Friday, January 14, 2011

John Shelby Spong

 Last year I came across this interview with John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal Bishop of Newark in the US. Despite having been raised in a strict Evangelical church and serving right wing congregations as a bishop, his theology is surprisingly liberal. He stirs a lot of controversy with his progressive views on hot-topic issues, like ordaining homosexuals, and he doesn't hesitate to reinterpret basic tenets of the Christian faith, such as the resurrection of Jesus.

The first part of the interview is mostly about Spong's personal life and experiences with the church during his formative years. In the second half he touches on some of the beliefs that have earned him a reputation as an ultraliberal. It's worth noting that Spong denies his teachings are unique or radical and describes them as being typical biblical scholarship covered at most theological colleges.

I especially like what he says about how when he began to "lift the bible stories out of the context of a premodern world view" he found people hungry for Christianity. Like me, many people were afraid they had to stop thinking for themselves and subscribe to a very literal, fundamentalist interpretation of scripture in order to follow Jesus. There certainly are a great number of Christians who won't hesitate to express those exact sentiments. Thank goodness I have Christian friends and came across a community of believers who are tolerant enough to let me question everything; otherwise I may have been turned off and tuned out the gospel completely.


Sandra said...

i adore Jack Spong's books. He came here on a speaking tour last year while I was in the midst of a reading frenzy of his works. I only found out about it at 2 in the morning before he would speaking at 8am an hour away from here. Just not something I could do with my chronic illness. I was so disappointed. I've read every one of his books and I like each one better than the last. I've listened to podcasts, iTunesU lectures, and every interview I could find. I only stopped short of subscribing to his column.

I loved his books because he asked the same questions I was asking and he wasn't afraid of where the answers to those questions might lead. I love that he has had the courage to use his ecclesiatical position to challenge people to greater compassion for the world rather than challenge them to greater fear and isolation. I love that he's not a great scholar; he's just a guy who thinks--like me.

I've adopted for myself the motto of his seminary: "Seek Truth, Lead Where It Will, Cost What It May"

Michelle said...

I really love to listen to him. I've heard him on The Nick and Josh podcast:

I love his openness and his his boldness. I have to say, I don't agree with all that he says (I do believe in miracles!) but that doesn't matter much to me; he's an inspiration.

I want to pick up a book or two of his from the library. Let me know your recommendations. Oh, and if you know of any other podcasts off the top of your head please link me Sandra! Thanks :)

Sandra said...

For podcasts: I searched iTunes and iTunesU for his name. For videos, I searched YouTube. I didn't save any of them after I listened because after a while, I realized he was recycling so much of his material and that I'd got his big points--wasteful love is the phrase that comes to mind now and I can't remember the rest of his mantra. The other phrases weren't so memorable.

My favorite book was his most recent Eternal Life: A New Vision, but probably only because it is the most recent. I liked The Sins of Scripture and Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism as lot too. I think I have all his books from about 1978 onwards on my Amazon widget on my blog but those three were the onese I've read several times.

I don't agree with all he says either (I think if you agree with everything someone says, either they haven't really said anything or you haven't thought hard enough about it) but I like that he has asked the same questions I've asked and thinks about things like I do--I don't mean reach the same conclusions but go through the same reasoning process.

Michelle said...

Hey thanks Sandra. I'm sort of new to iTunes so I didn't even think of doing a search there. (Got my first iPod not so long ago!) Now I have loads to listen to. You're right; he's repetitive (and long-winded) but I could listen to him for hours. He's such a wonderful speaker.

"If you agree with everything someone says, either they haven't really said anything or you haven't thought hard enough about it." I LOVE THAT!

I predict I'll be reading a few Spong books this year.