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21 April 2011: Examining the Story of the Cross, Part VII: What Judas Iscariot Meant in the Eighth Ninth & Tenth Decades of Christian Development

Last week we began a biblical analysis of Judas Iscariot.  First, we noted that Paul, who wrote and died before any gospel had been written, was totally unaware of the tradition that one of the “twelve” played the role of the traitor.  Not only is there no mention of this when Paul wrote the account …

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Q & A:

I am a Methodist fan of yours in Fort Worth, Texas. I first became acquainted with your work in my Sunday School class about three years ago. I was astounded and relieved to find that someone else, a retired bishop no less, shared my doubts about the literal, supernatural claims of the Bible, and even further that this person could claim to be a Christian.

I read your book Why Christianity Must Change or Die and thoroughly enjoyed it. My wife is currently reading another of your books A New Christianity for a New World. On page 15 of this book, you describe an encounter with “an iconoclastic journalist who identified himself as an Atheist.” You and he were both panel members on a television program in London and he was well prepared to combat the old fashioned Christian God, but not the new line of Christianity you advocate. This sure sounds like Christopher Hitchens. Is it in fact? Could you provide some more information about the television program?

I have read your comments that of course the angry vengeful God that Hitchens writes about is not great. I rather like these debates between Hitchens and Christian apologists but unfortunately the ones I’ve seen cling to the old Theistic God that Hitchens so eagerly argues against. I would love to learn more about your encounter with him (or whoever this person may be) since you argue so strongly for a God so different from that old vengeful one.

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14 April 2011: Examining the Story of the Cross, Part VI: The Enigma Called Judas

The anti-hero of the Christian story in general and of the crucifixion story in particular is one who is known as Judas Iscariot. Scorn and ridicule have been heaped on this figure over the centuries of Christian history. Much anti-Semitism has flowed from the depiction of this character. No one anywhere names his or her …

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Q & A:

We met at Stetson University in Florida several years ago. I am the Pastor of Colby Memorial Temple in Cassadaga, Florida, a Spiritualist Center. I am currently reading your book Eternal Life: A New Vision –Beyond Religion – Beyond Theism – Beyond Heaven and Hell. Are you familiar with the Spiritualist ideas on death? If so, how do you respond to those ideas in relation to your Christian thinking, even though you obviously think outside the box? Would very much like to hear from you. I do use your material on Easter when teaching the Easter experience to my congregation.

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7 April 2011: Examining the Story of the Cross, Part V: Barabbas – Another Interpretive Figure

In Mark’s original story of the Passion of Jesus, he introduces for the first time in any written Christian record the figure of Barabbas.  In this story we are told two things:  First, it was a Roman custom to release a prisoner at the feast of the Passover, one whose freedom the people desired.  Second, …

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Q & A:

We appreciate that you don’t want to throw out the Bible, but rather to “rescue it” and focus on its message of love. Do you think there will ever be a day when the Bible will include not only the Old Testament and the New Testament, but also the “Newest Testament” that might reflect modern Christian thought?

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30 March 2011: My Friend: Richard Lester Shimpfky 1940-2011

Recently, I preached at the funeral of one who had been a close friend for more than 40 years.  His name was Richard Shimpfky.  Let me tell you something of his story. I first met Richard when he was a senior at the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, where he was described by Clifford Stanley, …

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Q & A:

You have spoken frequently about talking to our clergy about their role in equipping us lay people for our ministries. I am a lesbian, feminist Episcopalian in a diocese whose bishop has an unspoken “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays. Given this atmosphere of fear and schism in our church, how can I help my bishop come to Jesus or should I just try harder to be a Unitarian or move to New Jersey?

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24 March 2011: Examining the Meaning of the Cross, Part IV: The Symbols of the Hebrew Scriptures in the Crucifixion

The first narrative account of Jesus’ crucifixion in the Bible is found in the gospel of Mark written some 40-43 years, or approximately two generations, after the events it purports to describe.  You may read it in Mark 14:17-15:47.  It does not claim to be an eye witness account.  Indeed it draws most of its …

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Q & A:

A common poem found in the Announcements/Obituary section of most (if not all) newspapers is titled “The Plan of the Master Weaver.” I’m sure you have seen this poem many times, it begins. “Our lives are but fine weavings that God and we prepare. Each life becomes a fabric planned and fashioned in His care. Sometime a strand of sorrow is added to His plan and though it’s difficult for us, we still must understand. That it’s He who fills the shuttle, it’s He who knows what’s best. So we must weave in patience and leave Him to the rest. The dark threads are as needed in the Weaver’s skillful hand as the threads of gold and silver in the pattern He has planned.” I personally find this brings more discomfort than comfort. It was written, I’m sure, with good intentions but a person has to ask: does it really bring a grieving family any comfort to know (for example) that their child was killed as part of God’s plan? I have to believe that someone (somewhere) has put together some better words of comfort. Something that does not throw us all together into a basket of weaves within the Master Weaver’s plan. What message or words would you suggest to help bring healing and comfort to those who have lost a very dear friend, a colleague, an acquaintance or a family member?

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17 March 2011: Examining the Story of the Cross, Part III: There Never Were “Seven Last Words” From the Cross

One of the most dramatic services of Holy Week for me has always been the Good Friday “Three Hour Service.”  It was designed to enable Christian worshipers in some dramatic way to watch by the cross as their Lord died.  The traditional content of that three-hour service traditionally consisted of sermons or meditations on what …

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Q & A:

When you realize that 10% of the population of the USA owns 87% of the wealth in your country and that this figure has been growing during the past 60 years, you may need to add wealthism (the belief that disparity of income and wealth is OK) to your list of unacceptable prejudices. Do you know how little the bottom of the USA population owns? Perhaps you could find out. That may convince you that capitalism as practiced is not working. How can this be allowed to continue in a country which still regards itself as nominally Christian?

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9 March 2011: Examining the Story of the Cross, Part II: Did the Crucifixion of Jesus Occur at Passover?

It is a common assumption that the crucifixion of Jesus took place in the context of the Jewish observance of Passover.  That is certainly the point of view developed in each of the four gospels.  Mark portrays the journey of Jesus and his followers to Jerusalem, which eventuated in the crucifixion, to have been for …

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Q & A:

I grew up in a small town north of Charlotte, NC. I now live in the Charlotte area. My parents went to the Baptist Church about three times a week. My father was the head deacon….Well, you get the picture. I have read several of your books because I have been “in exile” for years, but I still have strong moments of fear and guilt. I can not find a church in this area where I feel at ease. I feel that I should be raising my children in the church but they really don’t want to go. I was raised to believe that if you accepted Jesus in your heart that you would be saved. I struggle with this daily and I feel extremely alone with my thoughts. What should I do?

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3 March 2011: Examining the Story of the Cross, Part I: Analyzing the Details of the Crucifixion

In a few weeks the Christian world will enter the season of Lent that culminates with Holy Week and the liturgical reading of the Passion narrative of Jesus’ crucifixion.  The story of the cross is clearly the focal point of the New Testament with the last week of Jesus’ life taking up about a third …

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Q & A:

I am a Reader in the Anglican Church, but have been unable to believe in a God “up there” or indeed a personal God for some years. I have tried to understand Tillich’s idea of God not being a “Being,” but “Being itself” and the concept of the “Ground of all Being” without that much success I should say. More recently I have read Borg’s “The God we never knew” and the concept of “Panentheism” both transcendent and imminent. I have also read all of your own books which have brought me often out of the slough of despond, but sometimes I am still feeling very alone in my particular churchmanship to which I still wish to contribute. The question is: If I do not believe in a theistic God, does that now make me an Atheist or an a-theist, at least in comparison to the modern atheists like Richard Dawkins et al? I hope not, as I still wish to serve God, whoever or whatever that means through ministry to other people and have no wish to leave the church, but I must be true to myself and to other people.

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24 February 2011: Should this Column Deal with Political Issues?

I value the letters I receive from my readers.  They often offer me new perspectives, bringing to my attention new facts that contribute significantly to my understanding or challenge my conclusions.  Frequently these letters express appreciation for insights that I have been able to give them.  The most appreciative letters come from two major sources: …

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Q & A:

I am interested in hearing your reflections on the proposed Anglican Communion covenant. I have read it through once and have not totally digested its meanings. My overall view is that it seems like a lot of rules to keep unruly Anglicans/Christians/ Episcopalians in line. The simple covenant would seem to be yours: Live life fully, love wastefully and be all that you can be. Help me here. I look forward to hearing your comments.

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17 February 2011: Why I Value Valentine’s Day and How I Lost my Hat on Broadway

On February 14, I took my wife to the Valentine concert at the Avery Fisher Hall in New York City. This concert featured the New York Philharmonic Orchestra under the gifted direction of Harvard graduate Alan Gilbert in a presentation of some of the works of Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Lehar, Falla, Lara and Leonard Bernstein. …

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Q & A:

I am retired, 79 years old, and am an active member of my local United Methodist Church in Springfield, Oregon. I regret that I could not attend your seminars held in Eugene, Oregon, because I have read most of your books and thoroughly enjoy hearing your lectures.

Recently I read the book, Godly Play, by Jerome W. Berryman. He has an interesting approach to Christian Education for children, but what struck me was his discussion about the basic questions of existence. Those questions each person must face alone. He lists these four: death, the threat of freedom, unavoidable aloneness and the need for meaning. I think I can make a case for Christianity providing answers to these questions, but I would like to learn about your answers (although I realize that full answers would take a book to cover the topic fully).

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