Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 12 November 2003 0 Comments
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Is there a place for me in your vision of the church, as a prospective clergyman who holds traditional views of the Atonement against which you have spoken?


Of course! Neither doctrinal differences, nor a variety of interpretations of any part of the Christian Story must ever be allowed to be the basis for participation in the Body of Christ. The fact of the matter is that theology is a human attempt to discern the meaning of the God experience. Theology always changes. I believe the God experience is eternal. What is required of you and me alike is that we journey
together into the truth of God that neither of us will ever possess. The problem with the Christian Church is not that there are wide theological differences. People are different and process their understanding of truth from many different perspectives. The problem comes when anyone assumes that in his or her understanding of any other part of our faith story, including the Atonement, is the ultimate and unchanging truth of God.
The mark of the Christian is not certainty, it is openness to truth, openness to new possibilities, openness to the nudgings of the Spirit.

If I had time, I could take you into Christian history and show you how every doctrine of the Church was formed, what need it was designed to address, what the contending ideas shaping the debate were, how the debate was resolved, and what the changing forces were that ultimately forced that debate to be reopened. I could even take you into the New Testament and show you how the authors of these crucial works grew in the way
they explained the mystery of the God they believed that they had met in Christ.

If you or I close our minds to truth, convince ourselves that we possess it and become no longer open to new possibilities, then what we have done is to make an idol out of our own conclusions. People who substitute their idols for the living God inevitably want to defend them, attack anyone who does not agree and claim that disagreement with their conclusions is identical with disagreeing with God.

Karl, there is no scripture, creed or document that does more than point to God. Nothing ever captures God. There is no theological understanding that dropped from heaven as a divine revelation. There is no "faith" that was "once delivered to the Saints." There is no infallible Pope, no inerrant Bible, no true Church and no single tradition that has cornered the market on salvation.

The Christian life is a journey. You start where you are. You journey into all that you can be. The Church of the future rejects no one. Those who think they already possess the ultimate truth of God reject the journey and therefore they reject what the Church is meant to be. Travel well!

-- John Shelby Spong




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