China Revisited, Part II

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 16 September 2010 0 Comments
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At a recent Jesus Seminar meeting I heard a comment something like this, "Jesus went to John to be baptized as he wanted to become a follower of John. Jesus became divine when he came up out of the water and God called (made) him his son." What do you think?


Dear John,

I think you misheard at the Jesus Seminar. I cannot imagine any of the Fellows making such a statement! I have a hard time knowing how to unload the various assumptions that this statement makes but let me try.

I think we can with reasonable certainty state that Jesus began his career as a disciple of John the Baptist and that he was baptized by him. The gospels spend so much time and energy trying to explain how Jesus could have been baptized by John "for the forgiveness of sins" that I must assume that it was a compelling reality that they felt obligated to explain. I also take seriously the suggestion found in the gospels themselves that Jesus moved into his public career only after the imprisonment of John the Baptist.

I do not know how to speak of Jesus "becoming divine" until we define what it means to be both human and divine. I am not a dualistic platonic thinker. I do not think of God theistically, that is, as a being, supernatural in power, who dwells beyond the limits of my world. I rather experience God as the source of life willing me to live fully, the source of love calling me to love wastefully and to borrow a phrase from the theologian, Paul Tillich, as the Ground of being, calling me to be all that I can be. So Jesus lives out the meaning of God as life, love and being rather than "becoming divine" as if that is a new status. The only way I know to enter "divinity" is to become deeply and fully human.

I recognize that if one is unfamiliar with this way of thinking, these concepts are hard to understand. When I wrote "Jesus for the Non-Religious" I addressed these issues much more fully than I can do here.

The great thing about the Jesus Seminar is that not all of the "Fellows" agree for debate there is vigorous. It is, however, a debate on a common understanding of reality. The comment you quote does not share in that common understanding and that is why I feel quite confident that no member of the Jesus Seminar said anything like that.

I hope this helps.


~John Shelby Spong





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