Reviewers of the literature of bishop John Shelby Spong write like so: ‘He systematically demolishes all the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth,’ and they continue with praise such like ‘His books saved me from Christianity and led me into fulfilling agnosticism.’ For this most are going to feel extremely puzzled, how is it that someone who calls himself a bishop can be leading people away from Christ?! Before writing my own minor commentary on this man I’ll allow others to listen to the debate themselves, which can be found here, but do come back for an explanation of what exactly John Shelby Spong believes, methinks you’ll be in need of it.
I’ve never considered it my place to say who is and isn’t Christian, nevertheless Romans 10:9 has always felt to me a deciding factor, as it says: ‘If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.‘ However John Shelby Spong neither believes in his heart nor confesses with his mouth that Jesus is Lord, although perhaps he did during some less confused portion of his life. Having listened to much of his evasive comments (as I hope you have) let’s begin by outlining something of who the bishop is, tying everything into a more obvious knot.
Now although John Shelby Spong is as straightforward as one of London’s many bendy buses, we do at one hour and twelve minutes find his mission, which obviously sheds light upon his views, since he (a supposed Christian if we recall) says: ‘there are a lot of people that live in my century that are turned off by the literal symbols surrounding the Christian story, and I want to offer them a way into the experience of the Christian story where they don’t have to trip over the literalized first century symbols.’ After this he continues saying how he’s tired of rebutting rebuttals of rebuttals, so instead he tells an anecdote of no real importance about himself and Carl Sagan. Nevertheless the bishop (as he likes to be called) has well and truly given the game away, let’s see for ourselves in three easy steps.
(1) Beginning by saying people are turned off by ‘the literal symbols’ surrounding the Christian story is simply to say he and those like him dislike the idea of the Gospels being real in history! Thus without the smoke and mirrors John Shelby Spong is saying he dislikes the idea of Jesus, the crucifixion and God being ‘literal’ (AKA real!)
(2) Continuing he says how he’d much enjoy inviting people like him (people who don’t want Jesus’ atonement to be real) into the experience of Christianity, but how on earth does someone experience the Christian story whilst denying everything Christianity stands for, by stripping the event of all meaning.
(3) Finalising he speaks of people tripping over how literal Christianity is, as if to say its reality is an unneeded obstacle to his empty philosophising, he’s disinterested and even in opposition to the truth of the Christian faith therefore, and all this while calling himself a Christian.
All this and more can only lead believing Christians to quote Matthew 7:21-23, which reads like so: ‘Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
But surely the above wouldn’t apply to bishops! For which I can only quote 2 Timothy 3, wherein it appears that John himself gets mentioned as a person having the form of godliness yet denying the power thereof, even going so far as to wear a priestly little outfit: ‘in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.’ So when next I see a book featuring this man’s name I’ll be sure to walk away, my God doesn’t lead people into authoring such confusion.
― T. C. M