Today We sit down with Bishop John Shelby Spong. Jack is a retired American bishop of the Episcopal Church. From 1979 to 2000 he was Bishop of Newark (based in Newark, New Jersey). He is a liberal Christian theologian, religion commentator and author. He calls for a fundamental rethinking of Christian belief away from theism and traditional doctrines. We talk to Bishop Spong about his life, his own faith journey, and what he sees as the problems with Christian fundamentalism. We talk about how dynamic growth is not the measuring stick for is a Christian Church is healthy. We talk about the deconstruction of one’s faith and how one can stay in the spiritual wrestle and not throw in the towel even as one’s religious framing falls apart. If you have not ever heard of Bishop Spong can we suggest several enlightening venues to get to know him better?
Bishop Spong’s views on Jesus, the gosepl, and the New Testament
Bishop Spong’s Criticism of Biblical Literalness
Bishop Spong’s recasting the story of Jesus
Debate between Bishop Spong and James White. This debate is a great model of of two intelligent and informed people coming to a discussion holding different developmental ground. One is a very Binary/outer authority/literal believer and the other anon-literal, nuanced/with Inner authority.
Books by Bishop John Shelby Spong:
Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy: A Journey into a New Christianity
Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers In Exile
Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy
Unbelievable: Why Neither Ancient Creeds Nor the Reformation Can Produce a Living Faith Today
Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World
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I loved this! Thank you both so much!
Way too short… I guess we will have to read his books.
I just kept thinking to myself, what’s the point? Why does he even go to church? Just join a humanist organization for heaven’s sake.
I don’t know how you did it, but thank you for getting Bishop Spong on. That was a big deal. I really appreciated this episode.
I loved this. Bill Reel pointed me in this direction a few months back. I found this podcast / radio interview and then his book.
Excellent interview. Bishop Spong is down to earth yet deep. I appreciate him not appealing to emotionalism which is often a cover for shallowness
Thank you Bill and John. I found Johns YouTube videos during my faith Crisis and they helped me so much. I was soo excited to see you were going to have an interview together. Thanks !
A big reason why I left LDS church is because I found the Jesus of Mormonism to be bland and non-controversial. But in contrast, whenever I read the NT, I see a person who seems to stir up trouble everywhere he went, yet able to show authentic love and compassion. In the Mormon church of the 70s and 80s that I grew up in, the focus was on legitimizing Joseph Smith’s calling as a prophet and the church as the only true church. Jesus was then just an afterthought in the church. His name was mostly used to close a prayer or testimony. If I wanted to study his life deeper, I go to non-LDS sources.
And that’s how I ended up with Bishop Spong’s 1995 book “Resurrection: Myth or Reality”. At that time, his work convinced me that Jewish midrash was the lens to read the NT through. I thought this was cool, and it presented a much more interesting Jesus than the one I get from lifeless discussions in Sunday School. Shortly after, I was out of Mormonism.
I think one big factor why Bishop Spong ended up denying the basic Christian dogmas of original sin, Resurrection, atonement, etc. is Jewish midrash. I suspect it was also midrash that led Joseph Smith to change his views on God, marriage, and the afterlife once he started learning Hebrew.
Midrash is what produced that system of Jewish superstition known as Kabbalah. Out of Kabbalah came Freemasonry, and from there, it is not hard to see why Joseph Smith and his family had a magical worldview before they gave birth to Mormonism.
Both Smith and Spong are the kind of Christians that the NT calls “Judaizers” or those who mix the errors of Judaism with the truths of Jesus’ gospel.
In his Resurrection thesis, Spong claimed that when Jesus died on the Cross, his body was taken down, dumped in a common grave for criminals, and was devoured by wild beasts. When pressed for evidence in a public debate for this incredible assertion, he could not cite any.
In contrast, all the NT accounts of the Jesus’ burial say his body was laid in a known grave and given respectful treatment. Since these early sources contradict Spong, his tactic is to discredit them by appealing to the arguments of the 19th century liberal Protestant mythicists who question the credibility of the NT documents.
The problem with mythicist arguments is that they were the coolest fad more than a hundred years ago, but now they’re unfortunately antiquated and passe. Here in the 21st century, they’re largely ignored, having been discredited by advances in historical research. Today, we can safely assert that the NT gospel writers cited very early sources that were proximate to the events they described.
Forty years ago, the Jewish university scholar and professor Pinchas Lapide shocked the academic world when he said he believed the Resurrection was a historical event, and not an invention by Jesus’ disciples.
Lapide’s research is only one among hundreds of academic works surveyed by Gary Habermas to determine what scholars thought of the Resurrection. Habermas looked up every known expert who has done work in the field of Resurrection studies. His comprehensive survey spanned three decades starting in 1970s and included those done by European scholars (French, German, British, etc). These also included works by agnostics and atheists like Bart Ehrman, John Dominic Crossan, etc.
And what was the scholarly consensus as of 2005 when Habermas published his survey? Answer: A big majority thinks the Resurrection is a historical event. Is there any chance that this consensus might swing back in favor of the mythicists? Not likely.
In the face of a mountain of evidence from scholars and experts who have answered the Resurrection question, what are we to do now with those in the fringes like Bishop Spong’s midrashic readings of the NT that don’t require evidence? What would reason and logic tell us?
If “Christianity” is dying, that’s not really bad news. Because what’s actually dying is the Christianity of the Judaizers who regard Jesus’ Resurrection as a myth. In their materialistic faith, all things supernatural are denied. This is the kind of Christianity where objective truths don’t exist. This Judaized Christianity will never satisfy man’s hunger for truth.
On the other hand, where the Resurrection is affirmed as an objective truth backed by historical evidence, there authentic Christianity grows.