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21 February 2008: Pope Benedict XVI and Captain Robert Fitzroy of The Beagle
I want to return this week to the book Jesus of Nazareth by Joseph Ratzinger, better known as Pope Benedict XVI. I do this because I was so shocked at the indefensible conclusions revealed in this book that I began to wonder what happens in the minds of people who, like the Pope, continue to …
Sydney is a conservative place, where the only approach to the
Bible is literal and judgmental. The God of the Bible seems to
be vengeful and angry. The God in the Old Testament is
particularly unappealing. What resources could you suggest to
help me find a more open and life-affirming interpretation of the
Old Testament God?
21 February 2008: Pope Benedict XVI and Captain Robert Fitzroy of The Beagle
On February 26, 2008, my latest book, Jesus for the Non-Religious, will be released by my publisher, Harper Collins, in a paperback version. Since its original publication on February 27, 2007, I have traveled extensively to speak about this book, delivering 168 public addresses in 16 states, eight countries and four continents, including two trips …
I am a Christian, a person of faith, but one who
ascribes to the spirituality of it all, not the religiosity. I
have found a church in the Presbyterian tradition in which I can
worship, one that is very active in social justice. Recent
conversations with my atheist brother have posed a problem for
me. He has decided to write an article about the "mistakes in
the Bible" and draw the conclusion from these that there is no
God. Because, he believes, if God is omnipotent and is the
author of the Bible, why would God give information to the
writers that was not true? This is such a basic assumption that
I found myself at a loss to delve into a theological discussion
that would assist him in his quest. Can you suggest any of your
writings that might be helpful for him? He is open to reading
7 February 2008: Teaching at Drew Theological Seminary in 2008
I have just completed teaching a course at the Theological School of Drew University. The creative faculty at this respected institution has developed special opportunities in the month of January that allow students to have an intense and concentrated course taught by an outside lecturer that is designed to supplement and enrich their core curriculum. …
Since the Bible contains so much misinterpreted
information, what kind of reference should a praying, spiritual
person use? Are there certain translations that are less
derogatory than others? Also, in looking at a deeper and clearer
understanding of the Bible, are there metaphysical understandings
that would enhance one's spiritual journey and that would be
useful? If so, what are they?
30 January 2008: Heresy on the BBC
Recently I had the privilege of doing an interview with BBC World Service from its studio in New York City. The program was entitled “Free to Speak” and was hosted by Dan Damon, one of the BBC’s best known radio personalities. The topic for this interview was those religious leaders who seem to be theological …
23 January 2008: Governor Huckabee: A Second Generation Evangelical Politician
In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson managed to get through the Congress of the United States a national Voting Rights Act. It was not an easy task since Johnson had to maneuver the bill through a Senate controlled by old line Southern Democrats still wedded to segregation. To achieve this victory, he employed his prodigious reputation …
16 January 2008: Reflections on our Final Days in South Africa
On our last few days in South Africa, we tasted the land in several ways. With Professor Izak Spangenberg as our guide, we went on a four day, three night safari in Kruger Park near the Mozambique border. With Professor Hansie Wolmarans as our guide we ventured into the depths of the historic gold mines, …
The news has been received that a California Episcopal Diocese
(San Joaquin) has reached the second stage in voting to leave the
national Episcopal Communion over the issue of homosexuality.
The media is describing the anti-gay position as biblical, the
pro-gay as being against Bible teaching. After reading
Living in Sin and The Sins of Scripture, I
cannot believe that it is that simple. Reporters are not doing
their job of careful investigation.
- Have these biblical stories and texts that are quoted to
support the anti-gay position ever been read, analyzed,
thoroughly debated, and defended in bishops' conferences? These
are supposedly intelligent people who respect scholarship. How
can they support exclusion on such flimsy evidence?
- Am I wrong to think this struggle among Episcopalians might
be a healthy thing, and that resistance from the highest levels
might be a way of teaching and illuminating facts and reality,
exposing the prejudice for the evil it is?
- Where is all this going? What could or should be done to
bring about a rational and acceptable result?
Your thoughts and your comments would be very much appreciated.
9 January 2008: Iowa’s Vote – National and International Scandals
In the Iowa caucuses last Thursday a mighty tide of frustration was released in both of America’s political parties. Establishment candidates, well financed, were overturned by newcomers. Political pundits were shocked. They should not have been. If these pundits had only looked at three recent events across our world: one in Pakistan, one in Kenya …
2 January 2008: South Africa’s “New Reformation Network”
It is a relatively new organization. They call it “The New Reformation Network.” Its primary leaders are three Afrikaans professors. Two of them, Dr. Izak Spangenberg, Professor of Old Testament Studies and Dr. Pieter Craffert, Professor of New Testament Studies, are colleagues at the University of South Africa in Pretoria; the third is Dr. Hansie …
I just finished reading a provocative book,
St. Paul Versus St. Peter: A Tale of Two Missions, by
Michael Goulder. In it he argues, very persuasively in my
opinion, that there were actually two ways of seeing Jesus from
the very beginning of the early Church: Peter's way and Paul's
way. Theirs was a bitter battle, which can be inferred clearly
from Paul's writings about "those who would lead you astray."
Goulder's point was that while Peter won some battles, Paul won
One school of thought formed around Peter and
the Jerusalem-based followers like James, Jesus' brother. They
held Jesus to be special in many ways, but underneath it all a
human being like the rest of us, who was entered into by God's
spirit at his baptism, which spirit then departed his body on the
cross. The Petrine position was that the kingdom had been
ushered in via Jesus' life, death, and resurrection: the "kingdom
now" view. He also believed that people needed to practice
Jewish laws concerning food, the Sabbath, and circumcision to be
followers of Jesus.
The other position was Paul's, that Christ was
a divine being all along, whose death and resurrection ushered in
only the possibility of God's kingdom coming: the "kingdom later"
view. In addition, followers did not have to follow Jewish law
to be members, since Jesus was the sacrifice that satisfied all
those requirements. (Also, persuading adult Greeks and Romans not
to eat meat and to place themselves under the knife for
circumcision put a dent in the evangelism effort.)
Here is my quandary: given that there seems to
have been at least two diametrically opposed ways of viewing
Jesus and his divinity from the very beginning, and given that
our theology apparently goes back not to Jesus but to Paul (since
he "won" the battle), why are we Christians so arrogant? Doesn't
this argue for a little humility, and even relaxing the "our way
or the highway" mentality that grips the Church? It seems to me
that in the face of yet another example of the humanness of the
words we have received and the process by which they have come to
us, conundrums like the "inerrancy of scripture" need to be
gently laid to rest and we need to be searching for what it means
to be a follower of Jesus in a world that finally must be lived
by faith and awareness of how the spirit is moving in this
26 December 2007: My Return to South Africa
For years I have yearned to return to South Africa. I have not been there since 1976 when apartheid was still fully enforced. Nelson Mandela was in jail on Robin Island, his wife was under house arrest, Desmond Tutu was the Dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg and the Soweto riots, in which between …
I have read several of your books and as a result have changed my
thinking I believe to a more rational approach to Christianity
and the Old Testament.
With regard to the Old Testament, I don't recall having read your
opinion regarding Moses and the birth of the Ten Commandments.
Did God speak to Moses via a burning bush and dictate the Ten
Commandments? I think not. It seems to me Moses and perhaps a
group of Jewish elders wrote the Ten Commandments after a great
deal of thought and discussion. The idea of course was for the
purpose of developing guidelines for the people to follow for the
betterment of all concerned. I believe it was decided Moses
would spend time in the mountains and then return with the Ten
Commandments stating they were given to him by God via a burning
bush. The chance of the people following these guidelines was
much greater than if Moses told the people he and the elders
wrote the Ten Commandments after much thought and discussion and
felt as civilized people they should be followed as law.
If they had followed that path, there would have been endless
discussion about what should and should not be included. Why Ten
Commandments? Should there be more? Perhaps less, etc. The Ten
Commandments as we know them probably would be nonexistent today.
The power of religion cannot be over estimated. One only has to
look today at what some radical Muslims have been taught from
childhood, i.e., to hate and kill Jews and "infidels" truly
believing it is God's will to do so.
19 December 2007: Christpower
Dear Friends, On December 24th, 1974 I delivered in my Church in Richmond, Virginia, a sermon, which sought to put the Christmas story into a modern context through the medium of poetry. It was based on an earlier poem I had written, entitled Christpower. In 1975 this Christmas piece was incorporated into and published along …
In keeping with the Christmas season for the Question and Answer
part of this column, I would like to publish with the permission
of its author, Joy Cowley, a Roman Catholic Christian from
Auckland, New Zealand, her translation of the words of Mary's
Song from the birth narrative of the Gospel of Luke. That song,
called "The Magnificat," can be found in Luke 1:46-55. Joy
understands the essential task of the modern disciple of Jesus to
make yesterday's words capable of being understood in the words
of the 21st century. I am grateful to her for her gift.
John Shelby Spong
My soul sings in gratitude.
I'm dancing in the mystery of God.
The light of the Holy One is within me
and I am blessed, so truly blessed.
This goes deeper than human thinking.
I am filled with awe
at Love whose only condition
is to be received.
The gift is not for the proud,
for they have no room for it.
The strong and self-sufficient ones
don't have this awareness.
But those who know their emptiness
can rejoice in Love's fullness.
It's the Love that we are made for,
the reason for our being.
It fills our inmost heart space
and brings to birth in us, the Holy One.
Joy Cowley, Auckland, New Zealand
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