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24 July 2014: Introducing Jesus for the Non-Religious to France

(The following is the speech delivered in Paris at the launching of the French Translation of Jesus for the Non-Religious.) How can those of us living in the 21st century understand the Jesus of history? We think very differently from the way the people who wrote the New Testament in the first century thought. Can …

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Q & A:

It was fun to read the questions from the man from Saudi Arabia. Here is a question it raises for me. Why do you think there are four gospels which overlap and conflict? If people (men) at the 4th century Council of Nicea were writing the creeds and doctrines based on documents from the 1st century, why didn’t they clean up the whole mess? Why leave so many questions unanswered?

 

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17 July 2014: On Launching a Book in Paris

There is nothing quite like Paris in the springtime. The flowers of the season are in full bloom. The sidewalk cafes are filled with people drinking wine, sipping café au lait and eating croissants. The “Left Bank” is populated with painters standing before their easels and politicians in full debate. The population in this city, …

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Q & A:

I read your Magi story with considerable interest, partly because of my family name. I do wonder how the Magi got their names but my main question is, how does your explanation of the Magi story help me? So "Matthew" made up a nice story. You have provided the context and motivation for the story, but the story is still just a story. Even if I know why he did it, it still undermines the credibility of his gospel. Maybe "Matthew" made up a lot of stories. How would I know? Some of the gospel has to be sort of true or else what good is it, i.e. wherein is the Good News?

 

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10 July 2014: Part XXV Matthew – Atonement Theology, Conclusion: Seeking New Possibilities

Have you ever wondered why the work of Charles Darwin has been so threatening to traditional Christians and to institutional Christianity? In fundamentalist and Bible belt regions of the world, Christians have gone to extraordinary efforts to blunt Darwin’s teaching. One recalls the publication of a series of tracts between 1910 and 1915, which were …

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Q & A:

What biblical commentaries do you suggest that would be most beneficial for sermon preparation in contemporary teaching for the 21st century?

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3 July 2014: Part XXIV Matthew – Interpreting Atonement Theology, Part II

“Atonement Theology” assumes that human life, though created in the image of God, is now both fallen and evil. It assumes that God is a being who can be “offended” by human disobedience, is incapable of forgiving and must, therefore, exact the deserved punishment on the sinful human life. It assumes that Jesus’ death was …

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Q & A:

I read your article on homophobia. I know that the topic is the immorality of homophobia and I agree with you on this topic. Concerning slavery and the Civil War, there is an additional moral question rarely mentioned. That is, what was the best means to end slavery? Yes, slavery is immoral, but so is war. The defeat of the South resulted in slaves being freed; while at the same time the Confederate veterans lost their right to vote. This resulted in much racial hatred and the birth of the KKK. It would have been better to kick the South out of the Union and refuse to readmit them until they abolished slavery. In Utah, polygamy was legal before Utah became a state. Utah was not allowed to become a state until polygamy was abolished. It worked for Utah and would have worked for the South. Because of the violent way in which slavery was ended, it took 100 years until the Civil Rights movement and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. peacefully ended the Jim Crow era.

 

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26 June 2014: Part XXIII Matthew – Analyzing the Implications of Atonement Theology: Part I

In recent columns, we have looked at the origins of what has come to be called “The Doctrine of the Atonement.” We noted that the day, in the calendar of the Jewish liturgical year called “Yom Kippur – The Day of Atonement,” was observed in the fall of the year and was marked by emotions …

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Q & A:

First, thank you for your writings which, I believe, are indicative of your great mind. One question: if, as you say, the gospels were written from a Jewish perspective, why were they not written in Hebrew or Aramaic? Did the Jews read and talk in Greek in their synagogues?

 

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19 June 2014: Part XXII Matthew – Jesus through the Lens of Yom Kippur

Matthew observes Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, with a flashback story in which John the Baptist, the quintessential Rosh Hashanah figure, although in prison, sends messengers to Jesus asking him to verify his claim to be messiah: “Are you the one that should come or do we look for another?” If my role, he …

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Q & A:

First let me say that I am reading all your books. I enjoy reading Michael Goulder's influence in them. My Jewish friends, who have read the New Testament, say: "Well, it's about time. It took you only 2,000 years to understand!" Your books have totally revised my conception of the Divine Source and of Scripture, especially the New Testament. You and the Jesus Seminar have brought me back from the Christian Alumni Association. With your books under my belt and in my heart -- and with Joseph Campbell’s admonition to read as myth and metaphor and to consider that Jesus was a Bodhisattva, which can explain a lot of things in interesting ways, including the healings and the crucifixion and the resurrection and perhaps even the ascension -- the Bible has become one of the great sources of spiritual wealth for me.

I note that you will be at the Pacific School of Religion in July. Because our church has a supportive relationship with PSR, some of us hope to be at PSR when you are there. I have just finished The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic - well, I will tonight for I still have about 20 pages remaining to read. I attend the First Congregational/UCC Church of San Jose, where you, Borg, Crossan and Levine have spoken. Unfortunately, I was not a member when you and they were there.

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12 June 2014: Part XXI Matthew – Yom Kippur and Sacrificial Blood

The primary Christian mantra incorporated into our hymns, prayers and sermons is some variation of the phrase: “Jesus died for my sins!” It comes out of a Christian definition of human life as fallen, corrupted by something we call “original sin.” It has given rise over the centuries to a fetish connected with “the blood …

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Q & A:

Thank you for your insights into the Sermon on the Mount and The Lord’s Prayer.

I am a retired Presbyterian minister and for some time I have had difficulty praying the traditional words of The Lord’s Prayer. So much of it is devoted to asking, indeed begging, God. I find myself praying a modified form of the prayer that recognizes God’s presence on earth and alters the begging into affirmation.

Here is how I pray The Lord’s Prayer:

Ever Present Holy One, we hallow your name. Your kingdom comes and your will is done on earth through those who trust the vision of your realm. You give us daily bread; you forgive us and call us to forgive others. You do not lead us into temptation; you deliver us from evil; for yours is the kingdom, the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Do you have any suggestions for modifying the way I pray The Lord’s Prayer? Do you see any possibility of churches ever modifying the traditional Lord’s Prayer or is it too deeply entrenched and therefore beyond conscious awareness of most worshipers?

 

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5 June 2014: Part XX Matthew – Introducing Yom Kippur and the Jewish Concept of Atonement

We return this week to our ongoing study of the gospel of Matthew after a six week hiatus in which we examined, first the use of the concept of a “lamb” in Hebrew worship, after which I wrote on such diverse figures as Barbara Walters, Professor James H. Cone and Pope John XXIII. Since I …

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Q & A:

Recently I had to renew my credit card, which I used to subscribe to your weekly Newsletter and thereby I lost my subscription to the Newsletter come bill-paying time. Fortunately, I received an email from the company that handles your Newsletter and was thereby able to provide the data on my new credit card and am now receiving your emails. The first thing I can remember reading from the newsletters when my service was restored was that you had completed your work on the book of John and your book entitled, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic so I bought it and have now finished reading it. I can remember from books of yours that I read several years ago that you were bemoaning the fact that you could find no defining books on the Gospel of John. Well, now we have one. Yours! Thank you, this book is a very good read and I am glad that you wrote it, but I am afraid that I missed something. It left me to question why the empty tomb was so important to the gospel writers, including John and how does one avoid reading the open tomb stories literally? Can you elaborate a bit on these questions?

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29 May 2014: Two Popes Made Saints in a Dramatic Act

It was an exciting day in the Vatican on April 27, 2014, probably the most exciting day since the election of Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina to be Pope Francis a little more than a year ago. Prior to that only dark shadows seemed to envelope that church and its leadership. The scandal of sexually abusive …

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Q & A:

I am finishing your book, Jesus for the Non-Religious and have found in you, Bart Ehrman and Tom Harpur…finally…people on the planet who explain Christianity humanly – totally unlike any other experience I’ve had in any “traditional” church. You refer to the Christian alumni…are you aware the single largest Christian denomination in the U.S. today is former Roman Catholics? The Church actually sponsors special programs to recruit them back even though the Holy See asserts it owns their souls and it’s a childish fantasy to think they can leave anyway.

I grew up in northern Ohio where we know there were Paleo-Indians living some 12,000 years ago on the very land of my family’s farm. The last of the great Pleistocene glaciers was retreating into Canada. These people I believe were every bit as human as you or I. Yet they were denied the story of Christ, as were millions of other ancient peoples on six continents because they lived before ANY of the Jewish and Christian faiths emerged.

I once asked a Baptist preacher (and I’m not making this up) what has happened to Ohio’s Paleo-Indians after death, since they couldn’t have known Christ and received grace and salvation. He grimaced and stated so regretfully that they are burning in hell for eternity; it’s what Christian faith teaches and demands, but he regrets their fate personally. Quite magnanimous, don’t you think?

Have you ever addressed in your writings the temporal question…why did any of the Torah and subsequent Christianity story appear when and where it did…and how to treat and interpret Christ for pre-history humans who had no exposure to a faith tradition that you emphatically embrace?

 

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22 May 2014: On Spending the Day with Amos, i.e. Professor James H. Cone

So much of Christianity is a delusion, built as it is around power images and institutional claims to possess either an infallible Pope or an inerrant Bible. The Christian Church also traditionally operates out of a definition of life as something evil, fallen and corrupted by original sin, which it has used to enhance guilt …

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Q & A:

It is a great relief to find you in today's world and to know someone else feels as I do about many things. You have helped me to see that real Christianity need not die to accommodate the reality in which the human race finds itself living today. Since I was born, some 80 years ago, I have been attending the First Baptist Church in my home town, first as a child and now as a mature (hopefully not yet senile) adult. I have seen pastors come and go, sung the hymns and spoken the words of the first century many times and wondered if I were the only person who was grasping to emulate Christ in my life amid a confusing and contradictory belief system. It came to a head when I was asked to dedicate a private cemetery on a Texas ranch for dear friends. How do you speak with integrity of belief when your audience is seemingly traditional and literal? This is what I said:

“We are gathered here to consecrate this ground; this special place; a place for meditation, inspiration and for remembrance. Years ago, I was walking in the place here they called the orchard because that was what it was, an apple orchard tended by my friend’s grandfather. The apples he grew, he peddled far and wide to support his family during hard times. My wife was with me that day and she bent and picked up a piece of flint that her ever watchful eyes had observed. It was proof of the presence of human activity at this place hundreds, perhaps thousands of years before.

“More recently, the name of that mountain south of us, Mitre Peak, marked this as a special place. It suggested the passage of Spanish explorers for whom it was both a symbol of a bishop’s hat and of the church which served as a guide for the journey. Another reason that this is a special place is that behind us is a spring that produces hundreds of gallons of water in this Chihuahuan Desert. Water is life. There is no life without it. So for these thousands of years the spring has been there and, because it was, life was here also and still is.

“Today, however, we are reminded that there is also death here. Death is everywhere. We think of death because it is part of life and those of us gathered here are alive. Mountains, however, also die. Mitre Peak, which looks so strong and eternal, is in the midst of its life cycle just as we are. Millennia from now it will be dissolved by the inexorable forces of erosion, wind, rain, changes of temperature and other processes will carry its bulk to the sea where it will be reconstituted as the sea bed. Perhaps someday it will once again become a mountain. That is the eternal cycle of existence of which we are but a miniscule yet important part.

“It is fitting that we think upon these things as we visit this place where our friends and relatives, have passed this life and have begun another phase in this cycle of existence. They still exist, but in ways our limited intelligence cannot imagine. Even as their bodies are re-constituted into their original minerals and elements and then again into plants and animals they are still with us when we come here.

“We meditate on their lives and on the lives of those we did not know who came before us. It is in hallowed ground like this that history is recorded and endures. We feel the unbroken chain that ties our earliest ancestors to us for all time. We relive the joys of our association with them in life and we honor those lives with our remembrance. We can learn from their successes and be warned by their failures and just as those ancient travelers, who established their location from sighting Mitre Peak, we can recast our own directions by reflecting on the lives of those who are buried here.

“God, we know you as the great architect of this universe. Your energy is transformed in your laboratory of stars into the elements that make visible the world we see and know. Understand that, we know you are with us in every nook and cranny of existence, in the cells of our body, in the dirt beneath our feet, in the birds and animals and in everything that is. In a very real way, we are made from your energy - therefore in your image.

“Let us leave today with that knowledge and with the assurance that we, just as those who are honored here, are eternal. As we visit this place let us be reminded of that and let it give us peace and direction for our lives.”

 

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