An Open Letter to Ross Douthat, New York Times Columnist
27 September 2012: 5 Comments »
Dear Ross, A few weeks ago in an op-ed piece of the Sunday New York Times, you began your regular column with these words, “In 1998, John Shelby Spong, then the reliably controversial Bishop of Newark, published a book entitled, “Why Christianity Must Change or Die.” Spong was a uniquely radical figure – during his …
Question & Answer
It puzzles me that you believe we do not need a savior and that Jesus is not the same as God. You say that the word savior refers to God, but not Jesus till later in the Bible but Jesus is God. The Old Testament tells of the coming of a savior. Scripture says that there is no way to the father except through Jesus, that Jesus' death upon the cross saved us from our sins and gave us the chance to know God. Why do you think that Jesus said while on the cross: "My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” It is because that is when Jesus took on the sin of the world. God cannot look at sin. If you believe that we do not need a savior, then all I can do is pray for you, since you are missing the most important reason why Jesus came to earth. Just because the actual word is not mentioned does not mean that Jesus is not our savior. Of all the words used like man’s salvation and Jesus died for us all points us to see that Jesus dies so we can have a personal relationship with God, so we can have forgiveness of sins. I can go on forever. Psalm 22:27 says that all shall be blessed in Christ Jesus. I pray that God will show you that we do need a savior and that through Jesus we have been given that. I also pray that you are deceived when you say that the Devil does not exist. Even from the very beginning in scripture God warns that the Devil is a roaring lion looking for who he can consume. Jesus is the savior we all need to help us in our daily walk and understand the temptations and to live our lives the way God wills us to. I pray that the Spirit of God will show you the true meaning of what Jesus our Lord and Savior really means.
I wrestled long before deciding to use your letter in the Q&A section of my column. I sense an obvious sincerity in your words and a concern for me that I appreciate. At the same time, Michael, your letter reveals a serious lack of theological understanding and a very childlike misunderstanding of what the Bible is all about. I have no desire to point this out to you since it is clear that you, with your level of knowledge, will not understand anything I say. I also find no pleasure in attacking you in public, but the fact is that you made these issues public by your letter and by doing so you have opened the door to the possibility that you might be ready to grow and to learn. On that assumption I have chosen to respond to your public letter in this column.
Let me begin by saying that your letter makes all kinds of assumptions that are typical of those who have confused a version of evangelical fundamentalism with Christianity. I can understand why, given your presuppositions, you are puzzled that I do not need a savior. You clearly do not understand that what I reject is a literal understanding of the ancient Hebrew myths that suggest that human life has fallen into “original sin.” Because of this I do not think that “savior” language is either meaningful or necessary. I see no evidence in the study of human origins that human life was ever created perfect only to fall into sin as the stories in the book of Genesis suggest.. What I do see is overwhelming data to support the idea that human life has evolved from single cell simplicity into self-conscious complexity over the 3.8 billion years that we now know that life in some form has been on this planet. If that is so, I believe Jesus needs to be understood as empowering us to become more deeply and fully human, not as a divinely sent invader who came to save us from our sins.
No, Jesus is not the same as God. That is biblical non-sense. Even the doctrine of the Trinity was designed to prevent so simplistic an identification. In the gospels we are told that Jesus prayed. Was he talking to himself? We are told that Jesus died. Can God die and still be God? To suggest, as you do, that the Old Testament tells of the coming of the savior or that Psalm 22:27 speaks of Jesus is nothing more than a Christian misreading of the messianic hope of Israel. Only John’s gospel contains the claim that Jesus is the only way to God and for that to be used as a justification for religious triumphalism and imperialism, as you seem eager to do, is to do a grave injustice to the Fourth Gospel.
The prayer, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” occurs only in Mark and Matthew. These authors are actually quoting Psalm 22, a psalm that early Christians used to provide content to the first narrative of the cross, which was not written, you need to know, until more than forty years after the crucifixion. It is not an eye-witness report. Luke and John, who wrote some 20 to 25 years after Mark, both omit that saying from the cross so that we must assume that they did not see it as Jesus taking on the sin of the world. Each of these later gospel writers adds other sayings that were supposed to have been said by Jesus from the cross about which neither Mark nor Matthew seemed to be aware and neither Luke nor John contains a saying from the cross that the other includes. So, given this conflict we have grave doubts that any of the words attributed to Jesus from the cross were ever spoken by him.
I welcome your prayers for me, but your religious judgment, based on your total lack of biblical knowledge, renders these prayers as little more than pious insincerity. Your real agenda is to affirm your own religious authority, which, based upon your limited knowledge, is hardly inspiring or impressive.
I have been a Christian all of my life and have served as a priest in my church for 21 years and as an elected bishop for 24 years. Yes, I have been wrong lots of times, but escaping the fundamentalism of my childhood was not one of those times. I walk the Christ path daily and I trust it will carry me into the mystery of God, the God who is ultimately real and yet who is beyond all of the pious formulas that religious people have tried to place on the Ultimate and Holy One; and no, I do not believe that Jesus died for my sins, nor am I attracted to that guilt producing, God destroying kind of pious rhetoric.
~John Shelby Spong
Read what Bishop Spong has to say about A Joyful Path Progressive Christian Spiritual Curriculum for Young Hearts and Minds: "The great need in the Christian church is for a Sunday school curriculum for children that does not equate faith with having a pre-modern mind. The Center for Progressive Christianity has produced just that. Teachers can now teach children in Sunday school without crossing their fingers. I endorse it wholeheartedly."
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