Skip to comments.Mrs. Schori and Mr. Spong...Perfect Together
Posted on 02/11/2007 5:37:59 PM PST by sionnsar
Mrs. Jefferts Schori, the new Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, will have to face her fellow Primates this coming week to not only explain why she endorsed the consecration of V. Gene Robinson, the openly homoerotic Bishop of New Hampshire, but why she personally invited uber-revisionist bishop John Shelby Spong to a clergy retreat when she was Bishop of Nevada.
On August 30, 2003, Spong, the former Bishop of Newark, gave a public lecture "God and Beyond Theism" in the Diocese of Nevada, the diocesan home of Jefferts Schori. Later, he gave a lecture at Trinity Episcopal Church in Reno entitled "Jesus Beyond Incarnation." At the invitation of Mrs. Schori, he addressed the clergy of the Diocese of Nevada at a retreat in Lake Tahoe.
At no time, before or after, did Mrs. Schori repudiate Spong's views which include such notions as: theism, as a way of defining God, is dead; that the Virgin Birth makes Christ's divinity impossible; that the miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events; that the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea; and that there is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
These are just some of Bishop Spong's views. Mrs. Schori's failure to repudiate them and tell her clergy to also repudiate them means she is complicit in Spong's heresies. She, therefore, should not be seated among the counsel of the Wise Men. Any doubts the 39 Primates might have of her personal beliefs and where she stands, theologically, have now been removed.
It is not merely that she endorses Millennium Development Goals (MDG's) in an attempt to save humanity from itself. By publicly inviting Spong to address her clergy (Charles Bennison, the Bishop of PA has done the same thing) when she was Bishop of Nevada, Mrs. Schori sealed her theological direction once and for all.
When the Archbishops of the Anglican Communion meet next week in Tanzania they should know this and demand an explanation.
Mrs. Schori has said that the atonement is less important than what she calls "the more gracious strand," of a universalistic salvation through MDG's, which, of course fits in with Spong's notion, albeit more hard edged, that the atonement is "child abuse".
By inviting Spong to her diocese, she has publicly gone on record affirming the revisionist bishop's 12 Theses, which clearly she now owns. Presented below are his controversial "12 Theses."
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.
4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ's divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.
5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
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.
7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.
8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.
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.
Spong's call for a New Reformation is in reality also Mrs. Schori's call and she cannot weasel around that fact.
She cannot parse her theology by saying that saving the world is more important than "sound doctrine" when she can no longer affirm the creeds in any meaningful way that confirms her as a leader of a prominent, though dying, American denomination.
Spong's "gospel" is, by Pauline standards, "another gospel" (Gal. 1: 8) and his call for a new Reformation, a mere rehash of Gnosticism, Pelagianism and Arianism rolled into one.
In an interview in her office last week, Mrs. Schori said the conflict was more about "biblical interpretation" than about homosexuality. If that is the case, perhaps she would care to tell us what it is about Spong's interpretation of Scripture, which she finds so attractive and appealing, that causes even moderate liberals in the TEC to wince and the vast majority of the Anglican Communion to go crazy!
If, as Spong says, a new theological reformation, which includes the findings of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Freud is underway, why is it that an Evangelical backlash is going on in America that is emptying mainline denominations and where enormous numbers of scientists seem to have no problem reconciling the latest findings of science with a theistic world view!
True, Spong took a lot of heat when his 12 Theses first appeared. Dallas Bishop James Stanton said that, while Spong styles himself a judge of the church, his actual role and continued presence as a bishop in this church constitutes a judgment upon us.
No one has had the nerve to throw him out or bring presentment charges against him. He has retained his mitre while making a travesty of the faith he was ordained to guard. He has dragged much of the church into darkness with him, says Stanton.
Ten scholars challenged Spong in a book, Can a Bishop be Wrong? Mrs. Schori was not one of them.
When she appears in Dar es Salaam next week to make her case, she will have a few allies. One of them will be Southern African Primate, Njongonkulu Ndungane. He will make the case that "the marks of our church are grace, tolerance and living with difference." The 65-year-old cleric will say that we need to make a distinction between issues that are fundamental to the faith and second-order issues. This is not a church-dividing issue, he told the South African correspondent of the New York Times.
He will be the only African leader who will support Mrs. Schori. This position will undoubtedly force Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola to turn on one of his own, and, in doing so, recognize that his continent is not nearly as united as we have been lead to believe.
What is shaping up is, perhaps, the biggest confrontation yet between Anglican provinces that condone homoerotic clergy and same-sex unions and those that reject them because it violates Scripture and 2,000 years of church history.
Ndungane, told the Times that the whole homosexual debate is forcing Primates to behave like schoolboys. "She has been constitutionally elected. We should be embracing her. She is a super person," he said.
But that is not how most of Africa, all of Southeast Asia, the Southern Cone, and at least two American orthodox bishops who will be in Tanzania think or believe. They will present their case that the Episcopal Church has departed from the faith and that sex outside of marriage has eternal (fatal) consequences. They will not compromise and they will, in all likelihood, demand a separate provincial structure, recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury, as a 'city of refuge' for orthodox believers who refuse to bow the knee to the idolatrous theology and morality of Mrs. Schori.
A show down in Tanzania seems almost certain, judging by remarks of Archbishop Akinola and Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi of Uganda.
The Episcopal Church is momentarily the hub of the ecclesiastical world, but not for much longer. What happens in Tanzania next week could well determine if there is going to be a Lambeth 2008 or if, in fact, the church faces schism. Whatever happens, Mrs. Schori will be on the hot seat and she is going to have to explain not only her moral views but her association with John Shelby Spong and the theology he holds forth and which she has embraced.
Bishop Spong has nailed his '12 theses' to the Internet, and urged the Church to debate them.
Rowan Williams considers them, and finds them neither defensible nor interesting.
Tasmanian Anglican October 2003
Rowan Williams replies... Is it time for a new Reformation? The call has gone out quite a few times in the past three or four decades, and the imminence of the Millennium adds a certain piquancy to it.
The Right Reverend John Spong, Bishop of Newark in the US, is right to say - as he has done in his diocesan journal - that his own version of this demand is of a rather different order from the earlier Reformation; and this surely makes it imperative that his bold and gracious invitation to debate these theses should be taken up with some urgency and seriousness, not least on the eve of a Lambeth Conference that will undoubtedly be looking hard at issues of Christian identity and the limits of diversity.
So I had better say at once that, while I believe Bishop Spong has, in these and other matters, done an indispensable task in focusing our attention on questions under-examined and poorly thought through, I believe that these theses represent a level of confusion and misinterpretation that I find astonishing.
He has rightly urged the Church to think more clearly in many respects about issues of sex and gender; but I am bothered by the assumption here that the Church has failed to think through a number of central matters on which quantities of fairly sophisticated literature have been written over the entire history of Christian theology.
The implication of the theses is that the sort of questions that might be asked by a bright 20th century sixth-former would have been unintelligible or devastating for Augustine, Rahner or Teresa of Avila.
The fact is that significant numbers of those who turn to Christian faith as educated adults find the doctrinal and spiritual tradition which Bishop Spong treats so dismissively a remarkably large room to live in.
Doctrinal statements may stretch and puzzle, and even repel, and yet they still go on claiming attention and suggesting a strange, radically different and in imaginatively demanding world that might be inhabited.
I'm thinking of a good number of Eastern Europeans I know who have found their way to (at least) a fascinated absorption in classical Christianity through involvement in dissident politics and underground literature.
Or of some American writers who will, I'm sure, be known to Bishop Spong, from Denise Levertov to Kathleen Norris, who have produced reflective and imaginative work out of the same adult recovery of the tradition.
Is this tradition as barren as Spong seems to think? To answer that requires us to look a bit harder at the theses themselves. In a way, the first of them indicates where the trouble is going to come: for there are at least three quite distinct senses of theism current in theology and religious studies, and it is none too clear which is at issue here.
At the simplest level, theism is, presumably, what atheists deny. Spong doesn't appear to think of himself as an atheist, so this can't be it. In a more specialist context, scholars of the phenomenology of mysticism have sometimes distinguished 'theistic' from 'monistic' experience - theistic experience being defined as focused upon a reality ultimately distinct from the self (and the universe), as opposed to a mysticism of final unification. I'm not convinced that this distinction is actually a very helpful strategy, but that is another matter; it may be that something more like this is what Spong has in mind.
But there is also the sense, recently discussed by writers like Nicholas Lash, of theism as the designation of that abstract belief in God independent of the specific claims of revelation that flourished in the age after Descartes - a sense quite close to but not identical with that of 'deism'. It is in this sense that large numbers of theologians would say that classical Trinitarian orthodoxy is not a form of theism.
I suspect that Spong is feeling his way between the second and the third senses. His objections seem to be to God as a being independent of the universe who acts within the universe in a way closely analogous to the way in which ordinary agents act. The trouble is that, while this might describe the belief of some rationalist divines in the modern period, and while it might sound very like the language of a good many ordinary religious practitioners, it bears no relation at all to what any serious theologian, from Origen to Barth and beyond, actually says about God - or, arguably, to what the practice of believers actually implies, whatever the pictorial idioms employed. Classical theology maintains that God is indeed different from the universe.
To say this is to suggest a radical difference between one agent and another in the world. God is not an object or agent over against the world; God is the eternal activity of unconstrained love, an activity that activates all that is around God is more intimate to the world than we can imagine, as the source of activity or energy itself; and God is more different than we can imagine, beyond category and kind and definition. Thus God is never competing for space with agencies in the universe.
When God acts, this does not mean that a hole is torn in the universe by an intervention from outside, but more that the immeasurably diverse relations between God's act and created acts and processes may be more or less transparent to the presence of the unconstrained love that sustains them all. The doctrine of the incarnation does not claim that the 'theistic' God (i.e. a divine individual living outside the universe) turns himself into a member of the human race, but that this human identity, Jesus of Nazareth, is at every moment, from conception onwards, related in such a way to God the Word (God's eternal self-bestowing and self-reflecting) that his life is unreservedly and uniquely a medium for the unconstrained love that made all things to be at work in the world to remake all things. Jesus embodies God the Word or God the Son as totally as (more totally than) the musician in performance embodies the work performed.
I don't find this bankrupt; I don't find that it fails to make sense to those trying to learn the language of faith. And the same point about God not competing for space is pertinent to several of the other theses. Exactly how the presence of God's action interweaves with various sets of created and contingent causes is not available for inspection. We have no breakdown of the relations between God and this or that situation in the world.
Theologians have argued that the holiness of a human individual or the prayer of a believer may be factors in a situation that tilt the outcome in a particular way. This is an intellectually frustrating conclusion in all sorts of ways, but seems to be the only one that really manages to do justice to the somewhat chaotic Christian experience of intercession and unexpected outcomes (miracles, if you must). If the world really does rest upon divine act, then whatever you say about the regularities of casual chains is relativised a bit by not quite knowing what counts as a 'cause' from God's point of view, so to speak.
Bishop Spong describes the resurrection as an act of God. I am not clear how an immanent deity such as I think he believes in is supposed to act; but if such a God does act, I don't see why it should be easier for God to act in people's mind than their bodies. 'Jesus was raised into the meaning of God'; yes, but meanings are constructed by material, historical beings, with cerebral cortices and larynxes. How does God (or 'God') make a difference to what people mean? Spong clearly has no time for the empty-tomb tradition; so it is no surprise that he also dismisses the virginal conception (though why on earth this makes Jesus's divinity 'impossible' I fail to understand).
I am aware that there are critical historical grounds for questioning both narrative clusters and I don't want to dismiss them. But I am very wary of setting aside the stories on the ground of a broad-brush denial of the miraculous.
For the record: I have never quite managed to see how we can make sense of the sacramental life of the Church without a theology of the risen body; and I have never managed to see how to put together such a theology without belief in the empty tomb. If a corpse clearly marked 'Jesus of Nazareth' turned up, I should save myself a lot of trouble and become a Quaker. The virginal conception looks less straightforward, if you are neither a fundamentalist nor someone committed to the principled denial of miracles. Is it possible to believe in the incarnation without this? Yes, I think so.
But I also have an uncomfortable feeling that the more you reflect on the incarnation, the less of a problem you may have. There is a rather haunting passage in John Neville Figgis about - as it were - waking up one day and finding you believe it after all. My sentiments exactly. Perhaps the underlying theme in all this is that if you don't believe in a God totally involved in and totally different from the universe, it's harder to see the universe as gift; harder to be open to whatever sense of utter unexpectedness about the life and death of Jesus made stories of pregnant virgins and empty tombs perfectly intelligible; harder to grasp why people thank God in respect of prayers answered and unanswered.
Perhaps, too, it has a bit to do with the sense of utterly unexpected absolution or release, the freeing of the heart. The cross as sacrifice? God knows, there are barbaric ways of putting this; but as a complex and apparently inescapable metaphor (which, in the Bible, is about far more than propitiation) it has always said something sobering about the fact that human liberation doesn't come cheap, that the degree of human self-delusion is so colossal as to involve 'some total gain or loss' (in the words of Auden's poem about Bonhoeffer) in the task of overcoming it. And that human beings compulsively deceive themselves about who and what they are is a belief to which Darwinism is completely immaterial.
Of course, if you want to misunderstand Darwin as establishing a narrative of steady spiritual or intellectual evolution, you will indeed want to say that all existing ethical standards are relative. How, then, are you going to deal with claims by this or that group that they are moving on to the next evolutionary stage? In what sense can ethics fail to be about the contests of power, if there is nothing to which we are all answerable at all times?
Of course the parameters of ethical understanding shift: but the shifts in Christian ethics on, for example, slavery, usury and contraception, have had to argue long and hard to establish that they are in some way drawing out an entailment of what is there, or honouring some fundamental principle in what is there. In other words, these changes in convention have had to show a responsibility to certain principles that continue to identify this kind of talk as still recognisably Christian talk.
It makes for hard work - as is obvious with current debates about homosexuality or nuclear war; but it is hard work because of the need to continue listening to what is said and written. But then we discover in Spong's theses that there is, after all, a non-negotiable principle, based upon the image of God in human beings. Admirable; but what does it mean in Spong's theological world? What is the image of a 'non-theistic' God? And where, for goodness' sake, does he derive this belief about humans? It is neither scientific nor obvious. It is, in fact, what we used to call a dogma of revealed religion. It is a painful example of the sheerly sentimental use of phraseology whose rationale depends upon a theology that is being overtly rejected. What can it be more than a rather unfairly freighted and emotive substitute for some kind of bland egalitarianism - bland because ungrounded and therefore desperately vulnerable to corruption, or defeat at the hands of a more robust ideology?
It is impossible to think too often of the collapse of liberalism in 1930s Germany. It is no great pleasure to write so negatively about a colleague from whom I, like many others, have learned. But I cannot in any way see Bishop Spong's theses as representing a defensible or even an interesting Christian future. And I want to know whether the Christian past scripture and tradition, really appears to him as empty and sterile as this text suggests. It seems he has not found life here, and that is painful to acknowledge and to hear. Yet I see no life in what the theses suggest; nothing to educate us into talking about the Christian God in a way I can recognise: no incarnation; no adoption into intimate relation with the Source of all; no Holy Spirit. No terror. No tears.
Does he know that generations of believers have argued the need to separate hope for life after death from earthly rewards and punishments? They believe that the present and future delight of enjoying God's intimacy made all such talk irrelevant. Does he see at all that the recognition of God's image in everyone, in such a way as to drive people to risk everything for it (Wilberforce? Dorothy Day? Desmond Tutu? Bonhoeffer? Romero?), seems persistently to come from an immersion in the dark reality of God's difference and in the uncompromising paradoxes of incarnation of the Almighty? Culturally speaking, the Christian religion is one of those subjects about which it is cool to be ignorant. Spong's account of classical Christian faith simply colludes with such ignorance in a way that cannot surely reflect his own knowledge of it.
I think I understand the passion behind all this, the passion to make sense to those for whom the faith is at best quaint and at worst oppressive, nonsense. But the sense is made (in so far as it is made at all) by a denial of the resources already there - to the extent that Spong's own continuing commitment to the tradition becomes incomprehensible. Living in the Christian institution isn't particularly easy.
It is, generally, today, an anxious inefficient, pompous, evasive body. If you hold office on it, you become more and more conscious of what it's doing to your soul. Think of what Coca- Cola does to your teeth. Why bother? Well, because of the unwelcome conviction that it somehow tells the welcome truth about God, above all in its worship and sacraments. I don't think I could put up with it for five minutes if I didn't believe this; and - if I can't try to say this in a pastoral, not an inquisitorial, spirit - I don't know quite why Bishop Spong puts up with it.
At the time of writing Rowan Williams was Bishop of Monmouth. Rowan Williams is now Archbishop of Canterbury. Transcribed and reproduced with permission from the 17 July 1998 edition of Church Times Rowan William's Response to Bishop Spong.
mhtml:file://C:\Humour\Rowan William's Response to Bishop Spong.mht 28/12/2006
I take comfort in the fact that at least they are not a breeding couple...
I read briefly Spong's "Sins of Scripture"...I was so furious after about 20 minutes of real reading...
He is doing a hop skip and a jump down the path of least resistence it seems...pray for his return to the truth in Christ!
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