The Lecture Tour of Germany, Part II: Gottingen

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 4 August 2011 0 Comments
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Thanks for your excellent work.  Would you please comment on Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins in regard to its internal validity and its potential to change the debate which involves your work?



Dear Harvey,

I have not yet read Rob Bell’s book.  I have read reviews and the debate among evangelicals about his book.  In the light of that, I doubt if I will ever read Love Wins.

That is not meant to be pejorative.  I welcome his obviously more open and more loving sense of God.  It is to say that while universalism may be hotly debated in fundamentalist circles, where the need to control belief appears to be so real, this issue simply doesn’t exist in the circles in which I live.  It would never occur to me to proclaim anyone to be outside the love and thought of God.  That is not my business.  I cannot speak for God.  The great heresy of fundamentalism is that they presume that they know what truth is, what one must believe and how God will respond in all circumstances.  As such, fundamentalists are not far from the stance of conservative Roman Catholics, including Pope Benedict XVI.  Evangelical, fundamentalistic Protestantism and strict, traditional Roman Catholicism have many things in common.  Among them is the claim that they have accessed the ultimate truth of God and are able to control that access to God for all others.  I do not believe that any human individual or ecclesiastical institution can exhaust the meaning of God and I am more bored than angry at religious claims like the infallibility of the Pope and the inerrancy of the Bible.  Such claims are always an attempt to buttress religious idolatry.   No one who has studied history can believe in the infallibility of the papacy and no one who has ever read the Bible can believe in its inerrancy.

What I see in Rob Bell’s book is that on the edges of evangelical Christianity, some people find they cannot continue to live within the party line.  That is a step in the right direction.  Even as the book is condemned in fundamentalist’s circles, it is still being discussed.  I rejoice in that.

~John Shelby Spong




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