Pope Benedict XVI and Captain Robert Fitzroy of The Beagle

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 21 February 2008 0 Comments
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Sydney is a conservative place, where the only approach to the
Bible is literal and judgmental. The God of the Bible seems to
be vengeful and angry. The God in the Old Testament is
particularly unappealing. What resources could you suggest to
help me find a more open and life-affirming interpretation of the
Old Testament God?


I have been to Sydney on at least eight occasions and have
experienced exactly the attitude you express. The Anglican and
Roman Catholic Churches are so out of touch with the modern world
that they are an embarrassment to the whole of Christianity.
There are some isolated congregations in the Uniting Church of
Australia (I think of Pitt Street Uniting Church in Sydney and
one or two Anglican Churches with whom I am in contact regularly)
who buck the trend, but the trend is overwhelmingly negative. So
individual Christians and honest seekers after the truth must
find resources outside the normal ecclesiastical structures. I
recommend two such resources to you. One can be done
individually. The other needs a group or community commitment.

The first is a study resource developed at Christ Community
Church in Spring Lake, Michigan, by the senior minister, Ian
Lawton; his father, Bill Lawton, and a member of that
congregation who is a university professor in the field of
biology, Howard Van Teal. Of note is the fact that both Ian and
Bill Lawton were priests in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney at an
earlier stage in their careers. Ian left first to go to Auckland
and then to Spring Lake. Bill retired, but the roots that both
of them have in Sydney are deep. Ian is even a graduate of the
Moore Theological Seminary in Sydney, which is more evangelical
and fundamentalist than any place I know outside of Bob Jones or
Oral Roberts Seminaries in America.

These three gifted people have developed an online study
resource on the Old Testament beginning with the Book of Genesis.
I have read it and I think it is super. It is an "e-course" to
which individuals can subscribe for a very minimal fee and get
the entire course sent as an e-mail five days a week for three
weeks. Its focus is on the relationship between science and
religion. A message board will be set up to allow subscribers to
discuss the course with others. After reading the course I sent
the authors the following endorsement: "Would you like to
meet a God greater than the one most frequently met in Church?
This e-course on science and religion and the Book of Genesis
will open doors that you never imagined."

For further information, go to theChrist
Community Church
Web site. Other e-courses are under
preparation. In my opinion, this is one of the most creative
churches in the United States, perhaps in the world.

The second resource is entitled "Living the Questions," a
multi-week adult education resource that many churches all over
the world are now using. It too is a downloadable study that
features many of the top names in progressive Christianity in the
world today. "Living the Questions" is the creation of two young
and multi-talented Methodist ministers in Phoenix, Arizona: Jeff
Procter-Murphy and Dave Felten. It would be more effective if a
group inside or outside the church wanted to do this course
together. It would also be more cost effective. For more
information go to Living
the Questions
. Both of these resources can be used anywhere
in the world. Good luck in Sydney.

John Shelby Spong




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