I had a reader mention Bishop Spong in a comment recently which got me interested in finding out more about him as I’ve heard his name mentioned frequently in theology circles.

Generally from what I’ve read thus far I probably wouldn’t agree with much of Spong’s teachings. I think he probably goes too far in demythologizing the Bible to the extent that there is no meat left. I am by no means a fundamentalist (pretty far from it actually) but I do believe that the Bible has a life of its own that transcends mere words on a page and that this life is not merely a human creation but something deeper… frankly something divine.

Here’s a couple of articles I found interesting in this inquiry…

  • Diocese of Newark: “Can One Be a Christian without Being a Theist?” by the Rt. Rev. John S. Spong, Bishop of Newark — Parts of this article I found interesting but mostly it seemed a bit condescending to me. (If you’ve read the classic novel The Damnation of Theron Ware this will all sound familiar to you. (click on the “read more” link below to read an excerpt from The Damnation… that sounds mighty similiar to what Spong will say in this excerpt…
      It would surprise many pew sitters in our churches to know how deeply this debate already rages in the theological academy. In this world of scholarly dialogue God has not been spoken of as an external Supernatural Being who periodically invades the world in decades. Yet the experience of God as a divine presence found in the midst of life is all but universally attested. Jesus as a revelation of this divine presence is the heart of the Christian claim. The normative language of theism by which this experience has traditionally been processed and transmitted is, however, today all but universally rejected by the academy.

    I guess it depends on how one defines academy, but at my alma mater Austin Graduate School of Theology, they very much saw taught that God was a supernatural being who intervenes in the course of human affairs quite often. Among students and faculty there was a wide variety of beliefs held as to the exact nature of how God works in the world today but I don’t think there was anything approaching the situation that Bishop Spong describes.

    I also don’t care for his way of speaking of the laypeople of the church. Those “pewsitters” are probably a bit smarter than he gives them credit for. The theological academic world unfortunately is often estranged from teh community of faith (thankfully not at AGS), but the reason is that the ideas that are so prevalent today in theological academia do not hold water in the practical nitty gritty faith of ordinary folks. They need something real to hold on to, a Word of God that has hope in it.

  • Probe.org: Rescuing the Gospel from Bishop Spong by Don Closson (a side note, this is published by the Probe Center, a Christian apologetics/educational ministry that was located in the Dobie Mall (a block from my old apartment building in Austin, Tower Manor. (BTW, here’s a pic of Tower Manor)
  • One thing I will say though besides criticism, is that I do dig Bishop Spong’s call for Mainline Christian churches (Methodist, Presybeterian, Episcapelian, et al) to get back into reading the Bible. I don’t think you can go wrong there.From: The Damnation of Theron Ware
      … Again the priest and the doctor stole a furtive glance across the young minister’s head. It was Father Forbes who replied.”I fear that you are taking our friend Abraham too literally, Mr. Ware,” he said, in that gentle semblance of paternal tones which seemed to go so well with his gown. “Modern research, you know, quite wipes him out of existence as an individual. The word ‘Abram’ is merely an eponym– it means ‘exalted father.’ Practically all the names in the Genesis chronologies are what we call eponymous. Abram is not a person at all: he is a tribe, a sept, a clan. In the same way, Shem is not intended for a man; it is the name of a great division of the human race. Heber is simply the throwing back into allegorical substance,
      so to speak, of the Hebrews; Heth of the Hittites; Asshur of Assyria.”