Spong’s Christianity


A while back, maybe it was last summer, my friend Jimmy let me borrow Bishop Spong’s A New Christianity for a New World. I enjoyed the read, but was disappointed in the end. Spong does a great job of deconstructing much of ‘orthodoxy’; he’s very clear when he states that many traditional Christian doctrines make no sense given our current understanding of the universe. But Spong is not nearly as good an architect as he is deconstructionist. Or rather, he builds a very lovely mix between a public library and a public park–very learned, well-lit, and comforting–but calls it a cathedral.

Jimmy is of the school of thought that I/we should be more aggressive in our choice of words, reclaiming “Christianity” to mean something other than what fundamentalists insist it means. And to some extent I agree; I try to use the most honest, descriptive language possible in describing my thoughts and feelings, even if I have to occasionally explain how my definition of the term differs from that held by the person with whom I’m communicating. But calling Spong a Christian is a rather egregious linguistic stretch.

I’ve written on all this before, but two quotes I came across recently brought Spong back to my mind. One is from a critic (below), and another is an extended set of principles that Spong asserts any new concept of God must incorporate.

Spong has been justly criticized by those from more traditional theologies for not being much of a “Christian.” Brent Hardaway says it this way: “If Buddhists wish to define their god in such a way, I’m not going to quibble with them over whether they are atheists or not. What I do object to is the notion that this is a possible road that Christianity can go down and still be called Christianity.”

Courtesy of Wikipedia, here are some of Spong’s points about what a new “theology” (what do you call post-theistic theology anyway?) must include:

1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.

2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.

3. The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.

6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.

9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.

10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.

11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.

12. All human beings bear God’s image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one’s being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.

Numbers 3 and 6 are particularly insightful (or “inciteful,” if you disagree). Surely I agree with these points. But I don’t think that there is any way in which I can in honesty identify myself as “Christian” and claim these as well, and surely not in the faith environments in which I currently interact. Language can only be reshaped so far, and only so fast.

So again, what is post-theistic theology? Fiction, philosophy, or psycho-babble?

5 Responses to Spong’s Christianity

  1. Cody says:

    This has been a struggle for me as well. If I agree with these things that would identify me as a non-Christian to mainline evangelical Christians am I then not a Christian? Should their definition define me?

    Do I call myself a Christian still, and then redefine the term for everyone I meet (or desire to understand my beliefs)? Do I come up with some other way of describing myself? If so, what? “I’m a follower of the teachings of Jesus,” is a little cumbersome, but accurate.

    Maybe I’ll just become a Buddhist, be cut off from most Christians, and leave all the ambiguity behind.

  2. anxiousmofo says:

    How does one talk about God in a non-theist way and still remain a Christian? I’m not at all familiar with Spong, and I have no clue what alternatives he would like for Christians to consider: pantheism? atheism?

    (By the way, Cody, I’m a Buddhist, and I’ve got my own ambiguities, viz., whether someone like me who does not accept the supernaturalism of Buddhism is still a Buddhist.)

  3. JH says:

    I too wonder why Spong even bothers.

    Wait, now I know. He’s clergy. He can’t just walk away from the faith, because then he’d be unemployed and unemployable. Nor would he have anything meaningful to say, as he’d just be another run-of-the-mill atheist. No, the church is his world.

    Makes me glad I got out of the God business after only a few years.

  4. JH says:

    I live in England, in Cambridge.

    It’s true, most Europeans are by turns bemused and shocked that barely a majority of Americans believe humans are the result of evolution. (Is it even a majority?) Isn’t America the wealthiest nation? The nation which put a man on the moon? The nation whose universities are the envy of the world? Ahh, well…

    Here, by contrast, Darwin’s face is on the back of the 10 pound note!

  5. anxiousmofo says:

    According to this 2004 poll 55% believe God created humans in our present form, 27% believe humans evolved with God guiding the process, and 13% believe in unguided evolution. That’s worse than some of the earlier polls I’ve seen: link,

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