John Shelby Spong and the Churches of Christ (Victoria, Australia)

John Shelby Spong 2006 (image courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

When I read Merrill Kitchen’s [2] favourable article towards ex-Bishop Spong, in “The Future Church and Bishop John Shelby Spong” [3], I wondered if Kitchen and I were reading the same author. This is only one view by a leader within the Churches of Christ in Australia, but she is in a position of influence — the principal of a theological college of influence in Melbourne, Australia.

I thought I had read an adequate sample of Spong’s views in Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, Born of a Woman, Resurrection Myth or Reality?, and his latest which he claims will be his last — Spong’s swan song — A New Christianity for a New World. [4] But I was not ready for the sanitised version of Spong in this article. [5]

This is the Spong who rejects fundamental doctrines of the faith, yet Kitchen gave him the honoured status of being “clearly a believer but one who refuses to toe the ecclesiastical line when doctrine and tradition inhibit spiritual growth.” She claims Spong is calling us back to “a New Testament Church style and proclamation.” [6] Really?

A. The nature of Spongian religion

Kitchen rightly asks, “So what does Spong believe?” Yes, he believes the things that Kitchen raised in the article, but he believes much more that tell us what kind of a believer he really is and what his new style of church will look like in the future.

Will it be like the New Testament church (e.g. the Book of Acts and the Epistles) or more like Spong’s own brand of religion? To arrive at her sympathetic understanding of Spong, Kitchen has forgotten to tell us about some of the fundamentals of the faith that have been rejected or redefined by Spong. He sees his “task of seeking to redefine Jesus” as something that he does not take “easily or lightly.” [7]

1.    How is the faith redefined?

He claims he is a Christian, believes God is real and calls Jesus his Lord. Yet he does not define God as a supernatural being. In fact, for him, “Theism is dead, I joyfully proclaim, but God is real.” [8] By theism, he means supernatural Christianity. He believes passionately in God, but this God is not identified with doctrines, creeds, and traditions. [9]

For prayer, he proposes “substitute words” that have been identified down through the centuries “with the mystical disciplines of spiritual development — words such as meditation and contemplation” that will include “centering prayer” and breathing exercises. [10]

He’s against evangelism and missionary enterprises, the latter being “base-born, rejecting, negative, and yes, I would even say evil.” [11] This shocking redefinition of missions as “evil” is associated with his universalism and theory that “we possess neither certainty nor eternal truth.” [12]

 

2. The characteristics of Spong’s new brand of Christianity

The fundamentals are gone. What would cause him to come to conclusions that are so contrary to historic, classical Christianity? He’s all for life and love because they “transcend all boundaries” but

“Exclusive religious propaganda can no longer be sustained. The idea that Jesus is the only way to God or that only those who have been washed in the blood of Christ are ever to be listed among the saved, has become anathema and even dangerous in our shrinking world.” [13]His assumptions are driving his theological agenda: God is not a personal being; he throws out Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. There is no literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead nor a literal star or virgin birth — that’s mythology! There’s no ascension of Jesus Christ and there will be no Second Coming of Christ.

Christ did not found a church. We are not born sinful. The fall into sin by Adam and Eve is mythical. Women are not less human and less holy than men (I agree!). Homosexuals are not morally depraved; the Bible is not the literal word of God and certainly is not inspired. Forget about absolute Christian ethics because “time makes ancient good uncouth.” [14] The colour of one’s skin or ethnic background does not constitute grounds for making one superior or inferior (I agree!).

He repudiates baptism and the commemoration of the Lord’s Supper. “Since the diagnosis (sinful human nature) was wrong, the prescribed cure (atonement) cannot be right.” Since the fall into sin is a wrong diagnosis, baptism “to wash away the effects of a fall into sin that never occurred is inappropriate.” As for the Eucharist, this “reenactment of a sacrifice . . . becomes theological nonsense.” [15]

The supernatural is out. There will be no singing of praises to a theistic deity: “I treat the language of worship like I treat the language of love. It is primitive, excessive, flowery, poetic, evocative. No one really believes it literally.” [16] There will be his ill-defined, mystical “God-experience”. We could do that in a mosque, temple, synagogue, holy place, or ecclesia (his preferred word). There will be no confessing our sins to a “parental judge.” [17] There will be no literalised faith story. It will “never claim that it already possesses truth by divine revelation.” [18]

3. The church of tomorrow

As for the church of tomorrow, will it be a return to the New Testament church style as Kitchen suggests? Hardly!

The ecclesia of the future will be a place for “Catholic and Protestant, orthodox and heretic, liberal and evangelical, Jew and Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu” and where worship of this “god” will not be “bounded by our formulas, our creeds, our doctrines, our liturgies, or even our Bible, but still real, infinitely real.” [19] God is not a personal being, not even the highest being but the one he experiences as “the Ground and Source of All Being and therefore the presence that calls me to step beyond every boundary.” [20] This is a rejuvenated liberalism of Paul Tillich.

This new community, the ecclesia, “must be able to allow God and Satan to come together in each of us. It must allow light and darkness to be united. It must bind good and evil into one. It must unite Christ with Anti-Christ, Jesus with Judas, male with female, heterosexual with homosexual.” [21]

This is a church built in cloud cuckoo land – out of the minds of Spong and his friends! It is beyond radical. It is blasphemous!

B. Spong and evangelicals

Spong has a particular aversion to evangelical, Bible-believing Christianity (he calls it fundamentalism). He is not interested in “confronting or challenging those conservative, fundamentalist elements of Christianity that are so prevalent today. Why? He believes they will “die of their own irrelevance” as they cling “to attitudes of the past that are simply withering on the vine.” [22]

He goes to great lengths in denigrating traditional, evangelical Christianity, even to the point of making blasphemous statements such as these: “I am free of the God who was deemed to be incomplete unless constantly receiving our endless praises; the God who required that we acknowledge ourselves as born in sin and therefore as helpless; the God who seemed to delight in punishing sinners; the God who, we were told, gloried in our childlike, groveling dependency. Worshiping that theistic God did not allow us to grow into the new humanity.” [23]

In spite of these blasphemous statements about the Almighty God, Kitchen wants to give him this kind of credit: “. . . He is far from being an atheist and is certainly more than a philosophical humanist. . . Spong’s faith is firmly bonded to the person of Jesus.” [24] But which Jesus? Paul, the Apostle, warned of the one who “comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received” (2 Cor. 11:4, English Standard Version). It is evident from the writings of Spong that he wants nothing to do with the New Testament picture of Jesus Christ, yet Kitchen lauds him as “clearly a believer.” [25] Both Kitchen and Spong have redefined believers, if this is the case.

Spong does not want to deal with conservative, fundamentalist Christianity, and believes that it has no application to life today. He comments that “nowhere is this better seen than when one observes how the word Christian is used in our contemporary world.” [26] This is the pot calling the kettle black! It is Spong who has demolished the Bible’s definition of a Christian.

Among Spong’s 205 items in the bibliography of his latest book, [27] it is not surprising that there is not one that refutes his views or presents a scholarly evangelical perspective. I looked for Don Carson, William Lane Craig, Ben Witherington III., N. T. Wright, J. P. Moreland, Ravi Zacharias, Australia’s Paul Barnett, and other leading defenders of the evangelical faith., but they were absent.

His theological supporters from the Jesus Seminar and other liberals are everywhere – John Crossan, Marcus Borg, Robert Funk, Michael Goulder, John Hick, John A. T. Robinson, Paul Tillich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Don Cupitt. Spongism is one-eyed religion that is intolerant of opposing views, especially those of the “fundamentalists” (evangelicals).

C.    Emptying or growing churches? Spongian religion has a killer instinct.

One of the most damning pieces of evidence against Spong’s views are that the facts do not stack up concerning the demise of supernatural Christianity. What’s the truth about the death of theism? Wherever theological liberalism has taken hold, church numbers have crashed. Based on The Episcopal Church Annual (USA), membership of that dominantly theological liberal denomination, fell from a high of 3.6 million baptised Episcopalians in 1965, to 2.3 million in 1997– a loss of fully one-third of its membership. [28] The average Sunday attendance in the year 1998 was 843,213. [29] Two years later (the year 2000), it had further declined to 839,760. [30] “Mainline [church] membership is down (by nearly 6 million members) since 1965” in the USA. [31]

It is no wonder that the Newark Diocese of the Episcopal Church is talking about the need for church growth. [31a]

Church growth around the world

According to the World Christian Encyclopedia (David Barrett), world-wide“around 17 million people become church members each year through conversion, and some 7 million leave the church.” This leaves an annual net growth of approximately 10 million people. We would love to see more, but this is hard evidence against Spong’s death of theism. [32]

There are some other strong indicators that Jesus is alive and well and the church is growing. In the Ukraine, in the past three years, some 70 new house churches have been planted in Crimea, most in places previously without a church. [33]

In the city of Xinjiang, China, there were 20-30 small churches with about 300 believers in 1994. Through courage, vision and the Lord’s direction, five couples have been used to enable rapid growth. Over a period of three years, the growth has been so strong that there are now almost 500 churches with about 100,000 members in four districts. This growth has so concerned the Government that it has infiltrated the churches, persecuted the believers, and gone on television, accusing the groups of being a cult. [34]

During the last 10 years of the “Decade of Harvest” among the Nigerian Assemblies of God in Africa, there has been extraordinary growth. The church has not only gained 1.2 million new members, but also ordained 5,026 new pastors and planted 4,044 new churches in Nigeria. The emphasis on reaching previously unreached people groups led to 75 churches being planted in areas previously untouched by Christianity. [35]

World-wide, the Pentecostal movement has grown from no adherents in 1906 to approximately 500 million today. Yet Spong has the audacity to say that “Christianity as we have known it increasingly displays signs of rigor mortis.” [36]

There certainly are areas where the Christian church is showing significant decline, especially in the Western world. About 100 years ago, Wales experienced a heaven-sent revival. The proportion of the total Welsh population attending church has declined from 14.6% in 1982 to 8.7% in 1995. [37]

God’s church is being persecuted around the world, but is showing growth internationally. Spong’s thesis is dead in the water. It is his ideology, a la John A. T. Robinson, radical theological liberalism, that kills churches.

The Episcopalians of Spong’s diocese voted with their feet while he was bishop. One report said that

“Spong [had] been the Episcopal Bishop of Newark [New Jersey] since 1976. He has presided over one of the most rapid witherings of any diocese in the Episcopal Church [USA]. The most charitable assessment shows that Newark’s parish membership rolls have evaporated by more than 42 percent. Less charitable accounts put the rate at over 50 percent.” [38]

When we throw out the Scriptures as the standard for theology, where do we go for answers? Here we have a new kind of religion, out of the minds of Spong himself and his friends. Yet Spong thinks his views are the future of faith, a new Christianity for a new world! Welcome to Spongism, “Christianity” with a killer instinct. He is searching “for that elusive truth of God that lies beneath the literal words of that sacred text.” [39] When the up-front words are too offensive to the human mind, instead of reading and interpreting them as any other piece of literature, you invent your own approach. Here, Spong wants to find the meaning behind the text. We shall see that this type of interpretation leads him to accept many things that are politically correct in our secular society — out with the supernatural, no heaven or hell in the afterlife, acceptance of homosexuality, etc.

Yet, Spong is so blind that he cannot admit what his brand of Christianity does to churches:

“Only those whom the traditionalists mistakenly call liberals carry within themselves the seeds of renewal and future life for the religious traditions of yesterday. A title more proper than ‘liberal’ might well be ‘open’ or ‘realist.'” [40]

D.    Is Spongian religion the future of the church?

I have written at length providing some of the evidence, because Kitchen’s article does not give an accurate picture of John Shelby Spong’s world-view. He is not “the future of the church” as the article’s title indicates. His brand of Christianity has a track record – the death of congregations. On Spong’s recent visit to Australia, the then Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane, Peter Hollingworth (who at the time of writing this article was Australia’s Governor-General), prevented his speaking in Brisbane Anglican Churches. Instead, the Uniting Church (a merger of Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational churches) accepted him as a speaker.

Paul warned the Corinthians: “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough” (2 Corinthians 11:3-4). Spong is preaching another Jesus to that of the Scriptures. His writings tell us what kind of a believer he is and what kind of a church he wants to see developed in the future. He is not a believer in the Jesus of the Scriptures, nor is his church one aligned with the New Testament.

The Spongian Jesus is not the real Jesus of the New Testament.

1.    Theology does matter

Based on her article, what are the elements of Spongian theology that are part of this new style of church? “Spong is calling people back to a New Testament style of proclamation, which is not a new idea for the movement we call Churches of Christ.” [41] What is a new idea, however, is a prominent representative of a formerly evangelical denomination in Victoria, supporting the heretical teachings of John Shelby Spong.

This is the principal of the Churches of Christ theological college in the state of Victoria, Australia, identifying Spong’s “New Testament style of proclamation” with the Churches of Christ movement. “Is [Spong] a “contemporary heretic who must be silenced” or “does he offer hope to a struggling Church in a post-Christian age?” [42] The tone of Kitchen’s article infers that Spong is offering hope to the church, even the Churches of Christ in Victoria.

    What kind of hope is this?

2.    Spong’s theology and the Churches of Christ

Spong’s theology offers the Churches of Christ (Australia) and any person or denomination the following views: [43]

  • Re-envisioning our concepts of God:
  • God is “a presence at the heart of life, available to everyone and not as the special possession of a religious institution”;
  • God is not an ancient deity who is “distant, apart and above the lives of a sinful humanity”;
  • God is not “the kind of supernatural being who engages in instant gratification, magical wizardry and capricious favouritism”;
  • God is “to be seen and experienced as intimately present in all creation” [Note: This sounds more like monism/Hinduism, than Christianity, to me!]; God’s identity “is revealed when barriers are broken and community is formed”;
  • God’s identity “is revealed when barriers are broken and community is formed”;
  • God is not “a record keeping deity before whom I will appear at the day of judgment to have my eternal destination announced. . . My heart will never worship what my mind has rejected.”
  • Spong has “his doubts about the process of resurrection [of Jesus],” according to Kitchen. Doubts? Hardly!

Spong is straight forward about his views on resurrection. Speaking of the resurrection of Jesus, he wrote:

“It is easy to identify the legendary elements of the resurrection narratives. Angels who descend in earthquakes, speak, and roll back stones; tombs that are empty; apparitions that appear and disappear; rich men who make graves available; thieves who comment from their crosses of pain — these are legends all. Sacred legends, I might add, but legends nonetheless. . . What happened that gave birth to the legendary details [in the New Testament records] that gathered around the moment of Easter? Why did they gather? Hundreds of millions of people have lived and died on this earth — some of them famous, powerful people — and no similar legends gathered around them. Why this one man, at this time, in this place? . . .“The primacy of Galilee [and not Jerusalem for the crucifixion and resurrection] means that all of the appearance narratives that purport to be the physical manifestations of the dead body that somehow was enabled to be revivified and to walk out of a tomb are also legends and myths that cannot be literalized. The risen Jesus did not literally eat fish in Jerusalem. Thomas did not touch the physical wounds. Resurrection may mean many things, but these details are not literally a part of that reality. To affirm Galilee as the primary locale in the experience of Easter is a radical step, but it is nonetheless a step that the Bible itself seems to acknowledge” [44]

This new style of church will mean a re-evaluation of what it means to be the Church. It will

  • not be hierarchical;
  • be honest in its worship;
  • be focussed on real life and not an escape from reality;
  • recognise God’s journeying presence;
  • have a commitment to communality;
  • acknowledge that all who gather at the Lord’s table are ministers and need to function as such [Note: I agree. But why should it be limited to those who gather for the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper? “All are ministers” should apply to all Christian believers. See I Cor. 14:26.];
  • “be a celebration of life in all its complexity.”
  • “rejoice in Scripture, but not be bound by ancient ‘cultic or cultural limitations'”

[Note: How can this church follow Spong in its rejoicing in Scripture when “the biblical texts themselves” have “proved to be quite untrustworthy”? [45]  This must be the mystical God-experience of Spong’s invention that is unrelated to what the text says directly. To understand what Spong is getting at, he speaks of John’s Gospel as “the least literal and the most accurate. . . Literalize John and you will lose this Gospel. For that which is literalized becomes nonsense, while truth that is approached through sign and symbol becomes the very doorway into God.” [46] It’s amazing what conclusions are reached when one throws out the Bible and makes up his own “sign and symbol” religion! What are the limits?].

  • There will be “a mystery and wonder that exceeds the dogmatic assertions of religious formulations.”
  • But “Spong’s faith is firmly bonded to the person of Jesus,” says Kitchen. This Jesus “was a God experience of the reality of that Ground of Being.” Spong claims that “Christpower, written as one word, has become for me a way to describe the Christ life that is the gift of the Spirit, the mark of membership in the Christian community.” [47]

Spong’s own words tell us how deeply he is committed to the value of experience, rather than to the content of the propositional revelation of the Word of God:

“Behind the narrative [of Scripture] is an unnarrated proclamation. Behind the proclamation is an intense life-giving experience. The task of Bible study is to lead believers into truth, a truth that is never captured in mere words but a truth that is real, a truth that when experienced erupts within us in expanding ways, calling us simultaneously deeper and deeper into life, and not coincidentally, deeper and deeper into God. . .“Human life alone could not produce that which we have experienced in Jesus Christ. He is of God, so the Christmas story points to truth, but the words used to describe or capture that truth are not themselves true in any literal sense.” [48]

[Note: This is the existential Christ of theological liberals such as Paul Tillich, John A. T. Robinson, Rudolf Bultmann, etc. It is a redefined Jesus who is radically different to the Jesus of the New Testament.]

  • This new kind of church includes a belief in life after death, but it is an eternity “that lies beyond the limits of my human finitude and in which I can participate.” Elsewhere, Spong is more specific. After five years of study on life after death, this study:
  • “seemed to lead me to no final conclusions. . . I still do not know what to say or how to express my convictions on this subject except with a consuming vagueness.” [49]
  • “I dismiss heaven as a place of reward, and I dismiss hell as a place of punishment. I find neither definition either believable or appealing.” [50]
  • If this kind of theology still makes Spong “clearly a believer,” according to Kitchen, what kind of a believer is he? What will believers in this new style church be like?;
  • Spong “refuses to toe the ecclesiastical line when doctrine and tradition inhibit spiritual growth, or deny the reality of human experience, or discriminate against any person.” [51]

E.    Conclusion

Spongian religion is out of the mind of Spong and his theological ilk. His statements about heaven and hell, in rejecting the orthodox doctrines, are testimony to this fact: “I find neither definition either believable or appealing.” [52] It does not matter what the authoritative Word of God states, it must be “believable and appealing” to Spong for him to accept it. In this writer’s view, this represents theological arrogance and autonomy.

When you invent your own religion, there is no need to listen to the text of Scripture. Therefore, Spongian theology and its counterparts (Tillich, J.A.T. Robinson, Bonhoeffer) can assert:

    1.    “There was no biologically literal virgin birth, no miraculous overcoming of barrenness in the birth of John the Baptist, no angel Gabriel who appeared to Mary, no deaf muteness, no angelic chorus that peopled the heavens to announce Jesus’ birth to hillside shepherds, no journey to Bethlehem, no presentation or purification in Jerusalem, and no childhood temple story.” [53]

2.    Paul, the man from Tarsus, was “a rigidly controlled gay male, I believe, [who] taught the Christian church what the love of God means and what, therefore, Christ means as God’s agent.” [54]

3.    Rationalistic, humanistic, existential views are promoted. The Bible is myth. [55] The mythology of Mark’s Gospel is superseded by today’s knowledge. “We understand what causes wind and wave, epilepsy and deaf muteness in ways that involve no appeal to supernatural forces.” [56]

4.    There’s no need for the supernatural in our modern world. Spong’s language is, “Theism is dead.” [57] But this kind of statement is not original with Spong; it is found in his mentor and friend, John A. T. Robinson [58], who wrote about “the end of theism.” [59] Paul Tillich had spoken of three kinds of theism, one [60] of which “must be transcended because it is irrelevant” and another kind [61] “must be transcended because it is wrong. It is bad theology.” [62]

5.    Autonomous humanistic godlessness reigns. In the preface to his latest book, Spong highlights, thus supporting, the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “God would have us know that we must live as those who manage our lives without God. . . Go is weak and powerless in the world.” [63]

6.    The Bible’s authors are out of date: “They are not in touch with emerging contemporary knowledge.” [64]

7.    If you don’t like what the literal words are saying, make up your own and than claim they are the truth. That’s what Spong has done with the birth narratives of Jesus: “My purpose here [with the birth story] is to see the truth to which these narratives point. Birth narratives tell us nothing about the birth of the person who is featured in those narratives. They do tell us a great deal, however, about the adult life of the one whose birth is being narrated.” [65]

Who said so? Spong did. Reinterpretation according to Spong’s own meaning is the order of the day for his theological inventions. Pity help me if I read his book with the same disdain for literal interpretation.

Since theology matters, Kitchen’s views in support of Spong, if promoted and accepted, will spell the demise of the Churches of Christ if her views are widely accepted. We know it from Spong’s own track record and the record of theological liberalism world-wide.

Pray for the Churches of Christ, Victoria, to return to biblical Christianity!

Endnotes:

2. Merrill Kitchen is the principal of the Churches of Christ Theological College, Mulgrave, Vic., Australia.

3. Merrill Kitchen, “The Future Church and Bishop John Shelby Spong,” The Australian Christian, 28 November 2001, p. 17. This article appeared in the “Theology Matters” feature of the magazine. The Australian Christian is an official Churches of Christ magazine in Australia.

4. John Shelby Spong, A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith Is Dying and How a New Faith Is Being Born. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

5. For ease of reference, I will refer only to his latest book (ibid.), but similar beliefs are documented in his other books that I have read.

6. Kitchen, “The Future Church and Bishop John Shelby Spong,” p. 17.

7. Spong, A New Christianity for a New World, p. 130.

8. Ibid., p. 77.

9. See ibid., pp. 3, 64, 74.

10. Ibid., p. 193.

11. Ibid., p. 178.

12. Ibid., p. 179.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid., pp. 2, 6. Elsewhere, Spong writes: “In time the virgin birth account will join Adam and Eve and the story of the cosmic ascension as clearly recognized mythological elements in our faith tradition whose purpose was not to describe a literal event but to capture the transcendent dimensions of God in the earthbound words and concepts of first-century human beings” (John Shelby Spong, Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Birth of Jesus. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, p. 45).

15. Ibid., p. 124.

16. Ibid., p. 204.

17. Ibid., p. 206.

18. Ibid., p. 214.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid., pp. 59-60.

21. Ibid., p. 167.

22. Ibid., p. 12.

23. Ibid., p. 75.

24. Kitchen, “The Future Church and Bishop John Shelby Spong,” p. 17.

25. Ibid.

26. Spong, A New Christianity for a New World, p. 12.

27. A New Christianity for a New World.

28. These figures of decline are based on Louie Crew, “Charting the Episcopal Church. Retrieved on November 4, 2001, from http://newark.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/chartecusa.html, p. 9 (A4 size, printed).

29. Rev. Dr. Leslie P. Fairfield, “Modernist Decline and Biblical Renewal: The Episcopal Church from 1870-2000,” American Anglican Council website, posted January 24, 2001. Retrieved on October 15, 2001, from http://www.americananglican.org/Issues/Issues.dfm?ID-91.  On 6 May 2007, it was available from: http://www.strategicnetwork.org/index.php?loc=kb&view=v&id=3486&fto=1081&

30. Louie Crew, “Growth and Decline in ECUSA Attendance, 1991-2000.” Retrieved on 6 May 2007, from:http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/growthdecline90-00.html. The Episcopalian Church USA has shown “30 years of membership decline and over a million members lost” [The Institute on Religion and Democracy, “Episcopal Action.” Retrieved on 6 May 2007 from: http://www.ird-renew.org/site/pp.asp?c=fvKVLfMVIsG&b=308889.  See also, “Charting the Episcopal Church,” Louie Crew. Retrieved on June 6, 2004, from http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/chartecusa.html.

31. Robert Wuthnow, “Still Toeing the Mainline,” retrieved on November 4, 2001, from http://www.beliefnet.com/story/31/story_3171_1.html. This article states that, “More than 20 million Americans still hold membership in mainline churches. The largest mainline denominations are the United Methodist Church, with 8.7 million members; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with 5.2 million members; the Presbyterian Church (USA), with 2.6 million members; the Episcopal Church, with 2.5 million members; and the American Baptist Churches USA and the United Church of Christ, each with 1.5 million members.”

31a. The 2003 Diocesan Conference on Church Growth, October 24-25, 2003 – Xavier Center, Convent Station, NJ, retrieved from: http://www.dioceseofnewark.org/churchgrowth/  [26th December 2003]

32. “10M new converts, 32M Christian children per year,” [Source: Justin Long, Assoc. Editor of World Christian Encyclopedia (David Barrett)]. World-wide statistics plus news from Bulgaria, Chile, Brazil, DAWN Fridayfax 1998 #04. Retrieved on November 4, 2001, from http://www.jesus.org.uk/dawn/1998/dawn9804.html.

33. “Ukraine: 70 new house churches in the Crimea,” DAWN Fridayfax 2001 #24, News from Germany, Ukraine and China. Retrieved on November 4, 2001, from http://www.jesus.org.uk/dawn/2001/dawn24.html.

34. “China: 100,000 new believers in Xinjiang in 3 years,” DAWN Fridayfax 2001 #24, News from Germany, Ukraine and China. Retrieved on November 4, 2001, from http://www.jesus.org.uk/dawn/2001/dawn24.html.

35. “Nigeria: Assemblies of God plant 4,044 new churches in 10 years,” DAWN Fridayfax 2001#3. Retrieved on November 14, 2001, from http://www.jesus.org.uk/dawn/2001/dawn03.html. The source is the AoG news, 3 January 2001.

36. Spong, A New Christianity for a New World, p. 8.

37. “Wales: Church decline generally but slight increase for Anglicans,” Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS), 7 March 1997. Retrieved on November 3, 2001, from www.anglicancommunion.org/acns/acnsarchive/acns1100/acns1153.html. The report went on to say that “the Church in Wales congregations (Anglicans) report that there has been a slight increase in the size of their congregations in the last five years [i.e.. prior to 1997]. The report also found that Churches identifying themselves as Anglo-Catholic or Broad, or Charismatic were growing the most.”

38. “Rescuing Christianity from Bishop Kevorkian,” D. Marty Lasley, review of John Shelby Spong’s, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, for Anglican Voice, posted June 2 1999. Retrieved on 6 May 2007 from: http://listserv.episcopalian.org/wa.exe?A2=ind9906&L=virtuosity&H=1&P=272 (this link was no longer available in Oct 2013, but it is available at: http://listserv.virtueonline.org/pipermail/virtueonline_listserv.virtueonline.org/1999-June/000415.html  (Accessed 15 October 2013).

39. Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, pp. x, xi.

40. Spong, Born of a Woman, p. 176.

41. Kitchen, “The Future Church and Bishop John Shelby Spong,” p. 17 (emphasis added).

42. Ibid.

43. These are based on Kitchen, “The Future Church and Bishop John Shelby Spong,” p. 17.

44. John Shelby Spong, Resurrection Myth or Reality? A Bishop’s Search for the Origins of Christianity. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994, pp. 233, 235-236.

45. Ibid., p. 235.

46. John Shelby Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991, p. 207.

47. Ibid., ch. 13, n4, p. 253.

48. Ibid., p. 225.

49. Spong, Resurrection Myth or Reality, p. 287.

50. Ibid., p. 288.

51. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes in the bullet points above are from Kitchen, “The Future Church and Bishop John Shelby Spong,” p. 17.

52. Spong, Resurrection Myth or Reality?, p. 288.

53. Spong, Born of a Woman, pp. 157-158.

54. Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, p. 125.

55. John A. T. Robinson speaks the same kind of language about “the Genesis stories of the Creation and Fall were representations of the deepest truths about man and the universe in the form of myth rather than history, and were non the less valid for that” (Honest to God. London: SCM Press Ltd, 1963, p. 33). Rudolf Bultmann, the demythologiser of the Bible, took a similar line: “There is nothing specifically Christian in the mythical view of the world as such. It is simply the cosmology of a pre-scientific age” (Kerygma and Myth, vol. 1, p. 3, in Robinson, ibid., p. 34).

56. Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, p. 143.

57. Spong, A New Christianity for a New World, p. 77.

58. Spong writes that one of the tasks of his book “is to move forward the work begun in the last century by a man who was my mentor and my friend. His name was John Arthur Thomas Robinson” (ibid., p. x).

59. Robinson, Honest to God, p. 39.

60. This is the theism of “the unspecified affirmation of God” (Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1952, p. 182).

61. This is “theological theism. . . It usually develops the so-called arguments for the ‘existence’ of God” (ibid., p. 184). Elsewhere, Tillich rejects the existence of the God proclaimed by orthodoxy: “Ordinary theism has made God a heavenly, completely perfect person who resides above the world and mankind. The protest of atheism against such a highest person is correct. There is no evidence for his existence, nor is he a matter of ultimate concern. . .” (Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1. Digswell Place: James Nisbet & Co Ltd, 1968, p. 271).

62. Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be, p. 184.

63. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, dated July 16, 1944. A fuller quote reads: “God would have us know that we must live as those who manage our lives without God. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us. . . Before God and with God we live without God. . . Go is weak and powerless in the world and that is precisely the way, the only way in which he is with us to help us.” (in Spong, A New Christianity for a New World, p. ix).

64. Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, p. 9.

65. Ibid., p. 215.

Do you want life or death in the church?

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Copyright © 2007 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 May 2016.

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