John Shelby Spong Term Paper

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John Shelby Spong

New Christianity: The Ministry of John Shelby Spong"

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In a recent bible debate/commentary specifically associated with the issue of sexuality and literal bible translation John Shelby Spong a much revered member of what some call the New Christianity, Spong notes: "I don't see the bible as the word of God, I see the word of God as that which I hear through the words of the bible." ("Spong on Paul" NP) to explain this statement Spong tries to stress that the literal translation of the bible and many issues and acts within it are a reflection of the tribal upbringing or the adolescence of humanity and that learning from this document is imperative as both a lesson of what to do and a lesson of what not to do. Spong's message is that the bible has been taken to mean that it is a fixed assessment of the reality of humanity and God's love, and in reality as many "New Christians" point out there is no such message, and the importance of the document as Jay Bakker (the self proclaimed punk preacher and son of Jim Bakker and Tami Faye Messner) states, is the "red letters." Or those words that are most accurately edified as the actual words of Jesus, whose message is unanimously associated with the unconditional love of God and the forgiveness that he is capable of. ("Punk Preacher holds judgment" NP) Though as of yet, Jay Bakker has not come out as strongly as Spong on many issues he does agree with him on the fact that judgment is a destructive aspect of the human condition. Jay is frequently sighted as saying things like, do your best to love each other and love the Lord but "come as you are, not as you should be." (Bakker & Brown NP)

TOPIC: Term Paper on John Shelby Spong Assignment

The message of Spong's ministry and his calling can be summed up in these statements as Spong has unilaterally stressed that the problem with Christianity has always been and remains to be a vision of a God and as scripture that is simply to small. For this Spong has frequently been a victom of hatred and expulsion. To some this is seen as the church cleaning house while to others it is seen as the valuable expression of a particular message of Jesus. "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for their's is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you." ("Holy Bible KJV" Mat: 5:10, 11,12) These words are by the way, red letter words, and are said by Jesus as the core of his ministry of the Sermon on the Mount. Though some may argue that bearing false witness does not constitute that which should be protected by the love of Jesus, and yet Spong, nonetheless endures, as a beacon of the teaching of patience, tolerance and the every loving and forgiving God. One writer describes Spong and the other "new Christians" as having a new idea of a broader god, one that is inclusive of possibility, rater than restriction and limitation.

God cannot be neatly separated from the world, or marshalled into a corner of reality marked 'formal religion'. Nor is God's work kept alive by organisations acting in God's name. God is much larger than our organisations, and the divine work and mission far exceeds the boundaries of any institutional aspiration or religious assumption. This message needs to be sent to the institutions loudly and clearly, and it is heartening to see Bishop John Shelby Spong, 165 among others, engaged in precisely this kind of work. Spong challenges the churches with this important corrective, 'Your God is too small'. Apparently, Spong pinned this notice to the doors of churches in his area in New Jersey. If the traditional churches are dying, it is partly because their image of God is too narrow, too small and too human. Some think that because traditional practices are diminishing God is being diminished by this process. This represents a narrowly human and anthropocentric perspective on the experience of God. What may be falling into decline is an out-of-date image of God that Tacey 195) "has held God away from life, and thus withheld life and vitality from God. Religion has a responsibility to expand its sense of mission and relate more fully to the world."

Tacey 196)

The ministry of Spong has often revolved around his preaching of tolerance, with regard to homosexuality. Spong has in fact been an instrumental force in the acceptance of openly gay parishioners and even ministers in his own Episcopal faith.

Spong 48) in an observational statement from his autobiographical work Here I Stand: My Struggle for a Christianity of Integrity, Love, and Equality, Spong writes extensively of homosexuality and really personal choice in general.

Where cultural acceptance was present, homosexuality emerged from the shadows and expressed itself quite creatively. Where cultural opposition and persecution were heavy, homosexuality tended to be repressed, denied, and deeply closeted. (Spong 316)

What is clear is that Spong is repeatedly brought to bear for these words and actions regarding this hot button topic but his message is so much broader than this single idea of acceptance and the greater love of God. His message and his calling have been to challenge the strict ideas of the faith as one that has allowed itself to pass judgment, when it is clear that this is not the work of man.

On the very first page of Spong's work, is an interesting commentary on human judgment. In the text are a series of extreme responses to Spong's writings, in one he is hailed as having "less integrity than a whore," because even whores appreciate their clients, and Spong accepts a wage (as a minister) while at the same time constantly challenging and affronting the Christian faith (in the opinion of some) and in another statement Spong is worshipped for his candor and strength and even called a prophet. Spong's point in leading the reader of his book into his autobiography this way is to stress to his many readers that opinions and receptions to his ministry have almost always been extreme. From very early in his ministry Spong found it his calling to make faith relevant. In so doing he assumes that his extreme reception in the world was born. To Spong the source of his love/hate relationship with the public can be sources directly to the fact that he calls upon people, with sometimes very extreme espousing of opinion, i.e. "Paul was a repressed homosexual," ("Spong on Paul," NP) to bring to the public the necessity to deal with the present. The issues that are plaguing the world are real and they are in need of address and they very much include questions and answers that many people would simply choose to ignore, if they were given the choice.

Spong takes a very strong stand on prayer, as well, and in his book one can see that the demands of the thinking preacher were extreme, but you can also see that through this crisis of faith Spong demonstrated or at least illuminate one of his core values as a minister and a thinker. "I would address this issue in the way I had learned to address all other issues-I would walk into it and through it; I would never again seek to ignore the problem or dodge the questions." (Spong 191-192) the diologue with self, that makes up the passages of the work, explain that on a visit to a very sick friend/parishioner Spong and the terminally ill woman had had a deep meaningful conversation that transcended the postures of their particular social positions. When Spong rose to leave, he instinctively asked his friend if she would like him to say a prayer with her, she agreed and the prayer was said. At the close of the prayer Spong realized that the prayer had simply been an expression of expectation and the that the words of the prayer were much less meaningful than the conversation had been between these two unmasked people. This was just after he took the position as the Bishop coadjutor of the Episcopal diocese of Newark, New Jersey, a position he held for just over 20 years. The scene left him wondering if the deep meaningful conversation was actually the prayer and the prayer was simply, "empty God talk." (Spong 191-192) What transpired was a crisis of faith that left him believing as one commentator puts it that prays are; "adult letters to Santa Claus." (Tooley 45) Spong's point though satirized by Tooley, a strong critic of Spong, is that unless prayers are meaningful and honest they have little meaning and that praying is an empty act. (Spong 191-192)

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