Essay Archives View as a list
5 December 2013: America’s Health Care Debate and What it Reveals
Every nation I visited on my recent European lecture tour has a National Health System, paid for by tax dollars and run for all the people by the government itself. Contrary to the propaganda of the American political right, these health services are well run and enormously popular in both conservative and liberal circles. The …
Your columns are always thought provoking and filled with such wisdom. Thanks for sharing your incredible knowledge and insight with us. I was thrilled when you came to Chattanooga several years ago and I actually got to hear you in person at Grace Church. A recent column reminded me of one you wrote last summer right before my granddaughter was to be baptized. In last summer’s column you wrote about performing a baptism and being struck with the language used in the baptismal service.
I have been a member of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Chattanooga for over 40 years, but I have to admit I was a little surprised when my son, who lives with his wife and daughter in California, said he wanted to have his daughter baptized here in the church where he grew up. Although he is a very spiritual person, he hasn’t attended church for years. I myself rarely attend services at our church because when hearing the liturgy and reciting the creeds, I feel as if I am being forced to wear shoes that I have outgrown and that feel several sizes too small. I am eternally grateful, however, that the church allows our dream group to meet there and encourages our “sacred studies” group to hold weekend workshops there as well. I have thanked our priest on more than one occasion for being open to letting me and the others explore our spirituality in unconventional ways.
Back to my granddaughter’s baptism. We couldn’t have the service in the church because there are only certain Sundays used for joint baptisms and their visit didn’t fall on one of those Sundays. We decided to have the service at a family cabin on a lake in the woods and a friend of mine, who is an Episcopal priest, but has no parish, agreed to perform the baptism. When she sent the service to my son to read, he said he didn’t like it because there was way too much talk about sin. It was right about this time that your column came out so I sent it to him. He agreed with everything you said! My priest friend then sent him the Australian service which she thought might be more to his liking. The mention of sin in this version was a turn off as well. He said all they wanted to do was to introduce their daughter to God’s love. The priest was bound by her vows to use some form of Episcopal liturgy so my son went online and found a pastor in Chattanooga from the Unity Church who was thrilled over performing the service. It was his first baptism and he wrote the service himself. It was absolutely glorious!
You have opened up a monumentally important topic in that column and closed with the question, “What can we do about it?” I await your response with an open mind and eager anticipation.
28 November 2013: A Thirty-Day Lecture Tour of Europe
It was probably the most exciting and fulfilling book tour of my entire career. Over a period of thirty days, I journeyed through Europe delivering sixteen public lectures in Spain, Italy, England and Scotland. We also touched Switzerland and Wales. In Wales we spent the night and met with Peter Francis, the warden of the …
It was a pleasure to hear and meet you at Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland last November. We always enjoy your talks and books. It is exciting and such a relief to hear from a biblical scholar that the thoughts we have mulled over for many years – about God and the life of Jesus and what it all means for the world – are not totally crazy – or subversive! A small but growing study group, meeting in our home, enjoys discussing your books among others. So – thank you for sharing your knowledge! We know it has not been an easy road for you.
The question: Is there a “Progressive Christianity” study Bible available that would help us search Scripture and give historical background?
21 November 2013: Part VIII Matthew: What is the Meaning of the Virgin Birth?
It is difficult for most Christians to imagine that the story of Jesus’ virgin birth was a late developing tradition in the Christian faith, yet it appears to have been totally unknown until it is introduced in the middle years of the ninth decade in the writings of Matthew. Matthew’s story of Jesus’ birth is …
I have just begun to read your latest book: The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic. Before beginning Chapter Two (I took your advice and read carefully the preceding pages) I thought it might be fun, and perhaps of interest to you, to get some ongoing feedback. Obviously, I have not read enough text to object, on the contrary, I am eager to hear what you have to say.
The Fourth Gospel has left more questions than answers for me. My own personal fascination and continued awe of the scriptures as revelations of God for the past 50 years now stands for me as the greatest proof of the reality of the Love of God. God both keeps me thirsty and continually satisfies my thirst. Still! Is that not miraculous in and of itself? I have wondered why “Christians” ignore the Jewish roots of their faith, their God. At one time I studied Kabbalah and personally experienced some of the wonders of that teaching. Christians seem to fear mysticism. Or anything not approved of by whatever denomination they were born into or whatever church they finally settle into that does not require thinking. I literally would eat the letters of the Bible if that were possible. The longer I live the more grateful I am for their Truth. Not the translated and misconstrued doctrinal teachings rampant in church circles but the Truth that has never yielded to humanity’s wishes for a convenient weapon or a doable law. I have studied and read studies of the Bible since I first picked up a Bible at age 20, not to find God, but to read what all the God-fuss was about. I read every single unintelligible word (so not to miss anything, as I never intended to read it again) and somewhere in the book of Deuteronomy, I fell in love with Truth. I am still in love, but I continue to be uncomfortable with John and have all these years failed to find a reason for what is presented as the Gospel of John. Thank you Dr. Pastor Father Bishop John Shelby Spong for loving God and for sharing your passion and your found treasure with the rest of us who are busy doing other things.
14 November 2013: Part VII Matthew: The Shady Ladies of Matthew’s Genealogy
The audience for which Matthew wrote was conversant with the Jewish Scriptures, so when he mentions Tamar in the genealogy, they would know her story. The Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) was read in its entirety in the traditional synagogues on the Sabbaths of a single year. The 38th chapter of Genesis, where …
With so much modern information embedded in your views, I find it odd that you would still believe in prophecy. Do you? Or do you call Jesus of Nazareth “Christ” out of habit and not because he did or will fulfill the messianic prophesies of Jewish lore? Do you actually believe that anyone can know the distant future in great detail? Or, do you believe that the stories of Jesus of Nazareth were made up from an inaccurate Greek translation of those prophecies long after the events transpired and by ghost writers and not the sources cited?
7 November 2013: Part VI Matthew: The Genealogy (1:1-17)
“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham” — that is how the gospel of Matthew begins. The word “genealogy” means “origins,” beginnings. It could thus also be translated the book of the “genesis” of Jesus, the messiah. For “genesis” is what is being described in this …
I'm sure you have answered this question many times but I can't find the answer on the website. What do you mean by the phrase you use so often "for the non-religious?" Do you mean those who don't go to church or do you mean those who don't believe in God? Or something else?
31 October 2013: Part V Matthew: Isolating This Gospel from All the Others
Having now introduced you to a different way of reading the gospel of Matthew, and puncturing for you, I hope forever, the assumption that this book along with all the other gospels was ever intended to be either history or biography, I want in this column to double back and focus on the gospel of …
Thank you for your insightful scholarship. My question has to do with free will. If we believe we have free will this helps explain the rampant, human-induced evil in the world. On the other hand, the Lord's Prayer, wherein we ask that "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" must have been uttered millions of times to no apparent avail. Those who believe in a benevolent God who answers prayers must be stymied and dismayed that these millions of prayers go unanswered in the face of evil or - if they are answered - that God’s will included mayhem. My take is that there is not a God that answers these prayers and that we are on our own - or God’s will is to endorse our free will to carry on as usual. Your comments on free will, the will of God and, in this context, evil itself would be greatly appreciated.
24 October 2013: Part IV Matthew – The Sermon on the Mount
Jesus never preached the Sermon on the Mount! Some of the content recorded in that well-known part of Matthew’s gospel may well stretch back to the literal words of the Jesus of history, but there was never a time in the life of Jesus of Nazareth when he went up on a mountain and delivered …
Thank you for all your wonderful books and the ideas in them. Having read your books and listened to many of your lectures on YouTube, I want you to know that they have been a great help for me to sort things out. This morning, I realized that I am a Christian person. Do I believe in a God up there? – NO. Do I believe in a God rising physically from the dead? – NO. Do I believe in Christ being born by a virgin? – NO. Do I believe in Christ walking on water? – NO. Do I believe that Christ resurrected people’s self-worth in an age of religious tyranny where the priests and the religious values of that day deprived people of their dignity – YES!!!!! And that is for me the sole important thing. As you say – salvation does not come from God or a Christ that is no longer here. Salvation comes when brave people help other people to regain their belief in themselves. If you are mentally dead and a person gives you your sanity back – then that person has resurrected you from the “dead”…not physically but mentally. If this is what Jesus did – then I do believe he has showed us the way. Unfortunately, as you point out, that has been buried under piles of religious and political nonsense. So, thank you for helping me to see that which I have always believed in since a kid – the resurrection of self-worth being the key for the salvation of man and woman– and that this is what Jesus did. But the religion of Jesus had to bury this simple truth in order to stay in power. This revelation of believing in what Jesus did rather than what he was has taken a long time to prepare. Doing the ground work has taken a long time – realizing the truth in it was instant – at 8:40 this morning 5/23/13, it just sat there crystal clear in my mind.
17 October 2013: We Have Had Our Run. It Is Time to Leave.
“We have had our run. It is time to leave.” Andy Pettitte, Pitcher for the New York Yankees They had four related careers that impacted the baseball world for two decades. In the history of modern sports this was a rare achievement. In their late teens and early twenties, these young athletes began playing baseball …
I have just finished reading your book Eternal Life: A New Vision. I found it clarified on an intellectual basis many feelings I've had toward religion (specifically Christianity which was my childhood experience- although minimally), but was unable to articulate such. I grew up near Highlands, NC. I was in total agreement with your assessments and overall beliefs expressed in your book until I got to the end where you address life after death. I may have missed something. In response to the question of life after death, your response is “yes, yes, yes.” While the discussion is somewhat vague, if you truly believe in life after death in a heavenly setting, then I don’t get it. If what you mean to convey is by living a “good life in all regards would result in your life’s work/contributions continuing on after death,” then I get it. I would be interested in any clarification offered.
10 October 2013: My Great Mentors – Number Seven: Clifford L. Stanley
He was my Professor of Theology, teaching me for two of the three years I was in Seminary. For me he was the major voice on that 1950′s faculty that had broken new theological ground. Most of the others were still locked in the dated Neo-Orthodoxy of Karl Barth, which was rooted in the despair …
I embrace the divinity of Christ but do not wish to rely on the virgin birth or the resurrection as proof of that divinity. My pride in this “position” is my Achilles, I know, or at least suspect. In the sense that I am a new Christian (though able to trace the source of my faith to early Anglican experiences in the All Saints Church of Parramatta in Sydney, Australia). I am open to holding Christ’s teachings high, yet, as you have probably gathered, I am “holding back” in my faith. Love of his word (as reported) and of the sacrament, together with the power of forgiveness in my own life and the hope and love that the Christians I meet share, have all made me wonder: am I a failed Christian, as I believe Christianity too important to be relegated to the world of fairy stories or is there a place for me and my ilk in eternity?
3 October 2013: An Adventure in Church Building in Springfield, Missouri
Springfield is Missouri’s third largest city. Its approximately 160,000 people occupy space in the southwestern part of that state, where this city serves as the county seat of Greene County. Tradition, not fully documented, suggests that it got its name from an early settler, named James Wilson, who offered whiskey to anyone who would vote …
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