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A New Christianity For A New World


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To All:

Following Brother Rog's suggestion I am establishing this new topic in the "What About Books/" category, while we await further instructions from Steve.

 

I have read this book as a follow-on to the first book we discussed in What about Books?. In it Bishop Spong is posting his "Twelve Theses" for Church reform in the millenium ahead. One of the major reforms he proposes is the death of the theism which has dominated the Christian Church for so long. The case he makes is valid in my view, and I am awaiting comments of others. Is God weak and powerless today. Is Bonhoeffer serious in proposing:"Before God and with God we live without God"(Letters and Papers from Prison,1997)`quoted by the author in the Preface. Bishop Spong then elaborates on what such a world would perhaps look like, and what the responsibilities of the Christian might be in that world.

 

Jeep

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Jeep, I'd love to discuss the book with you but unfortunately I haven't read it yet. I've ordered a copy so I'll jump in as soon as I read it if it's not already too late at that point.

 

Sophia

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Sophia:

That was quick.

I suggest we proceed thus:

1 Read the following:The Title page, The table of Contents, the Bibliography, and the Index.

2 If you are still interested, Read the Preface, and Chapter Fourteen.

3 If still interested, read the First Chapter carefully.Send me your comments on the questions at the end of the first chapter, pg 20 and 21.That should get a dialog started.

 

Jeep

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3 If still interested, read the First Chapter carefully.Send me your comments on the questions at the end of the first chapter, pg 20 and 21.That should get a dialog started.

 

Jeep, just for clarification: My pages 20 and 21 are the last page of Chapter 1 and the first page of chapter 2, respectfully. What (or where) are the questions? :blink:

 

Thanks,

Sophia

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sophia:

The questions referred to are in the last paragraph of Chapter 1.

"Those are my goals.Can they be achieved? Or is this the fantasy of one who can see the dying embers of a faith-tradition---but is unable to admit that they cannot be revived?

 

Spong is leaving it up to us to decide these questions, which are crucial in this case. Unless we are willing to consider them, as we discuss the rest of the book, we are not being fair to the author.

 

Let's read chapter 2,3, and 4 next. The Death of God is not a new suggestion, but Spong is proposing that "Theism as a way of defining God is dead" which seems to me a different conception.

 

We must find a better way. I am finding a better way in the New Physics, and the search for a theory of everything currently underway-even of God!

 

Let's hear from you

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Okay, here are Spong's goals as I understand them and my initial response. I will have to read the rest of the book to decide if he has made his case:

 

Goal 1: What I will seek to do is simply to chart the evolving future of this faith-tradition. (pg. 18-19)

 

Goal 2: I will seek to maintain that Jesus was a defining moment in the human journey into the meaning of God. I will stake out a vision of how I believe this power can transcend the ages to enable people today to be touched by it and even to enter it, necessitating the creation of communities of worship and living liturgies. (19)

 

Goal 3: I will seek to go behind the institutionally developed religious system that has come to mark Christianity and there explore the power which that system sought to explain and organize (19)

 

My initial response to these goals is positive. I am keeping in mind that Spong clearly identifies his audience as 'the ordinary people whose name is legion. They are people who feel spiritually thirsty but know that they can no longer drink from the traditional wells of the past" (17)

 

Goal 1: At first glance, seems to be the most easily accomplished providing that Spong can clearly chart the evolution and show the connections.

 

Goal 2: Necessary to be classified as "Christian" progression but might be difficult in that Jesus, stripped of theistic dogma, might not claim the place in history that Spong posits.

 

Goal 3: Very difficult. Church history shows that the power structure does not give way easily (if at all) This may actually be the primary goal for anyone seriously trying to liberate believers from the "church"

 

Reading on....

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Sophia;

We are on our way. I wonder if anyone will join in?

 

I gather you are somewhat willing to read the book to find out. Your goals 1,2,3, are appropriate, my having already verified the book is about these matters. The problems with it come in the last chapters. I can hardly be patient to explore them.

 

I am definitely one of the members of the audience you define. With respect to your goal 1, I feel we will find he has done the job quite well.As to goal 2, Thats the big one. Can an adequate Christology be derived from a non-theistic God. Can there be a "Christian" faith without a "theistic" God. God-talk about the God of the Bible has become almost meaningless according to Spong, and I agree. Luther concluded the Bible only contains "the word of God", despite its advocate's contrary views. I have concluded, based on Proverbs 8 & 9, that at best it contains the "Wisdom of God", and perhaps some reliable human wisdom as well. I liked Bonhoeffer's suggestion that we are faced with living before God and with God--without Him.

As to your goal 3, Spong has found the power structure of his own Church most critical, but they were not successful in removing him as he moved up the ladder, and he remains the leader of a powerful constituency, even in retirement.You should see his schedule: it's on his website. If his goal is as you say, he has succeed in doing so in my case. I am currently a member of the Church Alumni Assn. The God of the Bible is no more the God I trust. I have come to believe and trust that separation from my God, the One who created me, is not possible, unless I make it so, and I don't. And neither did Jesus.

 

The next four chapters, 5-8, develop this theme further as you read on I think.

 

Isn't this exciting stuff?

 

Jeep

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Here are my comments after rereading Chapter 2:

 

1 To the victims of the holocaust? Do they have a grievance? The Traditional God seems unable to defend His chosen people. I see this as evidence of the death of that view of God.

 

2 God today is not taken seriously in secular society. The traditional God is not taken seriously in the Academy, theological or scientific,only in institutions avowedly Christian or Jewish where belief in a theistic God is a requirement for participation. As Jung is quoted by Spong:"We are tired of the excessive effort to believe because the object of the belief is no longer inherently convincing." God has become a "Mysterium Tremendum" to many.

 

3. Spong believes "addictions" prove the case against theism. I have just shifted to regular "caffienated" coffee because the Nurses' double-blind Study revealed it's efficacy for Type II diabetes, which I have.I also take Prozac!

 

4 A God without theism, a non-theistic God, must be able to cope with "angst" and with hysteria" at least as well as "Theism" has in past ages. The jury is still out.

 

Chapter 3 tomorrow...

 

Jeep

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My comments having reread Chapter 3:

 

I loved Hardy's poem,"God's Funeral", but I also loved Twain's famous reply when he read of his own demise.

 

2 The science of creation; Darwinian evolution, old or new Creationism, Irreducible Design, or as outlined by Spong. For now I'll go along with Spong.

 

3 "Post-modernism", a development in philosophical thought of the last century, seems key here. In these times, absolute truth is subjective. Only the pursuit of truth is objective. These new views are hard to come by. They are clearly metaphysical, like "String Theory" in the New Physics.

 

4 "Seeking or Certainty?". A journalist put it that way recently. For me, Hamlet's question,"To Be, or Not To Be" is the question as well. Since our "Theistic God" is dead, and atheism is untenable for me, seeking another seems the only game in town. "Seek and ye shall find". Currently, I am looking into the search for "A Theory of Everything", as well as Spong's ideas, to do the job.

 

Chapter 4 next week....

 

Jeep

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Jeep, you have some insightful observations. After reading Chapters 2 and 3, I am a bit unsure if I can swallow Spong's entire assessment. Perhaps the most poignant observation is in Chater two where Spong posits that the "death of theism is manifested in that growing gap that is today drawn between what people say they believe and the values by which they live." (33) I concur that this is exactly what is happening in our churches today.

 

I'm not sure that I am yet willing to strip all theism from God. Perhaps I just need new language to articulate my encounters and experiences of what I would call the divine. I'm willing to accept that the theistic understanding of God as one who "sits up there" and delivers favor and punisment is not right.

 

Spong's argument that the theistic God is a response to the insecurity of self-consciousness is strikingly similar to any atheistic argument I have ever heard. I, like you, cannot accept that theism and atheism are the only options. I'm willing to journey further with Spong to contemplate his vision for the future.

 

I wish I could be as sure as Spong is that the fundamentalist evangelical churches (movement) will die on its own. From my perspective, it seems to be gaining momentum. Perhaps this is just further proof that human nature seeks to be relieved of its "hysteria" and "insecurity."

 

4 A God without theism, a non-theistic God, must be able to cope with "angst" and with hysteria" at least as well as "Theism" has in past ages. The jury is still out.

An imprtant question and one that seems to lie at the heart of our discussion. We humans will seek balance and security whatever the cost. The non-theistic God must be able to satisfy in a real way. Can this be done?

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Sophia:

 

I have been having problems accessing the site, so just read your comments today. I liked them very much, and found them helpful. It's early in the book,there is clarity and confusion ahead.

 

Here are my comments on Chapter 4...

 

1 As an alumnus of Stanford I must be careful with what I say about Thos. Sheehan's writings. I was impressed with the quote even though I didn't graduate in Theology.

 

2 I agree that the definition of God is beyond us, but the "otherness" which Spong seems to propose bothers me a bit. I'm a non-dualist in these matters. To me,the only "Reality" is the creation of eveything as made by God. Creations of man are suspect to me as projections of the ego. Will we ever create a "Theory of Everything"? I believe we will because I feel we were created by God. On my web page profile I call myself a "Reality of God".

 

3 Why do we "fear" maturity? The fundies say we must become as little children to enter the kingdom of God. I say we must mature into the full responsibility of always having been there(See Thomas 113). Can we take full responsibility "before God and with God, without God" as Bonhoeffer suggests.I am convinced we can, and must!

 

4 Can we "escape the subjectivity of our own Being?" (pg.61)We,as scientists, try to but the New Physics denies it's achievability, and such dualism always excludes the middle.Objectively,we see where God has been, Subjectively we see where "God is!"

 

Jeep

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Jeep,

 

I, too, was not able to access the website for several days. Glad we both are back!

 

In reading the section about God (ch. 2-4) I'm left with some big questions and concerns. Spong describes God as a "presence" and in his attempt to describe God (as you point out) he maintains that we can only see where God has been, therefore we make conclusions about God based on what we observe and experience. He describes, or defines God as The Ground of Being, The Source of Life, and the Source of Love. So far, so good I think. What is missing for me, is some sort of understanding that God is "moving, creating, etc. in some way..even though I think Spong is somehow hinting at this, I don't see anything to wrap my mind around. For me, God is much more of a Force, than Spong seems to suggest. I've thought about the Bonhoffer quote and I'm not sure I get agree that we are "without God". I'll reread this section and see if I can get a better understanding of his position.

 

Can you explain a bit about the "New Physics" you reference? I'm not familiar this idea and since you bring it up frequently, I might be better able to dialogue with you.

 

Looking forward to your comments,

Sophia

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Sophia:

 

Lets take a look together at Chapters 2-4 as a block, before we move into Chapters 5-8 which focus more on Jesus.

 

Can we experience God without being able to define "God"? (The italics are mine).What comes to your mind when you hear the word "God"?(Italics are Spong's). "Quantum energy" was mine,what was yours? Spong notes that for him,"The God who is love is slowly transformed into the love that is God"(pg.71) I say, for me,"The God that is Quantum Energy is slowly transforming into an energy that is love".(That's the first time I've said that anywhere!)

 

Spong sees a non-theistic God, not as the theistic father described in the Bible,but as a terrain of Being. Living on this terrain,we become realities of God: what God is!(Currently, I am exploring "A Course in Miracles" which seems to be based in this theme).

 

Shall we move on ...

 

Jeep

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Okay, Jeep let's take them together as a block. I really am okay with his mapping of God, his understanding of the "evolution" of Christianity. Chapter 4, however, seemed a bit opaque. Even though he explicitly states that we cannot define God, I think that he turns around and attempts to do this very thing. He does it first in the negative, i.e. what God is not...then he uses an inductive kind of argument that gathers the evidence and then makes conclusions. I think for me, I would have been more impressed if he had stopped short of making the conclusions i.e. God is Love, Being, Life. I don't think it was necessary to make his point and left me feeling that these attempts of his were somehow a "final answer"

 

Now, to your questions. . .Can we experience God without being able to define "God." Of course.

What comes to your mind when you hear the word "God?" It's still hard for me not to anthropomorphize (is that a word??) God. Even though I reject the theistic understanding, I do retain some idea that God is "other." You suggest that this "other" is Quantum energy. Do you mean that Quantum energy IS God? Pehaps I don't know enough about QE to adequately understand your statement. Can you flesh this out a bit more?

 

For me, God is both presence and purpose. I think I'm comfortable with naming God as "Spirit" as well. I wonder if I'm just not getting hung up on semantics and we are all saying the exact same thing?!!

 

I'm enjoying the next section about Jesus. The idea that the gospels were "liturgical books" was new to me. I don't want to get ahead of our discussion, though..I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

 

Sophia

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Sophia:

 

We are getting somewhere. I'm just not sure where it is.

 

We both seem to be willing to reject "anthropomorphic" images, which is why Spong feels that the traditional God is dead. He wants to find a new way to speak of 'The Mysterium Tremendum" and so do I.I suspect that will take some doing,but I do feel he wants it to be something like love, life, and being. I would too, if the definition is not dualistic. My definition, at the moment is unitary. Quantum energy is a field, like a gravitational field, and is not "Other".I think Spong feels this as "The Ground of Being". "Quantum" codifies this field as "packaged", and so does the New Physics of Einstein, Bohr, and Heisenberg. Brian Greene on PBS recently did a good job with his series on "The Elegant Universe". Look it up on pbs.org.

 

I hope we are all talking about the same thing.The New Physics labels the goal to be "A Theory of Everything". Theology sees it to be the integration of the two cultures of science and religion.Maybe this Millenium?

 

Next week Chapter 5.

 

Jeep

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All:

 

Having reread Chapter 5, here are my comments:

 

I am an associate of the Westar Institute,Santa Rosa,Calif. I mention this fact, because, in the quotation from Robert Funk, the Director of the Institute,he feels betrayed by the Bible.I do also! In the news I note the Jesus Seminar meeting in New York has announced the coming into consciousness of a new Axial Age, similar to the first some 2500 years ago, and honored Bishop Spong with the John A.T.Robinson Award for his work in the cause of reform.

 

1 Chapter 5 asks for a new Christology appropriate to a post-modern world without a theistic God. My Christology at the moment is one where Jesus is fully human and my brother in the "Brotherhood" of mankind, elevated in

his perfection as the gateway to God,and our example of an unreal separation which never existed in the first place.(See "The Last Temptation

of Christ", and compare it to the current,"The Passion of Christ")

 

2 As Sophia seems to I also found the chronological treatment of the gospels helpful. Significant to me was his use of "Midrash", a Jewish term, in his armamentarium.Spong "portrays a historic Jesus whose life has not yet been squeezed into a theistic mold"(pg 95)

 

3 The challenge is clear:"Can we find a Jesus who does not have to die with the collapse of theism?" A dead Jesus would be devastating!

 

Chapter 6 soon...

 

Jeep

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To All:

 

Here are my comments on Chapter 7:

 

1 Is there an "historical Jesus" and a "mythical Christ"? This chapter is about the difference, and which will survive in our post-modern world. Does it Matter? We"just can't get there from here" is Spong's View(pg114). Only a return to "Square-one"will do.

 

2 Myths are invented reality. There seems to be little reality today in in the divine "round-trip ticket"(pg 116).For me, the "rapture", so lauded and so carefully avoided by the authors of the "Left Behind" Books, seems quaint in this age of space travel.

 

3 The "sacrifice of the Mass" is one I honored as an accurate portrayal of the human condition, bu no longer accept as a member of the Church Alumni Assn.

 

4 The Bible has become a revered human explanation of an hysterical feeling of being alone in the world, as separated from creation, inspired by a satanic illusion of evil. The reality for me is this:We have never existed apart from the creator of that reality, and do not today. Dualisms as this one exclude the middle ground. I am ready and able to move beyond the Bible. Can we know God as Jesus did 2000 years ago? As we move into the Second Axial Age, the prospect is good we can.

 

Jeep

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Jeep,

 

I'm willing to accept Spong's Christology in that I understand him to be saying that while Christ is not God incarnate, that he so completely embodied the divine that there is no observable difference. I was happy to see Spong assert that for him Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. I think that I, too, can assert this and still be welcoming to other faith traditions.

 

I, too, don't accept the "Rapture" interpretation of scripture. The Bible for me, though, is still relevant, dare I say even "holy?" If it is sanctified (which I believe that it is) the sanctification has come through the faithfulness of the writers and the thousand of years of readers/followers. I find my first glimpse of Jesus here, even though I do understand how the gospel writers have written theological books and not historical narratives. Something even in their passion and faithfulness points me to importance of Jesus.

 

I, too, reject dualism. I agree with you that we do not exist apart from the Source. By the way, I was watching Wayne Dyer on PBS the other night and he was talking about Quantum Energy (or Source). I think it helped me to understand what you are trying to say.

 

More later, ~Sophia

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Sophia:

 

We seem to be making progress together, judging by your sharing views on Spong's Christology, and on the Rapture.

 

We are having some difficulty with the concept of "dualism", however. This is the view for me which views God as the "Eternal Other". In this view, we are separate beings, and God is a being unrelated to humanity in every way. Such a view forces man to invent "bridges" across this chasm in his "hysteria" and "angst". The non-dualist, of which I am one, views man as a "Reality of God", created by God for His own purposes. Thus Jesus becomes the perfect expression of God's creation, even as we do, when we recognise this fact in ourselves and in all the others in the Sonship as we grow in understanding.

 

Isn't Wayne Dyer great! He and others such as Joseph Campbell, and Deepak Chopra, and so many others on PBS, are great. I think it's Bill Moyer's influence.

 

Jeep

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To all:

 

I have just perused the postings made to this topic, and I find several of mine not there. What is your experience?

 

Before I move on to chapter 9, will some one tell me where we are now in the dialog on the book?

 

Perplexed,

 

Jeep

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In Chapter 9, we are given Spong's views on Original Sin and Evil. He says that evil is (1) evidence of our continuing evolution marked by the survival instinct and (2) the realization of our "shadow" self that must be brought in to self-consciousness, a feat done best by the community of believers.

 

Basically, what I see Spong doing here is taking what we have considered human depravity and renaming it as "Being" If we remove a theistic understanding of God, then an external being called Satan must also die.

 

I'm trying to imagine a church where our "shadows" can be seen, embraced, and tamed. This truly would be a miracle!

 

Is this your understanding of what he is saying? Does this make sense in light of your experience?

 

Sophia

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Guest admin

Jeep: If you see any other posts missing, let me know. I am the only one with the capability to delete posts and in the rare occasion when I have done that, I have sent the author an explanation. Not sure what could have happened to your posts...

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