“Think Different - Accept Uncertainty” Part VI: Understanding the Source of Evil

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 15 March 2012 0 Comments
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You have been one of the pioneers in an understanding of Christianity which for some time has been identified as progressive Christianity.  Please describe the evolution, present status, characteristics and impact of progressive Christianity and your projections for its future.  Thank you.


Dear Ned,

You have asked a question that would take a book to answer but, over the years that I have known and admired you, I must say that it is in character!

Progressive Christianity is itself a strange title.  Christianity has never been static.  It has always been an expression of the tension between the reality of the Jesus experience and the ever-changing world of human perception.  There is no period of history at which we can look and say, “That is normative Christianity.”   So the scriptures of the New Testament assume the attitudes prevalent in the 1st century when they were written, in which sickness was divine punishment and mental illness and epilepsy were signs of demon possession.  The creeds are the products of the 4th century and reflect a three-tiered universe that is totally rejected today.  Our liturgies reflect the patterns of the 13th century seeking not the transformation of the world, but the beatific vision that releases us from the world.

The tragedy is that we Christians have built a superstructure of doctrines, dogmas, ecclesiastical institutions and a literalized and frozen understanding of Christianity that is now dying, leaving the doctrines, dogmas and institutions almost empty of meaning.

Progressive Christianity must allow that which is dying to die and seek to recapture the essence of the Christ experience in new words, new concepts and even new institutional forms.  People like you, Ned, who live Christianity out so powerfully in your life (my readers need to know that you have dedicated your life and your medical practice to a number of third world countries where competent medical care is in short supply), are the hope we have of rekindling this faith for today and tomorrow.  I am glad I know you, and I think you represent the best there is in religious hope. The intellectual understandings you seek can be built on the foundation of service that you have demonstrated.  That is when they will have great integrity. Give my love to your wife, Emily.

~John Shelby Spong




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