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28 January 2016: Charting a New Reformation, Part IX – An Evolving God inside an Evolving Christianity

Today, I conclude the discussion of the first of my twelve theses posted on the internet in my hope to “Chart a New Reformation.” I began with the crucial task of reimagining God, which is foundational in all religious thinking. I have struggled to be careful with the way I use words. I have sought …

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Q & A:

I am a Disciples of Christ minister and I often cite and use your insights in preparing sermons. I was wondering if you have any preferred commentaries that you consider exegetically sound.

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21 January 2016: Charting a New Reformation, Part VIII – God –“Not a Being but Being Itself” (Cont.)

It was a 6th century Greek philosopher named Xenophanes who wrote: “If horses had gods, they would look like horses.” Xenophanes was pointing to the reality, which all of us face when we try to speak of or to conceptualize that which we acknowledge as the ultimate reality, or what theologian Paul Tillich referred to …

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Q & A:

I have a question about the concept of the “messiah.” I understand that this idea comes from the belief that we are fallen people, who need to be saved from original sin and also out of a culture of oppressed people, who were looking for someone to lead them to freedom. My question is this: What does it mean today? Was Jesus the messiah and, if he was, exactly what does that mean? We are still living in an imperfect world and from what I can see, Christians are no less sinful than anybody else. What makes Jesus more of a messiah than any other great religious leader?

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14 January 2016: Charting the New Reformation, Part VII – Re-Imagining God: Not a being, but Being-A Place to Begin

In the light of our expanded knowledge, God, understood theistically, turned out to be our own creation in which we human beings tried to fit God into words that met our needs. We were seeking to describe our experience of the ultimate, but we had only human words and human concepts with which to do …

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Q & A:

“I am eagerly looking to the essays on the twelve theses that you recently put forth in your column. You have been a major mover in this whole arena and endeavor and I want to thank you for your creativity and your work. It has been most enlightening and helpful.”

Professor Robert Albers, Retired, the Faculty of The United Theological Seminary in Minnesota

“Wow! What a great way to end my year. You know my take on theology. I am loving following your twelve theses campaign."

Anna Curran, San Diego, California

“Your column today is the best summation I have ever read of why the Bible is not “the word of God.” and why the God of the Bible is not even the God we should be inclined to think about in these days. Thank you for your remarkable clarity, to say nothing of your marvelous understanding of what’s what.”

Hal Wingo, a former editor at both Life and People Magazines

“The Twelve Theses are nailed to my door metaphorically speaking.”

Rev. Joel Biggers, UCC New Jersey.

“I understand what you are saying about new liturgies to encompass these new insights and I can’t wait. But what are we to do in the meantime? Most prayers invoke a god that doesn’t act in that way, yet I am still called to pray.”

Elizabeth Oakes (the Rev. )

“The God who dwells within us would let us love all humankind and all colors and races, all lefties and righties, all people of different sexual preferences, and treat women as equal in status to men. Our God in the new Christian religion shall not make use of religious authority to make profit or to oppress or degrade others anymore.”

Eugene Wei, Suzhou, China

“I would like to help, but don’t have a clear idea of what you want in terms of transforming our holy words into believable words of today. As a retired teacher of English and the wife of a Niagara priest, I could be a reader for you: read your emails and put them in whatever categories you have in mind.”

Eleanor Johnston, Niagara, Canada

“Based on your twelve theses I fail to understand what there is left of Christianity that merits calling it so. I am an Episcopalian, confirmed, and a post-graduate in engineering. I accept science, the theory of the “big bang,” evolution, etc. I am also aware of the struggle of early Christians in reaching an “orthodoxy” and the late influence of imperial Rome on Christianity. It is the old conflict of faith vs. religion and I harbor both beliefs leading to a great deal of angst. My inadequate solution is to compartmentalize into “rational” and “spiritual” boxes to stay calm and carry on."

C. Hutcheon via the Internet.

"Just read your New Reformation Declaration. Wow! Oh my God!! Congratulations for taking such a bold move. I am greatly relieved that it is 2015 and not 1515, because I would hate to think of a great man going to the stake to be burned. Intellectually your reformation makes sense. On reflection and in truth. I have known this for most of my life, being much influenced, “stirred, but not shaken,” when I was in seminary by Bishop (John A. T.) Robinson’s book of the sixties Honest to God. Here is the real difficulty I have. Following the intellectual logic and all the benefits of today’s scientific reality does not help me grow spiritually.”

Father Max Augustine, OPC, New South Wales, Australia

“Yours is the voice that sings Christ’s song for today and beyond. You touch the chords where God’s love belongs, in the human heart where it has been all along.”

The Rev. Dr. Patrick Berryhill, Unity minister

“As I read your writings you seem to focus only on God (and humankind) in the third physical dimension. I like to quote Edgar Mitchell, the Apollo astronaut who said: “There are no unnatural or supernatural phenomena, only very large gaps in our knowledge of what is natural. We should strive to fill those gaps of ignorance. So I would love to have your thinking on what to you is “Spiritual.”

Beverly A. Shade via the Internet

“The time for the theistic God is over, but when are you going to replace the theistic god with a Godin words that a modern intelligent person can understand and accept? This involves the topic of Jesus as the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity and the definition of “divinity versus humanity.” Does our God have an ontological, evolutionary dimension and progression?”

Tony Jacobs via the Internet

“When can we expect the language of our liturgies to begin to become more progressive? What can we do to encourage our clergy to move away from the old worship language? Do they face authoritative discipline by using less theistic language?”

Frank Pepe, Poughkeepsie, New York

“I have been enjoying Bishop Spong for years and embrace most of his positions. However, they tend to be negations requiring us readers to construct our own beliefs and expressions, so that we can lift our eyes in hope.”

Richard Hill, Ph.D. via the Internet

“The human need for certainty in face of the realities of life leaves us uncomfortable and uncertain. It is what most strive for throughout their lives. Perhaps we might revisit Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs.” Often uncertainty and insecurity leads us to certainty and security, facing the realities of life. But we are not alone in this need. Shaking foundations is very, very difficult, as one faces partial truths, untruths and tradition. Even Bultmann and Tillich left us wondering.”

R; L. Duncan, Naples Florida.

“This is fantastic! Exactly what I have been wondering about lately. If we could possibly bring about a “New Reformation” Oh how it would change the world and bring people together. I would like to join you in creating “A New Christianity f9or a New World.”

Sandra Sammons, Tryon, North Carolina.

“I am a former Catholic and an astrologer. Your article gave me such hope. I am happy to find such open-minded individuals in the Catholic Church. I want to hear more.”

Martha Dominguez via the Internet.

“God is not to be found in this way, nor is God to be as it were, not found. It is not that the Immanuel promise that Jesus fulfilled would be that God would be within us, although prophets like Ezekiel proclaimed it so, rather that all of this ever expanding universe is within God. God is not confined within the world of space-time or matter and energy. Therefore, no preposition that we use that concerns any of those time-connected or space connected ideas can be applied to God. No before, or after, no above and no below.”

Colleen Fay, via the Internet

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7 January 2016: Charting the New Reformation, Part VI – Building the Case for the Death of Theism: The Impact of Freud

First there was the revolution in astrophysics led by Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo. In that revolution, the comfortable assumption that God lived just above the sky, watching over us, recording our deeds and misdeeds in the book of life and ready to intervene on our behalf when needed, was challenged. The result was not only …

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Q & A:

I have a question which could be submitted for the Q&A "blog" or could just be answered personally, if that is possible.

I'm seeking a resource, hopefully a book, which does with the Old Testament what Marcus Borg did with the New Testament, that is, puts it in the order in which it was written, and then adds scholarly information about the circumstances surrounding the writing of each “book” in the scriptures.

For instance, instead of Genesis being written first, it is fascinating to think that it was the Babylonian captivity that seemed to spark the need for putting down the creation stories! I wonder why each “book” of the OT was written, where and by whom, but I know all the answers aren’t known. If there ARE any answers or at least opinions, I would like to study them.

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31 December 2015: Charting the New Reformation, Part V – Building the Case for the Death of Theism: Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin

In the growth in knowledge about the shape and size of the universe, God was dislodged from the realm we called heaven and in that process God was rendered homeless. As the growth of knowledge continued, all of the things that we once attributed to this theistic definition of God began to be explained with …

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Q & A:

I follow your weekly articles and appreciate them. My question: Is there an ontological divine life that exists above and beyond Homo sapiens (human) life, as we know it? What does it mean when theologians say: “Jesus participated in both human and divine life in his very essence”? If we deny Jesus as having divinity (whatever that means) are we not heading toward the position of Bart Ehrman and agnosticism?

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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...

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