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25 February 2010: The Origins of the New Testament, Part XVI: The Elder Paul — Philemon and Philippians

The process of aging works wonders on the human spirit. Battles once so emotional that they seemed to pit life against death lose their rancor in time, and the differences that once divided people so deeply lose their potency. Age brings both mellowing and perspective. That was surely true of Paul. In this series I …

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Q & A:

Hilda Flint from the U.K. writes:

Would not the apparently regular meetings of the followers of the Way have held the major part of the oral tradition? It seems from the first chapters of Acts that they were certainly not in the synagogue (e.g. Acts 5:13), even if the gospel writers were anxious enough to keep the Jewish tradition firmly under girding the Jesus stories.

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18 February 2010: “Let Them Eat Cake!”

These words, probably apocryphal, are attributed to Marie Antoinette, the wife of Louis XVI of France. They were said to have been spoken during the early days of the passion and upheaval that would later be called “The French Revolution.” Although most historians today do not think these words are authentic, they do express the …

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Q & A:

George James, from George Street United Church in Peterborough, Ontario, writes:

I really feel the Church should stop referring to church services as "worship services." Could we not more meaningfully call them "celebration services?" Marcus Borg, when in Peterborough recently, played the part of God in a very humorous way and mimicked him as only Borg could do with his Swedish wit: "Oh that feels so good to be worshiped that way, as just last week some others attempted worship and it was not very good and I felt terrible — please keep it up as I need you to be on your knees before me, etc., etc., etc." If we agree worship is usually meant for idols, why do we keep using it in the mainline churches? To me the life of Jesus and through him, God, the ground of all Being, should be celebrated every day. It changes the whole focus, in my humble opinion.

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11 February 2010: The Origins of the New Testament, Part XV: Who Is Christ for Paul? The Gospel in Romans

It was Paul’s experience-based conviction that somehow and in some way everything that he meant by the word “God” had been met and was present in the life of the one he called Christ Jesus. “God was in Christ” was the way he referred to it rather ecstatically in one of his earlier epistles. Of …

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Q & A:

Barry Street from Brantford, Ontario, writes:

Would it not have been difficult for the gospel writers to discuss Christ in the synagogue, or had Jewish animosity towards him subsided by then?

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4 February 2010: The Origins of the New Testament, Part XIV: What Does Salvation Mean to Paul?

Paul was a person who discovered in his Christ experience new dimension of life unknown to him before. In that sense he was a classic mystic. Every human experience, however, in order to be shared must pass through the medium of words. There is no other means of communicating content to another. In that process …

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Q & A:

Twila Compton from Charlotte, North Carolina, writes:

The question I have is about prayer. For so many years I have begun my prayers with "have mercy on me, O gracious God." Having been well taught to be guilty and unworthy, it is hard to come up with a positive prayer. At times I feel like my religious beliefs are like a bowl of scrambled eggs and I keep trying to unscramble them.

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28 January 2010: The Origins of the New Testament, Part XIII: The Theology of Paul as Revealed in Romans

Paul of Tarsus was a first century man. He thought in categories consistent with the world view of his time. He believed that he lived in a three-tiered universe over which God reigned from a heavenly throne just above the sky. Paul had never heard of a weather front, a germ or a virus. He …

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Q & A:

Sara Taylor from London, England, asks:

You say that all societies have or have had a word or concept meaning God. Is this true of Buddhism? I know that Buddhas have been deeply revered, but not that they were equated with God. So my question is, does Buddhism really necessitate a belief in or a word for God?

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21 January 2010: Uganda, Homophobia and the Incompetence of Certain Christian Leaders

Does the Ku Klux Klan have the right to parade through a black community, hurling racist insults at the people of the neighborhood and raising racist fervor throughout the land because their right to free speech is guaranteed by the constitution? Does a neo-Nazi group have the right to demonstrate in a Jewish community, shouting …

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Q & A:

Mark Dickinson from Ottawa, Ontario, writes:

I have just finished reading Eternal Life: A New Vision. Thank you for writing this wonderful book, and thank you for sharing your vision of life eternal fulfilled. I embrace your vision with enthusiasm and I share in your celebration of our spiritual life.

In the early chapters of the book, you spend some time describing your journey, as a child and as a youth, within the boundaries and constraints and limitations of a conservative Protestant tradition. I can identify with many of your memories, and I can recall (20 years ago or so) sharing many of the "fundamentalist" beliefs and ideologies with young Sunday School students that I taught for 10 years within a Lutheran church outside of Ottawa. The stories of Genesis and Exodus and the narratives of the gospels rolled easily into the empty, hungry minds of the children and, in the spirit of most stories (and especially folklore), left these children excited and intrigued. But now, looking both backwards to where I started and from what I see today, communication or rather education of our young people becomes a little more complex and challenging.

If many (or rather, most) adults have difficulty jettisoning the literal interpretations of the Bible, how do we pursue the important task of presenting allegorical, symbolic stories abut the history of God's journey with humanity in a format and language that our young children can absorb and understand? Consider the following analogy: If we don't learn how to ride a bike before we can balance ourselves on two legs (and hopefully walk a few meters), should we not then continue to educate our very young with the images and stories that capture their imaginations and speak to their intellect (at that age)? Possibly, the problem with our Christian education process is that we never leave "the uncomplicated pictures" that we experience in the early grades of learning and that rather than maturing and growing in our divine-human journey, we remain closed in an understanding that we should have outgrown a long time ago. In other words, is the problem equally as much how we teach, (i.e. training adults not to remain in a child's thinking) as what we teach?

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14 January 2010: The Origins of the New Testament, Part XII: Romans — Paul’s Most Thorough Epistle

If there is one book in the New Testament that might be called “The Gospel of Paul,” it is the Epistle to the Romans. This letter is different from all of Paul’s other work in several ways. First, Paul had never been to Rome and so he had no relationship whatsoever with the Roman church. …

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Q & A:

Sally and Jon from Washington, D.C., write:

Would you comment on the recently passed law in Ireland on blasphemy?

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7 January 2010: Thoughts on the Passing of 2009

It was an incredible year, that weary old 2009. It dawned with the high expectations surrounding the new president-elect. We reveled in the pomp and circumstance of his inauguration. The world greeted this new president with an enthusiasm that had not been seen since the election of John F. Kennedy. In the Obama election, the …

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Q & A:

Sally and Jon from Washington, D.C., write:

Proposed health-care reform legislation included a provision that allows Medicare to pay for "end-of-life" counseling for seniors and their families who request it. The provision, which Sarah Palin erroneously described as "death panels" for seniors, nearly derailed President Obama's health-care initiative. Some Republicans still argue that the provision would ration health care for the elderly. Does end-of-life care prolong life or does it prolong suffering? Should it be part of health-care reform?

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31 December 2009: The Origins of the New Testament, Part XI: Resurrection as Paul Understood It

It is quite easy to see how one could read Paul, especially those epistles known as I Thessalonians and Galatians, and come away believing that Paul saw the resurrection of Jesus as a literal miracle in which a deceased body, quite physically, was restored and walked out of a tomb alive and once more was …

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Q & A:

Jann G. Gilley from Charlotte, North Carolina, asks:

You said in a recent lecture at Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte that you believe you love people into being loveable. What about sociopaths?

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24 December 2009: The Origins of the New Testament, Part X: Resurrection According to Paul — I Corinthians

The first written account that we have of the Easter event in the Bible — Paul addressing the congregation in Corinth around the year 54-55 — gives us material that is both scanty and provocative. In order to understand his meaning fully, we need to cleanse our minds of the traditional Easter content found in …

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Q & A:

Charles Brittain from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, writes:

I am a progressive Christian, one who follows your scholarship and that of my pastor. In fact, you have visited our church and I have heard you speak in person. It was a wonderful experience for me. The problem I'm having at this present holiday season is that the scholarship and the traditional Christmas music and the visuals are not in agreement with each other. I feel that I abandon my intellectual knowledge when I participate in the traditional forms of Christmas liturgy and imagery. Can you suggest how that I may enjoy both the scholarship and the traditions of Christmas without feeling conflicted?

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