Bishop John Spong is famous in Christianity for championing the rhetoric of liberal Christianity. Since the 70s, maybe earlier, he’s been writing and preaching and debating mostly conservative evangelicals on topics like biblical inspiration and inerrancy, the nature of the atonement, social issues, and issues related to Jesus and the Gospels.
When I was at BJU, Spong was the posterboy for everything wrong with liberalism — unbelief, skepticism, a love of science over doctrines of faith.
So when David W told us Spong was coming to town for a theology lecture, we hopped on that straightway. I like to hear people speak for themselves, not rely on what someone told me they said. And my own theological positions have moderated over the years (though not so far as to move me out of the solidly conservative camp when it comes to my personal belief in core doctrines; more of a moderation in my attitudes toward people who don’t see things as I do).
He’s 81. Very spry. Nice guy. Clearly highly intelligent. A clear speaker, well-read, familiar with lots of different writers.
Disdains conservative theology, “orthodoxy,” and literal belief in the Bible, inspiration, historical existence of biblical events, miracles.
Has lived through WW2, the Civil Rights movement, the women’s liberation movement, and now gay rights. Wants to end unjust war, poverty, hunger, discrimination.
Overall? I’d say his lectures were uninspired and uninspiring, while the Q&A sessions were highly interesting and engaging.
His ideas are ridiculously Modernist in their approach to truth and knowledge. While disdaining conservative believers for their dogmatic and closed-minded positions, he presented a traditional liberalism apart from any discussion of what assumptions undergird his conclusions. Like he’d learned this stuff in seminary in the 1950s and arrived at his conclusions then, and doesn’t really see the need to discuss that whole process now.
I mean, JEDP critical interpretations and the Jesus Seminar perspective on the Gospels? Really?
Biblical interpretation and theological studies are WAY past the 1850s by now, Bishop Spong. You should catch up.
I love his social applications of “doctrine.” I think he had a lot of great things to say about how the Church should be acting in this world. That mostly came out in the Q&A.
His second lecture was a classic liberal discussion of why he cannot accept the concept of an Atonement (in the traditional sense of appeasing an angry God), and therefore we must recognize that Jesus (who is not God-human in the Nicean sense of that doctrine) died on the cross to show us what selfless living looks like….not because a holy God was angry or that sin needed to be redeemed in blood.
…I can’t follow him into that. I think it’s profoundly stupid to think an above-average human (if that’s all Christ was) would change humanity one whit by getting Himself killed. Seriously. And that doesn’t even begin to touch C. S. Lewis’s clear-headed argument in Mere Christianity: Jesus claimed to be God so much that either He’s a horrible liar, straight-up crazy, or actually God. You can’t pussy-foot around the claims of Christ.
An informative experience. I’m glad I went.