Bishop John Shelby Spong
The Bishop who was not
John Shelby Spong was born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1931. John went to the public schools of Charlotte North Carolina and in the 1940s during his junior and senior years of school, he took two classes in the Bible. By age 12, he was given a King James Bible as a Christmas present by his mother after his father died. His mom is described as “a woman of a simple faith; no critical problems ever bothered her understanding of God” (Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, p. 14). He read the bible religiously each day. The bible became his source of life and states he was able to quote the scriptures on salvation efficiently.
Spong was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1952 and received his Master of Divinity degree in 1955 from the Protestant Episcopal Theological Seminary in Virginia. Both the seminary and St. Paul’s College have both conferred on him honorary Doctor of Divinity degrees. He had served as rector of St. Joseph’s Church in Durham, North Carolina from 1955 to 1957. Rector of Calvary Parish, Tarboro, North Carolina from 1957 to 1965. Rector of St. John’s Church in Lynchburg, Virginia from 1965 to 1969. Rector of St. Paul’s Church in Richmond, Virginia from 1969 to 1976. In 1973 he was elected by General Convention to a six-year term on the Executive Council, the governing body of the Episcopal Church, just under the General Convention. He was consecrated bishop on June 12, 1976. In 1986, under Bishop Edmond Browning, he was appointed to the Standing Commission on Human Affairs and Health. Spong has been the Episcopal bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark New Jersey since 1979. Starting in January 2000 he will retire and begin teaching at Harvard.
Bishop Spong’s writings and teachings are on the authority of the Bible, God, History, the Virgin Birth, the resurrection of Jesus, culture, sexuality, and sin. However he is not writing an apologetic for the faith, he is criticizing it, ALL of it. His position is more than just challenging the Scripture, it is anti-biblical and antichrist. He has written several books that state that Jesus was not born of a virgin and another that denies that Jesus was actually raised from the dead, just about anything in scripture has become his target. He has campaigned for same sex marriages and the ordination of practicing homosexuals. He has lobbied for abortion rights on the premise of freedom from abortion restrictions, which are oppressive to women.
For those on his side he is admired and praised as a brilliant writer and speaker, bravely campaigning for reformation and a new morality in the Church. In his book In Living in Sin? 1988, A Bishop Rethinks Human Sexuality, Spong justified homosexuality,fornication. He has fervently promoted sexual relations outside of marriage for both heterosexuals and homosexuals, maintaining that “sex outside of marriage can be holy and life-giving in some circumstances.” He has developed a marriage like ceremony to “recognize and bless” gay couples in Episcopal Churches. Spong has ordained homosexuals to the ministry and wants all the church to do the same.
Spong speaks with a man given authority on this and other matters. But in fact when one reads how he interprets the scripture they can only sympathize with a man with no direction. The real problem is his gangrene being spread to others. Spong is not gun shy to the public, he has appeared on The Phil Donahue Show, The Tom Snyder Show The Oprah Winfrey Show, Good Morning America, The Today Show, Firing Line with Wm. Buckley a few times, Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher on 5 occasions, The O’Reilly Factor with Bill O’Reilly twice, Nightline , CNN, and even the apologetic program – The John Ankerberg Show.
In 1988 Spongs first wife died and he states “people all over the Dioscese prayed for her because I was well known. I wondered if the garbage collector in downtown Newark had a wife who had cancer who died and people didn’t pray for her would she die quicker, or would she die more painfully and I decided if that’s the way this world works I don’t want to believe in that kind of God.” (Dec 27,99 Politically Incorrect Bill Mahr) Spongs mistake is interpreting God by his experience of the way the world is. Surely any Christian would pray for anyone from any walk of life, but it would be Gods prerogative to answering the prayer.
A NEW Reformation
Spong is calling for a new reformation. Which he claims will be far more reaching than the Reformation of the 16th century. This in no way should be confused with the one by Martin Luther, since he wants to undo everything Luther tried to reform, and more. “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.”
“Reformation must also be willing to bear the attack of the threatened religious establishment”… Christianity is doomed for the anti-intellectual voices of the religious right today will never revive the Christian faith for that growing majority of those who have given up on organized religion. The choice before the Church is so clear to me. It is either a radical Reformation or a slow but inevitable death.” ( Renewing the call for Reformation)
But it is Spong who is actually promoting death because his reformation takes people away from the Scriptures as infallible, inerrant and life giving.”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.” Many have been outspoken against his restructuring. Spong’s response to his detractors and fundamentalist foes is ” Certainly Martin Luther’s life was at risk when he nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg in 1517. Every religious reformer before and since has confronted the same hysterical fear.”Spong puts himself in the same class as Luther, when in fact he does not hold a candle to him.
Its not that Spong does not understand the Scriptures in light of the traditional Christian view, he just disbelieves it. “The bedrock of the Christian experience is captured in the assertion that the Holy God was present in and met through the life of Jesus. That experience was at first not explained, it was simply stated. Paul did it best when he wrote, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world.”…” various explanations began to develop based on the way God was perceived in the 1st century as a supernatural being dwelling beyond the sky, who invaded human history to accomplish the divine will. If God was in Christ, then an explanation had to be devised about how this God above had entered the world in Jesus and how this God in Jesus returned to heaven when the work of redemption was complete. The story of the virgin birth was designed to achieve the divine entry. The story of the cosmic ascension provided the means of departure.
He goes on to take the stand “The virgin birth tradition, however, assumed an ancient view of reproduction which believed that the newborn lived in the sperm of the male who simply planted it into the womb of the female. So to proclaim the divine origin of a person, one simply replaced the human father with a divine agent. It was not necessary to replace the mother since she was believed to add nothing to the new life. A virgin birth was therefore a rather sexist male misunderstanding of procreation.”
“Christianity so clearly stands today in need of a Reformation that will recast the Christ experience in radically different ways from those of our Christian past. If God was in Christ, as I deeply believe, then a new way must be found to make sense of that incarnate presence. … The idolatry of ancient and outmoded explanations must be broken open or we stand to lose the wonder that makes the Christ so radically important.”
Spong misses the point of theology being organic, that all the doctrines are interconnected with each other. If there is no virgin birth than God took upon himself a sinful nature which would make him in many respects no different than you or I. If we take what he says at face value, what would make Christ any more important than Buddha or Mohammed or any other religious teacher. How are we to believe anything in the bible? His position of the bibles stories being killed by its literal interpretation is nonsense. Those who were eyewitnesses and the next generation knew what took place and they certainly believed in its literal meaning. They all believed Christ had a real resurrection, Christianity would have ended in one fell swoop if they produced a literal body that was dead.
” … I am a Christian and I am not willing to assume that there is no way other than the way of yesterday to process the eternal Christ experience.”
What kind of a Christian challenges what Gods prophets and what Christ said that was recorded by his holy apostles. What Spong is doing is apostatizing and wants others to join his rebellion. There is only one way, because Christ said so and he should know. If the choice is between the Biblical record or Spong what rationale would there be to discard all of Church history for his new opinions. I’m not sure what experience Spong is talking about, but without Christ’s own words of truth it is impossible to REALLY experience the one it is written about.
His theology at times is laughable in the least and can be at times quite dangerous if given a platform. But in this age of toleration it is not surprising that one such as Spong can be a keynote speaker at church’s and Universities.
“Every image of God is mythological,” Spong affirmed. He said the resurrection and virgin birth of Jesus did not literally happen, but were just “interpreted” that way. Likewise, the disciple Judas and Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, were fictional characters whom the early church created. Spong called the Ten Commandments “immoral” because they “define women as property.” (AFA Journal, 2112/96 author Mark Tooley, on “A homosexuality symposium at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C.)
Spong tells us that it us wrong for Christians to try to convert Muslims or Buddhists to the Christian faith. To further his campaign of reformation, Spong clearly thinks it is right to change the central message of the Christian Faith.
As he so bluntly states “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.”(this is also the new age view of mocking Gods way of bringing man back into a relationship with him)
Spong seems to believe that only thinking people and Christians will discover what he has. “The words so central to Christian self-understanding, like “Jesus died for my sins,” or “Jesus paid the price of sin on the cross of Calvary,” or “I have been saved by the blood of Christ,”…are nothing short of ludicrous when we recognize what they mean. They assume a literalness about various elements of the ancient Christian myth. His audience is what he terms “the vast number of people who have given up on those beliefs because they are simply too narrow…they do not make sense in the world in which we live.” Human life was not just a little lower than the angels – it’s just a little higher than the higher mammals, the apes and the baboons. We’ve had to emerge from evolutionary history. We weren’t created perfect and then fell into sin…..There is no perfect Creation. There is no perfect humanity – we are evolving constantly.”( COMPASS INTERVIEW WITH BISHOP JOHN SHELBY SPONG. Dec. 25th, 1997 )
He holds in contempt the idea of original sin as well as being sinners.” as we called it, that human beings stained by this sin were exiled permanently from God’s presence. Unable to save themselves, the myth continued, these human beings stood condemned before the throne of grace, crying out for a savior to rescue them from their self-inflicted wounds.” It becomes obvious that Spong has not contemplated what God calls sin to understand why we all share this natural state of humanity. Was Paul wrong when he echoed Jesus Rom 5:8But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”1 Tim 1:15This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”
Some years ago Thomas Harris wrote a book I’m ok your ok in that book he said if you approach anybody from the vanish point of saying I’m OK and your not OK and your not going to be OK until you get to be like me, your being hostile… I don’t believe you can preach the love of God with hostility, save my life, I don’t believe that.” (Dec. 27,99 Politically Incorrect Bill Mahr)
But if you don’t take this literally then you need to do nothing to change. If we take Spong’s advice into the real world, you couldn’t go to a doctor if your sick. What if he discovered you had cancer and depended on your doctor to tell you the truth. What if he said your as healthy as he is I’m OK your OK. That is not truthful and neither is it love. What Spong misses in his philosophy is that Jesus who was God came to bring the truth. Mark 2:17When Jesus heard it, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Spong thinks everyone is righteous, the bible says we are all sinners in need of a savior. Matt 9:13″But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” Spong would do well to do likewise.
Attacking Biblical Literalism
So what was it that changed this man to go 180 degrees in the other direction? Spong traces the death of his bible faith to his years as a student in a secular university. “My literalistic approach to the Bible died in late adolescence under the onslaught of a great secular state university” (Living in Sin, p. 95).
“While at theological seminary I yearned to get as deeply as possible into biblical studies. I was thrilled with the insights of higher criticism” (Living in Sin, p. 96). “When I became aware that neither the word virgin nor the concept of virginity appears in the Hebrew text of Isaiah that Matthew quoted to undergird his account of Jesus’ virgin birth, I became newly aware of the fragile nature of biblical fundamentalism. … `Almah’ never means `virgin’ in Hebrew. I had to face early on in my priestly career the startling possibility that the virgin tradition so deep in Christianity may well rest upon something as fragile as the weak reed of a mistranslation” (Rescuing the Bible, p. 16).
Spong finds himself with comrades like Rudolf Bultmann who claimed that it is impossible to believe in miracles.
“Am I suggesting that these stories of the virgin birth are not literally true? The answer is a simple and direct ‘Yes.’ Of course these narratives are not literally true. Stars do not wander, angels do not sing, virgins do not give birth,… The virgin birth tradition of the New Testament is not literally true. It should not be literally believed” (Rescuing the Bible, p. 215).
In Born of a Woman (1992), he promoted that Jesus was conceived by a Roman soldier rather than the Holy Spirit. In all probability Jesus was born in Nazareth in a very normal way either as the child of Mary and Joseph, or else he was an illegitimate child that Joseph validated by acknowledging him as Joseph’s son. All that can be stated definitely is that the echoes of the status of illegitimacy appear to be far stronger in the text than the suggestion that Jesus was Mary’s child by Joseph” (Born of A Woman, pp. 157,158). This is such an absurd assertion since the bible from Genesis through the NT attest to the fact of Mary being faithful, obedient and Joseph being upright
In one of his books the blunt and audacious Bishop John Shelby Spong reveals how interpreting the bible literally has been used to justify slavery and war, ban textbooks, deny the rights of gays and lesbians and subordinate women. He seems to blame all of our societal ills on a literal interpretation of literal Scriptural writings. If one looked at his position from a biblical perspective one would think he would be running as a candidate for the antichrist.
With each new book published, Spong has upped the ante, promoting more theological poison for people to ingest.
Spong is repelled by Gods justice, “Matthew also had a strange fascination with hell, gnashing of teeth, weeping and wailing, burning pits, and eternal punishment. … Hell is a favorite theme in the evangelistic preaching of the literalists, of course, where behavior control by means of reward and punishment is prominent” (Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, p. 155). Matthew only records what Jesus said so to accuse Matthew of distortion is to say the same of Jesus. it is these audacious statements that makes this man who has a little knowledge dangerous
Recently Spong appeared on the TV program Politically Incorrect and stated “So somehow all of these imperialistic religious ideas that we try put on people are just very destructive ideas. The gospels didn’t get written for 40 -70 years after Jesus was crucified.”.. they are written in a language that Jesus never spoke they are written in Greek, so by the time we read them there 40-70 years after and there written in language he didn’t speak. Now I don’t know about you Bill, but I don’t believe anybody will quote me accurately 40-70 years after I died.”
First : Spong is wrong on when the NT Bible was written, he takes the position of the apostate Jesus seminar “scholars” that we do not have eyewitness accounts. The bible was written 20 years after Christ and Johns last book the Revelation in 90 Ad.. Most was written in the years 45-65 Ad . The writers claim to be eyewitness accounts in the gospels, if in fact they are not we should not believe any of it, because they are liars. The newest evidence shows a parchment of Matthew that is dated back to 60-65 AD. The greater majority of scholars that are linguistic experts all point to the writings before 70 Ad. when Jerusalem was invaded by the Roman armies. The 2nd point that needs to be addressed is Spong’s consistent attack on the bible where there is nothing left to believe. Not its history, dating, characters ethics, its meanings, its actual portrayal of the historical Jesus and who he claimed to be. What one is left with is to listen to Spong instead of Jesus. Which appears to be what he wants. For he doesn’t agree with anything Jesus said. This includes statements on love as well, for Jesus said if you love me you will continue in my word.. and not to stop the children from coming to him. (Dec. 27,1999 Politically Incorrect Bill Mahr)
Again on the TV program Politically Incorrect he stated “Some parts of it I ‘d hate to blame God for (of the bible) some of it is pretty awful, women are treated as property in great sections of the bible, even in the 10 commandments says you shall not covet your neighbors wife nor his ox nor his ass nor anything that is your neighbors… and you know the neighbor in that is a male, the ox the ass and the other are possessions are possessions. And I think anything that treats a woman as less than fully human is wrong.”
Here we find Spong plays to the audiences prejudices of equality and liberalism. He was exposed for his false statement as the only Christian on the program defended the bible by saying,” look at how Jesus Christ commanded man to treat his wife, you treat your wife like Christ loves the Church. Christ was servant to the church and we are suppose to be a servant to our wife.” What needs to be added is that it was the religious leaders that misused the scripture and Gods intention was never for man to have a wife as ownership or possessions. Christ liberated the women from the false religious control that was prevalent in his day. The commandments point on covetedness is that anything one has should not be desired by another.
At a symposium he stated “If a star led the Wise men to the baby Jesus, then why couldn’t King Herod find Him?” Bishop Spong asked a laughing audience,” ..he “dismissed the Jewish prophecies traditionally seen as foretelling the coming of Christ. “I don’t think Isaiah, Jeremiah or the Psalmist anticipated the life of Jesus of Nazareth,” said Spong. “People can’t predict future events. It’s a magical view of the Bible.”
An audience member protested, “I am gay, Jewish Christian, convicted by the biblical prophecies, and in my heart.” He asked the bishop, “Don’t the Hebrew scriptures point in the direction of Jesus?” Spong responded, “Jews might be safer if we took evangelical Christianity away. Converting Jews to Christianity is not on the radar screen.” (AFA Journal, 2112/96 author Mark Tooley, on “A homosexuality symposium at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C.) Well there goes another of Paul’s statement out the window “the gospel to the Jew first.”
On the politically incorrect show in response to a Christians testimony of seeing a miraculous healing in his life he said, “I don’t ever want to stand in judgement upon anybody’s witness and experience, but I can only say God for me is so much bigger than my faith, my church, my world, my understanding of life. And I think I walk into the mystery of this God everyday but, for… God forbid I spend time telling people that what God is like, I don’t believe there is a soul that knows what God is like. I know only what I experience and I cannot universalize from that.” (Dec 27,1999 Politically Incorrect, Bill Mahr)
Yes, God is bigger then all of these, but this does not mean one cannot understand or know him. Here he states he won’t stand in judgement on someone but then he does exactly that! To unequivocally say know one knows what God is like is to deny the purpose Jesus came for. Just because he has not experienced this does not mean someone else has not. This is like the atheist’s argument of “I can’t see God or he has not done a miracle in front of me therefore he does not exist.” We may not know everything of our best friend or wife, but we do know something of them to have a working, sustainable relationship. It is the same with God.
Obviously Spong does not believe the bible which states I Jn 5:20 “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.”
He has stated the end of Jesus’ life a story had to be devised to enable the theistic God whom they believed they had met in him to return to the divine abode above the sky. The ascension story then explains where the theistic God lived in heaven. Because Copernicus and Galileo confronted us with a new version of cosmic reality No intelligent person now thinks ascending into the sky is the route to heaven. With our present knowledge of cosmology, such a journey would at best achieve an endless orbit, while at worst one would ultimately escape the limits of gravity and sink into the infinite depths of space. So the “literal story of the ascension no longer translates to space age people.”
“The ascension of Jesus was not about space travel or moon shots. It was not to be literalized in terms of a first-century cosmology. The Pentecost story did not mean that ignorant fishermen like Peter and Andrew suddenly were able to speak Chinese, German, or Swedish. To literalize the Lukan narrative would be to destroy it irrevocably” (Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture, p. 184, 1991).
“Paul was not a universal scholar. He was not even a good biblical scholar. … Paul treated Adam as if he were as literal and historic a figure as Jesus of Nazareth had been (Rom. 5:14,18). No biblical scholar will march today under that banner…”
Spong twists the bible writers own stance to make it seem that if one does not agree with him they are ignorant. The truth is it is he that is extremely ignorant. He has the most dangerous ignorance, one who is completely closed minded to evidence and is haughty enough to tell anyone and everyone they are wrong without any historical proof, only his opinion. Jesus said Adam and eve were literal , so did Moses in the creation account.
“Paul cannot be taken literally. He did not write the Word of God” (Rescuing the Bible, pp. 104,105) How can anyone with any intelligence say this?
Not only does Spong not take Paul literally he does the same to the whole bible “If a religious system requires that a literal Bible be embraced, I must walk away from that system” (Rescuing the Bible, p. 107).
“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.” Spong is not just a liberal he is an atheist in disguise, one who hides behind a collar. This does not mean he will say he does not believe in God, he does. But it is a god of his own image, in fact he is reinventing Christianity. So why wear a collar and be called a bishop. In the first place it would be hard to get inside the church if he did not have some suitable means of appeal to old religion that he wants to dispense with. Spong will cut to the chase, and come right out and tells you that he does not believe the Bible literally. “I hold the Bible before my readers seeking boldly to free it from the clutches of a mindless literalism and, at the same time, presenting it as a dramatic and exciting document whose relevance for our day is both mighty and real.”
We might consider the hypothesis that Paul may have been a gay male. … I suggest the possibility that Paul was a homosexual … nothing else accounts for this data as well as the possibility that Paul was a gay male.” (Rescuing the Bible, pp. 116,117). His opinion is not entertained by any scholar worth his salt, nor has it been in Church history until the recent liberal movement infiltrated the Church.