Log in | Sign up | Contact us | Cancel my account | Get help

Essay Archives View as a list

16 July 2009: The Origins of the Bible, Part XXVII: The Liturgical Books of Lamentations and Esther

One of the things that seems to escape the notice of those who believe that the Bible was somehow dictated by God is that the Bible is first and foremost a liturgical book. That is, the Bible was written to be used on occasions of public worship. It was never intended to be read as …

Read More…

Q & A:

Tad Evans, a retired Episcopal priest and the grandson of the well known and well remembered Walter Russell Bowie, sent the following verse that he attributes without certainty to English Bible scholar Michael Donald Goulder. One of my columns on "The Shady Ladies" of Matthew's genealogy inspired Tad to pass this along. I thought it too much fun to keep it to myself and so I run it today in place of the "Question and Answer" feature.

I hope you both enjoy it and that it sends you back to your Bibles to read Matthew 1:1-17 on which it is based and to check out his references to the Hebrew Scriptures.

– John Shelby Spong

Read the Answer...

8 July 2009: The Origins of the Bible, Part XXVI: The Wisdom Literature

Four books of the Old Testament are generally regarded as being the constituent parts of what has been called “Wisdom Literature.” They are Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. We have treated the book of Job earlier in this series (see Origins of the Bible XXIII) and will not repeat that. Job is …

Read More…

Q & A:

When I pray any kind of prayer, there is an energy created within me that I believe in some way adds to a sacred energy in the world. I'm not sure how far it gets, or whether it does any good other than add to the positive energy in the universe. If I'm made of "stardust" then maybe there is an energy connection with others, perhaps through our "ground of being." I know that praying, saying formal prayers, taking the various liturgical prayers, prayerful reading of scripture, meditation and the like, are energizing for me and I hope the energy goes somewhere. I'm happy with the energy.

Read the Answer...

2 July 2009: A Vision of the Rebirth of Christianity Occurring in Sweden

It was the kind of initiative that one might hope to see coming out of Rome, Canterbury, Constantinople or even from one of the multiple centers of Evangelical Protestantism. The invitation was to speak to a conference designed to bring together critical thinking Christians who were eager to find a way to “sing the Lord’s …

Read More…

Q & A:

I have just read your answer to John Baker, who wanted to know where he can go to connect with a "Spong pastor." I, too, wonder if you could point me to someone here in Australia. I have read a number of your books, including Jesus for the Non-Religious and Why Christianity Must Change or Die. I have a list of others I still want to read. I am currently reading J. A. T. Robinson's Honest to God as a result of reading your autobiography. I talk about them all the time. I find it sad that I have to censor myself sometimes so as not to offend certain people with my new progressive ideas. Your books have awakened something in me and answered many questions I have long pondered. It amazes me how intelligent and educated people can be so medieval in their thinking when it comes to God, Jesus and the Bible. As a Christian I have believed we must challenge and expand our minds. There is so much to learn. It's funny how Christians claim we are so different because God gave us "free will" but condemn and judge anyone who dares to use it. The first book of yours that I read was Why Christianity Must Change or Die. After I read it I felt a real change in my spiritual growth. For a while I was very confused, hence I had to continue my journey, a journey I have really just begun. By reading your book I forced myself out of a comfortable place where all my questions had answers through the "inspired word of God," being touched by the Holy Spirit and "Faith." God and Jesus are more real and alive to me than ever before. Anyway, back to my original question — who can I contact to connect with as a Progressive Christian in or near Port Macquairie, NSW, Australia?

Read the Answer...

24 June 2009: Wales: Where Visions of a Christian Future Are Being Born

The land of Wales is a beautiful, intriguing and mysterious part of the world. Most Americans would be hard put to answer the question as to which four nations form the United Kingdom. Yet Wales, a land of some four million people, is one of them. The Welsh people are proud and fiercely independent, most …

Read More…

Q & A:

Riding my faithful donkey around La Mesa, I was struck (tense used for theological purposes only) with the similarity between you and Dorothy Sayers. She said much of what you say. There is a 40 to 60 year difference in time. You both say the same word and in many cases the same interpretation. She always claimed orthodoxy and argued it well. Her "Image of God" and "The Other Six Deadly Sins" are as compelling today as they were then. Thank you for carrying the torch — 'tis a pity that few know how far the fire extends.

Read the Answer...

17 June 2009: Among My Souvenirs: A Walk Down Memory Lane

One of the privileges of growing older is the opportunity to return to places and to revisit relationships that were once vital parts of one’s life. That is why “reunions,” that strange activity in which we pretend that the clock can be turned back and that yesterday can be relived, has continuing appeal. We all …

Read More…

Q & A:

I recently attended your three lectures in Austin, Texas. You are an important person in my growth. I was raised as a fundamentalist, and you allowed me to begin and continue my journey. You mentioned prayer, and defined the prayers of most as "adult letters to Santa Claus." I must admit that it is an excellent definition. My question is this: What does prayer look like you to today?  Thank you for continuing to educate.

Read the Answer...

11 June 2009: On Losing a Friend of 57 Years

About a year ago a former classmate and friend for many years asked me if I would be willing to speak at his funeral service. This friend, Allan Zacher, was always one who planned well in advance, leaving no details to chance or, as we said, “to the Holy Spirit.” I told him that I …

Read More…

Q & A:

I am indebted to you for your brilliant scholarship and the light you have shined on my personal path of faith.

In your recent article, Israel: A Secular State Erected on a Religious Base, you stated that Poland was guilty of "active involvement in the Holocaust." That statement, with no further explanation or comment, is untrue and inflammatory. Unlike France, Norway, Greece, Hungary, Croatia, Belgium and many other countries, there was no official collaboration with the Nazis in Poland; the number of Poles who cooperated with the Nazis is estimated at several thousand in a population of 35 million. Poland has been referred to as a "Land without a Quisling." How can you refer to that as "active involvement?" France, on the other hand, was actively involved in the arrests, murders and deportation of Jews — why not highlight the French at the top of your list?

The brutal Nazi occupation of Poland, along with the equally brutal Soviet onslaught, subjected the Poles — both Christians and Jews — to unimaginable horrors, the likes of which were not seen in the occupations of, for example, France, Norway and Denmark. Three million Polish Jews were murdered in the Holocaust; nearly as many Polish Christians were murdered as well. Hans Frank, the German Governor-General of Poland during the war, once observed a sign in Prague commemorating there the murder of seven Czechs. Frank observed that if signs were posted in Poland at every spot where seven Poles had been murdered, there would not be enough trees in Poland to produce the necessary paper.

No one denies the existence of anti-Semitism in pre- or post-war Poland. Jews were betrayed to the Nazis by some Poles; Christian Poles also lost their lives to fellow Christians who betrayed them. But thousands of Polish Christians, some of whom were undoubtedly anti-Semitic, risked their lives and the lives of their families to save Jews from the Nazis. The Nazis enjoyed hanging Polish children in front of their parents who assisted Jews, yet so many Poles took the risk anyway. At Yad Vashim, more Poles are honored than any other peoples.

During the war in Poland, everyone was victimized. The Nazis were cruel to the Poles and even more cruel to the Jews. But now, in retrospect, why is it that the victimized Poles are blamed? Who will remember the Polish victims of the Holocaust? Why is it that simply taking note that there were other Holocaust victims is interpreted as anti-Semitism? And why, for heaven's sake, is Poland singled out as "actively involved" in collaborating when the exact opposite is true? Even the Israeli War Crimes Commission acknowledged there was virtually no collaboration in Poland.

It's time to stand up for the people of Poland, flawed as they are. It is deeply unjust to continue to pin an "anti-Semitic" crown on a nation that gave refuge to the vast majority of European Jews, a nation that was brutalized time and again, a nation that was betrayed by its European "allies," and a nation that was sold into Soviet slavery. Anti-Semitism is not a Polish invention, nor a Polish peculiarity. It is an evil that was nurtured by Christianity, and as Christians we all need to stand up against it.

If the time ever comes that we Americans have to face brutal occupation, murder and unbridled savagery, who among us will be willing to place a noose around our children's necks to save someone else? And if we do not, who will sit in judgment of our actions and how will we be condemned?

Read the Answer...

4 June 2009: Masada, the Jewish-Roman War of 66-73, and the Writing of the Gospels

The most impressive memory I have from my last trip to Israel is not of a religious site at all but of a military site, one that played an enormous role in Israel’s history. I refer to our visit to the desert fortress of Masada where, according to Josephus Flavius, a first-century Jewish historian, the …

Read More…

Q & A:

Your vision of a reformed Christianity is easy for me to embrace. However, I am concerned that this vision is not compatible with "The Church Catholic." Do you believe the dream of a unified church is a necessary casualty of the Reformed Church?

Read the Answer...

28 May 2009: Galilee: The True Origins of the Jesus Story

I spent several days recently in the region of Israel called Galilee. Contrary to what most people might expect I found my time in Galilee to be far more authentic than my time in Jerusalem. I actually wondered why, for it seemed counterintuitive. Seeking an answer to this question, I plunged into a brief study …

Read More…

Q & A:

Was Jesus also God? Or was he just a wonderful, inspired man more in touch with spiritual things than most other men?

Read the Answer...

21 May 2009: Being Interviewed in Bethlehem on the Birth Narratives of Jesus

On Tuesday of Easter Week, my wife and I made our way to Bethlehem, a journey that carried us across the checkpoint and into the West Bank. That transition did not prove to be a major problem. The Israeli government is not too strict about who goes from Israel to the West Bank, but when …

Read More…

Q & A:

In an interview with Beliefnet, Hans Kung said that the Vatican knew for decades about sexually abusive priests and the Bishops' mishandling of them. In you opinion, why did they allow the situation to continue for so long?

Read the Answer...

14 May 2009: Jerusalem: Where Scholarship Ends and the Tourist Trade Begins

It is not easy to be a biblical scholar when visiting the Holy Land. I spent Easter Monday of this year in the city of Jerusalem walking the Via Dolorosa, the way of the cross. My guide was a religiously oriented, delightful Jewish man who was, as he said, the child of radical Zionists who …

Read More…

Q & A:

I have read much of your work and met you once at Stetson University in Deland, Florida, at a pastor's conference. It was the same venue where I also met Marcus Borg. I am a retired civil trial lawyer and a late-life seminary graduate, now an ordained Disciples of Christ minister, although before seminary I was a lifelong Presbyterian (USA) from the same time frame and section of North Carolina as you. My question, which gives me a great deal of trouble, is: What is your basic understanding of petitionary prayer? I believe you have said, "A God who would save the life of one prayed-for cancer-stricken child and not another would be a monster." This makes sense but gives me a great deal of trouble in considering petitionary prayer. (I have read Honest Prayer – I find no answer to this problem there).

Read the Answer...

In Need of a Good Word?

We encourage you to show your support for positive and progressive Christian views by becoming a part of Bishop Spong's growing online community. You'll receive a new column each week on topics in social justice and spirituality that matter most.

Join the Movement

Free Q&A Email

Sign up for Bishop Spong's FREE weekly Q&A email.

Browse by Date

Browse our monthly archives:

Connect on Facebook