John Shelby Spong retired as Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey, in February 2000. John Spong is the author of several bestselling books, including Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, Born of a Woman, Living in Sin, and Resurrection: Myth or Reality. He is a Fellow of the Westar Institute which is a member-supported, non-profit research and educational institute dedicated to the advancement of a narrow form of religious literacy. Their major works come under the heading – Jesus Seminar. The methodology employed, a historical centric approach which excludes anything remotely supernatural, including any references made by Jesus about himself, together with a number of other criteria. This approach leaves about 20% of the four Gospels intact, the remaining material reads like a handbook for Zen Buddhism. Yet, they as a group like a bit more of the Gospel of Thomas – which is understandable.
There are a lot of questions I would like to explore about their justification for such a methodology – it leaves almost every study of ancient history, in any field of human endeavour, with nowhere to go but to be consigned to the bin, labelled ‘myths’.
And now John Spong is in Australia promoting his new book, Jesus for the Non-Christians, sorry Non-Religious.
There is an interesting article by Mark Hadley on Spong, to be found on the Sydney Anglican website. In addition, Mark Thompson in the August 2007 edition of the Southern Cross wrote that despite all his ‘grandiose’ claims in the book, “(It) is really little more than the rehash of long-discarded critical theories and doubts which scholars resolved years ago.”
John Spong on Margaret Throsby’s Morning Interview ((20/08/2007), ABC, Classic FM – said a number of interesting things: one is that the traditional view of God, as an old man in the sky, who keeps records of our actions and who occasionally intervenes in human affairs by miraculous means, is fiction. Well, I agree with the overall view that this simplistic representation of God is nonsense . I don’t think many Christians actually hold the sort of view Spong has attributed to the general Christian community. He even tried to make his remarks more acceptable by saying that since Galileo/Newton had demonstrated that Hebrew cosmology had been superseded by a better scientific understanding of what was the ‘sky’ – because of this new knowledge – the supernatural, as represented by miracles should be cast out into the darkness where religious delusions abide.
He sees mankind as being different from animals because of our self-consciousness, awareness of mortality, and a sense that we stand alone. To him, God is an experience, God is love – a life-force which motivates the universe. Love is a power which make us more than we can be, without it. God’s presence is permeated throughout the world, and it is possible to explain God by our experience of him. Man cannot describe God, he is beyond imagination.
John Spong’s god is found in a form of timelessness, the eternal ‘now’; and we can aspire to ‘otherness’, transcendence and holiness. This means that we have the ability to chart our own destiny. On the other hand, the traditional Christian God, Spong sees as being born out of tribalism, a defensive mechanism created by insecure people.
Spong sees Jesus as the quintessential human that did experience the presence of God; people on the Christ ‘path’ can experience God through Jesus. In addition, hoisting his universalistic colours to the mast – he says that God is not a Christian, a Jew, a Hindu or a Moslem – there could be many paths to his description of God. I think he was saying that if God did not exist then because of our desperate needs, I guess referring to our need to know life’s meaning, we would have created the concept of a God.
You can see there is a thin syrupy layer of sweet truth spread over a pile of fine sounding falsehoods. His views (as expressed in the radio interview) are dated and flawed – his basic arguments are shallow and simplistic. Perhaps, his book gives a better presentation of his ideas. No one can be threatened by a life-force of love. Plus, it’s true, the apostle John did say that ‘God is love.’ Yet, it’s clear that Spong has never been able to understand the Gospel message – it’s a complete mystery to him. As the apostle to the gentiles, once expressed: ‘To intellectuals, those who try to rationalise all things including God, find the good news about Jesus to be meaningless.’
John Spong, has no answer for people like me who have had a ‘road to Damascus’ conversion. I feel sorry that John Spong will soon die and he will meet an amazing and divine Jesus who actually is beyond imagination but who can be found throughout all of Scripture.
The following is what prompted me to comment on this story: “The Bishop of South Sydney, Robert Forsyth, told the Australian it was a mistake for the Australian Anglican Primate to invite Bishop Spong here to promote his book. ”
Is this true? Surely, the Primate understands that John Spong is NOT a Christian! Anyone listening to his interview with Margaret Throsby this morning, would be able to discern that he is not a Christian. The retired Bishop might have called himself, at some earlier time, a liberal Christian, but there comes a point that you are so far liberal that you have left the ball-park! Religious definitions can be twisted but if you don’t believe in the resurrection; and, in one very real sense – if you don’t believe Jesus is God, then you are not one of God’s children! I probably should not put in the scriptural references because I’m sure the verses I’m thinking of, are not in Spong’s intellectually accepted version.
Surely, dear Bishop Forsyth has been ill-advised about the Primate’s invitation to John Spong – I could believe that Spong might be sponsored by groups such as the Progressive Christianity Network but the Primate of the Australian Anglican Church – this I can’t believe – because it would call into question his beliefs about Jesus!
What’s your view?