Monday, 13 April 2009

Spong - A Place to Begin

Spong starts out by laying out the paradox of his position.
I Am a Christian. … I believe that God is real and that I live deeply and significantly as one related to that divine reality.

I call Jesus my Lord. I believe that he has mediated God in a powerful and unique way to human history and to me.

I believe that my particular life has been dramatically and decisively impacted not only by the life of this Jesus, but also by his death and indeed by the Easter experience that Christians know as the resurrection.
So far, so conventional. But just two paragraphs later, he says:
Yet I do not define God as a supernatural being. I do not believe in a deity who can help a nation win a war, intervene to cure a loved one’s sickness, allow a particular athletic team to defeat its opponent, or affect the weather for anyone’s benefit. I do not think it appropriate for me to pretend that those things are possible when everything I know about the natural order of the world I inhabit proclaims that they are not. (My emphasis)
Over the next three pages, he goes on to summarize the ramifications of that paragraph. In doing so, he dismisses much of Christianity as it is traditionally understood. Jesus as the Incarnate Son of God, miracles such as raising the dead and restoring sight to the blind, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection as a physical event, the Ascension, the Apostolic Succession, Original Sin, scripture as the sole source of ethics, and scripture as revealed truth are all consigned to the dustbin of outdated beliefs which cannot be justified in the face of current knowledge of the world.

The whole of the book is a search to see whether this contradiction can be resolved, whether it is possible to retain the Christian baby while throwing out the theistic bathwater, whether it is possible to speak meaningfully of God while not thinking supernaturally, and if it is possible, how one might go about it.

In essence, this requires that the word "God" be redefined in such a way as to remove the supernatural connotations it currently holds. If you wish to travel any distance with Bishop Spong, this is the first challenge to overcome.

Spong is not looking to convince atheists, and doesn’t expect the secular world to take much notice of what he has to say. Nor does he intend or expect to persuade anybody of a fundamentalist viewpoint, which he characterises as those who believe in scripture as the literal revealed word of God, and who believe in the miraculous Virgin Birth, in substitutionary atonement achieved by the death of Jesus, the physical Resurrection, and the literal Day of Judgment in which we are all assigned everlasting places in Heaven or Hell.

His target audience is narrower.
They are people who are spiritually thirsty but know that they can no longer drink from the wells of the past. … Their doubts and questions mean only that they at last have found a way to put their heads and hearts together. ... They still posess a profound God-consciousness, but that God-consciousness never quite fits the molds that religious institutions say are the only ways that one can think about God.
I'm not part of the audience that he defines, but am more than ready to engage in conversation with them to see what points of agreement can be found.

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