My Fourth Great Mentor: Edwin Anderson Penick, VI Bishop of North Carolina

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 30 August 2012 0 Comments
Please login with your account to read this essay.


I have been reading your online essays with great benefit and eye-opening insights since early 2009.  I also recently finished reading Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes and have found your perspective, initiated by the work of Michael Goulder, on the structuring of the synoptic gospels as lectionary material for the Jewish/Christian liturgical years very persuasive.  It seems to me that this explanation of the writing of the synoptics would have significant consequences in the Christian churches for the understanding of these gospels, for preaching about them, and for education in these scriptures in parishes, colleges and seminaries.  Several questions about the follow-up to Liberating the Gospels have occurred to me.  It has been fifteen years now since your book was published, what impact has this book had on the study of the synoptic gospels?  Has this thesis been pursued by any other scripture scholars in their writing or lecturing?  Has this thesis become a discussion point in the curriculum of scripture studies in any seminary or college or of any textbook for scripture study?  Have there been any ventures in these directions?  Or am I living in a dream world?


Dear James,

You are not living in a dream world, but you do not understand how complex the field of biblical studies is.  At fundamentalist seminaries, this thesis would not even be known and, if it were, would be resisted vehemently.  The mainline denominational schools are not much different.  In the Jesus Seminar, made up primarily of scripture scholars, who are teaching in university departments of religion, the debate is far reaching and wide.

When I wrote that book, I was reflecting, as you have noted in your letter, on theories developed by one of my great teachers, Michael Goulder of the University of Birmingham in the UK.  I have lectured at Harvard Divinity School, the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Drew Theological School, the University of Ghent in Belgium and a variety of clergy conferences around the western world on the thesis of this book and have always had a good reception.  Does that mean that I succeeded in converting them all to my point of view?  No, that has not happened, but the debate is on and the future, not me, will determine which ideas gain traction and which do not.

In another field of astrophysics, the idea that we now call Quantum Physics was introduced by Niels Bohr.  This theory challenged the conclusions of Albert Einstein who resisted them vigorously.  Bohr and Einstein are both dead today, but Bohr has prevailed and now physics assumes the quantum theory.

A century from now, we might be able to determine an answer to your question.  I am content to let history make that determination.  I am still convinced!

My best,

~John Shelby Spong




Leave a Reply