This Friday evening I will be debating the retired Episcopalian bishop of Newark, John Shelby Spong. Spong is one of the favorites of the ultra-left, so you have probably seen or heard him on PBS, seen his books being promoted heavily in the media, or heard him being interviewed for a “progressive Christian” viewpoint on this or that. I can tell you right now the debate will be more on whether there is such a thing as “biblical Christianity” or not, for one thing is certain, Bishop Spong does not believe so. In fact, Spong is not even a classical theist. And so the debate will probably not focus upon the specific meanings of biblical texts (though Spong says it is relatively easy to refute the mistaken understandings of the texts relating to homosexuality) but upon whether there is such a thing as divine truth at all, especially in the realm of human sexual ethics. Just to give you an idea of how far outside the realm of Christian faith is Bishop Spong’s confession, note his own words from his book, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, pp.166-167, 200:
If we can grasp these possibilities or at least be willing to explore these tiny cracks leading to a different way of thinking about God, and if the Holy God can be understood not as a person, but as the depth and ground of life itself, then the ethical task of the Church becomes quite different. Christian ethics are not found in a system of behavior control. They are rather found in a call to the fullness of life. The business of the Church is, therefore, not to judge life, but to enhance consciousness, to ex-pose ignorance and prejudice, and to remove the barriers to life in all of its fullness. The Church’s task is to assist its people in plumbing the depths of their own humanity, where transcendence, mystery, being, and even love are discovered, and to bring those qualities found in the center of life into the world. I name that center of life God.
This God is not a parent who will reward or punish me for my virtues or shortcomings. This God is rather a power, a presence that calls me into responsibility, into adulthood, into self-reliance, into living for others, and into contributing to the well-being of all humanity. This Infinite Beyond in the midst of my life invites me again and again to abandon my fears, to enter infinity, and to walk into the timelessness of God. So I worship at this shrine, and at the same time I take responsibility for my life and, to the degree that I am able, for the life of this world. That is where ethics emerge. So long as I possess life, I will live it deeply, richly, and fully. I will expect no reward for my commitment to these ethical principles save the reward of a life well lived. I will not blame my failures or my shortcomings on some external God, for God is part of who I am. Is that so novel an idea as to be unacceptable? Not to me it isn’t, for I have entered the exile. The theistic God whose will constituted the ethics of the past is dead. So my search for the basis of ethics to guide me beyond the exile drives me back to the same arena where a non-theistic God was found and where Christ was redefined. My journey through the exile is beginning to take shape.
WILL THIS NONTHEISTIC VIEW of God, the promise of a new spirituality based upon the building of a life that is full, free, and whole, motivate human beings to a journey into the transcending mystery of God in the future? Will pilgrims in the exile seek God in the ground and depth of their own being if there is no perceived and obvious reward? Is it enough to suggest that a life lived fully, marked with an expansive love, called into a new being is its own reward? Is there hope for life beyond this world apart from the images of our theistic past? (Emphasis mine).
It will be interesting to get to cross-examine someone who speaks of a “non-theistic God” and who calls himself a Christian while defining the Trinity as “Life is good” (Father), “Life is loved” (Son), “be all you can be” (Spirit, though, I confess, it is hard for me to hear that phrase without thinking of the Army Reserve). You can certainly see why he supports homosexuality as a valid expression of human activity. In any case, Bishop Spong’s antipathy to anything even remotely biblical or conservative literally oozes from his writings and talks (I honestly doubt he even notices it, it is so ubiquitous). Note, for example, his comments about David Wells from the same book, pp. 202-203:
Time, America’s foremost news magazine, ran a recent cover story on heaven, entitled “Does Heaven Exist?” That question itself is one that our ancient forebears would never have raised. Interestingly enough, Time’s reporters sought in vain to find any robust conviction about heaven, even among traditional believers. “It is a boring place or a silly myth or something people in-vent or all of the above,”Time quoted theologian Jeffrey Burton Russell as saying. Even David Wells, a conservative theologian from the faculty of the evangelical Gordon-Conwell Seminary in Massachusetts, had this to say about heaven: “We would ex-pect to hear of it in the evangelical churches, but I don’t hear it at all. I don’t think heaven is even a blip on the Christian screen from one end of the denominational spectrum to the other. The more perplexing question is, “What explains this?”
A contemporary evangelical professor thus admits to being mystified by this phenomenon. The fact is that his evangelical credentials mean that he could not possibly embrace the answer for which his own question yearns. The demise of heaven is a direct result of the death of the theistic image of God on which the evangelical tradition, with its personalistic view of heaven, rests. People who understand heaven as the reward given for a life of faith and work must also understand God as a personal deity who hands out rewards and punishments based on person-al deservings. Such a God is a thinly disguised parent figure who controls the child’s behavior with a series of threats and promises. This God was perceived as keeping intimate and copi-ous notes on human behavior. He—and the theistic God was almost always a he—was not unlike another supernatural figure that we allow to enter our consciousness every December. Does it not occur to us to see the similarities between this theistic God image and Santa Claus?
In any case, the challenge is going to be compounded by the reality of a large gay/lesbian component to the audience as well. Hence, I would request your prayers once again for the debate; the conference that comes before it, and the cruise thereafter.
Also, a quick note for our supporters: we discovered just this week that the thieves who broke into our offices at the end of August stole our camera tripods. Those of you who have higher-end video cameras know what that means, cost wise. I also discovered more fraud being perpetuated because of what they stole from me as well. The problems from that single incident continue. This period of weeks is by far the most intensive of my entire year, and I truly desire to see both the Shishko debate and the Spong debate made available as quickly as possible. With Pulpit Crimes coming out this Thursday and everything else that is going on, please remember us before the Lord, and remember that we are a small ministry that is supported by folks like you. We need your assistance at this time.