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Bishop Spong and Post-Traditional Christianity


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Initial post: Feb 15, 2013 9:54:04 PM PST
Astrocat says:
Bishop John Shelby Spong has offered a new kind of Christianity, stripped of the miracles and the dogmas, the theology of the past. He offers his own 12 theses, copied below, rejecting the fundamentalist, churchified orthodoxy, and presenting a new and hopefully more vibrant and relevant Christianity for today's world. What do you think about this?

Here are Bishop Spong's twelve theses:

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 written 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.

Posted on Feb 16, 2013 5:32:11 AM PST
Astrocat says:
I was looking over some material and ran across this, remarks apropos to the OP:

The teaching of Christ is not obsolete and out of date. It needs only to be rescued from the interpretations of the theologies of the past, and taken at its simple face value, which is an expression of the divinity of man, of his participation in the kingdom which is in process of being brought into recognition, and of his immortality as a citizen of that kingdom. What we are in reality passing through is "a religious initiation into the mysteries of Being," [The End of Our Time, by Nicholas Berdyaev, p. 105] and from that we shall emerge with a deepened sense of God immanent in ourselves and in all humanity. (From Bethlehem to Calvary p. 264)

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 16, 2013 6:32:53 AM PST
Vicki says:
Dear Nancy,

Is Bishop Spong an atheist?
I'm trying to figure out what he means when he says "God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms".

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 16, 2013 9:18:44 AM PST
IFeelFree says:
Nancy,

I agree with these "theses", at least as a criticism of the dogmatic and archaic theology of mainstream Christianity. Seeing the false is a necessary step to finding the truth. However, if one is a Christian, he must also go beyond that "rude awakening" and experience the truth that can still be found within Christianity. Esoteric interpretations of the teachings of Jesus are available which rescue those teachings from the myth and idolatry that it became, and reveal their spiritual depth. Spiritual disciplines and practices must be adopted by Christians which will enable them to experience more fully the "kingdom of heaven within". A Christian must discard the lie that he could ever be separate from God, and experience in full measure the Holy Spirit that is in him, and is in everyone, no exceptions! He must be baptized in the Spirit, relax into the Spirit, and he will see the Spirit working, rather than a separate "I" that is somehow independent from God.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 16, 2013 10:30:26 AM PST
Astrocat says:
No, Spong is definitely not an atheist. When he uses the term "theistic", he's referring to the orthodox view of God according to those twelve theses I've included above.

In his own words, "I find myself today prepared (to lay) the literalness of traditional Christianity aside in order to chart a new Christian future...I will also seek to move beyond those institutional power-claims by which Christianity has sought to present itself as an exclusive pathway to God. Christianity will always be the pathway to God on which I journey, but I am now convinced that no human system, including Christianity itself, can maintain the exclusive power-claims of its past. The world is far too small today to offer a haven for that kind of tribal religion."
From the preface of his book, "A New Christianity for a new World." - p.xxi

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 16, 2013 10:35:40 AM PST
Astrocat says:
IFF, I've read a couple of his books and it seems to me he doing exactly what you say in your post, that he is going beyond the traditional, orthodox dogmas and tenets, and gently seeking the underlying truths. In his book, "Sins of Scripture", he does a magnificent job of exegesis, not in the affirmation of the traditional interpretation, but rather in discovering the human agendas behind so much of how the Bible is used to keep people "in line".

There are several "new" Christians, in the sense that they are liberating themselves into a much clearer, cleaner grasp of what Christ really taught and not how the church has interpreted those teachings. One of them is Tom Harpur, whose progress is very interestingly seen in three of his books: "For Christ's Sake", followed by "Life After Death", and finally, "The Pagan Christ".

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 16, 2013 12:04:42 PM PST
That does make it sound like all theistic conceptions of God are the same, which certainly isn't the case. I think i must be somewhere between Bishop Spong and the vast majority of Theists.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 16, 2013 3:15:03 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 16, 2013 3:23:20 PM PST
Vicki says:
Dear Nancy,

Can you help me out, here?

He said that we mustn't think of God in theistic terms. How is that different from atheism?

I looked up the following definiton of theism:

To put it simply, theism is a belief in the existence of at least one god - nothing more, nothing less. Theism does not depend upon how many gods one believes in. Theism does not depend upon how the term 'god' is defined. Theism does not depend upon how one arrives at their belief. Theism does not depend upon how one defends their belief.
http://atheism.about.com/library/FAQs/religion/blrel_theism_what.htm

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 16, 2013 3:51:46 PM PST
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In reply to an earlier post on Feb 16, 2013 3:52:19 PM PST
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In reply to an earlier post on Feb 16, 2013 4:08:13 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 24, 2013 10:31:50 PM PST
Astrocat says:
From what I can tell, he's talking about traditional theism, the concept of God as either a stern or loving "Father" figure, and the "Son" dying for our sins and so on. That kind of theism. Instead, as I read him, we all "bear God's image", so there is no separated God, dispensing justice from afar, but rather there is the God within each of us, so that we judge ourselves and from that clear vision, go on to do better things, live better lives, and all with the help of the God that Christ taught about, the One within.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2013 5:46:30 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 17, 2013 6:40:36 AM PST
Vicki says:
Dear Nancy,

OK- I see what you are saying.

But, his 12 theses statement does not make Christianity more relevant- it just makes it meaningless.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2013 5:55:06 AM PST
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In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2013 6:19:39 AM PST
Harry Marks says:
Nancy -

When I went to a University Church, 32 long years ago, the pastor said "We are clearer on what we don't believe than on what we do." Your quote from Spong reminds me of that.

Until the practice and creed of the liberal churches morphs into something with more content, I am content to work with the material we have, even silliness like Virgin Birth and Ascension, as a kind of "Theater Piece" to be "staged" in our mind for purposes of symbolism. People who set out to re-invent Christianity are usually hopeless at really getting symbolism and how it works on multiple levels at once, and so the result is usually dry as dust and as engaging as a toad.

In the meantime we have the challenge of turning our own life into a little drama to enact as a story of grace, and as far as I know, no one has a problem with that theologically.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2013 6:41:23 AM PST
Vicki says:
Right!

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2013 8:38:38 AM PST
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In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2013 8:42:06 AM PST
Astrocat says:
Vicki, I think Bishop's Spong's statements are a way of seeing that Christianity has been weighted down by so many irrelevancies, dogmas, and fears over the last two thousand years, and that it's time to get back to the Christ and what he really taught, not what the church made of it.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2013 8:45:28 AM PST
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In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2013 8:49:01 AM PST
Astrocat says:
I'd imagine that's between him and the Anglican church.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2013 9:08:05 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 17, 2013 9:09:37 AM PST
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In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2013 9:45:08 AM PST
Astrocat says:
Well, here's some information on him, should you so choose.

John Shelby "Jack" Spong is a retired American bishop of the Episcopal Church. From 1979 to 2000 he was Bishop of Newark. He is a liberal/progressive theologian, religion commentator and author.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2013 10:17:43 AM PST
He is a "liberal/progressive theologian" all right.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2013 10:43:47 AM PST
Astrocat says:
That's what makes him so attractive to those of us who seek not to destroy Christianity, but to bring it into the modern era and give it relevance in human lives.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2013 10:51:27 AM PST
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In reply to an earlier post on Feb 17, 2013 11:08:36 AM PST
Harry Marks says:
Javana -

His views are not unusual in the hierarchies of the various denominations. People who think carefully about these matters don't usually find themselves feeling obligated to defend tradition. Most are less outspoken than Spong, preferring to be kind to tender feelings like yours. Spong is more outraged by the dreadful, unChristian results that often come of authoritarian, tradition-bound Christianity.
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Discussion in:  Religion forum
Participants:  38
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Initial post:  Feb 15, 2013
Latest post:  Jun 14, 2014

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