As Spong has closed his career as a formal minister, retiring from the bishop position in 2000 have has become even more controversial than ever before:
Spong believes in a transcending reality at "the very heart of life" that presses toward life and wholeness. He describes God as the "Ground of Being" and "universal presence" that undergirds all life and is present in all that is. He regards heaven as a symbol standing for "the limitlessness of Being itself," describes Jesus as "a God presence" whose burning awareness of God made him a doorway to divine reality, and believes that the divine source of life calls human beings to live fully, love wastefully, and have the courage to be. Spong describes his project in classic liberal terms -- walking the "razor's edge between orthodox overbelief and losing the 'Christ experience'..."I do so not because I reject the church, but because I am convinced that if we stay where the church now is, the faith that we profess as Christians will surely die. The floods of creedal distortion have destroyed our fields, contaminated our groundwater, and made our faith-assertions of yesterday unlivable places for us today. No matter how deeply we fear to move, there is no alternative." (9)
Dorrien also offers one of the most concise and enduring contextual summary of just how extreme Spong has been in his prolific writing career.
Spong's books specialize in provocative assertion. Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism (1991) suggested that Paul was a repressed, guilt-ridden homosexual. Born of a Woman (1992) suggested that the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke were constructed to refute the charge that Jesus was illegitimate, stressed that all virgin birth stories are legends, and speculated that Jesus might have been married to Mary Magdalene. Resurrection: Myth or Reality? (1994) noted that Paul and Mark made no case for a physical resurrection of Jesus, argued that Matthew didn't either, and highlighted the discrepancies in the gospel resurrection narratives.
Having been received by his reading public, in the same sort of love hate relationship he had always had on the more personal aspects of scripture, Spong moved discuss even more core issues of faith and Christianity, i.e. putting the bible in context of its time, as a work of Jewish faith steeped in tradition and Liberating the Gospels (1996) interpreted the gospels as deeply Jewish liturgical works organized on the model of the Jewish liturgical year, showed that the synoptic passion narrative relies heavily on Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22, and contended that Luke is dependent on Deuteronomy.
One of his final works, put him in a sense over the top of tolerable for many Christians as he claimed the faith is based upon a system of belief and practice that is almost if not entirely outdated and ridiculous and that if the faith does not change it will likely fade away.
Why Christianity Must Change or Die (1998) asserted that the church's ancient creeds "have become empty and meaningless to this generation because the way we perceive the shape of reality has changed so dramatically." The virgin birth story is refuted by the eighteenth century discovery of the egg cell, the spatial imagery of the ascension story makes no sense after Copernicus and Galileo, and the Bible abounds with unbelievable miracle stories.
To a very large degree, Spong demonstrates the ability and nerve to effectively ask questions and challenge long held beliefs of the nature of faith, tradition and the way one should dissect the faith from tradition and build itself anew.
Spong insists that he writes out of his faith commitment as a Christian, not to create controversy: "But where this faith has been corrupted into literalized propositional statements, I have become its exposer and its critic. I have come to see the controversy that ensues not as negative and not even as destructive to the church. I regard it rather as a positive sign of health and vitality. It represents a faith tradition in ferment, simultaneously dying and being resurrected." (8)
Spong is a strong and adamant exposer of fundamentalism and of falling back on traditions that have no relevance to the present day or the current state of the world. His beliefs about the reality of God are...
Human descriptions, no matter how deeply sanctified by the passage of time, are not reality.... [R]eality itself... can only be pointed to; it can never be captured by human words." (300) His book [Liberating the Gospel]...is a radical reconstruction of the Gospel story, viewing all but Jesus's life and death as efforts by the first (Jewish) Christians to find "the means to process this experience [the 'primal experience of Easter'] adequately." Ibid., p. 308.
Again the outspoken preacher states his sentiment about the reality of God and even theism:
The God of the biblical story has become inoperative," Spong recently announced. "Theism became all but irrelevant with laws of cause and effect that governed the natural universe." He says he is trying to save the church by making it relevant but admits that if Christianity were to fade away, "I don't think it would be a disaster."
Spong has never been silenced in his expression of opinion, but these words spoken after his 2000, retirement are clearly an example of how his opinions are building even more controversial steam now that he is no longer wearing the official robes of the church.
Tooley, again a strong critic of Spong in fact intones that Spong's ministry and official position as a bishop of the Episcopal church made him the voice that he has become.
What has made Spong unique and successful are three things. He is a bishop in the...prestigious Episcopal Church. His message is focused around homosexuality at a time when cultural leaders are intent on exploding any assumptions of a normal or natural sexual order. and, unlike most liberal church leaders, he does not pretend to be a nice man. Spong does not waste time employing the buzzwords of full inclusion and mutual tolerance. He thinks traditional religious people are neurotic, stupid and "immature" -- and he does not hesitate to say so.... Last fall, Spong addressed the annual conference of the "Jesus Seminar" an association of clergy and academics who are as collectively media-savvy...gaining attention for their "discoveries" about what no longer is valid in the Christian faith....united against a common enemy: the God of the Bible. "A supernatural deity who lives beyond the sky watching over this planet keeping a record book for final judgment and periodically invading the earth has become unbelievable," Spong told an applauding crowd. "The security found in the Christian tradition that we are in possession of divine truth revealed directly by this theistic God in either Scripture or tradition has been obliterated." Spong was not diplomatic. "The whole Christian enterprise is tottering," he insisted
Though one must read between the lines of Tooley's scathing endijtment of Christion revisionism and Christian academia, the statements made by Spong are worth repeating, and the extreme distaste Tooley feels for his pronouncements translate to a revisionist as, not heretical but "real" or at least worth thinking about, which has always and will always be Spong's greatest goal and mission. Spong simply says things that others are not willing to say, even though there are at least a few people out there thinking it.
The Eastern Orthodox Church has become a benign irrelevance from another age." The Roman Catholic Church is dominated by priests who are "extremely conservative security-seekers who will not engage modern learning." Third World Christians are captive to a "premodern superstitious literalism." American evangelicals in the South and Midwest are running a "big business." He refuses to go into Christian bookstores, which sell books that tell you how to "properly beat your children, how women should be second-class citizens and gay people should be bashed." He has likened the posture of praying on one's knees to a "beggar before someone who has the ability to give him his next meal, a slave before a master, a peasant before a king." And although he still wears a cross over his vestments, the stories of Christ's sacrificial death are "nonsensical." Traditional Christians who still believe that Christ died for their sins are touting a Gospel that is "strange, bizarre and, finally, repelling." Amid laughter and applause, Spong opined that the world will not accept Christ's atoning death: "I don't…
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