NBC's Dateline, Miracles and the Virgin

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 25 May 2005 0 Comments
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I am a New Thought Minister who presents the Bible and the Christ in much the same manner as you do in your articles and books. Can the Christ and Christianity survive the adolescence period where all is in flux, change and turmoil and emerge as the loving empowering way of life that Jesus intended and that we so desperately need or will the Fundamentalists win the day? Will we make it to Spiritual Adulthood?


I think your image of adolescence is exactly correct. However, I suspect that the fact that Christians are not eager to grow up comes from two realities, one is external pressure, and the other is internal pressure. The Church as an external institution clearly craves power and achieves it by keeping its followers in perpetual immaturity. Childlike, uncritical dependency that expresses itself in guilt-laden obedience is the Church's unstated goal. The message of the Christ who, according to the Gospel of John, came that we might have abundant life, is portrayed theologically in our churches as coming to rescue 'wretched sinners' who are taught that there is no possibility of doing anything right without God. In order to reveal the greatness of God in this gift of salvation, the Church found it necessary to concentrate on the depravity of human life. Therefore, salvation came to those who accepted the forced status of being passive, dependent and childlike.

The internal pressure comes from our own evolutionary struggle. We are self-conscious creatures who live in the dimension of time. We remember yesterday and anticipate tomorrow. That means two things. First, fear and anxiety are essential, necessary and chronic in human life; second, we must embrace our own mortality. Both of these realities mean that it is the uniquely human thing to search for security. A parent God with supernatural power, who can watch over, protect and defend us, provides that kind of security. So we accept chronic childhood so as not to lose parental security. We prefer to be born again to growing up. It is a bad swap - perhaps even a delusional swap. The religious system that will survive must encourage self-development and maturity. That means God must be redefined in a non-theistic understanding as enabling, enhancing and encouraging a new humanity. Paul Tillich, a 20th century German Lutheran theologian, started us in this direction. The split in most Christian churches today reveals our adolescent spirituality. Some of us become fundamentalists who live in the past and others who cannot be bound by yesterday live in the future. Both are simply aspects of our journey out of adolescence into the maturity of wholeness. It will probably take a generation or two to move fully into the new consciousness, but I think it is inevitable.
Blessings on your ministry.

--John Shelby Spong

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Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love

"The Sins of Scripture challenges Christians to look beyond the myths of their faith into the heart of the matter."




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