I recently read the autobiography of John Shelby “Jack” Spong, Here I Stand: My Struggle for a Christianity of Integrity, Love, and Equality. Spong was the Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey for 24 years before his retirement in 2001. He is a prolific writer, and his latest book, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, was published in 2013 when he was 82 years old. Bishop Spong considers himself to be a prophet of a new age of Christianity, a post-modern age where science speaks to Spong louder and with the authority that the Holy Scriptures no longer have for him, if ever they did. Born in 1931 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Jack Spong’s long life is very interesting from a human point of view. He was a civil rights activist, leading his southern dioceses in integrating their cities in the early 60s, and always preached and lived the social gospel. While he was active in issues of social justice, he also began early in his ministry to question the authority of Scripture, finding it difficult to relate to the old stories from two thousand or more years ago in the modern age of science. Consequently, he gradually discarded the Holy Scriptures, the personal God, the deity of Jesus, the incarnation of God in the flesh, the atoning sacrifice and death of Jesus on the cross, for a god compliant with modern science of Spong’s making. Spiritually, it was a difficult task to finish this book because my faith is in a different God and a different Jesus. I am a Christian for whom the “Five Solas of the Reformation” are the foundation principles of my faith:
Sola Fide, by faith alone.
Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone.
Solus Christus, through Christ alone.
Sola Gratia, by grace alone.
Soli Deo Gloria, glory to God alone.
Over time, Bishop Spong rejected the five solas, replacing them with a new faith, a faith that he considered to be the beginning of a new reformation of Christianity. He was very proud of his intellectual creation of a post-modern “Christianity” that used Christian nomenclature, but with anti-orthodox meaning, rejecting the Scriptures as the Word of God, but rather, as man’s writings to men in ancient times, writings that no longer had meaning to modern scientific men and women like John Shelby Spong. He is also very proud of his academic and intellectual accomplishments, repeatedly referring to his academic and professional achievements and accolades, interactions with prominent famous names, thus, relying on the praise of mankind outside the orthodox church of God for confirmation of his radical anti-theology. He has very unkind things to say about conservative Christians who hold to the traditional orthodoxy. For example, he had disdain for evangelism and those who took the Great Commission seriously: at a gathering of the Episcopal House of Bishops, Spong writes, the day devoted to Evangelism “hit a new low in content and in attendance, . . . and while our conservative evangelical bishops droned on about how they sought souls for Christ and how we should follow their good example, the crowds around the coffee tables in the hall grew larger and larger.” [p. 301]. He and his liberal brethren did not take seriously Jesus’s Scriptural command to go into the world and make disciples, baptizing in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Matthew 28:1-20 Spong rejects the personal God of the Bible, the physical resurrection of Christ, the incarnation of God in the man Jesus and his divinity and redefines Christianity in his own terms on his own authority, Sola Spong. Spong proudly considers himself the new progressive Martin Luther, when in fact, he is the anti-Luther. In his 1999 book Why Christianity Must Change or Die, Spong announces his creation of a new “Christian” religion, calling his work, “a manifesto calling the church to a new reformation.” As he states in the appendix to Here I Stand,
In that book I sketch out a view of God beyond theism, an understanding of the Christ as a God presence and a vision of the shape of both the church and its liturgy for the future.
“Theism” is generally defined as “belief in the existence of a god or gods; specifically : belief in the existence of one God viewed as the creative source of the human race and the world who transcends yet is immanent in the world.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online. Spong arrogantly wants to go beyond a belief in the Christian God who is a person with whom we have a personal relationship with, pray to, and rely on for our salvation. He wants to replace God with a “god presence,” an impersonal force. Praying to God is an antiquated concept for Spong. All four Gospels proclaim that Jesus prayed to the Father, more than 25 times. The night he was betrayed, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane:
Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
Spong rejects this depiction of Jesus himself praying to God, the Father, as a person who hears our prayers. Spong has summarized his anti-theism with a sorry mockery of Luther’s 95 Theses. On 31 October 1517, Luther posted the ninety-five theses on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg, which is considered the commencement of the Reformation. Luther was calling for a reformation of the Church based on the authority of Scripture, sola scriptura. Spong, by contrast, is calling for a reformation of the Church by a rejection of the Scripture. Spong is very proud of his technical fluency with Scripture, but he does not believe that the Scripture is the word of God. Reading his biography, Spong never speaks of any faith in the trinitarian God of orthodox Christianity. He does not mention God at work in his life, he abandons prayer early in his ministry as meaningless, and he gives himself credit for all his achievements, no credit to God, whose minister he publicly and proudly pretends to be. He has no faith that the Holy Spirit preserved the Scriptures for the faithful to find revelation of God’s plan of salvation. Spong has no personal relationship with God because, for him, God is not a person with a name who hears us call on His name and saves us.
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Acts 2:21 [ESV]
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Romans 10:13 [ESV]
Here, the anti-Luther makes his proclamation which are Bishop Spong’s 12 Theses of unbelief, with my comments and Biblical references in brackets:
A Call for a New Reformation
1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.
[The Bible clearly speaks of a personal God who is Lord and has a name, which we translate from the Hebrew as Yahweh (archaically translated Jehovah). Yahweh or Lord is a personal name, a proper name, that is called upon by His people by name. Yahweh or the Lord is also a person. John M. Frame, a Reformed theologian, explains the Biblical doctrine of a personal God as follows:
Scripture rarely if ever uses the word person to describe God, or even to refer to the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit. But like Trinity, person is an extrabiblical word that is very nearly unavoidable for us. It is the word in our vocabulary that applies to beings who speak, act intentionally, and so on. The Biblical term living reinforces this picture. God is the living God against all the nonliving gods of the nations. (See e.g. Deut. 5:26, Josh. 3:10, 1 Sam. 17:26, 2 Kings 19:4, Psalm 42:2, 84:2, Jer. 10:10, Matt. 16:16, 26:63, Acts 14:15, Romans 9:26)
As R. A. Torrey summarized the personality of the God of the Bible:
God is a living God. He hears, sees, knows, feels, wills, acts, is a person. He is to be distinguished from idols, which are things, not persons. He is to be distinguished from the works of his hands which he formed.
2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.
[Paul wrote to Titus of the identity of Jesus with God:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
3. The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
[This is a matter of faith. Spong rejects Scripture for a misconception of scientific Darwinian theory which has nothing to say about morality, whether man has a sinful nature or whether there is right and wrong, good and evil. In fact, to accept a scientific Darwinian explanation of life is to reject morality in its entirety.
As Richard Dawkins bluntly puts it:
The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. As that unhappy poet A.E. Housman put it: ‘For Nature, heartless, witless Nature Will neither care nor know.’ DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is.
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ’s divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.
[A matter of faith, Spong rejects the authority of Scripture, and denies that for God, nothing is impossible, and as the Angel revealed to Mary, she was pregnant by the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit:
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.
Joseph, the husband of Mary, like Bishop Spong, did not believe she could be pregnant without unfaithful sexual activity until he was told by God that she had conceived by the work of the Holy Spirit:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
Thus, Jack Spong's rejection of the Virgin Birth is a rejection of the authority of Scripture, and a manifestation of his unbelief.]
5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
[This thesis is simply another expression of Spong's lack of faith in the truth of Scripture, and the supernatural nature of the events that are necessarily contrary to science. The people who witnessed the miracles that Jesus did may not have been scientists, but they knew enough natural science to know that it defied the normal course of nature for a dead man to be raised to life by words alone, for a blind man to be made to see by words alone, etc. Spong is no different from the unbelievers who witnessed the miracles that Jesus performed and still refused to believe. Spong rejects the testimony of those who wrote the Gospels and lived with Jesus and wrote about it. Luke begins his Gospel by expressing that his account is based upon reports from eyewitnesses:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
And Peter reminds the early church, as well, that he was an eyewitness to the miraculous power of Jesus:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.
The Apostle John begins his first letter with a attestation that he witnessed the Messiah, Jesus, with his own senses:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
Bishop Spong disregards these statements, denying the honesty of the New Testament writers, who if not liars, were intentionally writing fiction for some unknown reason. Spong never says this, only reasoning that these writings are ancient writings written for ancient people and not for modern men like Spong. If they were telling the truth, however, they were speaking to Spong, and just as they speak to me and to others who believe. I believe it is a work of the Holy Spirit that I believe these writings, and that for reasons that only God knows, the Holy Spirit has not revealed the truth of Scripture to Bishop Spong.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.
[Here, Spong defiantly denies the essence of the Gospel in Scripture based on his elevated view of modern man and his culture, ignoring the fact that if God viewed blood sacrifice as necessary to atone for sin, whether it seems barbaric to Jack Spong or not, is not to be questioned, if you believe the Scriptures are the word of God, which Spong does not. As the Scripture states clearly, Jesus’ death on the cross was the atonement for our sins, once and for all, the last sacrifice for sin, e.g.,
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,
For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
But when Christ[a] had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,
7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.
[Without the physical resurrection of Jesus in human history, there is no Christianity. As Paul wrote:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
The disciple Thomas doubted that Jesus had risen bodily from the grave. But Jesus knew this and appeared to the disciples after his resurrection. He showed Thomas his resurrection body was a physical body, even though Jesus was able to supernaturally appear bodily inside the room at his will with the doors closed.
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
For the Apostle Paul, the bodily resurrection of Jesus is a truth based upon eyewitness accounts:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.
[This assumes that the language used to describe the Ascension cannot be translated into language that is compatible with his conception of the universe as described by science today. The Ascension was a transition of Jesus resurrection body, which was both physical and supernatural with the ability to appear in the room with the disciples, even though the Gospel account states that the doors were closed, to emphasize the supernatural characteristics of his resurrection body that we cannot understand. If Jesus ascended into another dimension of existence, a spiritual dimension, it is not surprising that the accounts assume that he went to heaven somewhere up there. It is a place where Jesus went to prepare a place for us, and does not require a literal representation in Scripture to be a truthful account of his ascension.
In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?
John 14:2 (ESV) Jesus ascended to "His Father's House," which is not of this world. In his described ascension, He surely went up to a higher plane of existence where the Godhead dwells when he departed this fallen world.]
9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
[Here Spong is asserting his moral authority and autonomy and the moral autonomy of man himself to judge righteously by his own moral standards without regard to the expressed Scriptural authority and righteousness of God. He simply does not believe that God as revealed in Scripture is the judge and that His Word in Scripture is a standard for the behavior of mankind. This is a matter of faith, rejection of Scripture and his personal belief that man can be his own standard of morality and ethics. The Christian relies on Scripture and the Holy Spirit to determine right and wrong in his practical reasoning. Spong has no conception of walking in the Spirit as that is a Scriptural concept.]
10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.
[Another rejection of the authority of Holy Scripture, this is Spong's rejection of the person of God and the Scriptural admonishments to pray. Ideally, we are to live in an attitude of prayer, ready at all times to call on God with prayer, praise and thanksgiving:
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
All of the Psalms are prayers, pleas and praises, to the living God with the expectation that He hears us. Jesus did not say, "if you pray." He said, "When you pray . . . .'
And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 6 But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread,
and forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.”
Paul taught us that sincere prayer will bring us peace:
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Scripture like this brings comfort for those who believe and prayer which follows Jesus and Paul's guidance is effective and brings peace. Spong's clear rejection of Scripture results in a rejection of prayer.]
11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
[Spong clearly has no understanding of salvation and the hope of heaven. If he believes there is a life after death, and he does not base it on Scripture which he rejects, he cannot find it in science. Where does he find any hope for life after death. Apparently in his musings and speculations. We who believe the Scriptures have a real hope of heaven grounded and grounded in the Word of God. We are not saved because we are motivated by guilt. We are not motivated to do anything to be saved, but we are called to repentance.
From that time Jesus began to preach and to say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
“I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
We are surely called to repentance, but in responding to that call, we are acting in obedience by the work of the Holy Spirit and God’s grace. We are not autonomously responding to an internal motivation of guilt, to be saved and gain the hope of heaven. We cannot respond from our own motivations, guilt or otherwise. Repentance and sorrow for sin is a gift of God.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Our hope of eternal life with the Lord accompanies our faith and the love of Christ. Paul describes our inheritance in his letter to Titus:
Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness— in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior,
Thus, our hope of a life after death has nothing to do with a Church motivating us with guilt, as Spong wrongly understands the mission of the Church of God. The mission of the Church of God, including the Episcopal Church, is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and let God save those He will. Salvation and the gift of eternal life are solely the sovereign work of God. The Articles of Religion were established by the Bishops, the Clergy, and the Laity of the Episcopal Church in Convention in 1801. Article XVII, Of Predestination and Election, confirms the sovereignty of God in salvation of souls, stating in pertinent part as follows:
Predestination to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour. Wherefore, they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God, be called according to God’s purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through Grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God’s mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.
Bishop Spong’s attribution of psychological persuasion by the Church, “motivation by guilt,” is a modern theory of salvation posed by a man who does not know God or his Word, and as a natural man, he cannot understand the mystery of God’s plan of salvation, and the election of God.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
12. All human beings bear God’s image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one’s being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.
[This is not a statement of faith, but a statement of social and political equality. God judges based on his standards, and He alone is the judge of sin. God treats all equally for purposes of judgment, for God is not a respecter of persons.
So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom
Spong was an outspoken promoter of the sinlessness of homosexuality, despite the Biblical admonitions against homosexual conduct. If you do not believe and heed the Biblical warnings, which include warnings against gluttony, drunkenness, greed, and other non-sexual conduct expressly deemed sinful, you do so at your own risk, of course, and it is not a consolation at the judgment seat of God, that you and Jack Spong believed that science and your own inclinations justified your rejection of scripture.]
Spong ends his announcement of his theses of a New Reformation by dramatically stating:
“So I set these theses today before the Christian world and I stand ready to debate each of them as we prepare to enter the third millennium.”
The 12 Theses do not constitute an official Episcopal Church document. As one Episcopalian Bishop, James Stanton of Dallas, wrote:
First, Spong styles himself a judge of the church, but that is not his actual role. Rather, his continued presence as a bishop in this church constitutes a judgment upon us. While Spong’s published positions are well outside any meaningful definition of the Christian faith, this has not taken him outside the [Episcopal] church. By retaining his office while making a travesty of the faith he was ordained to guard, he has dragged much of the church into darkness with him.
(Source: Can a Bishop be Wrong? Ten Scholars Challenge John Shelby Spong, Morehouse Publishing, 1998, p. 13).
Spong wants to debate his 12 Theses, but those of us who believe the Scriptures cannot debate with him because he does not believe the Scriptures and we do. Those who do debate him, and I have listened to couple of his debates, are frustrated because there is no common ground. Spong knows the Scripture, but he does not believe they reveal God’s plan of salvation.
Clearly, Bishop Spong is not a Christian. When evangelical theologian and Anglican minister John Stott debated Spong, he concluded that Spong could not be a Christian based on the ideas he expressed, which Spong considered “name-calling”, rather than speaking the truth. Here I Stand, p. 397. It is not apparent from his autobiography that he ever was a Christian. He did not express any history of a true relationship with the living God. It is, therefore, difficult to label him a heretic or an apostate because both terms imply a departure from the faith, and likely, he never had the faith. As Jesus said to the Pharisees who did not believe Him or His miraculous works:
“I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
As John Stott discerned, Bishop Spong is an imposter, misrepresenting himself as a Christian and priest and minister of the Gospel from which the Episcopal/Anglican Communion has its roots in the English Reformation. Accordingly, John Shelby Spong is an enemy of the Gospel and the Christian who believes the Gospel. For a Christian to debate Spong may be close to violating Jesus admonition:
“Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.
But Jesus also told us we should pray for our enemies.
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
So, we should pray for John Shelby Spong, that the truth be revealed to him by the Holy Spirit and he be called to repentance, like Paul on the Damascus Road. His God-given intellectual and personal gifts, and consequential vanity and pride, allow him to believe that he alone is the vanguard and author of a new improved Christianity that can discard Holy Scripture upon which Christianity is based, and discard as irrelevant the life of Jesus and His resurrection, the historical source of the Christian faith. He needs to be humbled and convicted by the Holy Spirit and not lean on his own understanding and vain imaginations.
But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
1 Corinthians 2:14 (NKJV)
As Jesus said:
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
In a previous post in 2011, An Ash Wednesday Prayer for Christopher Hitchens [posted before he died of cancer], I used a prayer from William Barclay’s 1965 Prayers for the Christian Year, his Ash Wednesday prayer of contrition and for God’s grace to recognize our sins and receive a spirit of repentance and godly sorrow.
Although the prayer is written as a prayer for “us”, by substituting “John Shelby Spong” for “us,” we have a very suitable and timely prayer for him, who, like Christopher Hitchens, is one of God’s creatures who has been greatly blessed with intelligence and talent and the personal discipline to work hard to develop his talent and succeed in his institutional church, but whose personal strength and pride has blinded him to the source of his success. He needs prayer as death approaches him in his old age. This is a prayer to our personal God, a God that he rejects and wants to replace with a god of his own making;
Save especially at this time, John Shelby Spong, O God,
From the blindness,
which is not even aware that it is sinning;
From the pride,
which cannot admit that it is wrong;
From the self-will,
which can see nothing but its own way;
From the self-righteousness,
which can see no flaw within itself;
From the callousness,
which has sinned so often that it has ceased to care;
From the defiance,
which is not even sorry for its sins;
From the evasion,
which always puts the blame on someone or something else;
From the heart so hardened,
that it cannot repent.
Give him at all times,
—- Eyes which are open to his faults;
—- A conscience which is sensitive and quick to warn;
—- A heart that cannot sin in peace,
but is moved to regret and remorse.
So Grant that being truly penitent he may be truly forgiven, so that he may find your love is great enough to cover all of his sin; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.