Christianity and Spong (formerly: Bishop Spong Should Have Been Excommunicated)

Ok, since the original thread is lost, I hope the interested parties come by here and rejoin the discussion. I think Spooje has a question that I haven’t addressed in my reply below, but I’m hoping that he elaborates a little more.

I’m glad of the timing of this board crash. I was writing this huge post, and in that time, the board went down. If I’d managed to post it, it might be totally lost, necessitating a complete rewrite.

Here goes. Settle into that chair, as it’s long:

toonerama: Ok, Bishop Spong.

I know that Spong probably comes across to non-Christians as the kind of progressive hip dude that gives Christians a more reasonable image.

I have to go on record, though, and say that you have to realize that this guy is on the extreme liberal end of Christianity. I’m tempted to just ask why he even bothers to use the word “Christian” to describe himself, but maybe that’s just a knee-jerk reaction.

Let’s look at some of the things he says in the article at :

Spong explains that we have a new God in these modern times. “This God no longer explains mysteries, cures sicknesses, directs the weather, fights wars, punishes sinners, rewards faithfulness. Indeed, the idea of an external supernatural Deity who invades human affairs periodically to impose the divine will upon this world, though still given lip service in worship settings, has nonetheless died culturally. If God is to be identified exclusively with this theistic understanding of God, then it is fair to say that culturally at least God has ceased to live in our world.”

This is so antithetical to “traditional” Christianity that I almost don’t know where to start. One of his points seems to be that since we no longer talk about God throwing lightning bolts or causing hurricanes, we have done away with Him: He no longer exists. So I guess if God was real, our lack of belief has winked him out of existence. It’s news to me that the existence of God is entirely up to us. It’s like saying that there really were super-beings named Zeus and so on top of Mt. Olympus, but then we stopped believing in them, so now they’re gone. The simple fact is that they were never there. Either God as a Judeo-Christian conception exists, or He doesn’t, regardless of the vagaries and inconsistencies of human thought.

“Indeed, the idea of an external supernatural Deity who invades human affairs periodically to impose the divine will upon this world, though still given lip service in worship settings, has nonetheless died culturally. If God is to be identified exclusively with this theistic understanding of God, then it is fair to say that culturally at least God has ceased to live in our world.”

I am shocked at the extent to which he is out of touch with tens of millions of Americans. If he were European, I’d maybe cut a tiny bit more slack, but since he is American, I just don’t know were he’s been. There’s something called the “Ivory Tower Syndrome” for a reason.

Believe me, the Pope and every halfway (or maybe even quarter-way) conservative pastor I know of would recoil in horror at these statements. He apparently is associating only with those who agree with him, and not the church at large.

Furthermore, I would state that I and many other people have seen God intervene personally in their lives, some with truly remarkable stories. This is in contrast to Spong’s following statement (and I’ll try to ignore that he uses Pat Robertson as a standard bearer for conservative Protestants):

“Only someone as naive theologically as American televangelist Pat Robertson would assume, as he did a few years ago, that his prayers could steer a hurricane away from his television and radio enterprise in Norfolk, Virginia.”

Even Robertson would say that it isn’t his prayers that do anything, but God who performs miracles. What’s occurred to me recently as even more damning is Spong’s seeming attitude of Rich White American. People can be very blasé about whether God interacts with us on a personal level as long as they don’t feel they need Him. When they get inoperable cancer, their child is horribly sick, or they feel they are about to be ruined financially, all of sudden they take a hard look at their real core beliefs.

Spong’s whole manner here strikes me as very insensitive to those in those situations, and makes me wonder what kind of real desperate situations he’s faced before.

Moving on:

“In this world of scholarly dialogue God has not been spoken of as an external Supernatural Being who periodically invades the world in decades. Yet the experience of God as a divine presence found in the midst of life is all but universally attested.”

First, I just have to say again that Spong is obviously ignoring quite a lot of theological discussion from people with very respectable credentials. Don’t believe for a minute that he’s actually right that no legitimate Biblical scholar believes in God as a Being who is personal.

It seems that Spong is attempting to get away from the Christian conception of God, and go toward some Star Wars/Buddhist thing, where God is some sort of life-force or something. The problem with this is that Spong uses the word “God” for this thing, which poses some philosophical problems.

A god in any definition I’ve ever heard of would need the ability to respond in some way to the people worshipping it/him/her. A rational response in any way, or having purposes or goals is something that only a mind can have, which is goes pointedly against some kind of inanimate force. A force cannot make decisions nor have goals. A goal implies a choice made in favor of one thing over others, which only a sentient being can make, having a mind, even if there were no brain as we usually understand it. Yet Spong’s entire point seems to be the impersonal nature of his “God”.

If this force-God created things (I wonder what Spong thinks about that?), then it does have a mind, making it more than a force, leading us back to Christian conception. Even if the creation was the design of particles that would interact in certain ways, leading eventually to the world we see now, that was a decision, and let’s all say this together: “Decisions can only be made by minds.”

I cannot say it strongly enough that the ENTIRE conception of God in the Old and New Testament is that of a spirit “person”. To reject that idea is to reject the entire Bible, because the Bible in a fundamental sense is the story of the relationship between people and God, showing the character of God. To start with the Bible and end up with an inanimate “divine force” is something like starting with Shakespeare’s sonnets and ending up deciding there is no such thing as love. This would be such a violent re-interpretation that I think almost everyone would agree that the interpreter is trying to shove in a pet point.

I am not being sarcastic when I say that worshipping Spong’s divine force" seems to be barely removed from worshipping gravity. Gravity too is impersonal, without a mind for conscious thought, and enforces rules simply because gravity IS the rule, not because it has chosen to. I can’t see it, it has a powerful, little understood force, and it has no mind, not caring for me personally at all.

I worship God because He first loved us and because He is good, not because he is more powerful, or more spooky, or a neato idea. I am not about to worship the weak nuclear force, even though I cannot stop it, create it, or exist on its level. It is not good; it is created and impersonal. I cannot have a relationship with it.

Maybe Spong doesn’t worship this force, in which case he should stop using the word “God” entirely. If it doesn’t have a mind, then it is nothing more than a little understood energy field, and I’m not about to worship the electromagnetic force, gravity, or anything else that’s inanimate and mindless.
Come to think of it, Spong violates many of the things I pointed out in the old, lost thread as fundamental Christian tenets:

From reading just this one article, Spong seems to disagree with nos. 1 (if we understand that the concept of the Trinity inherently holds God to be a spirit with a mind), 2, 3, 4, and I’m betting on 5 and 6 for a clean sweep. A rejection of 6 is not totally laid out in that article, but a rejection of 4 is pretty much a rejection of 6. So, maybe I will wonder why he calls himself a Christian.

I’m tempted here to in some way address the points Spong made about gays, but only if everyone promises not to get this thrown into GD, and instead wants to have what was intended: a discussion of broad Christian (and in some cases, my) beliefs. Trust me, they’re not THAT incendiary.

OK -

when do the good Christians go to Heaven? Upon death, or at the Rapture?

How many takes are there on Original Sin? I know of 3:

  1. Adam/Eve ate the apple
  2. Being born of a sexual union (Jesus was perfect because there was none of that nasty sex stuff involved in his birth)
  3. Just because. (Standard Equipment on all new humans)

I’ll leave the idea of ‘smoke and mirror’ type gods out of this one, as we are presuming that the judeo-christian one is the only one to have ever existed.

and, if I am ever in a foxhole, there WILL be an “atheist in a foxhole”.

I think you should title your thread “Bishop Spong should have been excommunicated” and place it in GD.

Why did Spong remain a bishop while renouncing Christianity? Why was he not then removed?

The answer to the first question is easy if you believe in evil. He could do more damage to the Church from within it, than without.

The answer to the second question is harder, but I’d have to say the leadership of the ECUSA found his views close enough to their own, to not censure him or remove him.

This says a lot. Bishop Spong, or rather the church’s failure to remove him, is a big part of the reason behind the mass exodus of the conservative element in the Episcopal Church.

Sounds good to me.

Cajun Man - SDMB Moderator

I have to question whether or not you are credible to determine if other people are Christian or not, given the “fundamental” tenets you listed.

“1. There is a Tri-une God.”

Not all Christians believe this. It’s not Biblical, for one; the trinity is never mentioned in the New Testament. Various religious movements, such as the Unitarians (I’m speaking circa Council of Nicea, not modern America) and some modern-day fundamentalist groups decry the trinity. The latter, for example, point out that trinities are not in the NT and are characteristics of pagan gods (such as the Irish Morrigan).

“2. Jesus is a member of this Trinity.”

See above.

"3. Jesus came to earth bodily as a man, but still remained God at the same time. "

In early Christianity, there was a great deal of debate about this as well. While this is given as fact in modern Protestantism, there have been many Christians over time that have claimed that Jesus was entirely man (and not divine – more like a prophet) or entirely god (and that the crucifixion was an illusion).

"4. Jesus’ death was an atoning act for all of mankind’s sins. "

I’d say pretty fundamental. Score one for you.

"5. Jesus rose bodily from the dead and ascended to heaven. "

See above. The Crucifixion and Resurrection are taken for granted as a belief of all Christians, but this has not historically been the case.

“6. An acceptance of Jesus’ atoning work is a key to redemption and salvation.”

This seems more Protestant than anything (ie. faith over works). It also ignores the Universalist idea of universal salvation, as well as Calvinist predestination, both of which fall squarely in the Christian camp.

It seems to me that your definition is awfully narrow. All but one of the above were contested by self-professing Christians. Now, you’re free to pull a Jack Chick and decide that they’re not “real Christians” (Catholics, people who celebrate Halloween, people who play Dungeons and Dragons, and, well, just about everyone except Jack Chick). I simply wouldn’t advise a Doper to do so. After all, we are fighting ignorance aren’t we?

(Disclaimer: The above was written by an ex-Lutheran, semi-heathen prospective Unitarian quite possibly condemned to hell by the Christians mentioned above, so there you go.)

I should append that your criteria are, of course, based on the Nicene Creed, which has not been universal to Christians throughout their history. It had very dubious religious legitimacy (as I recall, it was pretty much forced to confirm the Roman / imperial idea of Christianity as universal and to denounce other Christians as heretics). The last one not included, though; it is based on Luther / Protestant beliefs.

As a somewhat maverick Christian myself, ( I believe that the bible actually proclaims that **all ** people will be granted salvation upon submission to Jesus Christ and His word, which He promises will occur in each and every case, even if the conversion takes pace beyond the grave), I find Spong’s words devoid of any meaningful relationship with Christ. I am at a loss to understand why Spong would even want to call himself Christian.

Before I actually saw Spong briefly on the program “Politically Incorrect” recently, (I never read his books or knew much about him), I recall Polycarp who we all know represents Christ very well, presenting a favourable account of Spong. Perhaps there is more to the man that I am aware of.

The Nicene Creed was formulated primarily to combat Arianism (the belief that Jesus was a created being; not co-existent with God from the beginning, not “begotten of his Father before all worlds.”) Arius was excommunicated, and the Nicene Creed was drafted in A.D. 325. It’s been accepted by virtually all Christians since, and even churches which do not use it teach its doctrines.

Arius stuck around, continuing to voice his views, and yes he was then denounced as a heretic. This does not mean the Creed is of dubious religious legitimacy.

Maybe Spong has examined the issue and has decided for himself (you know, using that mind he has) that millions of Americans are incorrect.

I was not aware that the validity of another person’s faith was dependent on the lack of “recoil[ing] in horror” in another person.

Care to prove that it was actually a divine entity and not just mere happenstance?

I was not aware that the validity of any person’s belief in deity was dependent on whatever definition you have heard. Perhaps you’d care to enlighten us as to which particular dictionary you’ve been listening to so the rest of us can reorganize our lives accordingly.

Incorrect. There are millions of people who believe otherwise and hold to the Old Testament. There are also quite a few folks in Christian denominations which hold otherwise.

Opinion, not fact. If you got your definition for fact from the same place as for deity, then I seriously doubt the validity of that dictionary I asked you about.

Sounds good to me. But exactly how does this prove your assertion:

fluiddruid did a stand-up job on dissecting your take on traditional values.

Now, I must ask why you don’t think you should be excommunicated? After all, isn’t “Judge not that ye shall not be judged” a traditional Christian value?

I submit that while there have been and are groups which self-identify as Christian which reject some or all of the fundamental tenets listed by Cardinal in the OP, Bishop Spong is not a representative of any of those groups. He speaks not as a Unitarian, or Arian, or Manichaean, or Mormon, but rather as a retired Bishop of the Episcopal Church USA, a member of the Anglican Communion. Since the ECUSA subscribes to both the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds, and Bishop Spong evidently does not, the issue of excommunication appears to this non-Anglican to be valid.

The Anglican Communion (of which I am a member) does not, on the whole, believe in excommunication as a method of suppressing internal debate.

(Well, OK, we used to set fire to Catholics. But it was a long time ago. And anyway, they started it).

Seriously, though… I’m not a great fan of Bishop Spong, but it’s clear enough that his views fall within the broad spectrum of Christian belief. If he is seriously in conflict with the ECUSA, they can, presumably, apply their own administrative penalties, if they feel like it. Excommunication - the denial of the sacraments - seems inappropriate to the case. There is provision in most Anglican churches (all the ones I know of) for de-ordination (“unfrocking”), but that’s an extreme remedy, applicable only if the church authorities feel someone is actually unable to continue in their ordained ministry. Presenting views which are out of step with the majority opinion doesn’t really count.

Whether Bishop Spong feels it appropriate to continue as a member of the Episcopal Church… is a matter for his own conscience. Since he, like all of us, was given freedom of conscience by God Himself, it seems presumptuous for any lesser authority to try to dictate in this matter.

Now isn’t that funny? I was just talking to a devoutly Christian friend (I’m an atheist bordering on agnostic bordering on atheist BTW) the other day about Spong, and said that I wondered how he could reconcile his formal presence within the church with his profoundly counter-traditional Christian views. She defended his stance, but I continue to ponder his scepticism about the resurrection and the immaculate conception (both really being the flagstones upon which Christianity rests…they epitomize the divinity of Christ instead of him just being another cool ascetic dude wandering around the desert. Without them you have no ‘religion’ as such).

I like Spong’s candour, and I find him a refreshing change from the literalist hype that most Christians spout in the media. It is somehow reassuring to find a person who expresses his confusion and doubt so publicly, and is also prepared to cop the flak that comes with that. Yet given that his doubt cuts to the very core of Christian tenets, I wonder how he can continue to fulfill the role of Bishop?

Is it just me or does this fly in the face of the RCC doctrinal teaching of the immutability of God? IOW, our Friend doesn’t change? Saying there’s a new version of Him seems to be kinda … off.

Actually, I think he and other writers like Marcus Borg, would agrue that our understanding of God is what has changed.

There was a hell of a lot more going on than that. Arius was later deemed orthodox and reinstated. His beliefs were actually supported by the majority of the Eastern Bishops and the Council was likely rigged by Hosius and by pressure from Constantine for Unity above all else. Arius’ primary rival Athanasius was later excommunicated and exiled.

The Arian controversy never really went away, and was suppressed by force, not by the moral superiority of the Anti-Arians.

And to many Christians as an insightful theologian trying to make Christianity and reason more reconcilable. Sorry, but I attend a church which is firmly orthodox and which spent substantially to bring him in as a guest speaker – and he struck a resounding chord in the vast majority of our membership.

Because he considers himself a Christian. I don’t know of a better reason for doing that, and I submit that you have no grounds to judge whether he “is” a Christian or not.

Perhaps it might be better said that, just as the authors of Jonah and Isaiah 41-55 raised the consciousness of Jews from a tribal god who was mighty for them specifically to a God of all nations Who had particularly selected them as examples to the world of how to follow Him, Spong is speaking of a new understanding of the same old God of Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Christ, Francis, Luther, Wesley, and all.

Uh, nice application of the law of the excluded middle. But you’re wrong. Are you seriously saying that you believe in “rubbish” because SeaHawk’s misunderstanding of Christianity is the only option to agnosticism or atheism? As gets thrown at me every time I suggest that there might be something to traditional Christianity, show me a contrary-to-natural-law miracle. What I’ve always understood Spong to be saying, since I began reading and listening to him, is that perhaps our conceptions of God are lacking in reality – not that He is.

Well, yeah. God is not accustomed to make nightly manifestations of Himself in Gaudere’s bedroom, for example. The God in Whom I believe tends to work through the world He created and the people He called to follow Him, not by some magicking of reality to “r’ar back and pass a miracle.”

I agree with the last – but there are a large number of Americans who have a strong problem with the traditional understanding of God, many of whom belong to this board, and many of whom live in northern New Jersey. Spong speaks to and for them. Ivory Tower Syndrome works both ways.

By the way, when Spong uses “theism” he is using it in the specific meaning that Paul Tillich gave it in his theological works, which I don’t feel essential to this thread, but it’s worth pointing out that the Spong usage does not include all forms of Christianity, theistic Unitarianism, Islam, Judaism, and anything else that posits a supernatural power, right down to the nebulous “higher power” of AA.

Boy, are you out of synch! Spong debates conservatives whenever he can get even ground – and regularly gets his remarks misquoted by “good Christians” who oppose him. (What was that about the Ten Commandments?) As for the Pope, as a Bishop in the Anglican Communion, Spong is not answerable to him.

Likewise, and so has Spong. (You might read his autobiography, particularly the passage he sees a parishioner and close friend with a terminal illness through his final days, and how the man’s faith sustains both him and Spong through the ordeal.)

Yeah, and directly towards Orlando, where they were sinfully welcoming gay people to Disney World. People who believe that their prayers are more effective because they’re “good Christians” and that God is out to injure sinners, not them, are best termed “self-righteous.” Jesus whom we call Christ had some comments on the subject that I’ll be glad to quote if you need to hear them.

Oh, God is only important when you cannot take care of yourself? Wonderful theology.

Losing a wife to cancer and mental illness? Being condemned by people who don’t listen to what he says, but rather set him up as a useful straw man – and then misrepresent him? Facing the potential of being lynched for voting for a black man for City Council? Naah – Spong’s never been in a “desperate situation” :rolleyes:

Moving on:

You’re correct here. However, obviously nobody in this debate can possibly give respect to somebody on the other side of it. You make quite clear that Spong is not a Christian in your views, despite his willingness to affirm the entire Nicene Creed (which he did aloud in my hearing not six months ago).

Maybe it seems that way to you. Some of us have read his works and see something quite different.

Ah, let’s apply logic? The problem with your argument here is that you’re starting with a false premise. And you’re using a dichotomous logic to try to interpret God’s nature. Maybe we ought to have a go with this as regards free will and determinism?

Last time I heard that description of God was from a Mormon.

Oh, let’s do bring the Bible in as evidence! I look forward to what people have to say about that!

Same here.

Okay. Now, differentiate between the mystery of the Trinity and the Dogma of the Trinity.

Nope. God the Son is a member of this Trinity. Jesus is the human individual in whom God the Son was incarnate. (A half-baked distinction, but remember that Jesus was truly God and truly man – start looking at Him as God (as opposed to us mortals) and you miss half the point of the Incarnation.

No, he was born as a baby – and was God Incarnate even then, on the orthodox understanding. It’s not like He levitated in from heaven as an adult male human!

Ah, the Propitiatory Atonement! Nothing like a dogma that says that God loves Mankind so much that he plans to torture them eternally for the fallen human nature they were born with and have no hope of escaping, but like any good sadist allows himself to be bought off by the shedding of innocent blood! There are a lot of ways of understanding the Atonement, but that theory is perhaps the most repulsive.

That quotation from the Spong article you cited is something I think virtually everybody on this board, Christian or not, would agree with.

Here we go with the levitation thing again. I believe wholeheartedly in the Resurrection, and have argued at length with people who think it was myth, misunderstanding, and so on. But on the evidence of the Gospels what happened was not merely the resuscitation of the dead body of Jesus. Stop transforming the greatest of miracles into a Frankenstein-movie scene!

No, God’s grace is the key to redemption and salvation. One sure way to accept this is to take Jesus as Savior and Lord. But giving intellectual credence to any given theological doctrine is not a requirement placed by God, just by men.

Oh, please do! Nothing offends me more than my fellow Christians making fraudulent assumptions about other people, in this case gays, and then sitting in judgment over them and proffering to them “cures” that generally don’t work – in complete contradistinction to what Jesus had to say about morality.

Happyheathen: This Christian (don’t know how “good” I am, but I claim the name) is not worried about when, or if, he’ll go to Heaven, but what God wants him to do here. And doesn’t have a theory of “original sin.” (BTW, John Corrado was personally acquainted with an atheist in a foxhole, so you don’t need to enlist to make sure there is one.)

Nice point, Masonite. As between the task of showing God’s love to all men and maintaining doctrinal orthodoxy, I know which I would choose if a choice became necessary. What I’ve seen of “the conservative element in the Episcopal Church” is that the ones who are uncomfortable with liberalism but motivated by a love of God and their fellow man stay, and the ones who find orthodox doctrine a useful thing to abuse their enemies with leave – about 8,000 out of 2,500,000 at last count. They get a lot of press, but they’re about as representative of anything as Fred Phelps is of evangelicalism.

Steve Wright is pretty well on target as regards the Episcopal stance on excommunication, defrocking, and such.

Well, the “immaculate conception” is the Roman Catholic doctrine that Mary was born without original sin, and is not held as a matter of faith by anyone outside the RCC. Perhaps you meant the virgin birth?

As for “continue to fulfill the role of Bishop,” first, he’s retired. Second, he is doing precisely the job he was called to do – to teach and work theology in ways that make it meaningful to people in this day and age, to be (prior to retirement) the chief pastor of a diocese, administering the sacraments. Does the idea of a “wounded healer” – a person who, himself suffering, can bring solace to others – resonate with you? Spong is asking the questions we need to answer in order to have people like Gaudere and Spiritus Mundi think that we’re confronting the world as we all perceive it, not as some mystical believers in highly improbable events at some other time and place with no message for today.

Homebrew, you’re slightly “off” on the end results of the Arian heresy, but that would, I think, be a major hijack here. Perhaps Tom~ can simplify a controverted question, or we can deal with that in another thread, here or in the Parlor.

Well, not quite, since I wasn’t talking abou the “end” result. My point was that the Arian controversy did not end in 325. In fact the conflict lingered another 60 years oscillating between orthodox and heresy until Arian beliefs were finally made punishable by death. Arianism, however, is still alive and while may not be considered Othrodox, I don’t think it is dismissable.

My point was to show that this statement was not valid:

The OP was a fabulous piece of PR for this Spong fellow. (Unintendend consequences are interesting things, I think.) Poly (and others actually familiar with his work), any of his books in particular you’d recommend checking out first?

“Why Christianity Must Change or Die” is, for me, a powerful work. This book and Marcus Borg’s “The God We Never Knew” make it possible for me to take Christianity seriously.