Sydney Morning Herald: An iconoclast gathers his heretical flock

Posted by Kendall Harmon

HERE are some heretical thoughts to alarm Sydney's Anglican Archbishop, Peter Jensen:

* Jesus was not born of a virgin;

* His father Joseph was a literary construct, as was Judas;

* His family thought he was out of his mind;

* There were probably not 12 disciples;

* There were no miraculous healings, no crown of thorns, no tomb, no angel; and

* Jesus did not rise from the dead.

The publishers of John Shelby Spong's latest book, Jesus for the Non-Religious, had originally wanted it to be called Freeing Jesus from the Shackles of Religion, and that's essentially what the iconoclastic retired Episcopal bishop claims to do. He portrays the supernatural elements of Jesus's life, the very cornerstones of Christian doctrine, as fabrications woven into the biblical narrative decades after Jesus's death. First-century Jewish interpretations of the Jesus experience had served to distort the very essence of Christianity, he says. And it's the reason institutional Christianity has no future.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalAnglican ProvincesAnglican Church of AustraliaEpiscopal Church (TEC)TEC Bishops

Posted August 16, 2007 at 12:34 pm

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1. Andrew717 wrote:

Have as many gay bishops as you want, the fact that this man wasn’t defrocked is enough to point out the deep rot in ECUSA.

August 16, 12:40 pm | [comment link]
2. chips wrote:

I guess we should send a copy to the Irish Archbishop.

August 16, 12:42 pm | [comment link]
3. Randy Muller wrote:

His family thought he was out of his mind

This isn’t heretical.  This is reported in Mark 3:21

‘When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”’

Randy Muller
St. John’s, Roseville
Diocese of Northern California

August 16, 12:46 pm | [comment link]
4. samh wrote:

“And it’s the reason institutional Christianity has no future.”

Funny, this has been said before.  I think the Sanhedrin believed the same thing.  And the temple rulers. About, oh, 1950 years ago.  Approximately, I mean.

August 16, 12:52 pm | [comment link]
5. Rolling Eyes wrote:

“gummed to death by a herd of clacking geese”

Ah, yes.  Once again, we see the “love and compassion” the reappaisers claim to believe in exemplified.

Just sayin’...

August 16, 12:58 pm | [comment link]
6. The_Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:

I read through Spong’s latest work, Jesus for the Non-Religious, and it is standard Spong fare. It was actually not as bad as I was expecting, believe it or not. He does make some interesting points, though I seldom agree with much of what he says.

I really don’t see anything really all that new or exciting about what Spong is saying, personally. My major issue with Spong’s argument is that he basically sets himself up as judge, jury, and executioner of what texts should and should not be in the bible.

As far as I can tell, he’s just revamping most of Thomas Jefferson’s take on Christianity (see: the Jefferson Bible) with various modern critical methods that he seems to apply arbitrarily. Just edit out all the stuff that smacks of medieval sorcery, miracles, and mysticism and we’ll be fine. Reason can be informed by the moral teachings of Jesus and we’ll be that living Utopia from the mind of John Lennon (see: “Imagine”)

I am the Spong-rus. goo goo g’joob.

The Archer of the Forest+

August 16, 1:18 pm | [comment link]
7. Br. Michael wrote:

Of course, the real question is why would any one want to believe in a Jesus like this?  Spong should renounce his orders and be the athiest he is.

August 16, 1:20 pm | [comment link]
8. Br_er Rabbit wrote:

Count the martyrs who died for the faith, starting from James the Apostle up till the Uganda martyrs and beyond.

Would any one of them have died for Spong’s Jesus?

The Rabbit.

August 16, 1:24 pm | [comment link]
9. Mike Bertaut wrote:

“I don’t want the church to compromise its integrity to keep people happy” … John Shelby Spong

Too late!!  Funny Spong doesn’t apply this to the current HOB action?


Mike Bertaut
Time to Go

August 16, 1:42 pm | [comment link]
10. Irenaeus wrote:

Ah, Spong, so full of spleen and shot through with contradictions!

—- Although Spong preaches skepticism and moral relativism, he seems blind to the limits of his own preconceptions and conclusions. Although he purports to debunk dogma, he is also dogmatically certain about what did or did not happen nearly 2000 years ago.

—- Although Spong evidently regards himself as an innovative thinker, he largely regurgitates what heterodox seminary professors and their secular counterparts have been propagating since the 1950s.

—- Although Spong regards himself as brave, he actually takes the safe and profitable path of serving up what secular intellectuals and their mass-market admirers want to hear. He unwittingly mimics the Episcopal Ghost in chapter V of C.S. Lewis’ allegory, The Great Divorce. And like the ghost, he confuses expedient conformity with fearless principle. As one of the ghost’s former colleagues declares, “We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful.”

Spong’s ideas have no life in themselves. They parasitize traditional Christian faith. Without that faith to play against, they have no present and no future.

August 16, 1:47 pm | [comment link]
11. Baruch wrote:

I can not judge a madman’s ravings. The ultimate judgement will evaluate what his fate will be. May God have mercy on one who has strayed so far from his obligations as a bishop.

August 16, 2:03 pm | [comment link]
12. Jim the Puritan wrote:

When Spong was in my neck of the woods, various churches (non-ECUSA of course) sent out warnings not to listen to him.  One pastor was quoted calling him a vile heretic.  The papers loved it of course.

August 16, 2:03 pm | [comment link]
13. Albany* wrote:

#10”—- Although Spong regards himself as brave, he actually takes the safe and profitable path of serving up what secular intellectuals and their mass-market admirers want to hear. He unwittingly mimics the Episcopal Ghost in chapter V of C.S. Lewis’ allegory, The Great Divorce. And like the ghost, he confuses expedient conformity with fearless principle. As one of the ghost’s former colleagues declares, “We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful.”

And the fact that Harvard hired him, QED.

August 16, 2:10 pm | [comment link]
14. David Fischler wrote:

It’s rich to hear Spong talk about integrity. If he had any, he’s have long since turned in his mitre and joined the American Atheists.

August 16, 2:10 pm | [comment link]
15. Occasional Reader wrote:

#3 Randy Mueller,
Mark 3:21 does probably point in that direction, though the Gk idiom (hoi par’ autou) does not necessarily need to refer to a family, though BDAG and most commentators have taken it this way—rightly, I think.  Interestingly, the episode is not paralleled in the other gospels, and the Western text type substitutes “scribes and others” for hoi par’ autou.  I conjecture that behind this was some discomfort with the notion that Jesus’ family had a hard time coming to terms with who he was.  But, if hoi par’ autou is original (almost certainly the case) and refers to Jesus’ family (as is most likely), this is, in fact, evidence for the resurrection that transformed incredulous family members into followers of Jesus and leaders of the church.  I guess Spong just can’t win.  grin

August 16, 2:14 pm | [comment link]
16. Planonian wrote:

#6 has the kindest take on Bp. Spong that I’ve ever seen in any rightwing Anglican blog. Thanks for that - esp. considering that mentioning Bishops Spong or Pike is the equivalent of a violation of Godwin’s Law for Episcopalians/Anglicans wink

#10 Ah, Spong, so full of spleen and shot through with contradictions!

Oh yeah, not like anyone here of course… heh. raspberry

August 16, 2:34 pm | [comment link]
17. Grandmother wrote:

Hi Randy et al.
I have a slightly different “interpretation” of what the family said.

Upon hearing where he was, that asked, “Is he out of his mind”??
How many of asked have asked just such a question about our teenagers?  LOL

But there ya go, that’s just “my truth” LOL

August 16, 2:37 pm | [comment link]
18. Br_er Rabbit wrote:

When you’re a Grandmother you’ve earned the right to LOL at your own jokes.

Hi, Granny!

The Rabbit.

August 16, 2:48 pm | [comment link]
19. libraryjim wrote:

Years ago, one of my fellow parishoners returned from convention, where J. Spong was in attendance.  In fact, she boasted that she sat at the same table as he. 
“I don’t know what all the fuss is about, he’s a really nice person.”
I remarked that because of his theology, I’d have a difficult time sitting next to him, and would have asked for a different table assignment.
She called me intolerant, and said, “that’s just plain mean”.  He’s such a nice person and he’s a bishop, he deserves respect for that alone!

That’s all she could see—he was a nice person, his theology didn’t have anything to do with anything.

“The world is a dangerous place to live — not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”—Albert Einstein

August 16, 3:06 pm | [comment link]
20. Jim the Puritan wrote:

19:  The Bible teaches you have to watch out for the ones that look like “angels of light” on the surface.

August 16, 3:20 pm | [comment link]
21. Br. Michael wrote:

19, and that is a major part part of the problem.  TEC left him that collar and that collar equals legitamacy.

August 16, 3:24 pm | [comment link]
22. Irenaeus wrote:

LibraryJim [#19]: Those at the Spong end of the theological spectrum may benefit from the “nice person” defense but they’re rather stingy about according that defense to the orthodox. Just think of what’s been said about Brad Drell and Greg Griffith, to name only two examples.

August 16, 3:24 pm | [comment link]
23. azusa wrote:

The really tragic thing this shows is not Spong, who is a joke, but rather the apostasy of Philip Aspinall, the Primate of Australia. When you hear Sydney being reviled, remember this.
Aspinall is just a stuffed purple shirt who denies the faith he swore to uphold. Think what this will mwean for the future of Anglicanism down under.

August 16, 3:25 pm | [comment link]
24. Phil wrote:

Planonian, you mean, “Godwin’s Dodge” for reappraiser Episcopalians.

August 16, 3:29 pm | [comment link]
25. Mike Bertaut wrote:

#21 Br. Michael:  AMEN!

If they cannot discipline someone who denies Christ’s divinity (and with it His Salvific Powere) then how can they possibly go after any orthodox for their beliefs?  Am I to understand the “nice guy” test is now Salvific? 

St. Peter:  ” Yes, Yes, I know you upheld the Scriptures, confirmed in the face of adversity that Jesus was God’s own Son, and wholly man and wholly God.  I’m well aware that you made yourself subservient to God’s will, God’s desires, and His Holy Word as passed to you through Scriptures.  Jolly good. That’s all very well…but… 

Would people say you were a nice guy? Yes?  Allright then, up you go!”

It almost sounds like a Monty Python Sketch.  (Whaaaaaaaaat is yer name!!)


Mike Bertaut
Time to Go

August 16, 3:33 pm | [comment link]
26. Jim the Puritan wrote:

#16 Planonian:  The problem is it’s not a question of being nice.  The Scriptures repeatedly teach us to expose and expel the wolf from among the sheep.  And church leaders have a specific duty appointed by Scripture to protect the sheep from the wolves.  That’s why pastors are called pastors (shepherds).  That’s why bishops carry that symbolic shepherd’s crook.

As per my above posting, pastors in other denominations understand that.  Episcopalians do not and let the wolves scatter and devour the sheep at will.

The shepherds are senseless
    and do not inquire of the LORD;
    so they do not prosper
    and all their flock is scattered. . . .

Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the LORD.”

Jeremiah 10:21; 23:2

August 16, 3:42 pm | [comment link]
27. Planonian wrote:

#24, no Phil - I meant what I wrote. Please don’t put words in my mouth.

August 16, 3:49 pm | [comment link]
28. Ed the Roman wrote:

#19, an old boss of mine met Spong’s brother, who is a pretty orthodox theologian.  He described J.S. as being really, really nice, wonderful in character and demeanor, and totally off the reservation doctrinally.

Some of the nicest people I know are complete and utter unbelievers.

August 16, 3:57 pm | [comment link]
29. billh41 wrote:

Spong’s opinions on the nature of Jesus are reasonable. People can conclude that all the supernatural stuff is myth. My objection is twofold:

1. He took the money. That is, Spong acted in bad faith when he realized he wasn’t orthodox, and instead of doing the honest thing and leaving the church, he stayed on the payroll. And then tried to deconvert everyone else.

2. His idea that the church must “change or die” is truly irrational and begs the question. If Christ is not who He said He was, then the Christian religion is false and there’s no use wasting any more time with it. “Eat, drink and be merry—for tomorrow we die.” Or perhaps we should find another religion. But the answer is not to continue an institution that admits it’s false.

I am a Christian because I believe the claims of Christ to be true. If I came to realize Christianity is false (say, by Jesus’ body being found in a well-marked tomb, a la, “Here lies Jesus of Nazareth, crucified under Pontius Pilate when Caiaphus was chief priest, etc.”), then I’d go do something else. (BTW, finding Jesus’ body would demolish Islam as well, as the Koran insists Jesus was assumed directly into heaven prior to the crucifixion, and also that the Koran never errs.)

August 16, 4:20 pm | [comment link]
30. Ad Orientem wrote:

...and encouraged those threatening to quit the Anglican Communion to do so.

Never thought I would be saying this in reference to anything Spong said or wrote… but to the last part of that sentence I would like to throw out a hearty… AMEN!

August 16, 4:24 pm | [comment link]
31. Phil wrote:

#27 Planonian, “you mean” means that’s the reality of what you wrote.  Sorry if the truth stings.

August 16, 4:28 pm | [comment link]
32. RevK wrote:

I am very proud of my Spong letter in which he refers to me as “a pre-Enlightenment Neanderthal who failed to take the Scientific Revolution seriously.”  I understand that this is a standard reply of his to anyone who questions his writing/thought/faith process.  The irony is that he majored in English and I hold degrees in Physics, Computer Science and Electrical Engineering.  Spong’s comments, like Spong’s books, are nicely written drivel that merely recycles washed-out Bultmanian existentialism.  Like #29, my complaint is not what he believes, but that he used his position as a bishop to advance an anti-Christian position and justify his own immorality.

August 16, 4:35 pm | [comment link]
33. Words Matter wrote:

Spong changed the diocese of Newark and it did a good imitation of dying.  Now he seeks to “change” the whole church.

Words Matter

Reasonable people always fear nascent fascism.

August 16, 6:01 pm | [comment link]
34. Irenaeus wrote:

“An Iconoclast Gathers His Heretical Flock”

When did Spong last GATHER a flock? His talents, both as Bishop of Newark and as self-annointed debunker, lie in the Department of Scattering and Dismay.

August 16, 6:44 pm | [comment link]
35. Ralph wrote:

#15. Occasional Reader:
Help me with the Greek…being an Episcopalian, I don’t know much Greek.

Looking at Mk 3 in the Greek (Nestle-Aland), looking at several translations, and looking at the BDAG (“para”; section A, 3, b, beta, beth), I don’t see how “family” (i.e., blood relatives) is the only possible translation. Can’t it just as well be “envoys”? Some translations use “friends”.

Then, there’s the phrase “...out of his mind”. Existemi. That translation again seems to be one choice from several options.

Of course, in the case of certain bishops, “existemi” might well have that meaning…

August 16, 6:48 pm | [comment link]
36. Larry Morse wrote:

Come on, people, why are you wasting time on Spong? You know he isn’t worth your attention and will be dead shortly, wherein he will better assess the elements of his argument. Larry

August 16, 9:14 pm | [comment link]
37. PadreWayne wrote:

Archer #6: “My major issue with Spong’s argument is that he basically sets himself up as judge, jury, and executioner of what texts should and should not be in the bible.” Hmmmm… sorta like how we all set ourselves up as judge, jury, and executioner of what texts should and should not be enforced? Yes to (arguably) prohibitions against homoerotic sex, No to women’s place…?

Irenaeus # 22: “Just think of what’s been said about Brad Drell and Greg Griffith”—hmmmm check out that cheap shot GG made toward a certain reappraising woman cleric by trotting out a photo of his wife.

I’m certainly not a huge fan of +Spong, but I do think that a benefit of having him in the church (as opposed to kicking him out) is that he makes us think!

August 16, 11:07 pm | [comment link]
38. Alice Linsley wrote:

No, Spong doesn’t make us think about, reflect on or dig deeply into Scripture.  He has reinvented old heresies, but not once has he accurately represented the Apostolic Tradition of the Church.  I doubt he would even recognize it.  Dry rot indeed.

August 16, 11:22 pm | [comment link]
39. Tikvah wrote:

From an address titled, “Christian Apologetics,” 1945.

(Lewis, a confessed layman, is addressing an assembly of Anglican priests and youth leaders.)
  It is not, of course, for me to define to you what Anglican Christianity is - I am your pupil, not your teacher. But I insist that wherever you draw the lines, bounding lines must exist, beyond which your doctrine will cease either to be Anglican or to be Christian: and I suggest also that the lines come a great deal sooner than many modern priests think. I think it is your duty to fix the lines clearly in your own minds: and if you wish to go beyond them you must change your profession.

  This is your duty not specially as Christians or as priest but as honest men. There is a danger here of the clergy developing a special professional conscience which obscures the very plain moral issue. Men who have passed beyond these boundary lines in either direction are apt to protest that they have come by their unorthodox opinions honestly. In defence of their opinions they are prepared to suffer obloquy and to forfeit professional advancement. They thus come to feel like martyrs. But this simply misses the point which so gravely scandelizes the layman. We never doubted that the unorthodox opinions were honestly held: what we complain of is your continuing your ministry after you have come to hold them. (pages 89-90)

August 17, 12:07 am | [comment link]
40. Cousin Vinnie wrote:

Don’t call Spong a heretic!  (He didn’t say anything against the MDG’s did he?)

August 17, 1:12 am | [comment link]
41. Irenaeus wrote:

Wayne [#37]: Don’t be ridiculous. Remember WHY Greg Griffith offered the photo of his wife:

August 17, 7:26 am | [comment link]
42. Mark Johnson wrote:

Unfortunately, I’ve never seen a debate with Spong in which he lost.  He’s a very eloquent speaker, good at debate, strong on making good arguments.  I’ve seen him take on some well respected conservatives and completely rip their arguments to shreds.  We’ve got to be able to provide answers to the questions he raises - is our faith so shallow that if someone questions it, we simply just label them a ‘heretic’ without providing any wisdom to an answer.

I also must say that I admire the fact that Spong, once retiring as Bishop of Newark, no longer votes or speaks in the House of Bishops.  He doesn’t feel it’s a retired Bishop’s place to continue to take part in those decisions.  Yes, someone is ordained a Bishop for life, but should they continue to have all of the power and voice of a sitting Diocesan Bishop? 

Anyway, I’ve never been afraid of Spong.  I enjoy the arguments he throws out, even if I disagree.  As our great founding father Thomas Jefferson told us:

“Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.”

August 17, 8:26 am | [comment link]
43. Kyle Potter wrote:

I work at a Central Kentucky bookstore, and while I couldn’t just take Spong’s new book off the shelf altogether (it sells, after all), I ordered a shipment of Early Christian Writings from Penguin (you know, with Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, the Didache, et al) and displayed it right next to Spongs book and made it a staff pick. We’ve sold perhaps 24 of the new, shiny, evil book, and around 16 people have been introduced to ancient orthodoxy. I call it a win…

Vindicated: Resourcing Kentucky’s Anglo-Catholic Renewal

Kyle D. Potter
Vindicated: The Amazing Blog of Kyle Potter
Resourcing Kentucky’s Anglo-Catholic Renewal

August 17, 8:30 am | [comment link]
44. Phil wrote:

Heh.  Awesome work, Kyle!

August 17, 10:28 am | [comment link]
45. Ralph wrote:

I would pay good money to hear Jack Spong debate Rob Gagnon!!!

August 17, 11:45 am | [comment link]
46. tired wrote:

I must say, one thing I do concede to Spong is his ability to select an employer so lacking in integrity as to be unwilling to do anything about his noisy denigration of its purported business.  Were I to attempt anything near his activities, I would be sacked immediately.  Here’s to your pension, Jack.

August 17, 1:16 pm | [comment link]

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