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27 March 2014: Part XVII Matthew – The Story of Jesus from Shavuot to Rosh Hashanah

After a three-week hiatus to consider some pressing theological questions and political issues we return this week to our story of Matthew’s gospel. It was indeed a good place to break away momentarily from Matthew’s text because in the Sermon on the Mount he had reached his first climax and would begin now to introduce …

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Q & A:

First of all, I want to thank you for all you do. A few years ago, I was introduced to you through the writings of Phillip Gulley. The first of your books that I read was Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Virgin Birth and The Place of Women in a Male Dominated Church. I remember thinking maybe I shouldn't be reading this! I had never read anything before that made me question what I’d been taught my whole life in church and I was very uncomfortable with it. I felt like I was made privy to some secret information that I had no business knowing.

Thankfully I did finish the book and went on to read your autobiography Here I Stand: My Struggle for a Christianity of Integrity, Love and Equality. Shortly after that, I came to hear you speak at Lake Junaluska, the Methodist Center in Western North Carolina, with my daughter, a friend of mine and her daughter. I remember that weekend so well - it was a true turning point of my beliefs and my Christian life. I felt like my eyes had been opened and I had heard the truth. I knew that I would never be the same. I have traveled to hear you speak since then to Bloomington, Indiana; Atlanta, Georgia, and Chattanooga, Tennessee (on my birthday), where we were able to talk to your wife during the lunch break. What a delightful woman.

I’m a very active member of the United Methodist Church and have tried since that time to share my newfound knowledge with my congregation, but without much success. The recently publicized punishment of a long time UMC pastor in Pennsylvania for officiating at the marriage of his gay son has bothered me very much and just today, I resigned from my church as choir director. This was a very hard decision for me because I’ve been a very active member of this church for the past 28 years, but I can no longer be part of an organization that willingly minimizes the value of another human being’s life by refusing them the right to marry.

Having said all that, here are my questions: Where were all of these New Testament books of the Bible kept in the years following Jesus’ life? How was their existence communicated? You talk about different authors knowing about other wirings. How would they have known? I’m imagining a world where communication with other cities was minimal and travel was slow. I don’t remember reading anything that you’ve written about this but, if you have, please refer me to the essay or book.

Thank you again Bishop Spong. You are such an inspiration to me.

 

 

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20 March 2014: Thoughts While Listening to America’s Health Care Debate

We had one of our closest personal friends to dinner recently. He is a stock analyst, a very successful and wealthy man with a passion for understanding the economy. In the course of the evening’s conversation, he listed among the threats to America’s economic prosperity the costs that will be associated with the “Patient Protection …

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Q & A:

I am a Lay Eucharistic Minister in the Episcopal Church. When I read one of the lessons from scripture, I am instructed to say at the end of the reading: "This is the Word of the Lord." My preference actually would be to say: "Here ends the Reading" or “Here ends the Lesson." Any thoughts you have on this subject would be most appreciated.

 

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13 March 2014: Is the Jesus Story a Myth? Did a Man Named Jesus Ever Live?

Recently in my parish church, St. Peter’s in Morristown, New Jersey, I completed a seven week-lecture series on Matthew’s version of Jesus’ birth. In those lectures I pointed to the elements that demonstrate conclusively to me that Matthew did not intend for this story to be read literally. This was not biology, biography or history. …

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Q & A:

“How do you stay healthy and do you think your study is related to your health?”

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6 March 2014: Part XVI Matthew – Did Jesus Teach Us to Pray the Lord’s Prayer?

If it is true, as I have suggested, that Jesus never preached the Sermon on the Mount then we immediately have to face other startling implications. That conclusion would raise questions about the authenticity of “The Lord’s Prayer,” which is first introduced into the developing Christian tradition in Matthew as part of the Sermon on …

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Q & A:

I've recently been reading Why Christianity Must Change or Die and listening to some interviews with you online. I wonder if you would be willing to help me with a rather burning question. Let me first give you a little contextual information if I may.

I'm from South Carolina, a small town called Landrum, which is very close to where you came of age, so I know that you are familiar with the religious background that is prevalent in the area. I've even heard you speak on it. I grew up in a Southern Baptist family, attending church three times a week throughout my childhood and youth. I moved to New York about nine years ago and have since been pursuing a career as an artist. I love the tradition that I came from and celebrate it in my work and life, but I have some serious troubles with parts of it and they have recently become amplified, hence my search into your work and the work of others.

I became a born-again Christian pretty early, at age nine I think, and at first I have to admit that I just thought it was a good thing to do. As I learned more about what all of this meant, I had trouble with the idea that my religion was the only right one and that a lot of other people who did not agree with my religion were, therefore, going to burn in hell. I decided to trust my parents on this one. After all, they did pretty well by me in most other regards. Hell was a very strong part of the doctrine of my church-you know fire and brimstone as preached about in the Bible belt. I have always struggled with the idea that any one religion could be the only correct one and that we, as Christians, might be lucky enough to be in the right and the all others were simply wrong.

In my studies and my thinking over the years, I have come to think that a broader view of the world is necessary and have even logically arrived at some places that have nothing at all to do with good and evil. It seemed to me that God must be bigger than the understanding that was hammered into me as a child. So I was torn between what I thought, what made sense to me and what I was taught. I have largely avoided serious religious thinking for most of the past decade, but because of the death of a friend of mine back in November it has come back to the fore. Whatever got the ball rolling, I found myself obsessing about it. There was actually one event that really set it off though.

I was driving with my fiancée, now my wife, down to the Carolinas to visit for Christmas. I was describing to her that I didn’t think that I believed in the Christian tradition that I was once taught. I was thinking of myself as one who leaves the faith, but with no animosity. I explained to her that I thought my anxieties were the result of seeking to leave a culture of hysteria. Still, I was struggling with the idea of hell. She asked me what I thought hell was, how I would describe it (she doesn’t believe in hell by the way). I went into a full-on panic attack for the first time. It was accompanied by a disembodied sensation and difficulty in concentrating. I was just trying to re-center myself when we stopped for dinner and it lasted for hours.

For many months after this, I was obsessed with the topic. I’ve done a good bit of reading on it as I try to wrap my head around it. I’ve calmed down now, but the questions still nag. I’ve read some beautiful understanding Christianity and other systems of belief. Somehow I’m still very worried about hell. It’s as if it’s planted there.

I’ve heard you say that hell is an invention of the Christian Church, which continues to perpetuate it. I would very much like to believe that hell is not a reality, but a tool designed to control. I can’t really identify at what point in the early development of Christianity that hell was inserted into the dogma. I know that it wasn’t part of the Old Testament thinking (at least in an eternal suffering kind of way). What I’m asking is how can I be confident that hell is an invention of human beings and not of God? I know that concepts of hell abounded before Christianity so I guess I’m not asking who invented it as much as who inserted it into the dogma and when?

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27 February 2014: Part XV- Matthew: Understanding the Sermon on the Mount: Conclusion

Jesus never preached the Sermon on the Mount! That needs to be said again and again until it is embraced as a fact. The Sermon on the Mount was composed by the author of Matthew’s gospel in order to fill out his interpretive portrait of Jesus, not only as the messiah, but also as the …

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Q & A:

I consider myself to be a supportive follower of Progressive Christianity (PC), whose own spiritual beliefs closely parallel what is being espoused by leaders such as you in the movement to interpret the Bible in a way that is rational, scientific, contemporary, and not given to so much blind-sighted literalism. My exposure to PC includes having read all of your Question and Answer weeklies since you started them some years ago, frequently reading the contents of the Progressive Christianity.org web site and having started to read some of your welcomed books.

You have made reference to many church congregations today not being exposed by their seminary-educated pastors to current and recent (the past 100 years or more) biblical knowledge that is based on scholarly agreement or consensus. I have heard and read of you mentioning a child-like, Sunday school level of understanding of the Bible on the part of many adult churchgoers who often do not see underneath or beyond the literal word. To borrow a now somewhat dated set of words, I assert that you are “right on.”

I had a brother-in-law who was an ELCA seminary graduate and pastor and I know that seminaries could be placed on a continuum or range scale from conservative to liberal or some other defining set of words. It troubles me that certain conservative/fundamental/evangelical seminaries continue to promote belief and thinking going back to the third or fourth century CE. Does the problem of withholding more revealing scholarship to congregants lie primarily with the seminaries, the graduates of the seminaries, or both?

 

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20 February 2014: Part XIV Matthew – The Sermon on the Mount: Sinai Revisited

Matthew is portraying Jesus as the New Moses who went to the top of a new mountain to deliver a new interpretation of the Torah. He is not a reporter for a local newspaper covering an event that actually happened. Matthew is quite specific in his gospel that Jesus is not delivering a new Torah! …

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20 February 2014: Part XIV Matthew – The Sermon on the Mount: Sinai Revisited

Matthew is portraying Jesus as the New Moses who went to the top of a new mountain to deliver a new interpretation of the Torah. He is not a reporter for a local newspaper covering an event that actually happened. Matthew is quite specific in his gospel that Jesus is not delivering a new Torah! …

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Q & A:

Please excuse my English. It is Google’s machine translation. I just wanted to thank you for your book A New Christianity for a New World. It seemed great and I fully agree with you on everything. To know that one is not alone in the way of understanding the change that must occur in Christianity is very rewarding. To those I can I am talking about your book and believe me its message is spreading, as also your articles translated into Spanish. It would be interesting and almost necessary that your website becomes available for translation into Spanish. Is there a possibility of that?

 

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13 February 2014: A Life Fulfilled – EMB

It was a very unusual memorial service. It was not held in a church, a synagogue or a temple, but in the Avery Fisher Hall of the Lincoln Center in New York City. That vast and beautiful symphony space will seat 2783 people and except for the boxes in the top tier, it was filled. …

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Q & A:

God is defined as an Almighty being. An Almighty being does not require atonement (for “sins”). Therefore if God requires atonement as the Bible says, he is imperfect and not Almighty. Does this make sense? In other words, philosophically, the need for atonement indicates a lack of something, which detracts from the perfection which God should have. I would appreciate your thoughts.

 

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6 February 2014: Part XIII Matthew: “A Prophet like unto Moses” – Introducing the Sermon on the Mount

It should not be surprising that a Jewish scribe in the first century, which is what the author of the gospel we call Matthew was, would make constant references to Moses, the founder of the Jewish faith tradition. Moses dominated official Judaism and was in every way its creator and guide. The Torah by which …

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Q & A:

I have often wondered why Jesus was supposed to have never married. A celibate tradition was nowhere to be found in the Hebrew religion except with the Essenes. As I understand the Jewish laws and duties in the first century, a father’s responsibility was to secure a wife for his teenage son. Yet Joseph did not (apparently). Why didn’t he? There could be several answers. The most obvious is that there was no father around at the proper time. If this was the case, why did Jesus not find a wife for himself or at the very least ask his mother find one? We must remember that this period is over ten years before his ministry. The other possibilities were that he was not inclined to marry, or he was gay and left the family so as not to be pressured. Another was that he was known in his neighborhood as illegitimate, that is, a bastard, and no decent woman would have him. In which case if he had wanted to marry, he could have gone somewhere where he was not known to find a wife. The logic of this exercise is that Jesus did not want a woman in his life and preferred the company of men; this is until he met Mary of Magdala whom he clearly liked or loved.

 

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30 January 2014: Part XII Matthew: Matthew Introduces John the Baptist-The New Elijah

Matthew has thus far mined the Hebrew Scriptures for texts that will advance his thesis that Jesus has fulfilled the Jewish messianic expectations. In the opening genealogy, he has made Jesus “the son of Abraham,” the son and heir of King David and portrayed him as one who with his people survived the Babylonian exile. …

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Q & A:

Portland, Victoria, Australia, a small tourist town 400 kilometers west of Melbourne, has a branch of every denomination of tribal religion and one can imagine, one by one, they get to broadcast a Sunday sermon on the Sunday morning religious program which is encased in a jukebox of favorite hymns. Despite our multi-cultural country, a December sermon equated the Chaldeans to the Muslim community and stated they were all destined for hell. Babylon was described as still existing in southern Iraq and getting ready to overrun the earth. My knowledge of Habakkuk is restricted to the Chorus that comes from chapter 3, verse 17. I have not seen any comments from you about the Minor Prophets, in particular Habakkuk but I would like you to - if you run out of questions, all of which I enjoy reading. I am looking forward to a hymnal that uses the favorite tunes with some progressive lyrics. Good health and congratulations on the way your contributions are being elaborated on while you are still with us.

 

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