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24 December 2015: Charting the New Reformation, Part IV – Building the Case for the Death of Theism: The Copernican Revolution

The laws by which the world operates have not changed since the dawn of time, but the way human beings explain and understand those laws has changed dramatically over the centuries of human history. As a direct result of these changes, the primary way that we human beings have conceptualized God has gradually become discredited. …

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Q & A:

Instead of a single question from a reader this week, we run a series of comments from various readers regarding their responses to the new series “Charting a New Reformation” and specifically to the publication of the “Twelves Thesis.” We plan to repeat this process periodically throughout this series.

~The Editors

 

“I am intrigued by your continuing efforts to lead readers to re-think Christianity for better fitting the twenty-first century.”

~Barry Duell, Kawagor Japan

“Thank you for your wisdom. Count me in on your project. I like it a lot.”

~Colin Rowe, via the Internet

“Will this be threatening to some? Are you kidding? Why do you think so many Christians and church leaders are becoming more and more rigid, narrow-minded and even hostile? What is really happening in my own estimation is that God’s spirit is guiding the church through a painful, self-reflecting, purification process.”

~Dr. Steven McSwain, via the Internet

“Perhaps the finest, succinct, but thorough piece to date.”

~Brian J. Altra, Ph.D., Evansville, Indiana

“I have come to see Spong as an incredible bore. He has been beating the same drum for decades, saying the very same things over and over ad nauseum, as if he were some “voice crying in the wilderness,” fully equipped with a messiah complex.”

`Larry Gaissert, via the Internet

“You have given me the words that I needed just one day after my family had been torn apart by interpretations of the Bible. Two of my brothers and my youngest sister think I am going to hell. Please let me know how I can get started on this journey,”

~Dominick P. Varsalone ACRN, Western North Carolina

This past year has been a weird one for me, since my belief about the faith I hold dear has been changed because of you. I have been asked to leave my home because of my ‘harmful beliefs.’ As an eighteen year-old college student it is a terrifying, yet exhilarating change. But I do have to thank you. You encourage those with open minds to walk into the mystery, which is so profound to me.”

~Ezekiel Yu, via the Internet.

“Your willingness to propose a modern theology, which bears witness to the radical teachings of Jesus, but without shrouding him in the mystical clouds of what I think of as an ‘eternity dreamtime’ is a breath of fresh air. Thank you!”

~Geoffrey Williams, Bowral, New South Wales, Australia

“I am ready and excited to begin this journey with you. I cannot wait to read your columns when they arrive.”

~Richard Cooke, Deerfield Beach, Florida

“You summed it up so well when you wrote: “There is a need for the church to transform its holy words of yesterday into believable words of today.”

~Jillian Paters, Melbourne, Australia

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17 December 2015: Charting the New Reformation, Part III – The Twelve Theses

“Time makes ancient good uncouth.” The poet, James Russell Lowell, who wrote these words, understood the difference between an experience and the way that experience is explained. So important is this distinction for our later theological work that I want to press it onto the memories of my readers with two rather commonplace illustrations. First, …

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Q & A:

We met most recently in June 2015 in Windsor, UK, when I drove you and Christine from your nephew’s home to Holy Trinity Church. I asked you then if the writing of the book, entitled Walking My Path in the Way of the Mystics was in your mind when you wrote your book on John’s gospel.

Another question/suggestion: You demonstrate cogently the inadequacies of the first-century world view for present day Christians. Have you thought of sketching a more appropriate world view by taking the concepts, processes and key words of the present day scientific world view and suggesting what each might imply and call for, in spirit terms, in the daily living of those wanting to walk in the Way of (and, perhaps, with) Jesus? E.g. Miriam Winter in Paradoxology (Orbis 2009) uses such words as: chaos, consciousness, connectedness, coincidence, creation, celebration, relativity, uncertainty, probability, continuity, relationship, wholeness and transformation.

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10 December 2015: Charting the New Reformation, Part II – The Burning Necessity

The Bible is not the “word of God!” It never has been. No one who has ever read the Bible in its entirety could possibly defend that suggestion. This bizarre and irrational idea was rather imposed upon this ancient text long after its books had been written, collected and bound together as a single volume. …

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Q & A:

It was a delight to attend your lectures and to meet you in Glasgow, Scotland, two years ago when you talked about your book The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic. I bought the book (which you kindly signed) and I have now read it twice. I have found it an enlightening read; it has at last helped me to make some sense of St. John’s gospel. However, although your suggestion that many of the characters in this gospel were not actually real people of history, but rather were invented by the gospel writer to put across his point not only seems feasible, but convincing, but how can this be so for the character of Judas? Although he is not specifically mentioned in the writings of Paul, he certainly is mentioned by name in the Synoptic Gospels, which pre-date John. This being so, how could he be a character invented by John? John may have added details about him not mentioned in the synoptics, possibly for his own literary purposes, but the name and general character of Judas surely pre-dates John and that therefore he can’t possibly be “invented.” I would be grateful for your comments.

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3 December 2015: Charting a New Reformation, Part I – The Background

On October 31, 1517, so the story goes, a solitary monk named Martin Luther approached the great doors of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on which he planned to post a document entitled The Dispute over the Power and Efficiency of Indulgences. History has renamed it “The 95 Theses.” It was designed to call …

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Q & A:

I read with interest the letter from John Nelson about finding a way to plan a funeral so that it does not drift into unintelligible piety and mediaeval imagery. Thank you for your kind pastoral advice.

My wife of nearly fifty years, the only girl ever in my life, died quite suddenly last Easter Day after three weeks in the hospital following a single dose of chemotherapy. On her deathbed she was terrified that she was destined for hell. I am sure that this belief originated in the sermons she heard fifty years earlier in one of London’s most prestigious evangelical churches. Fear and hell and simultaneously fear of what she might experience in an afterlife, emanated from that distorted picture of the divine.

An Anglican priest, who knew her well, constructed a service which reflected her life in contemporary words and poetry which spoke to the heart of who she was, simply a kind woman whose self-image failed to recognize how rare and how wonderful that characteristic is. Two other priests, who also knew and understood her, participated in the service. I appreciate that I am lucky to know such sensitive and understanding clerics and would add to your advice just that. John and his wife should try when the time comes to have his or her funeral service conducted by people who know the deceased. It makes such a difference to the survivor.

I admire their planning. I wish we had planned more seriously earlier. My wife as she lay there did issue a number of instructions – no photograph, no eulogy and so on. But apart from that we had never really discussed what she would like. But maybe in the end the service is far more for those who are left behind than for those who are gone.

Kindest regards and infinite gratitude for your ministry in combating that authoritarian and harsh picture of the divine.

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26 November 2015: On the Separation of Church and State

(Publisher’s note: On November 9th 2015, in Washington, D. C. the national organization known as Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, held its annual meeting. Our columnist, John Shelby Spong, delivered the keynote address to this conference. During the business session, by vote of their board of directors, Bishop Spong was presented …

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Q & A:

We met most recently in June 2015 in Windsor, UK, when I drove you and Christine from your nephew’s home to Holy Trinity Church. I asked you then if the writing of the book, entitled Walking My Path in the Way of the Mystics was in your mind when you wrote your book on John’s gospel.

Another question/suggestion: You demonstrate cogently the inadequacies of the first-century world view for present day Christians. Have you thought of sketching a more appropriate world view by taking the concepts, processes and key words of the present day scientific world view and suggesting what each might imply and call for, in spirit terms, in the daily living of those wanting to walk in the Way of (and, perhaps, with) Jesus? E.g. Miriam Winter in Paradoxology (Orbis 2009) uses such words as: chaos, consciousness, connectedness, coincidence, creation, celebration, relativity, uncertainty, probability, continuity, relationship, wholeness and transformation.

Read the Answer...

19 November 2015: France, November 2015, the Struggle to be Human

The plan appears to have been carried out by a group of eight people, three of whom were brothers. The attack seems to have been developed in Belgium in a community known as Molenbeek. At least one of the perpetrators appears to have entered Europe in the tide of refugees fleeing the ravages of the …

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Q & A:

I’ve heard you say in multiple lectures that the gospels disagree on who the disciples were and that because of this discrepancy, there are technically more than 12. Out of curiosity, I tried to do some basic research on it and it seems like the common explanation is that two of them went by different names, Bartholomew/Nathanael and Thaddeus/Jude. I did also see that “Some biblical scholars reject this theory, however, holding that Jude and Thaddeus did not represent the same person.” I have no intention of trying to argue for one theory or the other but I’m curious if you could briefly explain why you believe that they are not the same person.

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12 November 2015: Re-Creating Easter VIII: Conclusion – Easter Dawns

Something happened! Lives were changed. God was redefined. Liturgies were reshaped. New holy days were born. Whatever Easter was, it constituted a transformative moment. It is easy to understand, given the enormity of these changes, how legends would develop to explain the power of the experience. People have a need to explain what has re-oriented …

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Q & A:

I admire and respect your work and I accept your skepticism about the metaphysical and paranormal. Reared as a Southern Baptist Christian and trained as a scientist (pharmacist), I was a lifelong skeptic of anything that challenged either my Christianity or any reality I could not physically sense until my beloved wife’s illnesses threatened to take her from me forever. My increasing anxiety while caring for her at home spawned new questions about my Christian faith. What now seems like providential synchronicity attracted my attention to what some scientists now call “the unknown.” I fondly remember your answer to a lady in Bloomington, Indiana, years ago who asked your opinion about near-death experiences. It took me fifteen years and the demise of my wife to find what I wanted, a firm yet incredible reassurance about death and souls.

So I read the Part I introduction to your new series on resurrection with great interest. If I may add to your wonder about Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in the locked upper room and to others, he also “vanished before their eyes after eating with them” in at least one verse. I now believe these claims were possible. In discussion with my Methodist pastor, he said I could assume that Jesus’ resurrection was the return of his soul to heaven. (Could Jesus’ intended message have been that mortal life is not final?)

I recognize that you are flooded with calls for your attention so I offer below a brief anecdote from one of the eminent Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’s speeches entitled: There is No Death. It appears in my book Souls are Real! Death is Not! I think you will agree that her integrity is beyond doubt. For anyone willing to consider honestly the increasing multidisciplinary examples of experiential evidence for which scientific materialism has no defensible explanation, perhaps the “transcendent dimension of reality” in your introduction includes the humanly imperceptible “Almighty” and its realm, Heaven, and souls.

“She (Dr. Kubler-Ross) describes an unearthly experience that may illustrate the soul’s unlimited creativity. Kubler-Ross had decided to quit her demanding work with death and dying patients. A woman approached her in the hall and asked to talk with her. Dr. Kubler-Ross, the psychiatrist, had a strange feeling about this visitor. This person resembled a Mrs. Schwartz whom Kubler-Ross had known in her work, but that lady had died ten months earlier.

As they entered the office, the doctor touched the woman’s skin, which seemed tangible enough. The visitor pleaded with Kubler–Ross not to forsake her work. Wisely, Kubler-Ross said: “Do you know that the Reverend Mr. Gaines is in Urbana now? He would just love to have a note from you. Would you mind?” She handed the woman a piece of paper and a pencil. After writing the note, the visitor frowned as if to say: “Are you satisfied now?” as she handed it back to Kubler-Ross. When the woman stood up to leave, she repeated, ‘You promise?’ Kubler-Ross’s book reads, “And the moment I said, ‘I promise.’ She disappeared. We still have the note.”

With utmost respect and best wishes for your marvelous work!!

 

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5 November 2015: Re-Creating Easter VII: The Internal Process

Peter had so clearly wanted to be loyal to Jesus following his arrest. The story is told that he tried to follow Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest. Peter had given Jesus his word that even if all others deserted him, he would be there with him; so he tried. This journey into …

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Q & A:

I am on very good terms with my bishop and attend yearly the annual diocesan council. I find it entertaining and in some way uplifting. I have a problem in that I do not believe in any of the mythology, but I was brainwashed in it from a young age, so I can do it all by rote.

The diocese does great things in the name of some superior being up in the sky somewhere, which does not bother me if they want to believe in some spirit. They could do many good works, such as “Wounded Warriors,” building houses for humanity and drilling water wells in Honduras. If they did these things in the name of Donald Duck, I would be there helping and doing my part.

I just have to fake it when they all pray and say the creed. I take the wafer and drink the wine at communion and wonder if this is some sort of barbaric cannibalism. I cringe at my having to fake it. I believe in good works and have devoted a lot of time to helping fathers and parents. But I can’t believe in the crazy tales of virgin births and Jesus coming again and his rising from the dead. Am I wrong?

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29 October 2015: Re-Creating Easter VI: The Dawning of the Resurrection

We have now explored our sources, looking where we could beneath the literal words of the biblical texts. We have come to four conclusions. First, whatever the Easter moment was Peter appears to be the person who stood at the center of it. He was the first to “see” or to embrace this new reality. …

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Q & A:

I do not know what is meant by the term “Ground of All Being” used by Paul Tillich and you. I do not get a concept of what the term means. I need someone to explain it to me in more understandable terms.

I have read all of Marcus Borg’s books and can understand his terminology of Panentheism, but am lost on what is meant by “Ground of All Being.”

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22 October 2015: Re-Creating Easter V: How did Easter Dawn? What was the Context?

We are told, but only in Luke’s gospel, that when Cleopas and his traveling companion returned from Emmaus to Jerusalem to share their experience of the risen Christ with the disciples, they used these provocative words: “He was made known to us in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35). These interpretive words, written some …

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Q & A:

It may have been 1980 when the assassination of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero made headlines that I became interested in liberation theology only to see the concept crushed by Papal orders and brutal military suppression. I had a life to live, however, and a family to support so problems so far away did not occupy much of my thinking then and for the next twenty to thirty years. But during those years I was also dismayed at the retrenchment of the Vatican on so many social needs issues and was shocked that the attitude of the church had trumped piety over social action.

So now in 2015 under Pope Francis, we have the beatification of Oscar Romero (hopefully soon to be Saint Romero) and the appointment of Gerhard Ludwig Muller to Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the renewed interest in the writings of Gustavo Gutierrez. This is great news for not only Latin America, but for all of us, religious and secular, concerned with preferential treatment for the poor. Would you give us your blessings on this change (philosophy, attitude, imperative) knowing that we will continue to fight for justice regardless of attitudes around us, but we are interested in your opinions?

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