Essay Archives View as a list
“Atonement Theology, especially in its most bizarre form, which we call ‘substitutionary atonement,’ presents us with a God who is barbaric, a Jesus who is a victim and fills human beings with little more than life–destroying guilt. The phrase, ‘Jesus died for my sins,’ is thus not just dangerous, it is also theologically absurd.” We …
I’ve been reading your book, The Sins of Scripture, and it has really opened up my mind to see God in a whole new way. As a child of incest, I’ve always had a hard time with “God the Father” talk. When I came into Christianity, I understood the concept of God, but was confused about Jesus. Now I feel like I can relate to Jesus, but I truly don’t understand God. I’m comfortable thinking that God is not a person and that God cannot rescue or punish, but then God becomes this big question mark. The term “mystery” fits well, but then I’m left feeling a little flat, specifically wondering how do I pray to such a God? If this God has no real authority or influence over my life, then are prayers really necessary, even heard?
Thank you so much for your work on trying to evolve and explain Christianity.
The nature miracles attributed to Jesus in the gospel tradition were not supernatural events that marked his life as divine. They were rather Moses stories interpretively wrapped around Jesus to proclaim that the God who was present in Moses was even more powerfully present in Jesus, the messiah. The stories in the synoptic gospels (Mark, …
I am a 79-year-old retired minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Your books have been crucial to my spiritual odyssey and have positively shaped my faith. I would like your help with a question that seems to me to be fundamental to progressive Christianity.
Like you, I, too, have been influenced by the writings of Bishop John A. T. Robinson of the Church of England. I can no longer remember the particular volume in which he made this point, but I have never forgotten what he said; he declared that the difference between humanism and Christian faith is this; Humanism says that Love ought to be the ruling principle of the universe, while the Christian faith affirms that, in Christ, we see that Love is the ruling principle of the universe. Or, in other words, in Christ God revealed that Love really is (not simply ought to be) the ruling principle of the universe. At that time, that statement was very reassuring to me. The older I get, however, the less I can believe that “love is the ruling principle of the universe.” It appears to me that there are three ways to view the universe’s attitude toward us human beings: (1) the universe is for us; (2) the universe is against us; or (3) the universe is indifferent to us. From my observation, I can only conclude that the universe is indifferent to us.
As I see it, it is up to us humans to shape the world so that it is for us; it is up to us to make Love the guiding principle of life, and that is something that humanists and other people of good will can do, just as well as Christians can.
I guess that leaves me wondering: Am I simply a non-theist or am I in fact an atheist? That is, am I simply a denier of the existence of a Supreme Being separate from the universe, or am I, in fact, a disbeliever in any “God” or “Higher Power” apart from us human beings? Am I a Christian or am I (just) a humanist?
“In a post-Newtonian world supernatural invasions of the natural order performed by either the eternal God or the “Incarnate Jesus” are simply not a viable explanation of what actually happened.” We have noted earlier that originally miracles did not appear to have been connected with the memory of Jesus. The first book to portray Jesus …
It’s always a new pleasure and enrichment to read your weekly issues. If you’ll forgive my arrogance, I would like to make a suggestion, a tentative explanation of the unshakable conviction of so many people that there is an almighty theistic God outside our universe
It might be the vague recollection, an echo of the last weeks or months of our fetus life when our universe was limited to our mother’s placenta but with an acoustic system already operational and connected to our primitive brain. We heard the voice of our father coming from outside of this universe and many a time with a deep caring male voice. This recollection would be later incorporated in the baby after a couple of years when its unconscious mind would develop. Hence so many people will never accept to abandon their belief. I got this idea whilst reading (and translating into French at my favorite publisher’s request) the book of Aletha J. Solter, PhD, The Attachment Play, based on the behavior theory. She demonstrates in this book the fact that after the birth, the baby remembers sometimes for clearly a couple of years what happened before and during its birth! She used this remarkable memory of the early childhood to heal some children’s behavior problems.
My second point in this email concerns your Q&A, in your response to the question of Sue Stover. I recently read a book, which analyses many details that are quite familiar to you: The Yahweh vs. the Elohim traditions of the Old Testament. Its title is Who Wrote the Bible by Richard Elliott Friedman. It may contain some interesting hypotheses about this topic.
Following the Exodus, Moses’ miraculous power was never again so powerfully displayed in the biblical story, but it did not disappear. In a battle against the Amalekites (Exod. 17:8-14) when Moses held his hands up, the Hebrew army won the day, but when fatigue forced him to lower his arms, his enemies prevailed. This problem …
I would appreciate it if you could provide me with your views on Christian forgiveness.
It seems to me on this issue that Christians are all over the map. Some are quick to offer forgiveness as shown to us recently over closed circuit TV by the relatives of the nine victims of Charleston’s Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church to the shooter, who specifically expressed no remorse during his court hearing; to the author, Roxanne Gay, who wrote in a New York Times Op-Ed (June 23, 2015) that her Catholic upbringing had taught her that “forgiveness requires reconciliation by way of confession and penance.” I think the almost instantaneous expression of forgiveness by the relatives of the church shooter’s victims perplexed many of us as sincere, yet somehow contrived because of its suddenness.”
Complicating matters further, Kristin Neff, out of the University of Texas, has written extensively about self-compassion and to forgive is to lay down the burden of anger toward the offender and thereby changing your role as “victim” to finding compassion for yourself and possibly even for the offender.
Finally, we seem to be taught the essentials of forgiveness through the parable of “The Prodigal Son” contained in the gospel of Luke, in which the father forgives the wayward son only after the son acknowledges his wrongdoings and begs for forgiveness. Would forgiveness have been proffered by the father without contrition on the part of the son?
Does forgiveness require acknowledgement of the wrong doing by the offender? Does forgiveness require the offender to ask for it in order that it be effective? Psychologists are quick to describe the benefits of forgiveness, but they fail to describe the requirements, if any.
14 April 2016: Charting A New Reformation, Part XVII – The Fifth Thesis
“The Miracles Stories of the Old Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an Incarnate Deity.” I wonder how many of my readers are aware of the fact that miracles do not enter the Jesus tradition until the 8th decade. Paul, who wrote between the years 51 …
I am a Lutheran pastor in the Church of Sweden, Diocese of Stockholm. I first started to read your work around the turn of the century. I was first very encouraged by the postings entitled “The Bishop’s Voice.” Next I received and read your exciting autobiography, Here I Stand: My Struggle for a Christianity of Integrity, Love and Equality and reviewed it for a church periodical. When you first visited Stockholm, I listened to your extraordinary presentation at Sofia Church. Since then many things have happened in my life. At various points, I have thought I would have to leave the ministry and the church in order to be intellectually honest. I couldn’t stand or handle the claims of theism anymore — I was fed up with religion, to put it bluntly. Rediscovering your work and reading Why Christianity Must Change or Die and A New Christianity for a New World meant that a road was opened to me, which made it possible to continue my ministry and stay in the church. I’m not sure what label to put on myself right now; definitely non-theist, perhaps atheist, perhaps natural pantheist, but certainly I still struggle on almost a daily basis with the religious language of my tradition. Even in a liberal church like the Church of Sweden, theistic language and presuppositions are all but omnipresent. I just want to say a warm and heartfelt THANK YOU for your untiring work! Just recently I read your letter to the moderator of the United Church of Canada in defense of Gretta Vosper – and I was once again encouraged and felt hope for the church. I wish you joy and continued strength in days to come.
6 April 2016: Charting the New Reformation, Part XVI – The Fourth Thesis: The Virgin Birth (continued)
In all probability Jesus was born in Nazareth. That is surely the assumption made in Mark, the first gospel to be written. The names of both of his parents do not appear to be historically known. The name Mary is first mentioned only in the eighth decade in Mark. All of the biographical details of …
You say that the word “soul” is not a biblical idea. Yet my concordance in the King James Version records 36 instances from Genesis to Revelation where the word “soul” occurs, even omitting the best known reference in Luke in which Mary, in the Magnificat, acknowledges that “my soul doth magnify the Lord.”
It would seem that this word had a wide currency and acceptance in pre and post Christian times and while you may not like the word, it has a resonance with many Christians as being the God particle in our lives, which maintains that link with the infinite and eternal spirit of love, life, light and the essence of all being. Moreover, in Joshua 22:5, we are called upon to love the Lord our God and serve him “with all your heart and all your soul,” an injunction endorsed by Jesus in his ministry in the Great Commandment, which is repeated weekly as part of our service of Eucharist.
Moreover, many Christians celebrate “All Souls’ Day,” which maintains that link with our loved ones, who are no longer alive on earth, but who are still very much part of our lives in terms of influence, reflection and memory. You can’t just dispense with the word because you don’t like it. I don’t like the word “sin,” but it has meaning and resonance with millions of believers and I have to accept it in the vocabulary of any discussion on matters of faith and belief.
31 March 2016: Charting a New Reformation, Part XV –The Fourth Thesis: The Virgin Birth, Understood as Literal History, Makes Christ’s Deity, as Traditionally Understood, Impossible!
Almost all of us, at one time or another, have participated in a Christmas pageant. We have been angels or shepherds, wise men or Joseph, the Virgin Mary or even one of the animals located around the stable – a camel, a sheep, a lamb or a cow. At one point early in my ministry, …
Thank you for the many years of enlightenment I’ve received from reading your newsletter. I have a question that I haven’t seen addressed in your Q&As. Long ago, there was a young person sitting with my family in the Hope Moravian Church during the weekly sermon. I was bored so I picked up the prayer book and began looking at the fine print in the back where I had never looked before. It contained a table that showed when Easter would fall each year for the foreseeable future. I wondered how they could know that and then I read the formula. Easter is the first Sunday after the full moon after the vernal equinox. My, that sounded pagan to me. I have amazed many people over the years by relating this data, but still have no idea how it originated. Reading your series on Easter recently has brought this question to my mind again. Do you know the explanation?
24 March 2016: Charting the New Reformation, Part XIV – The Third Thesis: “Original Sin” Pre-Darwinian Mythology – Post Darwinian Nonsense (Continued)
It was Charles Darwin, who was the primary voice sounding the death knell on Atonement theology. Darwin’s work did not just attack the literal details of the Bible’s creation story. That was but his first perceived target. By the clever scheme of suggesting that each of the seven days in the creation story might well …
I have only just found your work and in the last couple of months have read three of your books and there are two more on my shelf waiting for me. It is hard to express how grateful I am and how much it means. I had heard your name back in the early 90s when my world crashed down around my ears, but since my parents were fundamentalists, it wasn’t something I could pick up off the bookshelf. It is too late for me to find belief again, but even so the 30 years old pain that has directed so much of my life is finally finding some relief. A short background: for the first 25 years of my life, my faith was the foundation of my entire being. It was only when I found myself running away from my husband, who was violent to my children, that I suddenly came crashing against something I had never had to look at before – that the church insisted that the reality was not what I could see in front of my face, but only what they could imagine was the “real’ existence in the heavenly realm. So for the first time, I was brutally confronted with a division between God and truth. I had always thought they were the same thing. My God was truth so the church fell away from me (in fact I was asked not to come any more). My parents agreed with the church and sided with my husband. (My father even suggested that I should be exorcised). So I was 25, naïve with three children under five with no community, no family, trying to find air in the vacuum. I tried here and there to find a framework for my profound spirituality. Eventually I just wore out and literally drifted away, leaving everything behind me. I had nothing to give me reality. I lost my children because suicide attempts don’t look good in custody courts. They went back to live with their father with devastating consequences. Two of them now, as adults, never even speak to their father (or go anywhere near a church). I am sure this is a horror story often repeated in the history of the church. For me, my entire journey is about losing truth. I know now that I will never recover from that loss. The God-shaped hole is ferocious in my case and I cannot fill it. Right now I cannot find anything to believe in at all. Not love, not hope, not relationships, not anything; perhaps respect, perhaps that is all. So now my task is to deal with the death of truth and to find a way to walk forward anyway. So to read your work is almost, almost enough. To see that the truth I was fed was not even true on its own terms. To see that there are people who can find truth while looking at the damage of the church full in the face and naming the lies as such. To sense your great compassion for those who left or were left, even though it mattered more than anything. Somehow your work makes it ok. If I had had access to it 25-30 years ago, I would not be where I am now. I would probably be in exile as your term perfectly captures it. I would not have had to lose truth; but it’s ok anyway. It gives me some strength. A way to hold up my head, a way to stop crying to the long invisible people, who were so wrong about what truth was – to put that finally to rest. To know that it is not up to them. Somehow I still needed to know that it wasn’t true. That I was actually ok. I hope you have understood something of what I am trying to say.
17 March 2016: Charting a New Reformation, Part XIII – The Third Thesis: “Original Sin” Pre-Darwinian Mythology: Post Darwinian Nonsense (Continued)
The perfection of God’s world was described again and again in the text of this Genesis story. We read in Genesis 2 that the world was a fertile garden, but it lay fallow without a person to till it. To overcome this problem, Adam was created. Then we are told that “every tree that was …
I love your recent columns introducing your new series on “Charting a New Reformation.” So much of it resonates with me. I am reading Paulo Coelho’s book, The Witch of Portobello and finding so much in it that speaks to me. Especially loved the idea in your column that one can be a non-theist and, at the same time, a committed Christian. That very much describes me. As a young adult, I went on a silent church retreat in which we were urged to listen for God’s voice. The only voice I could hear was the sound of the wind, the rustling of the leaves, the call of the doves and the quietness of the South African countryside. I felt terribly inadequate and ended up helping the cook with the food in the kitchen! It was only years later when I started to read the writings of Richard Rohr that I realized that God had been there all the time, in those sounds and also in the music that I love so much! What a wonderful discovery to make. God bless you in your ministry.
10 March 2016: Charting a New Reformation, Part XII – The Third Thesis: Original Sin “Pre-Darwinian Mythology – Post-Darwinian Nonsense” (continued)
In the fourth century of this Common Era, when the creeds of the Christian Church were being formed, people reading the Christian Bible assumed that it was “the inerrant word of God.” They were certain that God was the author and that the Bible could not, therefore, be wrong. They also had no sense of …
I am French and Catholic. I agree with most all that you think, but and I do not speak good English. I have taught classics and am a Ph.D. in religious history, religious antiquity religious anthropology. I send you a text maybe you could understand it or know somebody who can help you. There is an error in the translation from Greek to Latin (and so in all the languages after) of an important verse about marriage and divorce in Matthew 5:32. Big consequences (indissolubility of marriage and so on). Even if I know myself that I can know what I do, it is important for other people to have an image less deformed of Jesus: there are many different levels and ways. I would like to meet you if you go in France, maybe with a group?
Thank you for your comments. Sorry for my bad English. I teach classics and I can read English. Tell me if you read French if I have to answer from you!
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.
Free Q&A Email
Sign up for Bishop Spong's FREE weekly Q&A email.
Looking for something special? Search here:
Browse by Date
Browse our monthly archives: