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John Shelby Spong

      . . . is the Episcopal (Anglican) Bishop of Newark, New Jersey, and has been a bishop for more than 20 years. He is also a prolific author whose latest book is Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile in which he calls for a New Reformation of both Christian faith and practice. On retiring, Bishop Spong plans to join the faculty of an eminent American university.

Excerpts3:35 secs

      Journey into the mystery of God and you will experience a journey that is timeless. But the interpretation of that experience is always locked in its own time, according to Bishop John Shelby Spong. So he is calling for a radical, surgical kind of procedure on orthodox Christian theology, a new Reformation of both the Christian church‚s faith and practice.

      The task of Christianity has not changed over two millennia but the frame of reference has, observes Bishop Spong, who is the Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey. Christianity is a pre-modern religious system, trying to make sense in a post-modern world. Our expanded knowledge of creation, from Copernicus to Einstein, has conspired to make the old symbols nonsensical. The Bishop calls us to find words we can put to the experience of oneness with an eternal, transcendent spiritual dimension, words that can communicate to post-modern people. Then Jesus becomes not an alien deity who came down from above the sky on a rescue operation. Jesus becomes a human life in whom the fullness of God is manifested in human society.

      Bishop Spong‚s Christianity is about servanthood, not control. And it is sustained in relationships. He believes that what gives us life is the loving relationships that come to us, sustain us and call us beyond our prejudices and limitations into being giving, loving people. Relinquish the certainties of a self-centered, anachronistic security system in which a super-parent doles out rewards and punishment. Give your life away. Give your love away. That‚s where wholeness -- and holiness -- comes from.

      The task of the Church, says this Episcopal Bishop, is to encourage us to stand in the fullness of our own humanity. The wonder and mystery of God, Bishop Spong fervently believes, is manifest in a life like that of Jesus of Nazareth. His was a life fully lived, totally loving, capable of being all that he was created to be, at every moment, whether people were killing him or praising him. If we want to worship God, says the Bishop, do it by living and loving and being, not by carving out a creed and saying, „If you don‚t agree with me, I will burn you at the stake.š

      Bishop Spong calls himself a God-intoxicated man. He is confident there is a spiritual dimension in reality with which he can be in touch. He calls that dimension God. And it is a mystery. The Bishop invites us to return to that mystery. In every generation, the experience of the transcendent is the same. Each of us must mine our own lives in our own time for that eternal experience. That‚s what it means to be part of the body of Christ.

Conversation 1

Bishop John Shelby Spong gives Paula Gordon and Bill Russell an explanation for people‚s religious anger based in their security systems being threatened. He offers a way of thinking about God instead of „believing in believing.š He offers vibrant alternatives within the Christian tradition and explains why he sees religious anger as epidemic.  Bishop Spong builds on Freud‚s keen insights into the origins of infantilizing religious experiences and suggests people confuse God and Santa Claus.


Conversation 2

Bishop Spong articulates his conviction that there is a spiritual dimension in reality that he can be in touch with, the dimension he calls God. He reflects on the many ways Christianity has defined that dimension over the centuries. He explains the consequences of Christianity being a pre-modern religious system trying to make sense in a post-modern world. He points to the difference between the reality of God and the explanation of that reality, the difference between the Christ-experience and the way that the Christ-experience has been interpreted.  The Bishop gives examples of the radical surgical kinds of procedures he believes must be performed on orthodox theology.


Conversation 3

Drawing on his Biblical scholarship, Bishop Spong reminds us that the Bible is a Jewish story-telling book, written by Jewish people and explains some of the many consequences that follow from that tradition, in contrast to Western ways of thinking. He speaks to the questions: How do you define God?  How do you define the transcendent?  How does one define the journey into a deeper and fuller humanity (which is what Bishop Spong believes the Christian life ultimately is)?  He urges Christians back to the mystery which is at the heart of Christianity, insisting that religion needs to be open-ended, a journey into the mystery of God, with no one path inferior to any other. He describes God as the very heart and source of life, of love, the ground of being. He connects this reality to what he sees in the life of Jesus of Nazareth.


Conversation 4

We have to grow up and take responsibility for ourselves, Bishop Spong insists, rather than forever seeking the shelter of a super-parent who will direct our actions. The Bishop encourages us to stand in the fullness of our humanity before this awesome, wondrous source of love. He calls the Church to move away from the trappings of royalty which separate it from it‚s true business of servant-hood. He shows how the task of Christianity is to call people beyond our limits, so that we can be a source of life and love and being to the world. He explains how the Christ-figure and the cross help extend our own being, without counting the cost or trying to get value in return. He explains how prejudice in all forms becomes a dagger aimed at the very heart of his understanding of God.


Conversation 5

Bishop Spong believes he ministers to Christians in exile and explains the ancient Jewish context out of which this concept arises. He sees people working to make sense out of our current understanding about our place in nature. He offers his vision of Jesus whom he presents as an empowering person calling us all to the fullness of our humanity, empowered by love. Bishop Spong describes the Christ-function as that which offers us relationships which sustain us and call us beyond our limitations, giving us opportunities to be giving, loving people. He explains why he calls himself a God-intoxicated man.


Conversation 6

Bishop Spong relates holiness to wholeness, using the story of Jesus as his example. The Bishop offers a concept of life-after-death which moves beyond the self-centeredness of rewards and punishment. He explains what he thinks it means to be a part of the body of Christ. He concludes with his sense of God as transcendent Other and Eternal, confident in the opportunity we all have to participate in God‚s eternity as part of a living relationship with a living God.


Acknowledgements

Bishop Spong has practiced his loving ideas in our lives and we are grateful for his many kindnesses.

We also wish him restored good health as he continues to recover from a recent, serious illness.

Related Links:
Why Christianity Must Change or Die is published by Harper/SanFrancisco.


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