Monday, 22 July 2013

John Shelby Spong and the evolution of Christianity

John Shelby Spong is not news. He has been doing what he does-opposing traditional Christian doctrines and leading the flock astray while serving as a Christian bishop-for several decades. I am writing about him at this time since, as providence would have it, for the first time I sat down and actually read one of his books, on the Resurrection, 'The Resurrection: Myth or Reality?'. I picked it up at a summer fete book stall. I am not through yet but I can assure you there is nearly as much red pencil applied to it as my copy of ‘Origin of species’. In particular I have scrubbed out the pronoun 'we' when Spong uses it to precede the noun 'Christians'. That doesn't sound very charitable of me does it? Well read on.

Reading Spong mangling the bible, imposing his liberal/Gnostic interpretation on it while excoriating as ignorant, deluded, cowardly bigots those who read it plainly (he calls us ‘literalists’ which is clearly not intended as a compliment) and claiming superiority for his own insight, reminds me of my reaction on hearing karaoke for the first (and hopefully the last) time. I could not avoid this ordeal as I was on a long cycle tour across a lightly populated  region and had nowhere else to eat lunch but a bar where karaoke was going on. My reaction was ‘I knew it was bad, but I didn’t know it was THIS bad!’ (*)
The comparison with karaoke is apt since Spong hasn’t even invented any original heresies, just  sung along with some very old ones. The term ‘sub gnostic’ comes to mind. Much of his thought he freely admits derived from Buddhists, atheists and brother heretics, notoriously John Robinson by whom he was mentored. He claims to have had a particular epiphany when learning the meaning of the Hebrew term 'midrash' (of which more later) from Jeffrey John, the British homosexual cleric who denies the atonement. And like Darwin, he 'makes his lie stronger by mixing some truth with it' (**)

I have done a bit of on line research on Spong. The Wikipedia entry is enlightening and to the point and I will comment on it in a future post. I have no intention of spending more than a dozen or so hours  on him, I don’t think it’s necessary and I have some more useful things to do, like sorting out the fishing tackle in my shed. As I plough through his words each new discovery reveals his unerring instinct to take a liberal left/crypto Marxist/spirit of the age/anti Christian view, so that I have little expectation of finding anything I haven’t heard a hundred times before from trendy vicars from Robert Runcie to Giles Fraser.
Anyway, others have done the work, for example Alister McGrath in his excellent book on heresies.
Some of the Christian reviewers who came up on a search (Spong heretic) made some pithy comments of which perhaps the best was
‘Spong’s critics call him a heretic. Spong’s critics are right.’

J S Spong provides much material relevant to the working of the spirit of the age as it strives to neutralise the church from within. Know your enemy, and as Ephesians 5:11 says ‘Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness but rather expose them.’ But what has this to do with Darwin and evolution? A lot as it happens, as Spong himself acknowledges.
'Christianity must adapt or die'

He states as an axiom in his book on the Resurrection that in the modern, let alone postmodern, era it is impossible to hold to the traditionally accepted doctrines of biblical Christianity. You cannot accept miracles, Spong boldly asserts, in the light of the discoveries of scientists like Copernicus, Newton, Galileo and Darwin. Spong has written I think religion in general and Christianity in particular must always be evolving. Forcing the evolution is the dialogue between yesterday’s words and today’s knowledge. The sin of Christianity is that any of us ever claimed that we had somehow captured eternal truth in the forms we had created." 

So, religion must ‘evolve’. Well, that’s not what the bible says.  Hebrews 13:8 says 'Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.' In his letter to the Galatians Paul literally cursed anyone who presumed to bring ‘...a different Gospel...’ Jude encouraged the church to ‘Strive for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints’. And those of us who commit Spong’s ‘sin’ of claiming that there are such things as eternal truths rather think that Jesus revealed such truths. He did after all say ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.’ (John 4:6). Oh, but I am quoting scripture here as if it was to be understood as true, and this is Spong’s anathematised ‘literalism’. And yes I did note his trick of accusing ‘literalist’ believers of claiming to have ‘created’ eternal truths. I’m not slaying a straw man but pointing to a skilled bait and switch. For Spong believes in ‘eternal truths’ just that they are his eternal truths and are as flexible as his liberal/gnostic mind set.
Of course these truths can only be approached by a high mind like Spong's, not one of those crude fundamentalists who are so dumb that they actually believe that miracles can happen. He does not believe that a real Jesus was born of a virgin, died for our sins, was raised bodily from the dead, ascended bodily into heaven and will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. No, Spong especially doesn’t believe the last proposition. Why not? Because it offends his ideas about judgmentalism, and also offends his non Christian friends, so it mustn’t be true.

His opinions matter since he was for many years a senior and prominent bishop in the Episcopalian church who developed numerous views which differed significantly from traditional and biblical Christianity. Why he continued to draw his salary and occupy his position as a bishop in a Christian church after he evidently ceased to accept most of the key historic doctrines of that church is an interesting question.  C S Lewis, an Anglican himself, wrote that he had no objection to a clergyman honestly changing his views, but he very much objected to him then remaining as a clergyman drawing a salary (the technical term is stipend) after losing his faith. Reviewing the extent of Spong’s heresies, the  greater sin IMO attributes to those who tolerated his remaining in post. He should have been fired, and that position is 100% biblical.
Will 'literalism' kill the church-or will liberalism?

I will reflect on the details of Spong’s thought over several future posts, if you can’t wait I suggest the succinct Wikipedia entry which neatly catalogues his major departures from Christian orthodoxy. For now I would like to make the point that he himself claimed that Christianity needed to be completely re-formed in the light of what he saw as modern science, particularly the so called science of Darwin and Freud.  There is no need to change the faith to accommodate real scientists like Einstein, Copernicus, Galileo or Newton. He said that the faith would have to come into line with modern thinking or it would die. However, the diocese of Newark declined by 40% during his tenure, while churches globally that teach that he bible is true and reliable are growing. So, in fact, Spong is 180 degrees wrong on this according to the facts. The attempts to harmonise Christianity with the failed speculations of Darwin, the hateful economic and political philosophies of Marx and the perverted sexuality of Freud has backfired. This accommodation has neither brought new people into the church nor prevented people leaving. 'Beware lest any man cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ' Colossians  2:8. Ultimately, John Shelby Spong is a seller of dodgy goods, a con man. no wonder he is the sort of theologian of whom atheists tend to approve, as I have seen in YouTube comments.

Interestingly, in his book on the Resurrection, Spong refers repeatedly to the Apostle Peter (whom he insists on calling Simon). However he does not appear to have read his epistles, for in 2 Peter 2:1-2 Peter writes warning that false teachers will penetrate the church ‘…secretly bringing in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them.’ An apt description of this arrogant, self-promoting enemy of the Gospel.

Repent, Spong, judgment’s coming whether you like it or not.

More later. John Shelby Spong is a rich seam.

(*) incidentally, the clientele, food and beer were terrible too. Sorry if that sounds snobbish, but I was there.
(**) this quote is from /The Last Battle' by C S Lewis.

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