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Marsha

A New Christianity For A New World

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I am only about halfway through this book and am enjoying it very much. I put it aside for awhile in order to read Bishop Spong's autobiography, which is also fascinating.

 

"A New Christianity" has been my first introduction to Progressive Christianity and in some ways the introduction has been quite shocking.

 

I had heard of Bishop Spong on the peripherials for along time, but didn't really know anything about his beliefs or how he came to them. Then, one night, about a month ago, someone posted his "Manifesto", in regards to homosexuality, on Facebook. I have always been a supporter and never believed homosexuality was, in itself, a sin, so I was quite pleased to read this. Below is a link, if you would like to read it.

 

http://walkingwithintegrity.blogspot.com/2009/10/manifesto-from-our-friend-bishop-john.html?spref=fb

 

So, I decided I wanted to learn more about this man and purchased a couple of his books.

 

In this book, Bishop Spong talks a lot about the death of theism, and how he believes this "man-made" God of theism is dying, and the church right along with it. His major thesis is that Christianity must change or die. I do, somewhat, agree with him on that. We are already seeing signs of it, especially in Europe. Not sure I totally agree with how much and in what directions Spong believes we need to change.

 

He describes this God of theism as an unrealistic/anti-science, supernatural being. Spong, basically, wants to move us out of the realm of the supernatural and more into the realm of the natural, where science is our friend and not the enemy trying to destroy our faith (as those who adhere to intelligent design might have us believe). He believes that, when we cling to the supernatural, we stunt our growth, in a way, becoming these helpless, needy creatures in the shadow of an all powerful, supernatural being.

 

He claims this God of theism was created out of man's "angst" over becoming fully self-conscious. We are the only being on earth that is fully self-conscious...self-aware...and also aware of our mortality. This created unbearable mental stress (according to Spong), which resulted in the creation of the theistic "parent" God, in which many believe, yet today.

 

So, that is the basic gist of the beginning of this book and the basis or need for change, according to Spong.

 

I am enjoying the ideas he is putting out there, but in a way, I'm almost feeling like he is throwing out the baby with the bath water. I DO believe there are still many things beyond our capacity to understand, and possibly even things that are, what we might describe as, supernatural (like the Holy Spirit).

 

I haven't finished the book, so maybe I will be more satisfied as he begins to explain more about where he is now. But, in the meantime, I'm kind of feeling like a carpet has been ripped out from under me.

 

He throws out the Trinity, the virgin birth, the physical resurrection and so on. Not saying this MIGHT not all be good (we'll see), but I sure can understand why many feel Spong has completely left the realm of Christianity. Certainly, by Orthodox standards, he has left the building...and practicially the planet. lol

 

So, is anyone here familiar with Bishop Spong's work? What are your thoughts?

Edited by Marsha
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It's been a few years since I read a book by Spong (I read A New Christianity for a New World and Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism), so my memory is a bit dim.

 

That said, I liked him a bit, but I had a similar reaction to you. If I remember correctly, Marcus Borg said of Spong something like, "He's better at tearing things down," and I would agree with that sentiment. He's very passionate, very critical, and is worth reading if for no other reason than he challenges your preconceived idea about what are 'necessary' beliefs for a Christian to have. At the same time, I didn't feel like he'd given much of a positive project defining Christianity. His argument about the supernatural and the need to purge it from Christianity was something I found deeply troubling but good food for thought.

Edited by Nick the Nevermet

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Hi Marsha,

 

I’ve read A New Christianity but found his autobiography much more appealing. I admire his courage in trying to reform the church on issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, creationism, etc. He actively supports the values of social justice that Jesus taught.

 

However Spong as a writer can seem negative – I agree with you. He, and many Southern Baptists who renounce a literalist background, remain literalists. They simply go from one extreme to the other -- if every word isn’t literal fact, written directly by God, then it is all literally false. Or they think the bible was intended as a moral instruction manual and judge it a failure by that standard (which it would be).

 

Have you tried Marcus Borg? I think you’d find his version of progressive Christianity is more gentle – for one thing, he retains an openness to mysticism, an appreciation for symbolic and mythic truth.

 

Many times I’ve noticed on this board, that people who come from hard core fundamentalist / evangelical roots can’t stand to hear anything quoted from the bible. They react as if someone was trying to drag them back to fundamentalism. It’s sad and unnecessary because if we refuse to take the bible seriously (not literally) we can’t really understand the life and teachings of Jesus.

Edited by rivanna

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I love that rivanna - what you wrote about "taking the Bible seriously (but not literally)"....you are right, there are so many worthwhile lessons in the Bible, and every time one reads it, something new is learned....and there is so much beauty, as well....

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well I didn’t mean to go off on a tangent about the bible -- but one of Spong’s statements that is especially meaningful to non-churchgoers like me is, “the words biblical and religious have become for me not synonyms, but antonyms.”

 

When I saw him lecture once he was warm, humble and humorous, a gifted speaker. As Marsha’s link shows - he has worked tirelessly to affirm the rights of homosexuals and others who have been marginalized.

 

Actually Spong’s writing can often be inspiring rather than reductive, he just goes a little too far at times, for me, in demythologizing.

One of his shorter books is on line, to me one of his best.

 

http://www.religion-online.org/showbook.asp?title=550

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Actually Spong’s writing can often be inspiring rather than reductive, he just goes a little too far at times, for me, in demythologizing.

 

That is a great quick explanation of the difference between Borg and Spong.

 

Also, the link you posted is broken.

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Rivanna, I have been watching Spong on YouTube and I agree with you that he's a very gifted speaker. I think watching and hearing him has really helped me, in reading and understanding his book. It helps to have an idea of what his personality is like. He really does have a good sense of humor. :) That doesn't come through, as well, in his books.

 

Have you tried Marcus Borg? I think you’d find his version of progressive Christianity is more gentle – for one thing, he retains an openness to mysticism, an appreciation for symbolic and mythic truth.

 

Funny that you should mention Marcus Borg, as I just recently came across a YouTube lecture by Marcus Borg, on Facebook. One of my friends had posted it. I looked him up and started reading about him and listening to some of his lectures. Very interesting man...I'm going to like him. Thanks for the reference!

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Funny that you should mention Marcus Borg, as I just recently came across a YouTube lecture by Marcus Borg, on Facebook. One of my friends had posted it. I looked him up and started reading about him and listening to some of his lectures. Very interesting man...I'm going to like him. Thanks for the reference!

 

Reading the Bible Again For the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally was the book that reconnected me to Christianity.

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That's wonderful!

 

I just downloaded that book on my Kindle, so I will be reading it soon.

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Good Morning, Marsha...

 

Both Spong and Borg are excellent writers who present a Christian faith in a very holistic way. I highly recommend Borg's book 'Conflict, Holiness, and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus'. In this book, Borg ties together the historical, political, sociological, and Biblical world in which Jesus lived bringing into focus an explanation of who Jesus was as opposed to who the Christian religion's presentation. Christianity for a new world must divorce itself from the myth and magic of Jesus and focus on Jesus' mission of preaching inclusion, compassion, and outward acts of love toward each other. This is where the rubber meets the road. Understanding this core theme of his teaching leaves no room for paying lip service to Jesus...you're either in or you're out. You either understand and live that core teaching or you don't. There is no place to say that one is a Christian and attend church simply as a way of getting forgiven for the things one does and the way one lives Monday through Saturday. This is a tough road to follow. But then Jesus was executed for promoting such a way of being within the context of being Jewish in First Century Palestine.

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Russ,

 

Thanks for mentioning that book by Borg, hadn’t heard of it before. Apparently it was originally published in 1984 but not available again until recently. I just read the first chapter on line, and the foreword by N.T. Wright.

 

As you point out – Borg (and Spong too if I recall) reintegrates collective justice with one’s innermost heart, showing how seamlessly connected they were in Jesus’ culture. The “kingdom of God” expressed Israel’s hope for liberation from oppression, AND the mystical presence of God shaping a person’s interior world. This mutuality can be difficult to grasp, or to translate into our own context.

 

According to the excerpt, Jesus invited his hearers “to discover the God dimension of reality and to re-order their personal and national lives accordingly.” I guess the analogy would not be politics as such, but some form of social activism, outward acts of love, as you suggest. I think when we’re doing little things to help others, whether it’s friends, relatives, co-workers or the needy in our area, we tend to feel more spiritual well being -- and vice versa. The two go hand in hand.

Edited by rivanna

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Hello, Rivanna...

 

Borg goes into this in depth in his book but I try to hold back as to avoid preaching or lecturing. Jesus, as portrayed in Borg's book 'Conflict, Holiness, etc.' IS political because LIFE is political. To Borg, Jesus was a political activist who organized a core cadre of followers as part of a Jewish renewal movement based upon a very radical program. This 'Jesus Movement' also gained followers wherever they went because he spoke directly to the hearts and spirits of people. This program of inclusion, forgiveness, peace, love, charity, and compassion was aimed at, and was directly opposed to, that of a political party known as the Pharisees. But I don't want to give too much away...it's a great book and well worth reading. On another level is the debate over just what Jesus meant by 'the Kingdom of God'. Borg discusses some of this within the context of both the Jewish tradition and Jesus' position including his 'end of time' sayings. I believe that the myths and legends passed on to us in the New Testament hint at Jesus' position that the Kingdom of God is within each and every one of us. Gnostic Christians, certainly, were utterly convinced of this and strongly suspect that Jesus taught the masses in parables but taught his disciples a secret knowledge that allowed them to meditate and realize the God Within. For me, the teachings of Jesus are more important than the myths and legends. If we truly accept and fully comprehend Jesus' position that God is within each and every one of us, this would revolutionize our lives and change forever the way we view ourselves and our world. But I am starting to preach and lecture, something I that I tend to drift into. Again, Marcus Borg is on top of the subject with 'Conflict, Holiness, and Politics in the Teachings of Jesus'. Another book of his that I highly recommend to progressive Christians is 'The Heart of Christianity'.

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Hi Russ!

 

Thank you so much for the book references. The one, by Borg, on politics (the Pharisees, etc) sounds very interesting. I will definitely have to have that one. I am finding Borg's book, "Reading the Bible Again", so fascinating! I could not put it down, yesterday!

 

I believe that the myths and legends passed on to us in the New Testament hint at Jesus' position that the Kingdom of God is within each and every one of us. Gnostic Christians, certainly, were utterly convinced of this

 

Yes, and this is taught in most eastern religions/philosophies, as well.

 

I think I will be reading a lot from this man. Soooo interesting! Thanks, again!

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I have read Spong and Borg. I agree that Spong tends to tear things down more than build them up, but that may be necessary to a better understanding of scripture. I find that he does not engage in doctrinal answers so much as evokes those questions that force us to think outside of conventional biblical understanding.

 

I am working through another reading of Brian McLaren's "A New Kind Of Christianity: Ten Questions that are Transforming the Faith." In this book, McLaren challenges our preconceptions of our faith, most of which we learn by the 3rd grade level, and never challenge, modify, or even look at again. He does not propose to provide answers, just to provoke thoughtful study and meditation, as well as to encourage more open conversation, outside of "the Bible says it, I believe it, end of discussion". That unfortunate response, frequently provided by clergy, tends to send people running, rather than welcome them in.

 

McLaren's first question is "What is the overarching story line of the Bible?" Most of us have been taught to think of the Bible through the eyes of roman-greco imperialism. We veiw the Bible, and humanity within the context of the age old Platonic/Aristotlian philosopher's arguement of spirit vs flesh. We start with Eden, or the Platonic Ideal, then we suffer The Fall from grace, or the Platonic Cave of Illusion. This leaves us in the present, or the Aristotelian reality. From here we either go to Hell, for "eternal conscious torment" or we are saved, and return to that Platonic Ideal or Heaven. If we can free ourselves from this understanding of the Biblical narrative, we open ourselves up to a whole new understanding of scripture, and a new understanding of God.

 

How does this relate to Spong? Spong, in his "New Christianity", seems to call us out of the church industrial complex, and back into a faith driven by people, for the benefit of people, here and now.

 

But alas, I am falling into my tendancy to monologue and lecture. I look forward to reading more posts from others on this topic.

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I've heard of McLaren, but I haven't read him yet.

 

My understanding is that he rejects certainty and stability as goals/ideals, as we need to learn to accept and deal with uncertainty & change. Is this accurate?

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I've heard of McLaren, but I haven't read him yet.

 

My understanding is that he rejects certainty and stability as goals/ideals, as we need to learn to accept and deal with uncertainty & change. Is this accurate?

 

That would appear to be one of his topics, and one where I agree with him. He emphasises "thinking outside of the box". Christianity has gotten itself in to a bit of a rut. There is so much negativity associated with the label. Especially Western/Americanized Christianity. Christians are more known for what they are against, rather than what they stand for. The current mainstream church offers nothing satisfying for the majority of the spiritual seekers. Statistically, 60% of Christian conversions and alter calls are prodigals returning, not new converts. McLaren proposes that maybe we have gotten it wrong from the beginning. He does not suggest definitive answers, but he does put accepted doctrine up against the Jesus and scripture litmus test agin and again. He most frequently finds church doctrine lacking across the board denominationally. He started as an English professor, not as clergy. His approach to the Bible is to treat it as the divinely inspired library of a community engaged in the search for God, rather than as a Constitution of Law. Sorry if I am over explaining. He is a worthwhile read.

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Another great book by Borg and I think maybe his best is "Heart of Christianity"

 

In a way I think it is his description of and argument for Christianity. He takes the precepts from "Reading the Bible Again For The First Time" and explains why it works for him.

 

steve

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How does this relate to Spong? Spong, in his "New Christianity", seems to call us out of the church industrial complex, and back into a faith driven by people, for the benefit of people, here and now.

 

I think the main thing this book has done for me, is to help me shift focus from "salvation" (being saved from something) to the more positive goal of experiencing God. I think, to this point, a lot of my religion has been in my head, in the form of "beliefs", with very little experience in developing a relationship..or just experiencing the Presence of God. That's why I am now becoming interested in meditation again and Centering Prayer...disciplines that will actually help me experience communion/unity with God. I do yearn for that.

 

In my church (I go to a Christian Reformed Church) we read/study the Bible and then try to figure out what it means. Most everything is very "heady". The singing is probably the only thing in worship service that makes me feel closer to God. The Pastor there HAS, recently, included a short meditation, before the service begins, which was a really good inclusion. I have enjoyed this church for the people and the music and for general fellowship, it has been very nice. But, I do feel that I am going in a different direction and will need to, eventually, move on. My husband and I did try a more Progressive Church, one Sunday, but he was less fond of it, than I was. He's rather attached to this Reformed Church...so, we will stay there, for now. A lot of things I want to try, I can try on my own...so, it's okay, for now.

Edited by Marsha

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Spong talks a lot about the development of "theism", which has taken us away from the actual "experience" of God. Religion has become a set of beliefs, rather than an attempt to find unity in God. Most conservative Protestants really discourage leaning on your "feelings" or the heart. Feelings are considered unreliable ("the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked")...so, we are to stay strong in the Bible and not trust our own thoughts or feelings about things, if they contradict the Bible.

 

I was having a very difficult time with that.

Edited by Marsha

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Spong talks a lot about the development of "theism", which has taken us away from the actual "experience" of God. Religion has become a set of beliefs, rather than an attempt to find unity in God.

 

I was having a very difficult time with that.

 

I found myself in the same predicament. "Membership" in the church seemed to mean adherence to a set of beliefs that I did not agree with on a gut level. Sola Scriptura simply did not survive against practical knowledge and actually, real world experience, not when taken literally. Conflictingly, on a gut level, I cannot dismiss scripture as being purely allegorical in nature, either. This contradiction is the catalyst for my own faith. I cannot yet comprehend what is God, and in this life never will. God is always, entirely, and everywhere. I am more concerned with becoming open to God's intention for me than I am with adherence to any specific doctrine or dogma.

 

Marsha, you mentioned Presence of God, and Centering Prayer. Are you familiar with Brother Lawrence, or the Carmelite tradition?

Edited by Jake

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Hi Jake. Completely agree with you about Sola Scriptura. I bought that for awhile, but after really reading the Bible and studying about how it was compiled and all the scribal errors, etc, that just didn't seem feasible, as a belief.

 

No, I hadn't heard of Brother Lawrence or the Carmelites. I looked him up and he sounds like an interesting character. Will have to read more about him. Thanks!

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I am blessed to have a friend who is a Carmelite Friar. He turned me on to Brother Lawrence. Here is a link to a website where you can download Brother Lawrences Lettters and the reflections on them.

 

Practice God's Presence

 

Hope you enjoy.

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Spong was the author who got me interested in learning more about progressive Christianity and different alternative ways of reading the bible than fundamentalism, so I owe a lot to Spong for this. At the same time, I agree that Spong is a better speaker than a writer, but my problem isn't with Spong's demythologizing of Christianity. I think Spong's non-theistic Christianity is an important alternative way of looking at the bible that can help people who find the miraculous aspect of Christianity too unbelievable but find value in the teachings of Jesus rediscover their spirituality than a more pro-supernatural Christian which might turn them off from digging deeper into progressive Christianity. My problem with Spong is that I disagree with some of his criticisms of Paul. I don't think Paul was as sexist and dogmatic as Spong makes him out to be and most of the sexist passages attributed to Paul are later letters written after Paul's death and Paul actually had women leaders like Junia and Phoebe in his church. Spong also claims Ephesians was written by Paul but the identify of the author has come into question by many bible scholars like Bart D Ehrman. I also question Spong's hypothesis that Paul was a closeted gay man and I feel like he's reading too much into Paul's letters.

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