Bishop John Shelby Spong

Theism is Dead

  • "1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. God can no longer be understood with credibility as a Being, supernatural in power, dwelling above the sky and prepared to invade human history periodically to enforce the divine will. So, most theological God-talk today is meaningless unless we find a new way to speak of God.
  • "2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So, the Christology of the ages is bankrupt."
  • (pp. 453-454, 'Here I Stand,' John Shelby Spong, Twelve Theses, A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile, A Call for a New Reformation.)


Is Bishop Spong an atheist? He asserts above that " dead." The dictionary suggests that he is. The dictionary defines a 'theist' like so:

"theist, the-ist, n. One who believes in the existence of a God." (Webster's International, 1965)

The dictionary marks out 'theism' in contrast to 'atheism':

"theism, the-izm, n. ...The belief or acknowledgement of the existence of a God, as opposed to atheism." (Webster's International, 1965)

Bishop Spong however is applying the word in a certain private sense, as a theory concerning God's nature. He borrows this definition from theologian Paul Tillich, who still retained an awareness of the common usage:

"Theism can mean the unspecified affirmation of God. Theism in this sense does not say what it means if it uses the name of God...Theism can have another meaning, quite contrary to the first one: it can be the name of what we have called the divine-human encounter. In this case it points to those elements in the Jewish-Christian tradition which emphasize the person-to-person relationship with God....Theism has a third meaning, a strictly theological tries to establish a doctrine of God which transforms the person-to-person encounter with God into a doctrine about two persons who may or may not meet but who have a reality independent of each other." (Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be, pp. 183-184)

Tillich aspired to 'transcend' theism by a faith so "absolute" that both believer and object of belief precipitate out, leaving: "Theism in all its forms is transcended in the experience we have called absolute faith. It is the accepting of the acceptance without somebody or something that accepts." (Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be, p. 185).

Bishop Spong employs 'theistic' as a qualifier of 'God' as well as of 'belief.' When he says "the theistic deity," readers aware that 'theos' in Greek means 'God' hear him stuttering: 'the godly god.' However he has in mind Tillich's second definition of theism, or rather the Bible facts upon which the second definition is premised, namely the many instances in scripture of face-to-face encounters between God and His people. Promises of God's love: "...for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" (Hebrews 13:5), excite Bishop Spong's personal outrage. Perhaps this author's life experience has not confirmed the Bible's testimony of God's "loving-kindness." He understands by the "theistic" God the thinking and feeling God who loves, and is loved by, His children, Whom we encounter as One not altogether foreign, though infinitely above us. It is this God he rejects.

Tillich's disaffection with the formula 'God is a person' stemmed in part, ironically enough, from his awareness that this modern catch-phrase is not what Trinitarians say:

"Personality is the most emphasized ideal of modern religious and secular humanism. Personality is considered as the most necessary symbol for God...In classical theology, 'person' was used only for the three principles in the divine life, not for God himself; and 'personality' was not used at all in this connection...When God became a person, man's personality was driven into neurotic disintegration." (Paul Tillich, The Protestant Era, pp. 62-63).

By contrast, Bishop Spong's objections arise not from theology but from pretended moral indignation at the pain and suffering permitted in our world.

  • "Prayer consequently perpetuates the primary illusion of theism—namely, that we are not alone..."
  • (p. 191, 'A New Christianity for a New World,' John Shelby Spong.)

  • "There is no theistic God who exists to take care of you or me. There is no God who stands ready to set aside the laws by which this universe operates to come to our aid in time of need. There are no everlasting arms underneath us to catch us when we fall. Ask the people who were the hapless passengers on those hijacked airplanes as they were hurtling toward the World Trade Center or the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. No divine hand reached down to save them."
  • (pp. 61-62, John Shelby Spong, 'The Sins of Scripture')

I say 'pretended' because Bishop Spong's own views revolve around Darwinian evolution, which elevates the all-devouring Moloch of death to the driving force behind the universe, yet he does not recoil in horror from his own views. Bishop Spong angrily rejects 'theism' in Tillich's second definition. Is he however a theist by Tillich's first definition, which remains the people's definition? Is he a 'theist,' or is it more appropriate first to invoke the Greek language's particle of negation? Does he believe there is a God who [or which] is a real entity?

Unfortunately the reader looking for a consistent definition of God from Bishop Spong will look in vain. Bishop Spong vents his indignation at those who think that "their finite human minds could define the reality of God" (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 215). To be sure we cannot put God in a box, but heaven help us if the God-box pops open and out hops a personal God, Bishop Spong will whack Him back into His place. God is all mystery and mist, except beyond controversy there is no such being as the God of the Bible! It is difficult for the reader not to fall off this whirligig as it twirls between perfect certainty and indefinition; if after all our finite minds cannot grasp God, then how can we know He is not personal? There remains a problem which vagueness and awe and mystery cannot resolve: if we define God as 'that disconcerting feeling of having a tune running through your head which you cannot identify,' we might then very well say, 'I believe in God,' because who does not believe there is or could be such a mental phenomenon; but in so saying we are not affirming the existence of the being the theist adores. Certainly Bishop Spong denies the God of the Bible, over and over. So why does he not simply affirm atheism?

At times he endorses standard-brand products such as pantheism, promoting "a God who is not an external supernatural being, but who is perceived as the life force that flows through all that is." (John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, pp. 63-64). Sometimes he forgets about pantheism and endorses God as an experience, an adjective or work product of the human psyche. It seems He can be anything at all, sufficiently indistinct, only provided He is not personal. Like Marcus Borg, Bishop Spong can find no way of conceptualizing 'omnipresence,' imagining that if God is personal in any aspect, then he is thereby confined to a locale beyond the sky. Bishop Spong will consent to engage in God-talk if he can identify the deity with a substantive noun like 'love' or with some psychological quirk of humanity, but at all costs, the only god he will allow is the god of Epicurus, detached, uninvolved, indifferent, unaffected by human pleas. It must never be said of this god, 'He careth for you.' The reader can sense some of the problems Bishop Spong encounters in conceptualizing the God of the Bible by his mocking paraphrase of Genesis:

"So it was that God came down from the sky and began to shape the dust of the earth into a human form as a  child would make a mud pie. But when this creature was fully formed, he was still inert. So the Lord God swooped down upon this lifeless form in order to give this dirt creature mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, except that God breathed the living Spirit into the man through his nostrils." (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 75).

His contempt for the Bible is a thick veil through which he can see nothing.

A. W. Tozer said, "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us." (A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, p. 9). Bishop Spong quotes with approval a church-goer who said, "When we speak of God as a person, what we're really doing is personalizing the values by which we live as a community. To live together as a family demands a combination of love, structure, and discipline. The values that make community possible are invested with Godlike dimensions." (John Shelby Spong, A New Christianity for a New World, p. 66). Readers who notice that Bishop Spong disbelieves all that the church believes may wonder why he continues to hang around churches. Perhaps an answer is offered by the old song, 'I Love the Feeling that I Get When I Get Together with God's Wonderful People.' Bishop Spong genuinely enjoys church fellowship. Who can blame him; as a rule folks who hang out at church behave better, not displaying the slovenly rudeness of the pool hall. Few, however, would venture to say, 'The Feeling that I Get When I Get Together with God's Wonderful People is God:'

"In that process of coming to know that which we name as divine, the God who is love is slowly transformed into the love that is God. Let me repeat that...We breathe love in, and we breathe love out. It is omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent. It is never exhausted, always expanding. When I try to describe this reality, words fail me; so I simply utter the name God. That name, however, is no longer for me the name of a being. . ." (John Shelby Spong, A New Christianity for a New World, p. 71).

Admittedly Bishop Spong has wandered off the Christian reservation; is he yet however a theist? It depends on whether "the values that make community possible" are real entities, or only epiphenomena of human psychology. Certainly Plato thought values like 'justice' are real entities. What does Bishop Spong think? He does not say, but perhaps his silence can be illumined by his long-standing tendency to offer arguments in the format of the argumentum ad populum. Time and again in Bishop Spong's writings, where the reader expects to find an argument setting forth why the reader should agree with Bishop Spong's view, one finds instead the assertion that no educated, modern person can believe in...whatever it is that Bishop Spong does not believe in. Simultaneously, Bishop Spong is aware that very many people do not agree with him. The careful reader discovers that the multitude who do not agree with him are less well-educated, less vibrant, nor as good-looking as those who share his views. Of course the argumentum ad populum is fallacious, whether the multitude called to witness is vibrant or sleepy, sweet-smelling or foul.

Bishop Spong's attitude toward modernity is one of naive chauvinism. Young people are prone to believe their own time is the pinnacle of history, the time when, at long last, enlightenment has chased away the follies and errors of the past; Bishop Spong is sure of it. Far from seeking to educate these unthinking young people out of their comfortable narcissism, Bishop Spong forbids any critical thought to arise in their unused minds; rather they must accept indiscriminately everything modernity throws their way, even the absurdities, like Freudian psychology. They must swallow entire whatever their instructors ladle onto their plate, however loathsome. The obedient receive his pat on the head; those who gag are, alas, not "urbane." One expects that the "young, attractive, urbane, upwardly mobile" (ibid., p. 65) crowd whose views count would consider 'values' as epiphenomena: certain things are valued because human beings happen to value them. If that is Bishop Spong's view also, he is an atheist.

Bishop John Shelby Spong

Twelve Theses

A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile
A Call for a New Reformation

  • "1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. God can no longer be understood with credibility as a Being, supernatural in power, dwelling above the sky and prepared to invade human history periodically to enforce the divine will. So, most theological God-talk today is meaningless unless we find a new way to speak of God.
  • "2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So, the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.
  • "3. The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
  • "4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes the divinity of Christ, as traditionally understood, impossible.
  • "5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
  • "6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God that must be dismissed.
  • "7. Resurrection is an action of God, who raised Jesus into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.
  • "8. The story of the ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post­Copernican space age.
  • "9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in Scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
  • "10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.
  • "11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior-control mentality of reward and punishment. The church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
  • "12. All human beings bear God’s image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one’s being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination."
  • (pp. 453-454, 'Here I Stand,' John Shelby Spong.)

Bishop Robinson

The church which made this author bishop of Newark, N.J., continues on its downward spiral. While no race of angels has made itself available for service as bishops, God's word does instruct believers to elect candidates of good character:

"A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil." (1 Timothy 3:2-7).

(The New Testament does not clearly differentiate 'bishops' from 'ministers,' though the two offices would diverge in later history, bishops becoming the top rank of an ecclesiastical hierarchy.) The church given a shove down its current trajectory of post-Christian evolution by this author has lately elected as bishop a "blameless" gay man (who however has had trouble making up his mind whether he is a gay man, a heterosexual woman or whatever) "of good behavior." Do these words fit together in a Biblically phrased sentence?:

Bishop Spong and his associates are themselves capable of speaking in a condemnatory tone of sexual behavior of which they disapprove: "We believe that whenever sexuality is lived out destructively, this church must witness to its negativity. We oppose all forms of promiscuous sex..." (A Statement of Koinonia, p. 448, Here I Stand, John Shelby Spong). Suppose a gay man who engages in "promiscuous sex." Bishop Spong thinks it displays "prejudiced irrationality" to associate homosexuality with promiscuity (p. 317, Here I Stand, John Shelby Spong), but surely there must be at least one. In condemning this gay man for his promiscuity, have Bishop Spong and his associates been guided by hatred and bigotry? Perhaps their motivation is rather to correct the straying and rescue the perishing. Might this also be the motivation of those who follow the Bible?

Bishop Spong is so free in assigning motives to those who do not share his prejudices that he solemnly informs us that the Roman Catholic Church does not approve of homosexuality because they fear "exposure:" "When the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church condemns homosexuality with the vehement public rhetoric we have become accustomed to hearing from its leaders, one has to realize that there is some hysteria present. Their cover is not holding, and they are condemning what they know to be true about themselves. . .This behavior is quite frankly an acknowledgment that anxiety at the threat of exposure is very near the surface." (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 115). One must concede, their gowns are gorgeous.

It is very easy to ascribe bad motives to your adversaries, indeed it comes naturally to fallen humanity. But to imagine you have disproved their moral theses by so doing is a bit naive. Bishop Spong is harsh in his verdicts against homophobes, bigots, those who commit sacrilege against Mother Earth, etc. Is it really possible for these condemned persons to lift off his heavy verdicts by doing no more than ascribing bad motives to him? Or is this whole procedure no more than a waste of time? Perhaps at some point Bishop Spong and those who share his convictions will notice the Christian remnant are leaving his church in droves; this method of argumentation, which works best with those who already agree, is failing to persuade these dissidents that a church which has abandoned the Bible is a Christian church.

On the Cross

  • "Jesus died. It is inconceivable to say that God can die. God did not get crucified. Jesus did."
  • (Here I Stand, John Shelby Spong, p. 239.)

Scandal of the Cross
Who Died on the Cross? Lord of Glory
The First and the Last The Blood of God
Ransom for Many Scandal of the Cross
Theos Apathes Patripassianism
His Love Is Death Extinction?
Pierced Testator's Death
Common Consent Nestorius

The only concept of the trinity Bishop Spong can apprehend is modalism, a second century heresy:

"It was inconceivable that a deity could suffer, die and be buried. Jesus was depicted as praying in Gethsemane and on the cross. The agony of those prayers was real. We are told that prayed to a God he called 'Abba,' or Father. Jesus was not talking to himself. " (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 223).

Bishop Spong is prone to getting things backward, after the manner of the Black Mass, and the cross is no exception. In his universe, the cross is not the ensign of God's wondrous pardoning love, but the signal of limitless, unpardoned guilt:

"We are evil indeed if our sinfulness cost God the life of the divine Son as the price that had to be paid! That amount of guilt is unlimited. Yet this became the word that people heard coming from the church through the centuries" (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 166).

It can hardly come as a surprise that Bishop Spong does not believe in the deity of Jesus Christ, except in a vague and harmless sense in which Jesus exemplifies the impersonal 'life force' which is the only god Bishop Spong knows:

"Suffice it for now to say that Jesus emerges as a symbol for a humanity that is not defined as fallen or sinful. . .Jesus cannot be a a divine visitor from the heavenly realm. . .Jesus can only be a product of humanity, created out of its gene pool. If our ideas of divinity cannot be found in this pathway, then what most people regard as the essential tenets of traditional Christianity will have to be abandoned. . .I see in Jesus one so radically human and free, so whole and complete, that the power of life, the force of the universe — that which I call God — becomes visible and operative in him and through him." (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, pp. 179-180).

As will be seen also with Mary, this understanding is sub-Islamic; the Muslims believe more about Jesus that does this Episcopal bishop, since they agree Jesus is a man who "is not defined as fallen or sinful" (Muslim prophets cannot be sinners, so Bible stories about sinners like David must be expurgated), and affirm besides that He is a prophet, a category with no meaning for Bishop Spong, because a 'life force' or a psychological epiphenomenon cannot dispatch prophets. They agree with Bishop Spong that Jesus is not God, contra the scriptures, though they part company with him in that they believe there is a God. Here, therefore, are some of the 'terrible texts' that prove Jesus Christ is God:

Your Throne, O God The Work of Your Hands Let Angels Worship
True God Express Image Visible and Invisible
For Himself Son of God Kiss the Son
A Son is born Honor the Son Only-begotten God
Pantocrator Believe on the Son Only Savior
The Dead were Judged Everlasting to Everlasting

A Voice Crying Temple Visitor Stone of Stumbling
The Rock of Israel The First and the Last Lord of all
The LORD our Righteousness Holy, holy, holy Captivity Captive
House of David Answered prayers With all His saints
Israel's Savior Giver of Life Every Knee Shall Bow
Pastoral Supply I send you prophets Who forgives sin
I am He He is Lord Call upon the Name
Doxology God with Us Lawgiver
Great Shepherd You Only Lawful worship
Builder I AM THAT I AM Moses' Veil
Wine Press Lord Willing Secret Things
Boasting Excluded King of Israel Fount of Living Waters
Searches the Heart Till Death Do us Part Angel of the LORD
Take Refuge Has Reigned On His Forehead
Me Whom they have Pierced Stretched Out My Hands

The Eyes of the Blind Thought it not Robbery Eternally Blessed God
Fullness of the Godhead Great God and Savior Faith in Him
Redeemed King of Kings Spirit of Christ
Destroyed by Serpents Lord of Glory Renewed in the Image
New Jerusalem's Lamp Now is Christ risen Upholding all Things
Light to the Gentiles My Companion Miracles
Prosecutors' Indictment Sun of Righteousness Thirty Pieces
Testator's Death Author of Life The Blood of God
My Lord and My God One Mystery of godliness
God was in Christ The Word was God Shared Glory
Omniscience Omnipotence Omnipresence
Change Not Yesterday, Today and Forever Whose Hand?
Not of Man Receive my Spirit Believe in God
Only Holy Sole Proprietor Priests
Walk on the Water

Bishop Spong takes it as axiomatic that Jesus never claimed to be God and was never worshipped as such by His followers: "Jesus was the master, the teacher, the leader, but there is no instance that would indicate that Jesus had become the object of veneration, or adoration, or worship. . .They loved him, admired him, got exasperated with him, misunderstood him, tried to force his hand, begged him to explain his parables, reveled in their status as his followers — but they never seem to have considered worshiping him." (The Easter Moment, John Shelby Spong. Kindle location 1112). As the reader who takes the trouble to look up the above cited scriptures will discover, this is flat-out wrong.

It tickles Bishop Spong's funny-bone to imagine anyone could seriously suggest that Jesus actually ever said all those 'I am' sayings that John records. Why, if He had said things like that, people would think He was crazy!

  • “The words 'I am' are used in other sayings attributed to Jesus by this gospel writer: one thinks immediately of such Johannine verses as 'Before Abraham was, I am' (8:58) and 'When you see the Son of Man lifted up, then you shall know I am' (8:28, my translation). . .
  • “Of course, Jesus never literally said any of theses things. For someone to wander around the Jewish state in the first century, announcing himself to be the bread of life, the resurrection or the light of the world would have brought out people in white coats with butterfly nets to take him away.”
  • (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 234).

Family Grandiose Religious Delusion
Zero Sum James the Just
Bishop Spong Ockham's Razor

Born Again

Our author quite frankly does not get the point of being 'born again:'

  • "Christian evangelicals like to use the term 'born again.' It is an interesting choice of words, for when one is 'born again,' one is newly a child. It represents a second return to a state of chronic dependency. Perhaps what we specifically need is not to be 'born again,' but to grow up and become mature adults. Until we recognize that this understanding of God is no more, that the theistic God has either died or that such a God never existed, we will fail to reach the maturity that enables us to recognize that we have to be responsible for ourselves. . ."
  • (The Sins of Scripture, John Shelby Spong, p.63.)

This Bible concept, evidently, is just one of those Christian things Bishop Spong doesn't get and never will get. He doesn't understand why people still talk about such a thing, when thinking people have long since come to realize there is no God.

Three Tiers

Bishop John Shelby Spong is much exercised about a 'three-tiered universe' which he believes he finds described in the Bible. He does not explain what he means by a 'three-tiered universe.' It is possible that he is envisioning a flat-earth system like that described in the apocryphal Book of Enoch, or in dissenting Christian authors such as Lactantius or Theophilus:

"Wherefore, also, the prophet mentioned that the creation of the heavens first of all took place, as a kind of roof, saying: “At the first God created the heavens” — that is, that by means of the “first” principle the heavens were made, as we have already shown. And by “earth” he means the ground and foundation, as by “the deep” he means the multitude of waters; and “darkness” he speaks of, on account of the heaven which God made covering the waters and the earth like a lid." (Theophilus to Autolycus, Book II, Chapter 13).

Theophilus envisions the world-system as a stock-pot covered by heaven as by a lid. I describe these authors as "dissenting" because it is more common to find Christian authors employing the terminology of Ptolemaic astronomy. This was the official, consensus view of the Roman empire; if you had gone into a book-store and asked for an astronomy textbook, you would have been handed a book describing this system, and most Christian authors take it as they find it. One can hardly blame them for so doing, it was the reputable 'science' of the day. Ptolemaic astronomy, much beloved by Thomas Aquinas, features a round earth. This complex system, beloved still by Martin Luther and John Calvin, does not feature any triple decker structure anywhere, but rather a multiplicity of concentric spheres.

Bishop Spong is astonished that anybody could care what people in the first century thought, because people back then thought the earth was flat:

"But the twentieth century has a vastly diffrent view of reality from that of the first century. Our world is not flat." (John Shelby Spong, The Eastern Moment, Kindle location 1281).

Did they, now?

One wonders if Bishop Spong has ever even heard of it; he seems to know nothing about it. This author believes he finds his 'three tiers' in Biblical passages such as Acts 1:9:

  • "Luke, writing in the Acts of the Apostles (1:1ff.), give us the only account of the event called the ascension. It is not an easy narrative to comprehend. The literal details of the ascension are nonsensical to modern ears: Jesus rising off the ground and disappearing into the sky like a space rocket in slow motion. This account assumed that we lived in a universe of three tiers in which heaven was the upper tier. No space-age man or woman can possibly believe this. Literally it did not happen! It could not happen! If a literal cosmic ascension is an important part of the Christian story, then the whole Christian enterprise is called into serious question, for such an anti-intellectual religion will not long survive in this technical, scientific age."
  • (This Hebrew Lord, John Shelby Spong, p. 90.)

This author seems to believe that the space program has produced new information as to the disposition and locale of near-by heavenly bodies, which is hardly the case. Is he really that ignorant? Can he possibly really believe Sir Isaac Newton would have learned new things about where the planets are at by watching space launches on TV? Although he does not ever actually explain it, Bishop Spong's 'three-tier' universe must be an astronomical construct, if it can be disconfirmed by astronomical ("space-age") observation. How can any thinking reader find a 'three-tier universe' in Luke's words?:

"Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight." (Acts 1:9).

Certainly there is no difficulty in understanding Luke's account. No artist who wished to portray the scene has ever found difficulty in so doing. Perhaps the way to find Bishop Spong's 'three tiers' in this passage is to make Luke's "up" ['ep' of 'epairo'] absolute rather than relative to local observers, in this case the eye-witnesses observing the event. To Bishop Spong, who denies the physical resurrection, the bodily ascension of the Lord presents a contradiction to his ideas, but it is unclear what "space-age" observation ever led him to deny the Lord's physical rising from the tomb.

The Bible teaches, "God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:24). Extension in space characterizes matter not spirit. But becoming incarnate was the Lord's own choice and cannot be understood to mean God can no longer be God. The Lord's nail-scarred body does demand some locale; but as tenants huddled upon a small patch of a vast domain, it is presumptuous of us to demand all parts of the whole to be either open to our inspection or available for our comprehension. Which way heaven? One is tempted to respond with the old saw, "No itinerary to the heavenly city is simpler or fuller than the ready answer made by an English prelate to a scoffer who asked him the way to heaven; 'First turn to the right, and keep straight on.'" (Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David, Kindle location location 69263). When Luke describes the Lord's ascension into heaven, nothing could be clearer. Who could not visualize the event, or even draw a comic strip, based on his account? Was the event laughable or absurd? It is difficult to see how. 'But he can't do that.' Why not? He can walk on water. 'But that isn't the way.' It would have been more edifying if He had dived down the shaft of the deepest silver mine? One must concede to the scoffers that heaven isn't a place amongst other places; things work differently there. The roses never fade, and we never grow old; that is not the way it works in this place, so it isn't just around the corner. The itinerary to get there cannot therefore be straightforward and unproblematic.

If the triple decker system is indeed a flat earth,— and what disposes me toward thinking it is meant to be that is the common experience you will find in talking to atheists, of 'learning' that everybody prior to Christopher Columbus believed in a flat earth,— can such a construct be found in the Bible? They say so. A common way atheists have of finding 'errors' in the Bible is to understand directional signals as if they related to an observer stationed outside the word system. The observer is visualized standing outside, looking upon the world as if he were holding a snow-globe in his hand. In fact modern speakers only rarely take this view, and ancient ones almost never; it is thus an anachronism. By this means common-place things modern speakers also say: 'the sun rose at 6:10 a.m.,' 'what a pretty sunset,' are taken as descriptions offered by the observer standing outside the world system, in which case they are false, because the sun does not rise at the same time in China as in Canada, nor is it the sun which is setting but the earth which is rotating. However, from the actually existent observer's frame of reference, the language is perfectly accurate and would not be spoken differently by an astronomer.

To find 'three tiers' in what Luke says, you might reason like so: a newspaper reader in Sydney, Australia objects when he reads, 'The space-shuttle Challenger went up into the sky and then disintegrated.' 'Shouldn't that read, went down!' he thunders, reasoning that the direction in which the space-shuttle Challenger actually went approximates to a straight line from his sternum down between his feet. However, no actual reader of the Sydney papers would absolutize in this way his own frame of reference, nor would he demand the passage be rephrased from the perspective of our asphyxiated outside observer of the world system. When the newspaper reporter said that the space-shuttle went "up," he meant local observers were obliged to crane their necks back to keep it in sight. Was this not also what Luke meant when he said "up"? Without absolutizing Luke's "up," there are no 'three tiers' in view.

If the author assumes Luke is visualizing the Lord as hopping on the bus and going home, this is his assumption, not the assumption of the author who quotes Stephen repeating, "Heaven is My throne, and earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the LORD, or what is the place of My rest?" (Acts 7:49). Bishop Spong does not need to teach Luke and Stephen, if indeed he even knows, that God is omnipresent and spiritual. But denying a historic fact lest any draw an invalid inference from that fact is as nonsensical as anything else in Bishop Spong's topsy-turvy world. The visible heavens are a special revelation of God's glory owing as much to their beauty as to their locale: "And since the glory of his power and wisdom shine more brightly above, heaven is often called his palace. Yet in the first place, wherever you cast your eyes, there is no spot in the universe wherein you cannot discern at least some sparks of his glory. You cannot in one glance survey this most vast and beautiful system of the universe, in its wide expanse, without being completely overwhelmed by the boundless force of its brightness...this skillful ordering of the universe is for us a sort of mirror in which we can contemplate God, who is otherwise invisible." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book I, Chapter V, 1).

What was new in the incarnation was God's taking on flesh. Jesus is "He who came down from heaven" (John 3:13), as God. He returned as the God-man. Here indeed was a new thing, a man gone up to heaven:

"In one sense, Christ's return to heaven was to be expected. He Himself said, 'I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world again, I leave the world, and go to the Father' (John 16:28). As the Son of God, He had every right to reside in His eternal glory. What made the ascension theologically special was the entering into glory of the Son of Man. The inspired apostle recognized the significance of this when he applied Psalm 8 directly and uniquely to Christ: 'What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honor'. . .In the person of Jesus Christ, man achieved heaven. His entrance prepared the way for all His followers. Speaking of Christ's entering within the veil, the most holy place of heaven itself, Hebrews plainly says, 'whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus' (6:20). Christ is the pioneer who has blazed the trail for His people to enter fully into His glory. Heaven is ours because Heaven is Christ's." (Michael P. V. Barrett, Beginning at Moses, Kindle location 1698).

Revelation Chapter 4 describes this holy convocation. How is it possible for wayward, ungodly, recalcitrant men, the twenty-four elders, to live in the presence of God? Or how will we dwell with Him in the new heavens and the new earth? Because we have been washed in the blood of the lamb. How living together is possible for such unlike things as our unwieldy, material selves and God is difficult to say, but God would have it so. If Bishop Spong, having put his thinking cap on, has discovered that it is impossible, he had best keep his discovery to himself.

Like Marcus Borg, this author cannot conceptualize the attribute of God traditionally known as 'omnipresence.' Bishop Spong imagines all the fuss over Galileo got kicked up because now there was no place for God to sit!:

"It is no wonder that the church, the voice of values and the source of stability in that society, was so negative to Galileo that it sought to silence him. . .What if there is no superhuman parent God above the clouds who watches over us, guards and protects us, keeping the tides inside their boundaries and the rains timely and moderate? Could we survive psychologically, could we manage the trauma of aloneness?" (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 288).

How does heliocentrism equate to "aloneness"? The people who designed the Ptolemaic system did not believe there was any "superhuman parent God" above the clouds or anywhere else, they were pagan polytheists. It is a shame the Episcopalians are willing to discard God's revelation based on this non-consequential hand-waving.

What do the people whom Bishop Spong calls "rabid fundamentalists" (p. 92, Bishop Spong, The Sins of Scripture) believe about the Bible, and why do they believe it?

"It is also time to redefine the claim made for the Bible that somehow it contains the very 'Word of God.' This book must be removed from its position of power, a lofty position that has allowed irrational ignorance to flow from its religious pipelines into the corporate life of our society, where the damage it has caused is still beyond measure. How to find an answer to this evil is now my task." (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 100).

Sparrow's Fall

The Bible teaches that no sparrow falls without the Father:

"Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will." (Matthew 10:29).

This concept of God's personal and intimate involvement in this-wordly events causes Bishop Spong particular indignation. He perceives traditional religion to foster concepts of a "manipulative, invasive, this-world-oriented deity who governed the intimate details of people's lives from a position just beyond the sky." (Here I Stand, John Shelby Spong, p. 68). Though the thought is not commonly phrased in such offended language, the God of the Bible may aptly be called "invasive:"

"Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there." (Psalm 139:7-8).

This author and his friends have moved beyond the "simple assumptions" of "premodern" religion, which "still spoke of God as a personal being, supernatural in power, who invaded history periodically in a variety of miraculous ways." (Here I Stand, John Shelby Spong, p. 85). His indignation rises to a high pitch when considering a child's death: "In a sermon in my second year at St. Joseph's, I called the God who would will the death of an innocent child nothing but a demon who ought to be destroyed." (Here I Stand, John Shelby Spong, p. 88). But the death of an innocent child must at least fall within the permissive will of the God who said, "Now see that I, even I, am He, and there is no God besides Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; nor is there any who can deliver from My hand." (Deuteronomy 32:39). While parents in the face of these circumstances may be unable to fathom God's will, denying His reality and power is a remedy that deepens the wound.

Bishop Spong, perceiving the traditional view as a security blanket, wants to rip off the bandage: "This was not a sentimental, childish, and dependent view of God as the heavenly parent who knew best, who intervened often and watched over each of us in guarding, protective ways. That God I was prepared to jettison." (Here I Stand, John Shelby Spong, p. 89). He prefers Epicurus' god, who does not get involved, or indeed goes beyond to define 'god' as an entity, such as an abstraction or a part of speech, which in the nature of things cannot get involved.

Bishop Spong does not believe people should be literal-minded when it comes to things like life after death: "First we must learn not to literalize the language." (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Easter Moment, Kindle location 450). Like for instance maybe when the Bible says that a man walked out of a tomb? Certainly you can believe it or not. But why would you say that you're a Christian if you don't believe it? Is resurrection something that actually happens, or is its meaning all wrapped up in floods of vague, turgid verbiage about the"courage to be?" What saith the scriptures?:

The Virgin Mary

  • "A God who can be seen in the limp form of a convicted criminal dying alone on a cross at Calvary can surely also be seen in an illegitimate baby boy born through the aggressive and selfish act of a man sexually violating a teenage girl."
  • (Born of a Woman, John Shelby Spong, p. 185.)

Bishop Spong's speculations on this topic revive the old slanders of the Talmud. The Talmud is a book with multiple sources and corresponding multiple levels of quality. Its testimony about Jesus is an eclectic mix of interesting if tendentious reporting,— for example the Talmud concedes there was a 'Jewish trial,' a point sometimes denied by modern critics,— and vile, baseless slander such as these accusations against Mary. These scurrilous fictions should not have been invented in the first place, much less repeated.

It is astonishing to reflect that Muslims hold Mary in more honor than today's Episcopalians:

"She said, 'How shall I have a son, when man hath never touched me? and I am not unchaste.' He said: 'So shall it be.  Thy Lord hath said: 'Easy is this with me;' and we will make him a sign to mankind, and a mercy from us.  For it is a thing decreed." (Koran, Sura 19:20-21)

Return to Jesus Seminar

The Talmud refers to Jesus both under His own name and under pseudonyms such as 'Balaam.' Given state failure to understand the benefits of free speech, some of these references have been censored out of the Talmud, it being impossible to publish them in 'Christian' Europe; they are now found only in the footnotes. The Rabbis slandered Mary as an adulteress:

"And this they did to Ben Stada in Lydda, and they hung him on the eve of Passover. Ben Stada was Ben Padira. R. Hisda said: 'The husband was Stada, the paramour Pandira. But was nor the husband Pappos b. Judah? — His mother's name was Stada. But his mother was Miriam, a dresser of woman's hair? (megaddela neshayia): — As they say in Pumbaditha, This woman has turned away from her husband, (i.e., committed adultery).'" (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 67a).

"It was taught. R. Eliezer said to the Sages: But did not Ben Stada bring forth witchcraft from Egypt by means of scratches  [in the form of charms] upon his flesh? Was he then the son of Stada: surely he was the son of Pandira? — Said R. Hisda: The husband was Stada, the paramour was Pandira. But the husband was Pappos b. Judah? — His mother was Stada. But his mother was Miriam the hairdresser? — It is as we say in Pumbeditha: This one has been unfaithful to (lit., 'turned away from' — satath da) her husband." (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbath 104b)
"Balaam also the son of Beor, the soothsayer, [did the children of Israel slay with the sword].  A soothsayer? But he was a prophet! — R. Johanan said: At first he was a prophet, but subsequently a soothsayer.  R. Papa observed: This is what men say, 'She who was the descendant of princes and governors, played the harlot with carpenters.'" (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin, 106a).

Some readers fail to see Jesus in 'Ben Stada' (to be interpreted, 'son of an adulteress'?) and 'Balaam.' The point of a pseudonym, after all, is to maintain deniability. But some of these references are quite specific:

"A certain min [heretic]  said to R. Hanina: Hast thou heard how old Balaam was? — He replied: It is not actually stated, but since it is written, Bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days,  [it follows that] he was thirty-three or thirty-four years old.  He rejoined: Thou hast said correctly; I personally have seen Balaam's Chronicle, in which it is stated, 'Balaam the lame was thirty years old when Phinehas the Robber killed him.'" (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 106b).

Who was the 'Balaam' who died at about thirty-three years old? Not the Old Testament figure of that name. 'Balaam' does seem to be a cut-out for Jesus of Nazareth. Bishop Spong understands, correctly, that these Talmudic passages intend to refer to Jesus and His mother. But why would any Christian take notice of such ill-intentioned slurs and calumnies?

Contemporary Episcopalians, evidently, can bring themselves to believe neither the gospel report of Mary's innocence and good character, nor can even muster the courage to believe the Talmud, which slanders her as an immoral person. Bishop Spong bowdlerizes the Talmud's report, inventing the fiction that Mary was raped, which is stated by neither Gospel nor Talmud.

Since Bishop Spong is willing to revive the Talmud's slurs against Mary's chastity, is he also open to the remainder of the Talmud's treatment of Jesus? There is needless controversy nowadays about whether there was a 'Jewish trial' of Jesus, given that the Talmud freely concedes that there was. The accusation the Talmud makes against Jesus is enticement, that Jesus violated the strictures of Deuteronomy 13:6, "If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend, who is to thee as thy soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods...", seeking to introduce strange worship:

"And a Master has said, 'Jesus the Nazarene practised magic and led Israel astray.'" (Sandhedrin 107b).

When did Jesus ever do that? When He said:

"That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father." (John 5:23).

That's either true, as Christians believe, or enticement, as the Talmud alleges. One of the weaknesses of the quest for the 'historical Jesus' is that one cannot make the case for condemnation, under the Mosaic law, of the pale, modest, and unremarkable figure intoning timeless truths that these seekers imagined. So these 19th century authors, who were mostly anti-semites anyway, were perfectly willing to accuse the Jews of condemning Jesus for no good reason. When that began to look like a problem, they simply denied that the Jewish authorities had ever reached any negative verdict. But if the gospels testify truly, and the Talmud testifies also reliably if in a hostile key, then the grounds for condemnation are self-evident. However, given Bishop Spong's animus against Christianity, he only believes the Talmud when it debunks the gospels, not when it upholds them.

On any objective basis, it is difficult to imagine why the Talmud is to be believed without question in its slurs against Mary's character, yet not to be believed at all in its affirmative testimony of a 'Jewish trial.' Rather, we are expected to believe the gospel account is a 'whitewash:' "How better could they seek Roman favor than by whitewashing the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, in their narrative of Jesus' final days, exonerating him of any blame in the death of Jesus?" (John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 208):

Bishop Spong's family Bible lay unread:

"As a kid, our family Bible was on the coffee table in the living room. We never read it. We’d open it to put in somebody’s baptism or death. It was a family record book. I remember one day I put a Coca-Cola bottle down on top of it and I thought that the Lord would strike me dead." (Interview with John Shelby Spong, by Candace Chellew-Hodge, January 8, 2012, RD Magazine.)

This might well explain the absurdities he reports in 'The Sins of Scripture,' for instance the Spong family understood that Judas Iscariot was a Jew, but were unaware that Jesus was as well. What is unclear is why these misunderstandings, which could readily have been corrected by reading the book he despises, if indeed any of them possessed that skill, are supposed to incite, not the reader's curiosity as to what episode of inbreeding led to the genesis of the Spong clan, but rather shared contempt for the unread book. Bishop Spong himself stresses that his unschooled mother was "functionally illiterate" (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 287), perhaps imagining he magnifies his own accomplishments by dwelling on this point. Given that two gospels incorporate a genealogy, the Spong clan's ignorance on this point is wholly their own contribution. Though he comes from people who did not know the Bible, nevertheless their insights into this book are supposed to be received as conclusive, and the Bible condemned and discarded on the weight of evidence provided by "functionally illiterate" readers!

Is it distinctly strange to realize that the Muslim fanatics who brought down the World Trade Center believed more of traditional Christian doctrine,— including Bible teaching on Mary,— than does Bishop Spong. Churches unfortunately do not come with warning labels; if they did, the church that ordained this man ought to caution the public, 'This is not your grandmother's Episcopal Church.' Bishop Spong goes on howling his blasphemies toward the skies; they could disassociate themselves from him but do not. They made him a bishop, so he speaks for them. Believers must flee from this church as they would from a Satanic coven.

Does the evangelical message portray "an angry God standing ready to punish sinful people through all eternity unless they repent" (John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 148)? Sho' nuff:

Indian Holocaust

There is a holocaust going on the world today of little Asian girls, murdered in the womb for no crime other than their gender. This slaughter of the innocents excites only Bishop Spong's disdain, not his compassion:

"Among the images from the church that modern women have to confront is a gathering of pious, all-male Roman Catholic Church leaders, clothed in their ecclesiastical dresses, pronouncing in the name of a God called 'Father' what a woman can and cannot do with her own body." (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture. pp. 80-81).

No doubt fewer mouths to feed cause less injury to sacred Mother Earth. Should Christians join Bishop Spong in carrying more fuel for the fire, or is this all horribly wrong?

Contempt for Women

Bishop Spong's contempt for women is so overwhelming he loftily announces that they have made no contributions to civilization:

"Their purpose was to explain what is. It was men who undoubtedly framed these legends and eventually recorded them, since women in that society had no access to the power that explained God or to the ability to write.  . .Women thus neither influenced cultural assumptions directly nor shaped primal decisions about the nature of anything, nor were they engaged in any decision-making processes." (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 88).

No doubt, until his lordly self looked down and took an interest in their plight, women were altogether helpless and useless. But glory be, our savior has lowered his gaze and pitied our condition, and he has come to save us from our own ineptitude:

"A new day is dawning in the lives of 50 percent of the human race. The church that was once the enemy of this new day, quoting and acting upon the basis of biblical texts born in patriarchy, could become both the ally of these oppressed ones and the place where a new humanity in which there is neither male nor female can finally be acted out. That is my vision." (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 109).

Such a jaundiced vision of women's historic place in the world goes beyond legitimate criticism to simple misogyny, because cultured women have always played a role in the household of faith, for example in Byzantium, "The highly educated and clever mother of Alexius I Comnenus, Anna Dalassena, whom her learned granddaughter Anna Comnena calls 'this greatest pride not only of women but also of men, and ornament of human nature,' often came to a dinner party with a book in her hands and there discussed dogmatic problems of the Church Fathers and spoke of the philosopher and martyr Maxim in particular. . .The gifted and highly educated wife of Bryennius, the eldest daughter of Emperor Alexius, Anna Comnena, is the authoress of the Alexiad, an epic poem in prose. This first important achievement of the literary renaissance of the epoch of the Comneni is devoted to describing the glorious rule of Anna's father, 'the Great Alexius, the luminary of the universe, the sun of Anna.'" (Alexander Vasiliev, History of the Byzantine Empire, 324 to 1453, Kindle location 7858-7872). But what about the specific claims about the ancient world? Is the modern Episcopal church correct in assuming that women in antiquity were illiterate?

Women's Literacy
Cleobuline Sappho
Phaedra Daphne
Pindar's Relative Hestiaea
Agallis Arete
Hedyle Among the Scythians
Eurydice Aspasia
Pythagoras' Mother Leontion
Telesilla Megisto
Polycrite Corinna
Praxilla Lovers' Leap
Anyte Kratesiklea
Sophonis Timoxena
Love-Letters Philenium
Hortensia Virginia
Attica Caecilius's Girlfriend
Neaera Cornelia, mother of the Gracchi
Sulpicia Heroides
Cleopatra Perilla
Thisbe Caenis
Persinna Sempronia
Cornelia, Pompey's wife Pompeia
Fulvia Apicata
Caligula's Sisters Detractors
Cydippe Calpurnia
Fundanus' Daughter Verania
Saturninus' Wife Marcia
Callirhoe Manto
Leucippe Melite
Rectina Baker's Wife
On the Wall Aurelia
Midwives Domitia Lucilla
Zenobia Vivia Perpetua
Domitia Sosipatra
Julia Domna Hypatia
Chrysanthius' Melite Bassula

The marriage of arrogance and ignorance here on display is breath-taking; he has just read out one half the human race from having any effect on human history. Why is someone who is this ignorant lecturing the rest of us? The great man has spoken; presumably we must avert our eyes. This author's grandiose pretensions when it comes to womankind as a whole, that he is The Man who will lead us to a New Day, collapse on the individual level. Why was the first wife he sent packing: "I sent her a check each month to cover all her expenses" (p. 344, Here I Stand, Bishop John Shelby Spong), who suffered from mental illness, allowed to die of undiagnosed cancer? Perhaps he should lay aside his leadership project to "grasp the new day" (The Sins of Scripture, p. 109) and concentrate on being nicer to individual women. Bishop Spong is unwilling to feel sorry for anything he's done; he thinks that is unhealthy: "We cover these neurotic aspects of our worship with layers of piety or with the smoke of incense, but they are always there just below the surface. . .Is that healthy? Does it enhance life? Does guilt enable growth to occur?" (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 171). No doubt dwelling on the miserable existence this woman endured does not enhance his life, so he doesn't. While his conduct in this matter strikes us judgmental types as less than chivalrous, he remains steadfast in his confidence that he is no sinner, it is "neurotic" to think otherwise: "That biblical idea is simply wrong. . .It is an inaccurate idea that has helped to set the stage for the development of a guilt-producing, dependency-seeking neurotic religion. . .We do not need some divine rescue accomplished by an invasive deity to lift us from a fall that never happened and to restore us to a status we have never possessed. The idea that Jesus had to pay the price of our sinfulness is an idea that is bankrupt." (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture. pp. 176-177). Atheism means never having to say you are sorry.

Those of us who do have a conscience acknowledge our faults and can never stop praising God for the wondrous condescension of the cross. The gospel provides a benefit Bishop Spong's first wife never enjoyed: both a diagnosis, and a remedy.

Intellectual Honesty

A chapter sub-heading in 'The Sins of Scripture' is "The Woman is Not Made in the Image of God." A Bible student who sought to defend such a thesis would have his work cut out for him, because the Bible explicitly says,

"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." (Genesis 1:27)

Evidently he thinks that Paul intended to contradict Genesis when he said,

"For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man." (1 Corinthians 11:7).

Paul here says that Adam is "the image and glory of God," then fails to say that the woman is the 'image and glory of the man' but rather says that she is "the glory of the man." This does not negate the plain teaching of Genesis 1:27 either verbally or by implication. This, unfortunately, is the general trend of Bishop Spong's scripture wresting. He solemnly advises us that "Since Jesus is punished for our sins, we are left with a sense of heavy guilt that is all but unendurable. It is a timeless process, because our sins kill him anew every day. . .God is portrayed as eternally absorbing the punishment that was our due." (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 172). "Eternally"? His own church does not teach that, the Bible expressly denies it:

"For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us: Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." (Hebrews 9:24-26).

The only people who can be accused of teaching anything like the idea that Jesus suffers "eternally" are the Roman Catholics, and they deny that they teach that. His audience is not very likely to be comprised of Biblically literate people, rather, this material is pitched toward atheists and liberals, who generally know little or nothing about the Bible. Such people may well be open to conviction on the theory that the purity code of Moses' law is all about a horror of menstruating women. No doubt Moses' purity code inconvenienced women at times, it also inconveniences men. Nothing is asked of women comparable to the male circumcision which is the sign of the covenant. Perhaps realizing this non-conforming reality up-ends his ideas, Bishop Spong doubles down, and takes a flying leap into insanity:

  • "My suggestion is that circumcision began in a male attempt to capture the woman's menstrual power. Circumcision enabled the man, just like the woman, to bleed from the genitals at puberty and not die. It became an initiation into manhood, a rite of passage. . .
  • "These thoughts were, as all irrational fear-related ideas are at their inception, quite unacceptable to the conscious mind and so they were pushed deep into the realm of the unconscious. That does not make them any less real, just more difficult to contemplate. What was not suppressed, however, was the fear of women's power — a fear that manifested itself in unrelenting male oppression of women, pejorative male definitions imposed upon women and the long and brutal patriarchal abuse of women."
  • (The Sins of Scripture, John Shelby Spong, p. 99.)

Why would primitive people be astonished to learn that you can bleed and not die, when any child who has scraped his knee and survived has discovered this? People who go into this kind of 'religion' need to abandon their brains at the door.

One can scarcely avoid noticing a certain synergy between Bishop Spong's endeavor to cleanse Christianity of Moses' law, which he is convinced represents an atavistic survival of a primitive, tribal mentality, and the second-century heretic Marcion's similar endeavor. But instead of showing gratitude to this towering figure who blazed the trail he is travelling along, Bishop Spong scouts Marcion as an anti-semite:

"Marcion regarded the God of the Jews as a demonic figure. He proposed that Christians dismiss the Old Testament from what they considered sacred scriptures. . .Marcion's desire was to sever Christianity from its Jewish roots and allow it, even force it, to deny its own ancestry. He might be called the culmination of the first great wave of Christian anti-Semitism. The church, to its credit, refused to go along with Marcion. . ." (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 191).

Wouldn't it be simpler and more honest to say 'thank you'? If the evidence that Marcion is an anti-semite is that he hates the God of the Old Testament and His laws, then so does Spong. Quoting the Pentateuch, Bishop Spong says, "Can anyone seriously argue today that these words are the 'Word of God'? Are they not little more than texts of oppression?" (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 25). What would Marcion have said any differently? Would not these two have agreed in understanding Moses' law as "this ancient ignorance and this patriarchal fear?" (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 100.)

The church, to its credit, refuses to go along with Marcion's heirs, and will not join Spong and Marcion in expunging the book of Leviticus, home base for "the homophobic texts of the Bible" (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture. p. 118), from the Bible on grounds that it represents "uninformed ignorance" (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 123). Like Marcion, Bishop Spong perceives the Torah as antithetical to the gospel,

"The texts in Leviticus 18 and 20 are simply wrong. They are morally incompetent because they are based on ignorance. They should be viewed, as should so much else in Leviticus and the rest of the Torah, as stages in human development that we have outgrown, that we have been educated beyond and have therefore abandoned. To quote these texts to justify our prejudices and even our violence destroys the very essence of what Christians say they believe about God. The God who is love, the God who is heard through the words of Jesus promising life more abundantly, the description of the way others will recognize our desire to follow Jesus 'by our love,' all are violated if the texts of Leviticus 18 and 20 are given legitimacy. . .The contending positions are mutually exclusive. There must be no wavering. Leviticus 18 and 20 cannot be allowed to remain in the lexicon of Christian behavior." (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, pp.125-126).

How would Marcion have phrased this differently? Why it is "anti-semitic" for him to hate God and God's law, but not for Spong?

Divine Child Abuse

  • "Is watching Jesus die on the cross anything more than an act of sadomasochistic voyeurism?. . .The primary way in which the Jesus story has been traditionally and historically told portrays the holy God involved in a cruel act of divine child abuse that was said to have occurred on a hill called Calvary. We are told that there, instead of punishing us for our sins, God required the suffering and death of the divine Son. . .In the evangelical hymns of Protestantism it is said both that his blood is precious and that it has the power to wash us clean. With so much sin to be washed away, Jesus must suffer and bleed excessively. . .Either way, the blood of Jesus becomes a fetish, a grotesque image that rivets our attention on the trauma of the cross."
  • (The Sins of Scripture, John Shelby Spong, pp. 171-172.)

The eyes of God's children are indeed riveted to the cross, where our Savior bled and died:

Washed from our Sins Passover Lamb
Purchase Price Without Shedding of Blood
Cur Deus Homo Haemophobia
Abel's Sacrifice One Sin One Time
God's Wrath Paganism

Silly Season

Bishop Spong agrees with the best-selling novel 'The Da Vinci Code' that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene.

"The only thing I can think of that would have made such an act acceptable in the Bethany of Jesus' day is the knowledge, on the part of everyone at this gathering of intimate family and close disciples, that this woman was Jesus' wife." (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 105).

After all, "What kind of women follow an itinerant band of men? Are they not either wives or prostitutes?" (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 106). Because Bishop Spong shares Dan Brown's porneophobia, this makes her his wife. (What is it about prostitutes these anxiety-ridden men find so threatening?) When Mary Magdalene calls Jesus "my Lord," our astute Bible scholar explains that this was a title "appropriate in Jewish society only for a wife to use in addressing her rabbi husband." (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scriptures, p. 107). One shudders to think what this makes Thomas, who also called Jesus "my Lord."

Another whimsical idea is that Judas Iscariot, who betrayed the Lord, is a made-up character. How do we know this? Because his name is Judas: "Judas is nothing but the Greek spelling of Judah. The name of the traitor is the very name of the Jewish nation." (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 204). One is reminded of the old song, 'I love her just the same. . .because Caledonia is her name,' except this time it's 'He doesn't exist, because Judas is his name.' According to all available evidence, Judas was a very common name at the time; a brother of Jesus had the same name: "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him." (Mark 6:3). Bishop Spong doesn't like Judas Iscariot, so he wishes him away. Presumably eager to stir up pogroms against Romans, he informs us that "The Romans killed Jesus. . ." (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 204). This 'scholar' has no concept of history as what happened as opposed to what you would like to have happened.

More silly stuff: the 'saints' of God are God's 'holy ones,' that is what the word means. The Lord commands holiness:

"Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. And you shall keep My statutes, and perform them: I am the LORD who sanctifies you." (Leviticus 20:7-8).

The 'saints' are members of a holy convocation, "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:5). All of the early believers shared this designation, and are referred to quite matter-of-factly as 'the saints:' "All the saints salute you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household." (Philippians 4:22). Later church-goers could not help noticing how distinctly unholy some church folk were. They elevated the status of those who had gone before, and made 'sainthood' into a rank not held by all, a special designation for those on the top rung. Bishop Spong's Episcopal Church still holds onto this idea of 'sainthood' as a merit badge for which one must pass scrutiny. Bishop Spong does not know any better than to project this concept into the distant past, as if it were present from the outset: "By and large, all of the disciples, save for poor Judas, were acknowledged as saints by the time the Apostles' Creed evolved into its final form." (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 224). Who in the church in that period was not acknowledged as a saint? It's hard not to giggle at some of this stuff. Bishop Spong's whole schtick is that he is a scholar, and those who do not see the world as he does are just ignorant. The reader who turns that right around will get it about right.

Naught But a Sinner

The Bible teaches that all men are sinners. Bishop Spong considers this view to be 'neurotic' and 'unhealthy'. . .for himself at any rate; for others, for Christians for example, guilt is all they deserve. Suspect categories like mass guilt are fully applicable, not for others of course, but for this unworthy group, whose distinguishing characteristics are "hate," "dreadful bigotry," etc. Although it was America who, with others, at great sacrifice, defeated Hitler, American Christians are equally guilty for his crimes as the German church so hollowed out by the same poison Bishop Spong is ladling out, liberalism, that it offered no meaningful resistance. He rejects the blood remedy for sin because he has found another, older remedy: project all that nasty stuff onto a disliked group, demonize them, and then hate them for all you're worth. It seems to work for him. For those who find this ancient approach unsatisfactory, here is an open-eyed diagnosis:

I am God and You Can Be, Too

When the veil is pulled away on some atheists' denial of the God who is "a being," what stands revealed is crass self-deification. What a surprise, something similar is revealed as the "ultimate mystery" of who Bishop Spong's god is. It turns out this god, too big to put in a box, would fit nicely in a cargo container because it's no more than Bishop Spong and his friends. God, you see, is a development of human consciousness. This is a recurrent theme in 'liberal Christianity:'

"Now it is a general doctrine in Christendom that divinity must manifest itself; and, in assuming the highest form of manifestation known to us, divinity becomes humanity. However, that doctrine is commonly taught in the specific and not generic form, and is enforced by an historical and concrete example, but not by way of a universal thesis. It appears thus: The Christ was God; as such He must manifest himself; the form of manifestation was that of a complete and perfect man. I reject the concrete example, but accept the universal doctrine on which the special dogma of the Trinity is erected. From that I deduce this as a general rule: If you follow the law of your nature, and are simple and true to that, as much of godhead as there is in you, so much of manhood will come out of you, and, as much of manhood comes out of you, so much of godhead was there within you; as much subjective divinity, so much objective humanity."

(Parker, Theodore. Works of Theodore Parker (Kindle Locations 4562-4564). The Perfect Library.)

If you subscribe to this viewpoint, you might as well be worshipping Pharaoh or the Prince of Tyre; just as well as these characters can carry their self-imposed burden of deity, so can you. You are as good a god as was Antiochus Epiphanes; we are democracy after all! The Bible authors did not think they did very well at it, but we enlightened ones know that is a book of myths.

You too can develop your god-consciousness, but not if you're one of those awful fundamentalists, because "what the New Testament is all about" is removing private sexual conduct from the category of morals: "One who is fully human is not bound by all that seems to bind human life — tribe, prejudice, gender, sexual orientation, religion, finitude, fear. We are free of all of those things. That is the Jesus message." (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, p. 292). People who don't agree don't get to be god, because it is holding to this very set of ideas that forms the consciousness which makes you divine. Oh well. I'll just have to sit and watch the others pass the Kool-Aid:

  • "That is the Christ experience. . .Empowerment is experienced in the recognition that humanity and divinity are two sides of the same coin. Was he divine, we ask of Jesus? Yes, but only in the sense that by living fully and freeing his new humanity he was able to enter into the realm of divinity, of God. . .
  • "Humanity is expanding in consciousness. In the expansion of that consciousness God is less and less the supernatural parent figure who is our divine protector and becomes instead the ultimate consciousness in which our own consciousness participates and is a part. We cease being dependent recipients and become God-bearers to one another. . .
  • "We have entered into the consciousness of God. That is what it means to discover that we are now God's dwelling place. There is no supernatural deity beyond the sky working miracles. There is only a God-infused humanity through whom the Source of Life, the Source of Love and the Ground of Being lives. We are the God-bearers of the world. We must rise to our new vocation and be God for one another. For in each of us is the promise of 'Emmanuel,' which means God with us."
  • (Bishop John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture, pp. 292-298.)