Essay Archives View as a list
12 April 2012: On Being Honored by the Jesus Seminar
In the early spring of this year the Jesus Seminar paid me a special tribute at its meeting held in Salem, Oregon. First, I was invited to give two lectures to the assembled hosts of scholars and guests on “Changing the Christian Paradigm from Salvation to Wholeness.” Next, I was featured in an hour long, …
The argument before the Supreme Court as to whether the Federal government can mandate health insurance for all citizens represents a fascinating dance around shifting realities. It is an argument that totters between the values inherent in an interdependent society and those cherished by an individualistic society. The reality is, however, that in an ever-shrinking …
You have said that there is no mention of the Virgin Birth prior until the ninth decade when Matthew wrote the first account of the miraculous Nativity. You also say that there is no reference to a miracle associated with Jesus prior to the gospel of Mark. How can you make these statements since they violate Lutheran doctrine of the Word?
29 March 2012: “Think Different – Accept Uncertainty” Part VIII: Deconstructing the Story of the Fall
The way Christians have told the Christ story, beginning with Augustine in the fourth century and continuing through Anselm in the twelfth century, is to postulate an original and perfect creation from which human life has fallen. This original perfection was first perverted and then lost by an act of human disobedience. At least that …
I would love to hear your thoughts on the so-called “lost years” of Jesus. I’ve been reading some late 1880’s books about how Jesus went to and studied in India during that time. Thank you for your thoughts and for sharing them. I’ve only recently become acquainted with your work and just ordered your two newest books. I’m looking forward to reading them.
22 March 2012: “Think Different – Accept Uncertainty” Part VII: The Corruption of Human Life According to the Bible
In the beginning all was good, said the oldest biblical story of creation (Gen. 2:4b-3:24). That goodness was symbolized by the portrait of life in the Garden of Eden, a garden that contained everything for which a human being could yearn. There was ample water, fruit and vegetation. The author of the story even asserted …
One of my readers, Sunny Hill, sent me this open letter from a friend of hers to Rick Santorum about the role of religion in government. I thought it was worth passing on to my readers.
She says that the author Jon Carroll writes from a secular perspective, but I find it expressive of my own religious concerns.
~John Shelby Spong
Note: See the Announcements section for a clarification on the order of the entries in this series. Bad theology is inevitable when it is based on bad anthropology! That is, the way we understand human life always determines the way we understand God. This becomes very clear when religious people begin to grapple with and …
You have been one of the pioneers in an understanding of Christianity which for some time has been identified as progressive Christianity. Please describe the evolution, present status, characteristics and impact of progressive Christianity and your projections for its future. Thank you.
8 March 2012: The Contraception Debate: Is Misogyny on the Rise?
Here is some of the evidence. In Virginia, the State Legislature was poised to pass and Republican Governor Bob McDonnell to sign a bill requiring a vaginally-invasive medical procedure be performed on any woman seeking an abortion until a massive demonstration of female voting power caused them to “modify” it very slightly. In the United …
A couple of weeks ago, we found two demonstrators across the street from the church as the 11:15 service ended. They had a giant prop Bible, about six feet tall, on which was printed “The Holy Bible by Jesus.” They also had their own PA system. They had a variety of complaints: A Muslim as a guest in the pulpit; marriage equality; the ordination of women. There was lots of talk of heresy and blasphemy, all delivered with a high degree of anger, venom – and volume.
As you have said, the defense of bigotry is never rational and I wouldn’t expect to be able to have a conversation with these people. What I don’t understand is that their views on LGBT issues are not really different from those expressed by Kendall Harmon at TitusOneNine and others like him. Harmon is obviously a highly educated man, with a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Oxford University. His web site proclaims “a passionate commitment to the truth and a desire graciously to refute that which is contrary to it…..” I’m not sure if a commitment to truth can ignore the witness of the LGBT faithful. I know you no longer debate LGBT issues. I don’t blame you. But I wonder if you can shed any insight as to how both our ignorant demonstrators and many of our highly educated Episcopal/Anglican clergy can hold the same views.
1 March 2012: “Think Different – Accept Uncertainty” Part V: The Traditional Religious Definition of Human Life
In this series we have looked at the changing understanding of God throughout human history. We have tried to separate the God experience of transcendence, wonder and awe from the God explanation that has ranged from animism to fertility cults and mother worship to a God understood after the analogy of a tribal chief and …
I am a great fan of yours, having discovered your books about 14 years ago. I believe I have read all of your books (I have your latest on my Kindle ready to go) and I very much look forward to your weekly column.
I currently belong to a welcoming congregation in Washington, DC, and I wanted to ask what you would advise those of us who want Christianity to move forward to do in the way of guidance, materials and messages for teenagers. You recently gave your approval to a Sunday school curriculum, but I believe that is for younger children.
Based on my personal experience and observations, it is the teenage years where children, who have been brought up in a traditional or even moderately liberal “mainstream” church, drop out of organized religion and likely never return, becoming Christians in exile if even that. At the teenage years, if not before, young people often doubt the creeds and tenets they may have found interesting and comforting in their childhood, but which no longer speak to them as they mature. Also the Christian liturgies, while compelling in their own way, are quite formal and can be off-putting to young people.
We currently have a young woman priest, Cara Spaccarelli, who has brought new life to our parish and who is doing wonders to bring in families with young children (she has a four-year-old and a two-year-old herself and so can really relate to these families), but my concern is what may happen to all of these beautiful, loving children as they grow older in regard to their attachment to that church. I am also interested in seeing my parish move toward a new Christianity along the lines that you outline in your books and for that to happen, it is critical that young people stay, remain engaged and move the parish forward. Anything you can suggest about keeping teenagers active and engaged in a Christianity that can carry forward through their adult years would be very welcome.
23 February 2012: The Roman Catholic Bishops: Are They Killing Their Church?
I never thought I would live long enough to see birth control become a major political issue. Nor did I think I would ever hear the desire to provide women with safe and effective contraception be referred to as “a war on religion on the part of the Obama administration.” Granted that presidential election years …
I’m a gay man and family physician who has often quoted you and said, “Jack Spong is exactly where I am as a Christian.” My husband and I have met you personally and attend every opportunity we have to listen to your scholarly lectures.
I’m having some doubts after reading Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion.” At the same time I’m re-reading his 30th anniversary edition of “The Selfish Gene” Richard has almost convinced me that there is no God. I still think I see God and what is holy in many people, especially in you and in my relationship with the love of my life, Brian. I am a scientist after all, and Dawkins’ arguments make perfect sense to me. Yet we worship at our progressive UMC on Sundays and I’m constantly noting stupid stuff a scientist should reject out of hand. We enjoy the fellowship but I wonder why I am still going. Can you help me find my way? I look forward to your next several essays on “thinking differently and accepting uncertainty.”
16 February 2012: “Think Different – Accept Uncertainty” Part IV: Expanding the Bankruptcy of Theism
Before proceeding with this series, I want to return to my theme of last week and examine the concept of theism more closely. In so doing, I run the risk of repetition, but so crucial is this idea in the development of this series that I am willing to do that in order to make …
I have been reading your weekly newsletters with great interest; thank you for articulating faith for the 21st century so clearly. I have to admit, though, that I’m somewhat perplexed about your series on “The Meaning of the Resurrection.” I understand that you seek to place Peter at the center of a “resurrection awareness” that took some 6-12 months after the crucifixion. You quote several references as well as Paul’s, “appeared to Cephas and the Twelve” as firm support. What I am wondering is – since the gospels are subversive to predominant culture, why downplay all four gospels’ claims that Mary Magdalene, either alone or together with other women, was the first at an empty grave and became messenger of the news that opened the door to a resurrection awareness for herself and others? Yes, I understand that in Jewish Culture, women’s testimony couldn’t be trusted unless affirmed by a man, but so many stories in the gospels undermine predominant culture especially as it pertains to gender roles that I always thought was God’s last and best joke to give the message of the empty grave to women. So where is Mary Magdalene, or any of the other women, in this resurrection awareness? As an aside, you should know that, 25 years ago when I was in seminary in Austin, your brother was one of my most influential teachers. I remember him fondly. I’m glad you continue to clarify and articulate faith for this time and age. Thank you for your ministry.
9 February 2012: ”Think Different – Accept Uncertainty” Part III: A Call to Re-Image God and All Religious Symbols
Defining the human experience that we call God is not just a modern activity, human beings have engaged in this task since the dawn of civilization. The factor driving the change in the human definition of God was never a new revelation from on high; it was always a dramatic shift in human life usually …
Thank you for reclaiming the Bible! I have also read your reflections on miracles and healing. I and many others, especially in the Episcopal Church, are very involved in healing ministry. I think you say that we are not praying over people for a divine intervention. I am beginning to think that the positive release of cosmic energy—the Cosmic Christ—is what accounts for any healing which does occur. Often when people pray over me, I feel a release of heat, energy, etc. coming from the person praying over me. Can you help me understand healing ministry?
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