Bishop John Shelby Spong: Soaking up false theology
By: Robert E. Meyer
Recently I received an E-mail message from an atheist correspondent, who presented me with the quote below. It was identified by E-mail as part of a letter from a Michigan pastor, to liberal iconoclast, Bishop John Shelby Spong.
“Overcoming the widespread Christian belief that ‘Jesus died for my sins’ seems an insurmountable challenge! Preachers, riturgical rites, hymns and religious education curricula continue to reinforce ‘atonement theology/theories.’”…”Personally and pastorally, ‘atonement’ thinking creates a mire of destructive results and I, for one, would well appreciate your cogent analysis of how we might best approach this.”
This was the response I sent back to my correspondent, as well as others on my mailing list:
“I talk about some Christians being â€˜humanists under a religious flag.â€™ Spong is the laughable epitome of that ilk. The central message of Christianity IS atonement–it is the concept more than anything else which separates the Christian faith from the gamut of â€˜works religions,â€™ where man earns his own â€˜salvation,â€™ whatever that is in Spong’s warped theology. The â€˜atonementâ€™ is taught because it is biblical. Spong has made such a radical departure from sound doctrine, that whatever it is he believes, it can hardly be considered biblical Christianity. And yet Spong is the darling of the â€˜I want to do whatever I want, but still believe in Godâ€™ crowd. Many mainline denominational churches in America today, to some degree, are partakers of this apostasy. That is why I claim that Bible-believing Christians are a minority in America. In an attempt to go wide instead of deep, the modern church has inhaled the poisonous gas of liberalism, making it all but irrelevant on the cultural landscape. These churches are easily recognizable. They talk about Jesus accepting everyone as they are–but never get to the part where Christ says â€˜Go and SIN no more.â€™ Less than half a Gospel. I saw this particular book by Spong in a thrift Store–I read three paragraphs before shaking my head and casting it aside. I should have bought it so it didn’t fall into the hands of someone looking for answers.”
My correspondent thinks Spong is the salt of the earth–I think of him as a theological peddler of snake oil. Don’t get me wrong, Bishop Spong may be a very personable and compassionate person. But Spong is committed to shepherding a generation mesmerized by a philosophy that says the only sin is self-condemnation. That is the spiritual equivalent of repackaging a bottle of toxic chemicals with the label from a ketchup container. I certainly don’t oppose the idea of people having a healthy self-image, or dispute the value of positive thinking, but let’s not commingle pop-psychology with orthodox Christianity.
These sorts of people aren’t merely liberal Christians, they aren’t Christian at all. In fact, their doctrines so closely mimic the ideology of secular humanism, it is indeed a wonder as to why they want to stick their noses into the religious tent at all? Almost without exception, they denude Christianity from its essential doctrines, such as the virgin-birth of Christ, his atonement for sinners, salvation by grace, original sin, etc. They replace it with an advocacy of certain social and economic policies that they believe will bring justice to the race of humanity.
In his piece John Shelby Spong: An Anglican Nightmare, Wayne Jackson offers us a synopsis of Spong’s folly:
“Though Spong claims to have studied the Bible with great ‘intensity,’ his writings reveal an abysmal lack of knowledge of the sacred text. His ignorance is exceeded only by his arrogant disrespect for the time-tested volume. If the Bible continues to be viewed literally, he asserts, it is ‘doomed to be cast aside as both dated and irrelevant’ â€“ an exercise which he has mastered already. One can hardly suppress the conviction that the worldâ€™s best-selling Book will be revered still â€“ long after Spongâ€™s memory is but a faintly lingering stench. It is a nauseating labor to review the spiritual foibles of this delusional theological celebrity. Spong happily defends a number of vile sexual evils, e.g., fornication, adultery, and homosexuality. He is much in favor of same-sex ‘marriages,’ as if arbitrarily calling a sexual aberration ‘marriage’ makes it so.”
Unfortunately Spong is really just a poster child for what is rampant in the mainline Christian church today in varying degrees. You see it in Roman Catholicism with Liberation Theology; you also see it in mainline Protestant denominations with those affiliated to the World Council of Churches. There is a determination to make the church relevant to the changing times, rather than asking if cultural trends are keeping pace with scriptural standards. The Church must shape culture and reigns it in when necessary. God’s truth is not subject to, nor should it chase after humanistic fads. This modernistic view casts aside the Creator/creature distinction, and merely conjures up a new God that we “enlightened” humans must first approve of before declaring our devotion to him (or it/her, as they would have it) publicly.
Give me some of that modern-time religion a la Bishop Spong, and I’ll show you a Christian who runs as fast as he can the other way.