The Origins of the New Testament, Part V: Interpreting the Life of Paul

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 5 November 2009 0 Comments
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Randy, via the Internet, writes:

I am a 50-year-old man born and raised in Texas. As a child I went to a traditional Baptist church. It seemed to me at the time that the people who spoke one way on Sunday did not act that way Monday through Saturday, and I lost interest as I got older. I felt a strong spiritual connection through my young adult years that I could never quite express or understand. In 2002 my wife and I sought out a hypnotist to stop smoking. It turned out (coincidence or Divine appointment — my thinking is Divine appointment) that she was a gifted spiritual teacher. After working on some other lifestyle and family issues with her, we really liked the personal accountability for creating our own lives through our thoughts and actions we found with her. In seeking out other like-minded individuals, she introduced us to the Unity Church. We have been involved in Unity studies since and I also play guitar every Sunday in the band at Unity Dallas now. Unity is how I first heard of you and subscribed to your newsletter several years ago and really enjoy it. I have read your praise of the Unity movement several times as a progressive way to look at Christianity and spirituality. You also do not seem to subscribe to much "magical" thinking, such as the virgin birth, physically raised from the dead, etc. Some of my favorite current authors are Deepak Chopra, Gregg Braden, Neale Donald Walsh, Eckhart Tolle and Abraham-Hicks, to name a few. So my question is: How do you see the possibilities of the unseen and unknown, such as mysticism and non-physical entities? Most of the people around the Unity Movement seem to embrace an unseen world and the possibility of miracles yet believe in science, evolution, etc.


Dear Randy,

Mysticism is a powerful movement, which fascinates and attracts me. I do not, however, believe everything that goes under the general banner of mysticism. There is sometimes a fine line drawn between what some people call "spiritual experiences" and what others might call "mental illness." The claim that one can "channel for another," gain a pathway into the future or even to receive a concrete answer from the realm of the dead is to me bizarre to say the least.

I am attracted to the Unity Movement on many levels and have found wholeness of both body and mind in their congregations. Their quest for knowledge is impressive. Their joy in life aids wholeness. Their concentration on what Matthew Fox called "original blessing" rather than on original sin is a welcome relief. I think their emphasis on the enhancement of life rather than the denigration of life must be found in the Christianity of the future. I call Unity my second spiritual home. So I am delighted that you have found a place within that tradition.

Unity is just now beginning to deal with issues of biblical scholarship and it has not yet begun to look at the meaning of the sacraments. Both of those things will, I believe come with time. My sense is that Unity often reaches those who have been hurt by or wounded in traditional Christian churches, so I am grateful for the ministry they do for all of us. They offer love and healing with no strings attached. That is a terrific gift. My life has been deeply enriched by Unity and I treasure my relationship with them.

John Shelby Spong



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