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Posts Tagged ‘John Shelby Spong’

Religion explains.  That is its function.  All the great belief systems have their own responses – explanations for the perplexed – to humanity’s great eternal questions, developed and embellished over centuries of exposition. (more…)

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A favourite writer of mine is that turbulent priest Richard Holloway, ‘controversial’ former Bishop of Edinburgh, so I am glad to see that he has published his autobiography, recently sympathetically reviewed by Andrew Motion.  I look forward to reading it, partly in the hope that it will shed light on a phenomenon that I have wondered about for some time. (more…)

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Rereading one of John Shelby Spong’s many interesting books reminds me of things I knew but had forgotten.  This time, it was the undoubted fact that none of the four Gospels was written until after the death of St Paul and the end of his mission in 64 – 67 BCE.  The first of the Synoptic Gospels, Mark’s, was written in about 70 BCE.  That is 40 or so years after the crucifixion: time enough to tune the nascent faith system, so that is what happened, as the Gospels show.

As Bishop Spong makes clear, much happened in that first century to adjust the central message of Christianity.  Emphases changed, preoccupations altered and explanations fought with each other.  The focus on the Resurrection, for instance, grew and became ever more literalised as a physical event as the years passed.  Over the next couple of centuries, too, the message became modulated, by St Augustine for one, as the religion became an imperial church which needed Christianity to fulfil a certain role.  Things change: as religion is a human construct, this is inevitable, but we should not be frightened that this is so.  Rather we should welcome this.  It has potential for us.

Time was when the church condoned slavery and even had people executed as recently as 1861.  Large parts of Christian doctrine, such as substitutionary atonement, nowadays are considered absurd by right-thinking, educated people and we have all had opportunity in recent years to see that hell, for example, is not in some underground Hades but right here on earth amongst us. Faith is not blind.  It can see that some things are not quite as we described them before.

Believers who think that this kind of reasoning is cynical and treacherous have a point.  Yes, it does threaten the church, but ultimately for the good.  We shall end up believing strongly in a Christianity which is different, in important ways, from what it is now but no less valuable; and it will subsequently be changed again.  Change?  Christianity has seen it all before, and evolved to keep in synchrony with what good, thinking believers really believe.  It will do so again.

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