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9 years ago  ::  Jan 08, 2009 - 12:04PM #1
RJMcElwain
Posts: 3,013
Below is what I thought was an interesting Q and A from Bishop Spong.

Thoughts?
******************************************

Joan from North Carolina, writes:
Do you believe in heaven and hell, the blissful heaven and the burning hell? And do you believe in Jesus Christ as your personal savior?Dear Joan,

Answering your two questions is impossible until some terms are defined and some explanations are given. When you define heaven as "the blissful heaven" and hell as "the burning hell," you reveal an evangelical mindset that asserts a particular understanding that you are requesting that I either affirm or deny. It is to bind the discussion to your frame of reference. That immediately suggests that you do not want real answers, you want affirmation. I cannot give you that nor would I be interested in doing so. With that background, however, let me proceed to respond. I think it would be fair to say that I do not believe in a blissful heaven or a burning hell as evangelicals define those terms. I do believe in life after death and shall try to explain both why and in what way in my next book, which is scheduled for publication in September of 2009.
You define heaven and hell as places of reward and punishment where God evens out life here on Earth. I regard that as primitive, childlike thinking that transforms God into a parent figure who delights in rewarding goodness and punishing sinfulness. This portrays God as a supernatural, judging figure and it violates everything I believe about both God and human life.
If anyone pursues goodness in the hope of gaining rewards or avoiding punishment, that person has not escaped the basic self-centeredness of human life and it becomes obvious that such a person is motivated primarily by self-interest. The Christian life is ultimately revealed in the power to live for others, to give ourselves away. It is not motivated by bliss or torment. Both of those images are little more than human wish fulfillment.
The fiery pits of hell are not an essential part of the Christian story. If one would take Matthew's gospel and especially the book of Revelation out of the Bible, most of the references to hell as a fiery place of torment would disappear. That is a quite foreign theme to Paul, Mark, Luke and John. Evangelicals never study the Bible deeply enough to make this distinction. They basically talk about a book they do not understand.
When you ask about "believing in Jesus Christ as your personal savior" you are using stylized evangelical language. That language has no appeal at all for me. To assert the role of savior for Jesus implies a definition of human life as sinful, fallen and helpless. It assumes the ancient myth that proclaimed that we were created perfect only to fall into sin from which we need to be rescued. It was a popular definition before people understood about our evolutionary background. We have been evolving toward humanity for billions of years. Our problem is not that we have fallen from some pristine perfection into a sinful state from which we need to be saved, it is that we need to be empowered to become something that we have never been, namely fully human beings. So the idea that I need a savior to save me from a fall that never happened and to restore me to a status that I never possessed is in our time all but nonsensical. It is because we do not understand the nature of human life that we do not understand the Jesus role. I see in Jesus the power of love that empowers us to be more deeply and fully human and so I do not know how to translate your questions. Sorry, but the old evangelical language that you use is badly dated and I believe quite distorting to my understanding of what Christianity is all about.
– John Shelby Spong
Robert J. McElwain

"The strongest reason for people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government." (Supposedly)Thomas Jefferson

"He who is not angry when there is just cause for anger is immoral."
St. Thomas Aquinas

One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. Plato
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9 years ago  ::  Jan 08, 2009 - 6:52PM #2
Dutch777
Posts: 9,144
Bob:
Excellent response.  Bp. Spong outdoes himself on this one.
:)
The Path
To Moon
lake
Doesn't Go
There.

So Walk
Your own
DharmaPath
And Be
Mindful

Dutch
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9 years ago  ::  Jan 08, 2009 - 9:56PM #3
RJMcElwain
Posts: 3,013
Agreed. And it's not so much that Bishop Spong says things that are new and unheard of before, but that he's willing to say them in such clear terms without apologies. And, for many people, Spong says things that others will only think to themselves.
Robert J. McElwain

"The strongest reason for people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government." (Supposedly)Thomas Jefferson

"He who is not angry when there is just cause for anger is immoral."
St. Thomas Aquinas

One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. Plato
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9 years ago  ::  Jan 08, 2009 - 10:48PM #4
kurnell
Posts: 309
One of the common criticisims against  the more 'liberally minded' christians is that we are soft on sin.I think that this is true with +Spong's above comments. There IS something wrong with the human condition that we need to be saved from.If we don't like the word sin, let us find another word,but don't deny the malady.
Some have suggested the word 'indifference'. As individuals we were 'indifferent' to God and to the needs of others until the grace of God began to change our orientation.This to me, is the essence of salvation. I can be a non evangelical christian and still use these themes.
Pax
Jeffrey
Treasure your experience of God,however it comes to you.Remember that Christianity is not a notion but a way.
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9 years ago  ::  Jan 09, 2009 - 9:19AM #5
Dutch777
Posts: 9,144
I didn't get the idea that Bp.S. denied sin as imperfection;  falling short of the mark;  not yet being what we are created to be.  In Hebrew, the term for sin is chet, a word taken from archery.  It means "falling short of the mark; missing the bullseye".

He rejects the concept that we were created perfect and sinless then devolved into a fallen, sinful state.  His theological trajectory is that we are still evolving to what God would have us be; that we are still sinful and self-centered.  But --- that's just my interpretation.

Last night I showed Bp.S.'s statement to an RC friend of mine and she was most favorably impressed by it.  Thank you for sharing it with us.
:)
The Path
To Moon
lake
Doesn't Go
There.

So Walk
Your own
DharmaPath
And Be
Mindful

Dutch
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9 years ago  ::  Jan 09, 2009 - 9:52AM #6
RJMcElwain
Posts: 3,013

dutch777 wrote:



...........................He rejects the concept that we were created perfect and sinless then devolved into a fallen, sinful state. His theological trajectory is that we are still evolving to what God would have us be; that we are still sinful and self-centered. But --- that's just my interpretation.



Dutch,

I've heard Spong say exactly that. Almost word for word. And I'm trying to remember his words regarding Jesus as our Saviour and Redeemer for our sins. I don't think he quite sees that as generally viewed. And I think he's said more than his above statement. He was here in Kansas City a couple of months ago.

Robert J. McElwain

"The strongest reason for people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government." (Supposedly)Thomas Jefferson

"He who is not angry when there is just cause for anger is immoral."
St. Thomas Aquinas

One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. Plato
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9 years ago  ::  Jan 21, 2009 - 4:43PM #7
birwin2229
Posts: 53
One other criticism of Spong's approach is a statement by that great protagonist of the last century, C S Lewis. He would call this 'chronological snobbery'. To dismiss 2000 years of thought and debate as 'primitive' is arrogant and probably relates to Spong's journey rather than an unbiassed assessment of truth.
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9 years ago  ::  Jan 21, 2009 - 5:49PM #8
RJMcElwain
Posts: 3,013

birwin2229 wrote:

One other criticism of Spong's approach is a statement by that great protagonist of the last century, C S Lewis. He would call this 'chronological snobbery'. To dismiss 2000 years of thought and debate as 'primitive' is arrogant and probably relates to Spong's journey rather than an unbiassed assessment of truth.



Actually, I think he'd be the first to tell you that nothing he says comes from his own original research. What he says relies heavily on the great research scholars of the last 200 years. At the same time, he's probably one of the better experts on the Bible, among the many speakers out there. So, for some reason, he must find some significant value in the Bible.

Robert J. McElwain

"The strongest reason for people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government." (Supposedly)Thomas Jefferson

"He who is not angry when there is just cause for anger is immoral."
St. Thomas Aquinas

One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. Plato
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9 years ago  ::  Jan 22, 2009 - 1:11PM #9
holst
Posts: 245
I agree with the earlier post which I think quoted CS Lewis who said that such ideas (in this case by Spong) omits eons of thinking and study.

Okay, so Spong and many others do not believe in the classic firey hell and blissful heaven.  And we all once in a while get stopped in our tracks by the question "why would a loving God send anyone to eternal punishment"?

But I at least hope that Spong admits that the traditional views on heaven and hell are what the Church has taught for many, many centuries.  And that there is a certain "trust" that we want to believe we can have.  Doesn't anyone think that God has worked through the Church and therefore the concepts of Heaven and Hell might be formulated by humans in the way that He intends us to know them?

According to Spong, would the fate of all human souls be the same, no matter what?
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9 years ago  ::  Jan 23, 2009 - 9:25PM #10
birwin2229
Posts: 53
C S Lewis the Anglican protagonist of the last century would also ask of Spong: if you reject many of the basics of historic Christianity, why do you not do the honest thing and deny being a Christian altogether?.
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