. I just can't partition my mind where one part doesn't have to measure up to the same intellectual standards.

I can't discount mainstream Bible scholarship. I can't accept the Bible as history when archaeology tells a much different story.

The concept of original sin makes no sense to me. As allegory, sure, but not in any real historical sense.

The idea of a dead and risen avatar-messiah-saviour seems impossibly anachronistic to me. It's an uncomfortable mix of Jewish and Pagan elements that doesn't gell.

I can't see why the Logos would be the above avatar. I think one can gain an appreciation for the Logos concept by studying the Jesus character, though.

I can't conceive of God being in any way interventionist. I don't necessarily disagree with the Christian conception of God, I just think that the way it's usually put over is entirely too simplistic, and often downright silly. Surely everyone knows that God Itself is entirely beyond description. That's why no one has "seen" IT. Mainly, though, the problem for me is that if God intervenes in the affairs of humans directly, then there's no point in ever learning to use one's deductive intellectual faculties. Everything is a big conspiracy because nothing can be trusted to be what it seems. I just can't live like that.

So there you go. I don't believe the Bible is historically reliable. I don't believe in original sin. I think the idea of a messiah avatar is primitive, sometimes barbaric, and entirely anachronistic. I don't believe Jesus is literally the Logos. And I don't believe in the miraculous because I don't think God is that sort of thing . Doesn't seem very Alpha and Omega-ish.

So what kind of organized Christianity might appeal to someone like me? I consider myself a Christian--at least ethnically and philosophically. I'm not a syncretist (anymore), or an atheist, nor a deist, pantheist, panentheist, Buddhist, Pagan. I like the Tao, but that's also just philosophical. I appreciate Spong trying to figure out a way to have a Christianity that I, and he I'm sure, could find pleasant and meaningful. I guess he's saying he's found a way to do it for himself, but I haven't.

Chris
 
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