on religion | The Gospel According to a Dead Bishop – Times-Standard

Bishop John Shelby Spong of Newark, New Jersey, never pasted “Why Christianity Must Change or Die” on the doors of Canterbury Cathedral because it was easier to post a version of his manifesto on the Internet.

“Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead,” he proclaimed in 1998. “As God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes absurd to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic divinity. “

In the absence of a personal God, it was logical to add: “Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.

Spong’s 12 point view on post-theism faith emerged after spending years on the road, giving hundreds of speeches and appearing on shows such as “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Larry King Live”. While leading the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, within earshot of New York City, he did all he could to become the media face of liberal Christianity.

By the time of his death at the age of 90 – on September 12 at his home in Richmond, Virginia – Spong had seen many of his once heretical beliefs – particularly about sex and marriage – normalized in most of the world. chairs and episcopal institutions. However, his doctrinal approach was too blunt for many in the mainstream establishment, where a calmer “spiritual but not religious” approach became the norm.

Spong called himself a “doubtful believer” and said he had no problem reciting traditional rites and beliefs because in his own mind he had already redefined words and pictures to suit his purposes. own doctrines. He also knew when to be careful, such as on a visit to Denver in the late 1980s – a time when the Colorado diocese remained a center for evangelical and charismatic Episcopalians.

After a talk at St. Thomas Liberal Episcopal Church, I asked Spong if he believed Jesus’ resurrection to be a “historic event that took place in real time.”

“I don’t think I can say what the disciples thought I went through. I’m going to have to think about it a bit more, ”he said, moving on to another question.

The bishop responded a decade later, in his note calling for a new Reformation: “The resurrection is an act of God. Jesus was brought up in the sense of God. It cannot therefore be a physical resuscitation occurring within human history.

Frequently, Spong floated doctrinal test balloons in The Voice, his diocesan journal. Here are some other famous quotes.

• On the Scriptures: “The Gospels describe Jesus as believing that David wrote the Psalms, Solomon the Proverbs, and Moses the Torah – a position that any graduate of any accredited seminary today would quickly reject.

• On the Virgin Mary: “The Mary that I see in the history of the church is a woman without sex. … Her humanity has been taken away from her, and I think (Mary) is a very bad symbol.

• On science: “We have applied our enormous scientific and technical skills to open doors to aspects of life that we once attributed only to the gods. … The power of divinity is increasingly our own power.

Spong argued that churches that did not embrace modernity were doomed to failure. Nonetheless, in his day, members of the Episcopal Church grew from 3.4 million in the 1960s to 1.6 million in 2019, according to official statistics. During Spong’s tenure as bishop (1976-2000), the membership of the Diocese of Newark increased from 62,732 to 36,674. That number had fallen to 23,045 by 2019.

Spong was not disturbed.

“When Jesus said:“ Come to me all of you ”, he did not add:“ as long as you are not divorced or homosexual or a female bishop or a skeptic ””, a- he writes. “This church of ours may never be the church of the masses; it will never meet the emotional needs of religiously insecure people.

Speaking at Drew Theological School in New Jersey, the bishop also urged believers not to worry about eternity.

“No one knows what the afterlife is; no one even knows if there is one, “Spong said in 2010.” All these images of happiness and punishment, of heaven and hell, are not about the Hereafter at all. It is about controlling human behavior with fear and guilt. …

“We don’t need a savior. If Jesus died for your sins, you are a miserable human being. I don’t think this is good news.

Terry Mattingly runs GetReligion.org and lives in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is a principal investigator at the Overby Center at the University of Mississippi.


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