In a Good Friday service at historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, retired Bishop John Shelby Spong decried the Nicene Creed as “a radical distortion of the Gospel of John,” asserted that several of the apostles were “mythological” and declared that Jesus Christ did not die to redeem humanity from its sins.
The three hour service featured a series of six meditations by the retired Newark bishop interspersed with prayers led by Johnston and a hymn promoted by the Center for Progressive Christianity entitled “Welcome doubt: Refine our thinking.” Johnston’s promotion of Spong, whose Newark diocese famously declined by 40 percent during his tenure, further undercuts the Virginia bishop’s claim to be creedal and orthodox. ...
Arguing that the Gospels were not historic accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, Spong sought to isolate the fourth gospel, insisting it was not authored by John the son of Zebedee. Instead, the retired Episcopal bishop proposed that the Gospel of John was not a story of incarnation. ...
Spong argued that Jesus could say “I and the father are one” only because he was inviting his disciples “to enter a mystical reality of divine human oneness.”
During his first meditation, Spong quickly targeted the church’s historic councils and creeds. Charging that the Council of Nicea turned on an unintended and very literal reading of John, the Episcopal bishop asserted that the Nicene Creed was a “radical distortion of the Gospel of John.” ...
In addition to dismissing the historicity of biblical characters, Spong also attacked atonement theology, dismissing blood washing away sins as an “evangelical mantra” and a “barbaric theology” that turns God into an ogre who cannot forgive. Spong argued that God punishing his divine son to satisfy the wrath of the father “turns God into the ultimate child abuser” and Jesus into “the eternal victim.”
“John’s Gospel would never say ‘Jesus died for my sins,’” Spong insisted, instead proposing that Jesus was a “servant called upon to absorb the world’s anger and return it as love and wholeness.”
“Jesus does not die for your sins in this gospel; he dies to make you whole,” Spong announced from the pulpit as Johnston sat silently. “As evolving creatures, the problem is not that we have fallen, but that we are not yet fully human.”
“We are not sinners, the church got that wrong, we are rather incomplete human beings,” Spong concluded with an “amen” that was echoed by the congregation and clergy present.
“John’s gospel is about living life to fullness – not moral perfection or overcoming sin,” Spong concluded. “He [Jesus] did not die to save you from your sins. He died to free you – to empower you – to be all that you can be.”
As one commentator notes in response to Spong's dismissal of sin and the atonement: " ... see our problem isn’t sin. It’s just that we haven’t figured out just how awesome we are yet."
Perhaps the only thing better than this would be to host Bishop Spong on Easter Sunday when he could wax profound on why the historical, bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead could not possibly have happened and why St. Paul, the other New Testament writers, and the Church Fathers were all wrong.
Over at Tune: Kings Lynn, C. Wingate weighs in on all of this in a blistering posting. Here's a snippet:
There is no way in hell that a man who denounces the Nicene Creed has any business doing anything that bears the slightest resemblance to teaching in this church. ... This is where the deeper rot in the church lies. I can see how we can disagree on sexual morality and on the ministerial authority of women, even to the extent of disagreeing with Paul's teaching. When we cannot step up to a commitment to the most basic statements of theological principle, to which we all state allegiance every Sunday, it sends the message that we are intellectual frauds. In a Catholic or Orthodox church, the priest who allowed this nonsense would be called on the carpet by the bishop and stand a real risk of being inhibited and deprived of office. And they would [be] entirely right to do so, and our bishops should be doing likewise, lest we be reduced to The Dilettante Episcopal Church.
Read it all.
UPDATE - APRIL 4
Taking a look at Spong's Good Friday fiasco from within the Church of Ireland, BC at Catholicity and Covenant writes:
"The church got that wrong". It is a common refrain from +Spong, going to the heart of his liberal protestant credo. The Individual in Modernity, the child of the Enlightenment, is right. The church catholic is, obviously, wrong. The lack of humility before those to whom we are united in the communion of saints is staggering. There is little - if any - sense that we moderns should prayerfully, humbly, seek with the church and the saints to discern the mind of Christ. Why should we? They, after all, lacked the blessings of Modernity and Enlightenment. ...
[Spong's theology] offers nothing to the church as the church. "Cut off from the lifeblood of Christian growth" - Scripture and Tradition - such theology becomes a banal echo of Modernity. In contrast, prayerfully wrestling with Scripture and Tradition is not an easy or a simplistic task. Personally and corporately, it is challenging and often painful: but it is transformative, calling us from being consumers in modernity to living as unam, sanctam, cathólicam et apostólicam Ecclésiam. This is the Catholic vocation.
BC's posting also includes an excerpt from a lecture given by Fr. Jeffrey John to the Post-Lambeth 1998 Affirming Catholicism Conference in which he slams Spong's theology for being "as much cut off from the lifeblood of Christian growth as any fundamentalist" and "about as much use." Read it all.