Debating with Evangelicals

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 22 June 2005 0 Comments
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Please help me understand . . . What do you mean when you say you are a "Believing Christian." If God is not a being who is this "Christ" that you believe in?


The difficulty with trying to speak theologically in today's arena is that the words we use have been distorted by images of a world that no longer exists.

For starters, I do not now who God is or what God is. That is knowledge beyond human capacity. Does a dog know what a human being is? Of course not, a dog can only respond to the experience a dog has with human beings. Human beings can only respond to the experience they have with God. Therefore, we cannot talk with any credibility about who God is, we can only talk about what we believe our experience of God has been. So, your question is posed in an unanswerable way. I can say that to describe God as a kind of supernatural being no longer makes much sense to me. If you have identified God with a particular human definition of God, you immediately become defensive when your definition is challenged by new knowledge. That is where many traditional believers find themselves today. The word "God" is a human symbol that stands for our experience of otherness, transcendence, love and wonder. Jesus is the human life who opened our eyes to see this God presence in the depths of our own humanity. Given the way we understood both the world and God in the first century, we described this experience of God as a supernatural heavenly Being who invaded the world through the miracle of the Virgin Birth and who departed this world through the miracle of the cosmic ascension. That was a perfectly reasonable explanation, given their view of the world as the center of the universe and God as an external being dwelling above the sky. That explanation was, however, rendered nonsensical by the discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Darwin just to name a few. Our job is not to try to force 1st Century faith forms into 21st Century molds but to put the timeless Christ experience into a vocabulary that is in touch with where we live in the 21st century.

Questions like yours are those of one seeking a quick and satisfying answer. Answers to such questions are not possible in this Q and A format. Sometimes a book will speak to these concerns but more often it takes a lifetime of study. I have addressed this theme in a number of my books and am working now on a Jesus book that will come out in 2007. Suffice it to say at this moment that I believe God is real and that Jesus is my doorway into that reality. I recommend that you start there.

--John Shelby Spong

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