A Conversation with Bishop John Shelby Spong: Part 1 “On Small Minds and Big Ideas”

Essay by Rev. David M. Felten on 8 November 2018 16 Comments

The following is taken from an interview with Bishop John Shelby Spong on September 18th, 2018. Recorded at his home in Richmond, Virginia, it has been edited for length and thematic focus.

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Question

We always hear that Christianity is shrinking, but is progressive Christianity growing or shrinking?

Answer

That is a great question Gary.

While I don’t have any firm statistics to back up anything I am about to say, I would offer a suggestion that the tangential and experiential evidence would say it depends on what we mean by progressive Christianity.

For example. Over the past 5 years I have moderated some large progressive Christian groups on Facebook. What I have found is that progressive Christianity is definitely growing, but at the same time the original charter has seemed to become more amorphous. But that is not necessarily a bad thing, depending on what one is looking for.

When I first started gravitating toward the label, progressive Christianity stood for serious academic theological exploration, which naturally led most to have very unorthodox views of scriptural and spiritual norms. It was mostly led by older white men, and it was mostly intellectual. Naturally I fit right in (chuckle). But as it has evolved, its gate has become much wider, and the tent much larger. Which in many ways has made it more prolific.

These days, a progressive Christian may still come across quite evangelical in nature, but trend toward the progressive spectrum because they have become less literal about the Bible and hell – while also becoming affirming of folks in the LGBT community. That is a great thing by all accounts, however when some of the newer folks hear some of the veterans in the camp talk about theology, it can start some hearty debates.

So the tradeoff is a growing diversity, especially with more women, people of color, and folks in the LGBT community; as well as a growing focus on the social good that can come as society evolves. The evolution has also sparked a growing renaissance of community Church-like expressions. Therefore the answer to whether progressive Christianity is growing probably just comes down to how strictly one defines what it means to be a progressive Christian, and how open one is to change.

Thanks for the great question.

Peace and Blessings - Eric

About the Author
Eric Alexander is an author, speaker, and entrepreneur. He is a board member at ProgressiveChristianity.org, and is the founder of Jesism, Christian Evolution, and the Progressive Christianity and Politics group on Facebook. Eric holds a Master of Theology from Saint Leo University and studied negotiations at Harvard Law School, and and is author of Teaching Kids Life IS Good.

 

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