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Old 14th October 2020, 02:16 PM   #1
Thor 2
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John Selby Spong - An Enigma?

Having just read "The Sins Of Scripture" by Spong I find myself in a state of confusion about the beliefs of the guy. He seems to think there is a future for Christianity beyond religion.

Meandering through the book I found myself agreeing with 90% + of the Spong observations about the nasty things (abundant as they are) in Biblical text. He dismisses one thing after another, as being the result of an author moulding or massaging a story to fit an agenda, or in some instances just having a bad hair day.

Spong dismisses the bulk of supposed Jesus quotations that do not please him, by expressing doubt about the authenticity of those quotations as: "Nobody was following him around with a spiral notebooks and ballpoint pens." On the other hand I note him quoting Jesus when it suits him.

A Christianity where God is found inside humanity is what I glean from his writing. A Christianity that is somehow not a religion either. This is the message I hear and it leaves me in a state of confusion.
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Old 14th October 2020, 07:18 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by Thor 2 View Post
A Christianity where God is found inside humanity is what I glean from his writing. A Christianity that is somehow not a religion either. This is the message I hear and it leaves me in a state of confusion.
What is confusing about it? Sounds like Buddhism.
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Old 14th October 2020, 10:43 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Thor 2 View Post
Having just read "The Sins Of Scripture" by Spong I find myself in a state of confusion about the beliefs of the guy. He seems to think there is a future for Christianity beyond religion.

Meandering through the book I found myself agreeing with 90% + of the Spong observations about the nasty things (abundant as they are) in Biblical text. He dismisses one thing after another, as being the result of an author moulding or massaging a story to fit an agenda, or in some instances just having a bad hair day.

Spong dismisses the bulk of supposed Jesus quotations that do not please him, by expressing doubt about the authenticity of those quotations as: "Nobody was following him around with a spiral notebooks and ballpoint pens." On the other hand I note him quoting Jesus when it suits him.

A Christianity where God is found inside humanity is what I glean from his writing. A Christianity that is somehow not a religion either. This is the message I hear and it leaves me in a state of confusion.
Spong's understanding of X'tianity is basically humanistic, using the doctrines and symbols of X'tianity as representative of humanity and its aspirations. As an atheist I can readily accept his viewpoint and find it meaningful.
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Old 15th October 2020, 12:04 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by GDon View Post
What is confusing about it? Sounds like Buddhism.

Huh!

But it isn't Buddhism he is selling, he is selling Christianity.
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Old 15th October 2020, 12:06 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Tassman View Post
Spong's understanding of X'tianity is basically humanistic, using the doctrines and symbols of X'tianity as representative of humanity and its aspirations. As an atheist I can readily accept his viewpoint and find it meaningful.

Yes, I find it meaningful as well, but I don't see it as Christianity.
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Old 15th October 2020, 01:56 AM   #6
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Originally Posted by Thor 2 View Post
Huh!

But it isn't Buddhism he is selling, he is selling Christianity.
Oh. What is the real Christianity, then?
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Old 15th October 2020, 05:02 AM   #7
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As you've described it, it appears to be within the envelope of the range of self-declared Christianity that I've encountered (in person and in reading). Have you ever attended a Unitarian Universalist service, or read any of their literature?

Christianity ranges from that, to medieval monastic asceticism, to the intricate pageantry of the Orthodox Churches, to the scholarly abstractions of Christian theology, to prosperity gospel in an American heartland megachurch. And that's not even counting quasi-Christian sects that claim to update or expand upon Christianity, like LDS, various messianic cults, occult systems like Rosicrucianism, and countless others.

Does Spong propose practicing any version of the ritual of Holy Communion/Eucharist, or would he do away with it entirely? If you want to draw a sharp distinction between traditionally Christian and not-Christian, that's a reasonable choice of demarcation point. Would adherents to the Spongian "heresy" (Sponges?) symbolically consume the body and blood of Christ, or not?
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Old 15th October 2020, 08:24 AM   #8
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From a Christian perspective to be a True Christian you must adhere to the Nicene_CreedWP. As Spong ". . . rejects the historical truth claims of some Christian doctrines, such as the Virgin Birth (Spong, 1992) and the bodily resurrection of Jesus (Spong, 1994)" and these beliefs are required by the Creed, he is ipso facto not a Christian.

YMMV
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Old 15th October 2020, 08:40 AM   #9
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So.... “Christian” = “be nice to each other”?

Not a bad idea, but why saddle it with the label “Christian”?
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Old 15th October 2020, 08:55 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Bikewer View Post
So.... “Christian” = “be nice to each other”?

Not a bad idea, but why saddle it with the label “Christian”?
Conversely, if that's what you believe, who cares what you call it? If you've thought of yourself as a Christian all your life, and gradually come to believe that this is the core of it, why stop calling yourself a Christian?

I mean, sure, the Inquisition would have you up on charges of heresy, but they're long gone. You're not an inquisitor, and neither is Thor 2.

And the more dogmatic and fundamentalist sects of Christianity will of course take offense at your alternative interpretation of the doctrine, but we're not them.
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Old 15th October 2020, 11:23 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Bikewer View Post
So.... “Christian” = “be nice to each other”?

Not a bad idea, but why saddle it with the label “Christian”?
Yes. Why not go all the way and accept the truth (of atheism). It's not like you will loose your job. We have a minister at a United Church here in TO who, after a bit of legal wrangling, got to keep her job.

See: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/cana...fter-reaching/
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Old 15th October 2020, 02:05 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by GDon View Post
Oh. What is the real Christianity, then?

You would have to ask a large sample of Christians for an answer to that. I would bet very few would be content with just the notion that Jesus was just a nice guy like Spong is.
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Old 15th October 2020, 02:07 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Myriad View Post

.....

Does Spong propose practicing any version of the ritual of Holy Communion/Eucharist, or would he do away with it entirely? If you want to draw a sharp distinction between traditionally Christian and not-Christian, that's a reasonable choice of demarcation point. Would adherents to the Spongian "heresy" (Sponges?) symbolically consume the body and blood of Christ, or not?

Most certainly not from what I read.
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Old 15th October 2020, 02:13 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by Gord_in_Toronto View Post
Yes. Why not go all the way and accept the truth (of atheism). It's not like you will loose your job. We have a minister at a United Church here in TO who, after a bit of legal wrangling, got to keep her job.

See: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/cana...fter-reaching/

Spong didn't lose his job either when he was in office - he is retired now.

I have seen Spong described as "The Anglican Churches" worst nightmare on Christian websites.
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Old 15th October 2020, 02:38 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by Thor 2 View Post
You would have to ask a large sample of Christians for an answer to that. I would bet very few would be content with just the notion that Jesus was just a nice guy like Spong is.
I would bet it's a lot more than you think. But even if you're right that Spong is in the minority, that doesn't seem like a cause for confusion.
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Old 15th October 2020, 02:39 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by Thor 2 View Post
Most certainly not from what I read.
Does Spong write clearly against symbolic gestures and rituals in Christian observance?
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Old 15th October 2020, 04:10 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by Thor 2 View Post
You would have to ask a large sample of Christians for an answer to that. I would bet very few would be content with just the notion that Jesus was just a nice guy like Spong is.
There have been lots of Christians like that throughout history. Even in the Second Century CE, there were Ebionite Christians who thought that Jesus was just a good man, and not born from a virgin, etc. In more modern times there is belief in the hippy Jesus, which is along the same idea. I don't find the idea confusing.

Homer Simpson complained that he wanted his beer cold, his TV loud, and his "homosexuals flaming"! If they aren't "flaming", according to Homer, they are being deceptive. Perhaps some people prefer their Christians fundamentalist for the same reason.

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Old 15th October 2020, 04:12 PM   #18
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Who? And why should I care?
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Old 16th October 2020, 02:23 AM   #19
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Originally Posted by Gord_in_Toronto View Post
From a Christian perspective to be a True Christian you must adhere to the Nicene_CreedWP. As Spong ". . . rejects the historical truth claims of some Christian doctrines, such as the Virgin Birth (Spong, 1992) and the bodily resurrection of Jesus (Spong, 1994)" and these beliefs are required by the Creed, he is ipso facto not a Christian.

YMMV
X'tianity has always been an evolving religion including the doctrines you claim must be "adhered to" to be a "true Christian". The Nicene Creed wasn't formulated until the 4th century.
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Old 16th October 2020, 08:21 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by GDon View Post
What is confusing about it? Sounds like Buddhism.
How does that sound like Buddhism with all its rules, temples, hierarchical structure and so on?
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Old 16th October 2020, 08:26 AM   #21
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Originally Posted by Myriad View Post
As you've described it, it appears to be within the envelope of the range of self-declared Christianity that I've encountered (in person and in reading). Have you ever attended a Unitarian Universalist service, or read any of their literature?

Christianity ranges from that, to medieval monastic asceticism, to the intricate pageantry of the Orthodox Churches, to the scholarly abstractions of Christian theology, to prosperity gospel in an American heartland megachurch. And that's not even counting quasi-Christian sects that claim to update or expand upon Christianity, like LDS, various messianic cults, occult systems like Rosicrucianism, and countless others.

Does Spong propose practicing any version of the ritual of Holy Communion/Eucharist, or would he do away with it entirely? If you want to draw a sharp distinction between traditionally Christian and not-Christian, that's a reasonable choice of demarcation point. Would adherents to the Spongian "heresy" (Sponges?) symbolically consume the body and blood of Christ, or not?
Even that isn’t a very good demarcation, the Christians denomination I was baptised in didn’t go in for that magical cannibalism.
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Old 16th October 2020, 09:08 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by Darat View Post
Even that isn’t a very good demarcation, the Christians denomination I was baptised in didn’t go in for that magical cannibalism.

That's pretty unusual. Quakers don't, and it's complicated with JWs, but I don't know many other examples. In some denominations only the clergy partake in the rite, but with the congregation present.

I agree it's not a very good demarcation, in the sense that I don't think there are any very good demarcations. The only one with any clarity is "members of my own sect are the only true Christians and everyone else is equally an unbeliever," which is only ever accepted as a demarcation from within.

On the other hand, I don't mind the concept of having some demarcation. Without it, you can end up with, "We're Christians who venerate Jesus like you. It's just that we have a different interpretation of Jesus, or as well spell it Zesus, who lives on Mount Olympus and hurls thunderbolts and has fathered a number of other gods and demigods, and was never crucified except in that one crossover episode where Loki tricked him with a magic girdle."

Who needs a demarcation in the first place? Primarily, ecumenists, who have to decide just how far their welcomes will extend. Spong appears to fit loosely into a subcategory consisting of would-be liberal reformers, along with Jefferson, while the Universalists don't because their ecumenism extends well beyond all definitions of Christianity anyhow. A different subcategory includes political dominionists who want religious freedom and tolerance for all... types of Christian, who then have to try to figure out what that means.
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Old 16th October 2020, 09:40 AM   #23
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Even among sects that practice Communion, not all of them agree with the Catholic doctrine of literal transubstantiation. For a lot of Protestant denominations, it's a purely symbolic ritual. I don't see any conflict between Spong's interpretation of Christianity, and taking Communion symbolically.
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Old 16th October 2020, 09:45 AM   #24
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Originally Posted by Myriad View Post
That's pretty unusual. Quakers don't, and it's complicated with JWs, but I don't know many other examples. In some denominations only the clergy partake in the rite, but with the congregation present.

I agree it's not a very good demarcation, in the sense that I don't think there are any very good demarcations. The only one with any clarity is "members of my own sect are the only true Christians and everyone else is equally an unbeliever," which is only ever accepted as a demarcation from within.

On the other hand, I don't mind the concept of having some demarcation. Without it, you can end up with, "We're Christians who venerate Jesus like you. It's just that we have a different interpretation of Jesus, or as well spell it Zesus, who lives on Mount Olympus and hurls thunderbolts and has fathered a number of other gods and demigods, and was never crucified except in that one crossover episode where Loki tricked him with a magic girdle."

Who needs a demarcation in the first place? Primarily, ecumenists, who have to decide just how far their welcomes will extend. Spong appears to fit loosely into a subcategory consisting of would-be liberal reformers, along with Jefferson, while the Universalists don't because their ecumenism extends well beyond all definitions of Christianity anyhow. A different subcategory includes political dominionists who want religious freedom and tolerance for all... types of Christian, who then have to try to figure out what that means.
The Protestant tradition I was raised in held that pretty much any Christ-centric sect was essentially Christian. Baptist, Quaker, Charismatic, Evangelical... Even Catholicism was Christian, though sadly encrusted with heresies.

I understand that there are some Baptist sects which take a much narrower view. Though it seems to me that it's more a case of not being sufficiently Baptist, than of not being sufficiently Christian.

I forget if modern Catholicism considers Protestantism to be Christianity, or heresy.
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Old 16th October 2020, 12:30 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by theprestige View Post
Even among sects that practice Communion, not all of them agree with the Catholic doctrine of literal transubstantiation.
Mormons don't. And because of the dietary prohibition against alcohol, they use water instead of wine for the liquid portion of communion. I don't believe they're alone in this. But it draws criticism, even from other non-transubstantialists, who say that by doing so they deny the full power of Jesus' sacrifice.
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Old 16th October 2020, 12:53 PM   #26
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Originally Posted by JayUtah View Post
Mormons don't. And because of the dietary prohibition against alcohol, they use water instead of wine for the liquid portion of communion. I don't believe they're alone in this. But it draws criticism, even from other non-transubstantialists, who say that by doing so they deny the full power of Jesus' sacrifice.
Huh. Churches I went to, it was always grape juice. Denying the full power of Jesus' sacrifice never really came up in that context. My understanding of Protestant doctrine is that the full power of Jesus' sacrifice isn't something that can be rate-limited on the client side. It's also an irreversible atomic transaction. You accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior, and that's the full kit right there. And it never goes away.
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Old 16th October 2020, 02:37 PM   #27
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Originally Posted by Myriad View Post
That's pretty unusual. Quakers don't, and it's complicated with JWs, but I don't know many other examples. In some denominations only the clergy partake in the rite, but with the congregation present.

I agree it's not a very good demarcation, in the sense that I don't think there are any very good demarcations. The only one with any clarity is "members of my own sect are the only true Christians and everyone else is equally an unbeliever," which is only ever accepted as a demarcation from within.

On the other hand, I don't mind the concept of having some demarcation. Without it, you can end up with, "We're Christians who venerate Jesus like you. It's just that we have a different interpretation of Jesus, or as well spell it Zesus, who lives on Mount Olympus and hurls thunderbolts and has fathered a number of other gods and demigods, and was never crucified except in that one crossover episode where Loki tricked him with a magic girdle."

Who needs a demarcation in the first place? Primarily, ecumenists, who have to decide just how far their welcomes will extend. Spong appears to fit loosely into a subcategory consisting of would-be liberal reformers, along with Jefferson, while the Universalists don't because their ecumenism extends well beyond all definitions of Christianity anyhow. A different subcategory includes political dominionists who want religious freedom and tolerance for all... types of Christian, who then have to try to figure out what that means.

What I find hard to swallow about Sponges stance is his insistent about clinging to the term "Christian" to describe himself. He rejects so much scripture including the claim (supposedly made by Jesus) "No one comes to the Father, but by me." Spong describes this as one of the "Sins of Scripture" because of the exclusivity claimed in the words, thus setting the believer against those who think otherwise. You can see how much scripture would be left to hold as deserving his embrace if even the above is excluded.

So the question must be asked: "If you identify as a Christian and hold the scripture of that religion aloft as justification for belief, how much can you dispense with and still call yourself a Christian."

It seems to me if you just pick and chose the bits you like and reject the rest you may as well start from scratch and write your own gospel. Mind you there are many flavours of Christianity who favour some bits of scripture and reject other, but Spong is exceptional case I think.
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Old 16th October 2020, 05:11 PM   #28
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Originally Posted by Darat View Post
How does that sound like Buddhism with all its rules, temples, hierarchical structure and so on?
True, there is Buddhism as religion, with all its bells and whistles. But there is also Buddhism without all that, like Zen Buddhism. Christianity can be like that also. A Christianity where Christ is an idea rather than a divine person. Most fundamentalists and some atheists have a problem with that.

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Old 16th October 2020, 05:13 PM   #29
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Originally Posted by Thor 2 View Post
So the question must be asked: "If you identify as a Christian and hold the scripture of that religion aloft as justification for belief, how much can you dispense with and still call yourself a Christian."
And how do you determine whether the answer is correct or not?
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Old 16th October 2020, 05:18 PM   #30
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Originally Posted by Thor 2 View Post
It seems to me if you just pick and chose the bits you like and reject the rest you may as well start from scratch and write your own gospel. Mind you there are many flavours of Christianity who favour some bits of scripture and reject other, but Spong is exceptional case I think.
There is the Thomas Jefferson "Bible", written over 200 years ago:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jefferson_Bible
Jefferson's condensed composition excludes all miracles by Jesus and most mentions of the supernatural... No supernatural acts of Christ are included at all in this regard...

Rejecting the resurrection of Jesus, the work ends with the words: "Now, in the place where He was crucified, there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus. And rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed."
Jefferson's view of Christianity was common (though never mainstream) 200 years ago, as was deism and Unitarianism. Fundamentalism is a more modern concept, arising around 120 years ago.

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Old 17th October 2020, 09:59 AM   #31
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Originally Posted by Thor 2 View Post
What I find hard to swallow about Sponges stance is his insistent about clinging to the term "Christian" to describe himself. He rejects so much scripture including the claim (supposedly made by Jesus) "No one comes to the Father, but by me." Spong describes this as one of the "Sins of Scripture" because of the exclusivity claimed in the words, thus setting the believer against those who think otherwise. You can see how much scripture would be left to hold as deserving his embrace if even the above is excluded.

So the question must be asked: "If you identify as a Christian and hold the scripture of that religion aloft as justification for belief, how much can you dispense with and still call yourself a Christian."

It seems to me if you just pick and chose the bits you like and reject the rest you may as well start from scratch and write your own gospel. Mind you there are many flavours of Christianity who favour some bits of scripture and reject other, but Spong is exceptional case I think.

I haven't read Spong's book, so I can't critique it with any authority, but yes, your point is valid, and has been raised often in response to selectiveness, abstraction, editing, or downplaying of various details of Christian scripture. Which is all but universal in present day Christianity, to varying degrees, as you mentioned.

Most Christian sects now characterize the Garden of Eden story as metaphor, for instance, and that's not a minor change, because the Fall supposedly establishes the need for the salvation that Christ accomplished. But the Fall as a metaphor for our individual transgressions and shortcomings, as judged based on vaguely worded multiply-translated rules handed down in an ancient book with questionable provenance, falls a bit short of the disobedience (however understandable, from our own culture's viewpoint) of a simple clear directive stated in person by the Creator. Why is it then still important to accept the ensuing salvation as definitely-not-metaphor, oh no for realz that really happened? Why should "Eden is metaphor" preserve worthy-of-the-name Christianity but "Calvary is metaphor" fail to do so? I can't answer that.

There's a comparable range of credulity regarding things added on to scripture, ranging from the extrabiblical doctrines of the Catholic church (e.g. heaven and hell as a spiritual afterlife, as opposed to an eventual future bodily resurrection in a new created material world that the JW's believe in because that's closer to what the Bible actually says) to the latest cult leaders claiming to be the second coming of Christ.

So what I have to wonder is, is it true that Spong is holding the Bible as justification for belief? That is, is his central claim that Christ really died to redeem the sins of humankind, it's just that the Bible authors added extra stuff and got some stuff wrong? Or is it more like, some of the things this character in this book says are good guides for living, and others aren't, so let's pick the good stuff and make a modern humanistic religion out of it? There's a big difference; in the first case he's a would-be gnostic reformer. He's claiming the ability to pick out the true stuff, and what he's striving for is a reformed religion based the divine wisdom of scripture but equally dependent on the wisdom of his own edits which must therefore be at least equally divinely inspired. And yeah, that is a bit much to expect others to accept, from any standpoint based on either rationality or faith, unless it includes faith in Spong.
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Old 17th October 2020, 10:18 AM   #32
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Sorry, fellers, but from now on I'm using "SPONG!" as a cartoon sound effect, e.g., for when the preacher's eyes bug out as Mary Madeleine walks slowly by in her non-canonical sundress.
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Old 18th October 2020, 11:34 AM   #33
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Originally Posted by theprestige View Post
Huh. Churches I went to, it was always grape juice. Denying the full power of Jesus' sacrifice never really came up in that context. My understanding of Protestant doctrine is that the full power of Jesus' sacrifice isn't something that can be rate-limited on the client side. It's also an irreversible atomic transaction. You accept Jesus Christ as your lord and savior, and that's the full kit right there. And it never goes away.
Apparently as long as it's vaguely blood-colored, you're okay. I always wanted to substitute a good Sauvignon blanc and see what they'd do. As for the interdenominational bickering, none of it makes a lot of sense to me anyway.
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Old 18th October 2020, 12:42 PM   #34
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I looked up some information about Spong and his books. He's a retired Episcopal bishop and he's written what appears to be a sequence of very similar books criticizing Bible literalist beliefs and practices, since at least the mid 1990s.

As I surmised, he's a would-be reformer (he himself uses the phrase "a new Reformation") based on the use of claimed Biblical scholarship to reject Biblical narratives and laws that are objectionable in the present day. Other Biblical scholars don't appear to be impressed with the quality of his scholarship, though.

However, he still claims to be a Christian on the basis of believing that Jesus, while not being sired by God, established the concept of a God of compassion and love, thereby "incarnating" God. (He's also characterized Jesus as the adopted son of God, but all this seems to be on a pretty abstract level.) One of his reform points is that a "theistic" concept of God must be rejected, but what does that leave? What exactly is an atheistic concept of God? (Possibly some sort of pantheism.) In any case he seems a hair's breadth from atheism. Nonetheless he's not on entirely unexplored ground. His position isn't all that different from universalism which goes back, IIRC, at least as far as the Renaissance.

I think I'll give the book in the OP a read, and see if there's any further insight there. Thor 2, you might find Alain de Botton's book Religion for Atheists for a different take on a sort of Christian-atheism syncretism. You're correct about Spong rejecting the scriptural basis of the Eucharist/Communion ritual, but I have to wonder whether he might still participate in it, or if he doesn't, when he stopped. Botton would have some rather pointed questions to ask him about whether ritual practice really requires belief.

Whether or not Spong is Christian will depend very much on whom you ask. I'm pretty sure the Pope would say no. Your average Episcopalian would say, sure, he believes Jesus something something God, so who am I to judge?
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Old 18th October 2020, 12:48 PM   #35
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Originally Posted by Myriad View Post
I looked up some information about Spong and his books. He's a retired Episcopal bishop and he's written what appears to be a sequence of very similar books criticizing Bible literalist beliefs and practices, since at least the mid 1990s.

As I surmised, he's a would-be reformer (he himself uses the phrase "a new Reformation") based on the use of claimed Biblical scholarship to reject Biblical narratives and laws that are objectionable in the present day. Other Biblical scholars don't appear to be impressed with the quality of his scholarship, though.

However, he still claims to be a Christian on the basis of believing that Jesus, while not being sired by God, established the concept of a God of compassion and love, thereby "incarnating" God. (He's also characterized Jesus as the adopted son of God, but all this seems to be on a pretty abstract level.) One of his reform points is that a "theistic" concept of God must be rejected, but what does that leave? What exactly is an atheistic concept of God? (Possibly some sort of pantheism.) In any case he seems a hair's breadth from atheism. Nonetheless he's not on entirely unexplored ground. His position isn't all that different from universalism which goes back, IIRC, at least as far as the Renaissance.

I think I'll give the book in the OP a read, and see if there's any further insight there. Thor 2, you might find Alain de Botton's book Religion for Atheists for a different take on a sort of Christian-atheism syncretism. You're correct about Spong rejecting the scriptural basis of the Eucharist/Communion ritual, but I have to wonder whether he might still participate in it, or if he doesn't, when he stopped. Botton would have some rather pointed questions to ask him about whether ritual practice really requires belief.

Whether or not Spong is Christian will depend very much on whom you ask. I'm pretty sure the Pope would say no. Your average Episcopalian would say, sure, he believes Jesus something something God, so who am I to judge?
Good attitude: "Judge not, for in the fullness of time ye shall be judged."? (JC, more or less)
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Old 18th October 2020, 02:15 PM   #36
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Originally Posted by Myriad View Post
I looked up some information about Spong and his books. He's a retired Episcopal bishop and he's written what appears to be a sequence of very similar books criticizing Bible literalist beliefs and practices, since at least the mid 1990s.

As I surmised, he's a would-be reformer (he himself uses the phrase "a new Reformation") based on the use of claimed Biblical scholarship to reject Biblical narratives and laws that are objectionable in the present day. Other Biblical scholars don't appear to be impressed with the quality of his scholarship, though.

However, he still claims to be a Christian on the basis of believing that Jesus, while not being sired by God, established the concept of a God of compassion and love, thereby "incarnating" God. (He's also characterized Jesus as the adopted son of God, but all this seems to be on a pretty abstract level.) One of his reform points is that a "theistic" concept of God must be rejected, but what does that leave? What exactly is an atheistic concept of God? (Possibly some sort of pantheism.) In any case he seems a hair's breadth from atheism. Nonetheless he's not on entirely unexplored ground. His position isn't all that different from universalism which goes back, IIRC, at least as far as the Renaissance.

I think I'll give the book in the OP a read, and see if there's any further insight there. Thor 2, you might find Alain de Botton's book Religion for Atheists for a different take on a sort of Christian-atheism syncretism. You're correct about Spong rejecting the scriptural basis of the Eucharist/Communion ritual, but I have to wonder whether he might still participate in it, or if he doesn't, when he stopped. Botton would have some rather pointed questions to ask him about whether ritual practice really requires belief.

Whether or not Spong is Christian will depend very much on whom you ask. I'm pretty sure the Pope would say no. Your average Episcopalian would say, sure, he believes Jesus something something God, so who am I to judge?

You've summed it up quite well Myriad I think. There would be some, like the average Episcopalian you speak of, who will comfortably take the thoughts of Spong in their stride.

I struggle with the concept of this jelling with the definition of Christianity however, as I mentioned previously. If our language is to help us convey messages to one another, there must be some degree of consistency in the object being described. Otherwise labelling someone or something as a this or that, helps us very little in transferring ideas.
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Old 18th October 2020, 02:20 PM   #37
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Originally Posted by GDon View Post
And how do you determine whether the answer is correct or not?

I don't know if there is a "correct" answer to this question, but I think we have a reasonable expectation it we crave some consistency.
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Old 18th October 2020, 02:33 PM   #38
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Originally Posted by GDon View Post
There is the Thomas Jefferson "Bible", written over 200 years ago:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jefferson_Bible
Jefferson's condensed composition excludes all miracles by Jesus and most mentions of the supernatural... No supernatural acts of Christ are included at all in this regard...

Rejecting the resurrection of Jesus, the work ends with the words: "Now, in the place where He was crucified, there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus. And rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed."
Jefferson's view of Christianity was common (though never mainstream) 200 years ago, as was deism and Unitarianism. Fundamentalism is a more modern concept, arising around 120 years ago.

So Spong is not the first to discard large chunks of the Bible? I don't see how the previous work of Jefferson enhances his more recent deliberations however.

I can't see how you can dismiss "Fundamentalism" as a relatively modern phenomenon. Those heretic and witch hunting folk during the inquisition had fairly fundy beliefs I expect.
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Old 18th October 2020, 02:46 PM   #39
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Originally Posted by Thor 2 View Post
I don't know if there is a "correct" answer to this question, but I think we have a reasonable expectation it we crave some consistency.
Do you really really expect there to be consistency in religious belief??? Really?
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Old 18th October 2020, 03:00 PM   #40
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Originally Posted by Thor 2 View Post
I can't see how you can dismiss "Fundamentalism" as a relatively modern phenomenon.
Fundamentalism was a reaction to modern interpretations of the Bible, amongst other things: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundam...m#Christianity
Christian fundamentalism has been defined by George Marsden as the demand for a strict adherence to certain theological doctrines, in reaction against Modernist theology.[12] The term was originally coined by its supporters to describe what they claimed were five specific classic theological beliefs of Christianity, and that developed into a Christian fundamentalist movement within the Protestant community of the United States in the early part of the 20th century.[13] Fundamentalism as a movement arose in the United States, starting among conservative Presbyterian theologians at Princeton Theological Seminary in the late 19th century. It soon spread to conservatives among the Baptists and other denominations around 1910 to 1920. The movement's purpose was to reaffirm key theological tenets and defend them against the challenges of liberal theology and higher criticism.
Originally Posted by Thor 2 View Post
Those heretic and witch hunting folk during the inquisition had fairly fundy beliefs I expect.
The Inquisition was responsible for stopping witch hunting. They were skeptical about witchcraft, so tried to put an end to witch trials. According to the Wiki article on the Inquisition:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inquisition#Witch-trials
While belief in witchcraft, and persecutions directed at or excused by it, were widespread in pre-Christian Europe, and reflected in Germanic law, the influence of the Church in the early medieval era resulted in the revocation of these laws in many places, bringing an end to traditional pagan witch hunts.[25] Throughout the medieval era mainstream Christian teaching had denied the existence of witches and witchcraft, condemning it as pagan superstition.
I recommend Tim O'Neill's excellent blog "History for Atheists": https://historyforatheists.com/

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