Archive for the 'Liberalism' Category

The Internet: A great place to promote false doctrine

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

Wolf in Sheep's clothing

(image courtesy ChristArt)

By Spencer D Gear PhD

A talking cross is acceptable, but the homosexual proposition concerning Lot and his virgin daughters in Genesis 19 was disgusting. This is how my dialogue with this bloke developed online:

A.  Almost everyone is a heretic

Bob:[1] Almost everyone is a ‘heretic’ to someone.

With a few exceptions who (like myself) think outside the ‘box’, and consequently are occasionally regarded as ‘heretics’ to almost everyone.

Most ‘forumites’ belong to one group or another, who regard everyone who believes differently from themselves as ‘heretics’.

Generally the worst examples of ‘forum’ membership know better, but are unable to apply their knowledge.

Such is religion……the seedbed of confrontation, insular bigotry, hatred, persecution, and even torture and murder.

Even Calvin, who so many rever (sic), fell foul to torture and murder of one of his dissidents.

Now …… how’s about another ‘biggie’ regarding the historical accuracy of my source of information re Calvin.[2]

Oz: Seems as though you are pointing the finger at yourself as well! clip_image002[3]

B. Who decides on books for the canon of Scripture?

Scarlet Scripture Button

Bob: If, by scripture, you include the canonised addition of a selection of the apostolic writings then yes, there probably are elements of truth….[4]

Oz: Are you the one who determines what is truth in the canon of Scripture?[5]

Bob: When it comes to making any determination “for oneself” who on earth, other than a mindless wimp, can make such a determination other than oneself?[6]

Oz: One does not make a determination ‘for oneself’ as to what is in the canon of Scripture. The church has already made that decision in the early centuries. Or, are you reading the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the Gospel of the Hebrews, and the Gospel of the Laodiceans as equal with the books of the canon of the NT?

If ‘for oneself’ determines canonicity, it leads to anything goes. Why place any limit on the canon? Is that your view?[7]

Bob: My view is that it was not God’s intention that, centuries after ‘Christ’, post apostolic men should extend the OT scriptures to form a new Religious Text Book.

The New Covenant moves us up a rung from ‘Religion’ to ‘Faith’ and Paul battled hard and long to prevent a reversion (see “who hath bewitched you etc.) in his letter to the Galatians.

My view is that ALL of the apostolic writings should have been separately preserved, and differently regarded.

I refer to them, and quote from them, with regularity.[8] Being opposed to dogmatic theology places me at the opposite end of the spectrum to yourself (as distinct from being yet another “I am right and you are wrong” merchant).

Good heavens I even ‘allow’ for the possibility that the likes of you MIGHT be ‘right’.[9]

C. Should Gospel of Peter be in the canon of Scripture?

File:Gospel of Peter.jpg

(Gospel of Peter image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Oz: So is it OK with you that Christians should be reading, imbibing and treating as sacred writings, the Gospel of Peter which states:

And so those soldiers, having seen, awakened the centurion and the elders (for they too were present, safeguarding). [39] And while they were relating what they had seen, again they see three males who have come out from they sepulcher, with the two supporting the other one, and a cross following them, [40] and the head of the two reaching unto heaven, but that of the one being led out by a hand by them going beyond the heavens. [41] And they were hearing a voice from the heavens saying, ‘Have you made proclamation to the fallen-asleep?’ [42] And an obeisance was heard from the cross, ‘Yes.’ [43]

So a talking cross is suitable for you as the norm for biblical Christianity?[10]

Now note his response:

Bob: A darned sight more palatable than the following, which doubtless you endorse.

“And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground; and he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night.

And Lot pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.

But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter: And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them.

And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him, and said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly.

Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known a man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing” [Genesis 19:1-8 KJV].[11]

Oz: Your response demonstrates you can’t discern the difference between the fantasy of the Gospel of Peter and the sinful reality that is expressed in Genesis 19.[12]

Bob: Good heavens, would you ‘die’ if you were not able to have the final ‘winning word’ in a verbal conflict.

You’re right in respect of all that you say of me ….. there now, does that save you from ‘dieing’?[13]

D. Prevent promotion of false doctrine

Brute Teacher

(image courtesy ChristArt)

Oz: Can’t you engage in constructive dialogue with me without making the false accusation against me of a ‘final “winning word”‘?

I’m not planning on ‘dieing’ but I will be ‘dying’ one day.

I am not saying anything of you personally. However, you are promoting some strange doctrines on this forum and I will investigate – even challenge – you on these points. Why? Because the Scriptures have asked me to do so in 1 John 4:1-3 (NLT):

Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world. 2 This is how we know if they have the Spirit of God: If a person claiming to be a prophet acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that person has the Spirit of God. 3 But if someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here.

You have provided too much teaching to demonstrate that I need to ‘test’ your teaching as it compares with the Scriptures. So far, I’ve found a number of points of contention. This is my biblical responsibility before God: ‘Test everything; hold fast what is good’ (1 Thess 5:21 ESV). ‘For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear’ (2 Tim 4:3 NLT).

That’s why I will not let you get away with teaching falsehood on this forum. The Scripture requires that I be vigilant in warning people of false teaching when I see it happening.

The Internet is a great place to propagate such false teaching.

I have nothing against you, but sound doctrine is what the Bible calls me to be as a Bible teacher. This requires refutation of false doctrine.

I have not the slightest interest in ‘winning’ a discussion. I DO HAVE a profound interest in keeping the faith and warning people about others who are promoting false doctrine – like you do.[14]

Bob: I too have a divine commission, and mine is to deflate insular bigots who think that they have access to truth that is so reliable that what they believe can be used as an infallible yardstick giving them the authority to pronounce everyone who believes differently as being promoters of false doctrine.
I’ve cross (sic) swords with you over many forums and many years and never once have you admitted that you could be less than absolutely correct in respect of any aspect of Christian doctrine.[15]

Oz: Where is your divine commission to ‘deflate insular bigots’ found in Scripture? Please show me.

It is not true that you have crossed swords with me ‘over many forums and many years’. I have met you once on a small UK forum and I was only there for a short period of time. Please inform me in a PM of these ‘many forums’. Could this be hyperbole by you?

The issue is still your false doctrine, which you don’t want to admit. Here it is false doctrine regarding the canon of Scripture and its content.[16]

E. Embarrassment: A criterion of historicity

10 Blushing Emoticon Free Cliparts That You Can Download To YouBob objected to this story:

“And there came two angels to Sodom at even; and Lot sat in the gate of Sodom: and Lot seeing them rose up to meet them; and he bowed himself with his face toward the ground; and he said, Behold now, my lords, turn in, I pray you, into your servant’s house, and tarry all night, and wash your feet, and ye shall rise up early, and go on your ways. And they said, Nay; but we will abide in the street all night.

And Lot pressed upon them greatly; and they turned in unto him, and entered into his house; and he made them a feast, and did bake unleavened bread, and they did eat.

But before they lay down, the men of the city, even the men of Sodom, compassed the house round, both old and young, all the people from every quarter: And they called unto Lot, and said unto him, Where are the men which came in to thee this night? Bring them out unto us, that we may know them.

And Lot went out at the door unto them, and shut the door after him, and said, I pray you, brethren, do not so wickedly.

Behold now, I have two daughters which have not known a man; let me, I pray you, bring them out unto you, and do ye to them as is good in your eyes: only unto these men do nothing” [Genesis 19:1-8 KJV].

One of the criteria used by historians to support the historicity of a document is embarrassment. It needs to be used in conjunction with other criteria such as discontinuity/dissimilarity, multiple attestation, coherence, plausibility, etc. When I wrote my PhD dissertation for the University of Pretoria, South Africa (graduating in 2015), my doctoral supervisor said that he used coherence as a strong indicator of historicity. I find coherence to be too subjective a criterion as it deals with the how the various criteria of historicity fit together or cohere.

Evans (2007:51) sees a potential problem with this index of coherence because an assumption that something that is attributed to Jesus that is not supported by one or more of the above criteria, does not necessarily make the statement inauthentic.[17]

Apply the criterion of embarrassment to Genesis 19:1-8 and this horrible event of Lot offering his two virgin daughters to those seeking homosexual liaisons. Like Bob, I find this story abhorrent as it describes the wicked, sinful actions of Lot and those seeking homosexual liaisons. This is an incident that could hardly be acceptable to the Hebrew community. It should have embarrassed even the most experienced sinner. The fact that it is included and not censored from the account of the Genesis 19 narrative is a strong statement about the reliability of its history.

F. Why is Bob such an antagonist to evangelical Christianity?

Bob has made his intent clear in his personal statement of faith on Christianity Board. It reads:

Personal Statement of Faith

I major on what I call ‘circumstantial deference’ based on the fact that none can see other through a darkened glass until we finally see Christ face to face and know even as we are known.

I believe that ‘scripture’ was inspired to a degree of which we cannot be certain, but I stop short of the extreme of ‘absolute’ verbal inerrancy. I also reject the view that ‘canonisation’, centuries after ‘Christ’, was a faultless operation. For me ‘The Word of God’ is that which God “writes on the fleshy table of my heart”, using media of which scripture is a vital part, but not the only part (I am not an advocate of ‘sola scriptura’).
I am the originator and sole member of my particular creedless, non-denominational, denomination, which offers fellowship to every person who might conceivably be a member of the ‘Body of Christ’ by virtue of efficacious faith in Christ’s substitutionary sacrificial death in atonement for sin. I would prefer to err on the side of offering fellowship to someone who’s faith (like mine) is somewhat less than ‘mainstream’, rather than erring on the side of rejecting some such person who God might regard as being part of the ‘Body of Christ”.[18]

Note these emphases:

  • ‘Circumstantial deference’ means that he defers to any given circumstance to allow it to decide on his doctrinal conclusions.
  • He is uncertain about the extent of scriptural authority. He most certainly does not believe in inerrancy of Scripture, which he describes as an ‘extreme of “absolute” of verbal inerrancy’.
  • He rejects the idea of the canon of Scripture determined centuries after Christ because it was not a faultless operation.
  • The Word of God is what is written on the heart and Scripture is only one medium for this evidence.
  • He does not support ‘sola scriptura’.
  • His creed (not his language) is a creedless, non-denominational, denomination.
  • People are welcome to join his denomination as long as they are members of the body of Christ, membership obtained through faith in Christ’s substitutionary atonement for sin. Question: Why would he accept this orthodox position when he is so unorthodox in many of his other statements of faith? He is unpredictably unique or idiosyncratic in his beliefs.
  • He agrees his faith is less than mainstream.
  • He errs on the side of compromise for the sake of fellowship with people.

He told me in one of his posts that he was unable to find a church near him in northern England. I’m pleased about that as he would lead most Bible-believing church leaders to ask him to leave the church because of his contrary nature and unorthodox beliefs. He is aged 81.

G. Conclusion

Landmine Doctrine

(image courtesy ChristArt)

I encountered a fellow from England on a Christian forum who did not enjoy challenges from me concerning his unorthodox doctrines he promoted on the forum. The above dialogue demonstrated that:

  • He considered many regard those who don’t believe their theology as heretics.
  • Scripture is not limited to the canon of the Councils in the 4th century who decided on the books of the canon. Anyone should be encouraged to read what the apostles wrote. I challenged him on the Gospel of Peter’s content of a talking cross and he preferred that to the horrible, sinful action of Lot offering his virgin daughters to the men seeking homosexuals (Genesis 19:1-8).
  • I declared my responsibility to discern those who promote false doctrine and expose them on the forum. He is one such person. His response was that he had a divine commission to ‘deflate insular bigots’ – referring to me as such an example.
  • I explained the criterion of embarrassment as one of the criteria of historicity and Genesis 19:1-8 fitted into that category. Israelites would not be ready to accept such a corrupt and sinful story. It’s veracity is hence affirmed by this criterion.
  • Bob is an antagonist of evangelical, orthodox Christianity that has a high view of Scripture because of his personal, unorthodox statement of faith. He is practising what he preaches – unbiblical Christianity.

I did not encounter many on this forum who were prepared to challenge Bob’s false doctrines. Why? Many may not have the biblical knowledge and bravery to take him on. I found him to be a stubborn old man in the promotion of his false doctrine.

H. Works consulted

Blomberg, C L 1992. Form criticism, in Green, J B, McKnight, S & Marshall, I H (eds), Dictionary of Jesus and the gospels, 243-250. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Evans, C A 2007. Fabricating Jesus: How modern scholars distort the Gospels. Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press.

Meier, J P 1994. A marginal Jew: Mentor, message, and miracles, vol 2 (The Anchor Bible Reference Library). New York: Doubleday.

I.  Notes


[1] Bob is a pseudonym.

[2] Christianity Board 2016. Statement of Faith – Christian Board Christian Forum, Oneoff#166. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/topic/17009-statement-of-faith-christian-board-christian-forum/page-6 (Accessed 6 August 2016).

[3] Ibid., OzSpen#167. I, Spencer Gear, am this person.

[4] Ibid., Oneoff#172.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen#177.

[6] Ibid., Oneoff#183.

[7] Ibid., OzSpen#186.

[8] Ibid., Oneoff#188.

[9] Ibid., Oneoff#189.

[10] Ibid., OzSpen#193.

[11] Ibid., Oneoff#195.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen#199.

[13] Ibid., Oneoff#208.

[14] Ibid., OzSpen#210.

[15] Ibid., Oneoff#214.

[16] Ibid., OzSpen#215.

[17] Craig Blomberg (1992:249) finds coherence to be ‘a very subjective concept’. He presumes that in the minds of the Evangelists, ‘all of the Gospel material cohered’. He asked the legitimate question, ‘How is any modern scholar to say that apparent inconsistencies are sharp enough to call into question the truthfulness of accounts?’. The validity of the criterion of coherence will depend on the degree to which researchers have reached an accurate picture of Jesus by using the other criteria.

[18] Christianity Board 2016. Personal profile of Oneoff. Available at: http://www.christianityboard.com/user/6145-oneoff/ (Accessed 7 August 2016).

 

Copyright © 2016 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 7 August 2016.

George Carey on Anglican demise in UK

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

(Lord George Carey, public domain)

By Spencer D Gear

There is an article in the issue of AP (Australian Presbyterian, Summer 2013/14), ‘Battle for the Bible’ in which Peter Hastie states:

Wherever churches in the Protestant world have identified with theological liberalism they have diminished in size or are dying. I can’t think of a Protestant church anywhere in the world that has embraced an anti-inerrancy view that is thriving right now – they just don’t exist in the English-speaking world (see: http://ap.org.au/images/2013AP/AP11.13.pdf, p. 4)

We know that when Spong was bishop of Newark NJ, 40,000 people left the Episcopalian church in that diocese. See my articles:

However, I’m not convinced that one has to believe in inerrancy for a church to grow. I’ve encountered many in the Pentecostal-charismatic movement who wouldn’t take an overt stance on inerrancy and yet their churches are attracting the numbers. That would be an interesting exercise to survey AoG, CLC, Vineyard and other such Pentecostal-charismatic denominations to find the views on Scripture of their leaders.

What’s the status of the evangelical Anglican diocese of Sydney? Are the churches growing or in decline? Tony Payne wrote an article in Aug 2011 for The Briefing, out of the evangelical Anglican Sydney diocese, in which he asked, ‘Why aren’t we growing?‘ Provocative and interesting article, based on research.

What did the former Archbishop of Canterbury, an evangelical, George Carey have to say about the demise of the Anglican Church?

On 18 November 2013, the British newspaper, Daily Mail, in its online edition had the heading: “Church ‘is on the brink of extinction’: Ex-Archbishop George Carey warns of Christianity crisis”.

In the article, Mail Online had these sub-points from Carey:

clip_image004 ‘Lord Carey said Church of England is at risk if ‘urgent’ action is not taken’;

clip_image004[1] ‘He warned Church could be just one generation away from extinction’;

clip_image004[2] ‘The 78-year-old Reverend laid the blame at the feet of Church leaders’;

clip_image004[3] “He said should they be ‘ashamed’ of their failure to bring youngsters in”;

clip_image004[4] ‘Lord Carey’s stark message has been echoed by the Archbishop of York’.

The Mail Online also stated:

‘Lord Carey’s warning was delivered in a speech at Holy Trinity Church in Shrewsbury as part of the Shropshire Churches Conference 2013.

Church of England Sunday congregations are running at half the numbers of the 1960s, and over the past two decades Roman Catholic churchgoing has seen a similar decline.

Christian numbers are rising fast in some parts of the world, notably in Africa. Worldwide, the Anglican churches have between 70 and 80 million followers – many of whom look to the Church of England for a lead.

However Christian churches are under pressure from Islam, particularly in West Africa, and persecution and violence in parts of the Middle East and Pakistan.

 

A. George Carey placed blame with aggressive secularism

Back at the time of Easter 2013 (end of March), The Independent reported George Carey:

A former Archbishop of Canterbury has accused the Prime Minister of doing more than any other recent political leader to make Christians feel a “persecuted minority”.

Lord Carey of Clifton said David Cameron’s government was “aiding and abetting” aggressive secularism in its approach to same-sex marriage.

His attack coincides with the Easter celebrations and the release of a survey for the Coalition for Marriage, which highlights the resentment felt by some Christians about the Prime Minister’s support for gay marriage.

“It was a bit rich to hear the Prime Minister has told religious leaders they should ‘stand up and oppose aggressive secularism’ when it seems that his government is aiding and abetting this aggression every step of the way,” said Lord Carey, 77, who led the Anglican Church from 1991 to 2002.

“At his pre-Easter Downing Street reception for faith leaders, he said that he supported Christians’ right to practise their faith. Yet many Christians doubt his sincerity.”

Citing the ComRes survey of 535 churchgoers, which suggested that two-thirds of Christians felt they were a persecuted minority, he wrote in The Daily Mail: “The Prime Minister has done more than any other recent political leader to feed these anxieties.”

A spokesman for Mr Cameron  rejected Lord Carey’s accusations,  saying: “This Government strongly backs faith and Christianity in particular. Christianity plays a vital part in the Big Society. The Prime Minister values the profound contribution that Christianity has made and continues to make to the country.”[1]

 

B. What about the real rot? Theological liberalism!

As indicated above, Peter Hastie, has stated that ‘wherever churches in the Protestant world have identified with theological liberalism they have diminished in size or are dying’. The evidence points in that direction. Let’s take a peer into the Anglicans, their beliefs and their decline.

 

C. The sickness in the USA Anglicans

In February 2005, Bill Boniface wrote an article that exposed the theological disease in the USA Anglican ranks (the Episcopal Church): ‘A SENIOR WARDEN’S LAMENT: “Why I left my liberal parish“’. Here he articulated the problem:

Some of you doubt the very notion that there’s a serious and divisive situation in the Episcopal Church[Anglicans USA] today. Please don’t rely on me or any one person to sway you. Make your own decision from the following facts and then decide on your own whether this is serious enough:

Over 40,000 faithful Episcopalians left the Church last year (didn’t just change congregations, but left it altogether).
100 entire congregations have left together to form new churches or worship under the protection of foreign Anglican primates or bishops.

11 dioceses have formed a Network within the Episcopal Church structure in opposition to the direction their Church is going.

These dioceses represent 1,100 clergy, 735 congregations and 176,000 faithful communicants.

Cathedrals and multi-million dollar retreat centers are being closed down and sold to raise money for the Episcopal Church due to losses of parishioners who took their money with them.

The Washington Diocese alone is tapping $1.9 million from a trust fund just to continue operating ($1.4 million this budget year alone).

In the Diocese of Newark (NJ), where there is reputedly the strongest support of any diocese for the Episcopal Church’s new agenda, 40 parishes are projected to close this year.

22 of the other 37 provinces in our Anglican Communion have declared impaired or broken communion with the Episcopal Church.

15 of these 22 provinces now officially recognize only the Network – not the Episcopal Church – as the voice of Anglicanism in the U.S. These 15 provinces represent 55 million Anglicans.

Faithful priests all over the country are being deposed and inhibited by their bishops for speaking against the church’s “new direction.”

The Episcopal Church is suing a number of Episcopal congregations for their church property in a number of states who won’t go along with the new “doctrine.”

Two parishes in the Washington Diocese have joined the Network in opposition to the church’s policies and 13 vestries in the Diocese of Maryland have joined together as “confessing vestries” whose congregations refuse to follow the church’s new policies.[2]

Information about the demise continues. One of the most damning pieces of evidence against John Shelby Spong’s theologically liberal views are contained in what happened when he was bishop of the Episcopalian Church diocese of Newark, NJ. It is reported inNewark’s Disastrous Decline Under Spong: Post-Mortem of a Bishop’s Tenure’. Here it was reported:

Prior to Spong’s arrival as bishop coadjutor in 1977, the Diocese of Newark, like the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A (ECUSA), was facing a slow but steady decline from its peak membership in the 1960s. After Spong became the bishop in 1979, the rate of decline began to pick up.

Between 1978 and 1999, the number of baptized persons in the diocese fell from 64,323 to 36,340, a loss of 27,983 members in 21 years. That’s a disastrous 43.5% decline. The Episcopal Church, by contrast, saw a decline in the number of baptized persons from 3,057,162 in 1978 to 2,339,133 in 1997, a loss of 718, 499, or a substantial 23.4%, according to the 1998 Church Annual.

The Diocese of Newark under Spong, thus, has declined at a rate 20.1 percentage points higher than the rate for the entire Episcopal Church. This rate of decline is 86% faster than the Episcopal Church, whose losses are considerable in and of themselves.

As any statistician would note, the losses in the Diocese of Newark represent a highly statistically significant variation from the trends within the Episcopal Church. No systematic effort has been made to get at the exact causes that made losses in the diocese so much greater.

Ominously for the future, church members in the diocese are also getting older and there are fewer children in Sunday School. In 1976 there were 10,186 children pupils in Sunday School. In 1999 there were only 4,833, a loss of 5,353. That’s 52.6% decline.

By 1997 the diocese had closed at least 18 parishes or missions which had existed when Spong became bishop. All of these parishes or missions were in urban areas. The details of the closing of these churches was reported by the author in an article in United Voice in 1997 titled “The Diocese of Newark’s Graveyard of Urban Ministry.”

The rate of decline under Spong – already fairly torrid – sharply accelerated after 1995. During the 1980s and early 1990s, there was often a loss of 1,000 members a year. From 1995 to 1998, there was a stunning drop from 44, 246 to 36,597 in only three years, a drop of 7,649 — or more than 2,500 a year.

The rate of membership decline under Spong is disastrous by any reasonable measure. Such a pace of decline cannot continue if the diocese is to survive and if the Episcopal church is to retain more than a marginal presence in northern New Jersey.

What’s the truth about the death of theism? This is but one example of what happens when theological liberalism has taken hold. Church numbers have crashed.

Continuing with the USA Episcopal Church as an example, this recent article, ‘Episcopal Church Task Force Releases Report on Restructuring Plans(July 17, 2013), stated.

“Entrenched bureaucracies and dozens of committees or commissions have accumulated over time. This has occurred even as the Episcopal Church has dropped from a high of 3.6 million members in the mid-1960s to 1.9 million members today,” said Walton. “The large amount of money that sustained these structures in the past is long gone, and the church looks very different than it did a generation ago.”

What’s the cause of this crisis in the Episcopalians in the USA? Bill Boniface nailed it:

So what is it that’s behind this dangerous agenda? A radical agenda orchestrated by supposedly “gay rights” activists that seeks far more than just rights. Who in this congregation is not for equal rights for all people? Who in this congregation wants any among us to have fewer rights than us? I can tell you from experience that all those dioceses and parishes who are standing in opposition to the Episcopal Church’s new direction aren’t against those things. And I seriously doubt that any of us are.

But it’s not about equal rights. That’s simply the strategic sound-byte. It’s about taking human experience and desire, laying it up next to Holy Scripture, and asserting that it’s the Holy Scripture that’s in error and has been for these almost two thousand years.[3]

How does it happen? Read Boniface’s section on ‘Moving the Strategy into the Church’ and you’ll see how ‘the most liberal philosophy and the most “flexible” theology’ can take over The Episcopal Church and send the attendance figures plummeting.

When John Shelby Spong was the Episcopal bishop of Newark NJ, the Episcopalians of Spong’s diocese voted with their feet while he was bishop there. One report said that

The Episcopal Church, with due respect, has suffered declining membership since 1965. Spong has been the Episcopal Bishop of Newark since 1976. He has presided over one of the most rapid witherings of any diocese in the Episcopal Church. The most charitable assessment shows that Newark’s parish membership rolls have evaporated by more than 42 percent. Less charitable accountants put the rate at over 50 percent (Lasley 1999; Virtue 1999).

Could a similar liberal theological rot be affecting the UK Anglicans (as it is here in Australia, except for the Sydney diocese, some of the Melbourne diocese, and isolated churches around the country)?

 

D. Roots of liberal theology

Mike Ratliff has written an article in The Aquila Report (November 18, 2013) that asks: ‘What is the Root of Liberal Theology?Its subheading is, ‘Unbelief is the root of Liberal Theology. Never forget, the attacks we are witnessing in our day on our faith are coming from within the visible Church’.

See my articles:

clip_image006 Is liberal theology heresy? 
clip_image006[1]  Damning evidence against theological liberalism
clip_image006[2]  Is theology important?
clip_image006[3]  What does historical-critical theology do to the Bible?

E. Theological liberalism in UK Anglicans: A scholar states it like it is –  liberalism supremo!

Emeritus Professor Paul Badham, has written of ‘The Anglican Liberal Tradition (April 2006), in which he makes these statements of its dynamics:

Liberalism has always existed within Anglicanism wearing different labels at different times: Latitudinarian, Broad Church, Modernist, Liberal, Radical…. More serious to traditional Christianity was liberal criticism of belief in original sin, substitution atonement or hell….

More serious to traditional Christianity was liberal criticism of belief in original sin, substitution atonement or hell….

The most widespread success of liberalism has been the near collapse of belief in hell. When disbelief in hell was pronounced as legal in 1864 almost half the clergy signed a petition to say they still believed in it. But preaching of hell fire has become very rare in contemporary Anglicanism and the doctrine was repudiated as incompatible with belief in the love of God in the Doctrine commission report The Mystery of Salvation in 1995.

On the doctrine of the atonement Bishop Stephen Sykes is right to say that ‘phrases and sentences’ associated with the older atonement beliefs are ‘the common coin of the Church’s worship’, but he also rightly notes that explanations of such language are ‘not obvious’. The problem is that theories of atonement in terms of a sacrifice by which God was placated, or of a bait through which the devil was deceived seem increasingly implausible.

However liberal theology offers an understanding of Jesus’ death which has become increasingly popular. This is that God was present in Jesus’ suffering on the cross and that this illustrates the way in which God shares in the sorrows of humanity. This understanding of the cross has been endorsed by the 1995 Church of England Doctrine Commission report on The Mystery of Salvation as the ‘only ultimately satisfactory response to evil.’

One further characteristic of liberal doctrine is that liberals believe that God has nowhere left himself without witness but has created all human beings with a yearning to feel after him and find him. Hence they believe that the logos of God which found expression in Christ was also at work in other religious leaders….

Liberal Anglicans consistently supported the ordination of women to the priesthood and now support their consecration to the episcopate. In the case of homosexuals, liberals accept the empirical evidence that suggests that homosexuality is a natural state for certain people to find themselves in, and believe they should be allowed the same opportunity to find fulfilment in a stable relationship as heterosexuals enjoy.

Liberal Anglicans find it puzzling that a Church which was formerly in the van of theological and social reform and which played a key role in changing public attitudes should now find itself increasingly at odds with the beliefs and values of modern society.[4]

That is the kind of sickness that will decimate British Anglicans. This is the disease that will kill the Anglican Church and it is what George Carey should be addressing.

 

F. Theological liberalism in UK Anglicans: A new evangelical graduate experiences the sickness

How does Paul Badham’s liberal Anglican tradition work itself out with new Anglican graduates who are seeking a parish? This is what liberal Anglicanism is doing to evangelicals in that church.

An article in Mail Online (23 December 2013) gives a sample of the disease that has infected the Anglican Church. It seems to have come from a much earlier time. The article is titled:Michael Howard’s son tells how liberal Anglicans have thwarted his ambition.

clip_image008Photo of Nick Howard, courtesy The Week. The son of Tory MP Michael Howard, age 33, is an evangelical Christian who lives off the kindness of believers’.

 

 

I urge you to read this article in its entirety to get a feel for the virus that is infecting Anglicans in the UK. It starts:

The son of Michael Howard, the former Conservative Party leader, has spoken for the first time about his distress at being turned down for ordination by the Church of England.

Nick Howard, who completed a theology degree this summer, was not ordained because of his “unwillingness to listen” to other viewpoints.

He told The Mail on Sunday that his strongly held evangelical beliefs on homosexuality and multifaith worship marked him out as a “troublemaker” even though they reflect official Anglican doctrine.

During his three-year training at Cranmer Hall, a theological college attached to the University of Durham, Nick discussed his concerns with tutors but found little comfort in their “blase attitudes”. Fellow students, although often sympathetic to his orthodox views, did not want to incur the wrath of college authorities by speaking out.

Nick, however, quietly reinforced his views by refusing to take Communion at the college’s weekly Tuesday evening service. Instead he stayed in his pew, his head bowed in reflection.

“An ethics tutor at the college was saying publicly that you can be in a gay sexual relationship and follow Christ,” he explains. “That is incompatible with the teaching of the New Testament.”

Nick was also encouraged to accord equal spiritual value to Muslim, Sikh and Hindu religions in the name of “multifaith ministry”.

“As a Christian, I believe that Jesus died for Sikhs and Muslims, too,” he says, “so I long to share the good news with them so that they can be saved. It felt a bit awkward sitting there when everyone else was going up [for Communion] but I couldn’t physically have done anything else because I can’t pretend someone shares the same religion as me if, in reality, they don’t.”

Yet, as a result of this silent declaration of belief, 30-year-old Nick now finds himself ostracised from the Anglican Church he so desperately wants to be a part of.

At the end of his final year, a panel of tutors explained that his “unwillingness to listen” would make him an unsuitable vicar.

It was an extraordinary decision because Nick’s view – that gay people are welcome to belong to the Church if they remain celibate – is official Anglican teaching.

But many may feel that Nick’s defence of the basic tenets of Christianity should be welcomed by the Church. After all, woolly-mindedness in its beliefs has seen a huge decline in congregations, while the clear dictums of Islam have contributed to its rapid growth around the globe.[5]

 

Anglican Mainstream, an Anglican newspaper, addressed this issue back in 2006 when Nick Howard’s ordination was rejected. So this is intimating that the original article about Nick Howard’s rejection of ordination was in 2006. This online magazine’s assessment was:

The trouble is that unrepresentative and unorthodox views, especially on human sexuality and the uniqueness of Christ, have become mainstream in some circles of the Church of England. Even an evangelical institution like Cranmer Hall undoubtedly has a problem with this ‘slippage’. The presence of the widely-respected gay theologian, Michael Vasey, led inevitably to changes in the ethos of Cranmer Hall.

I suspect that if recent evangelical giants of yesteryear like John Stott, Michael Green, and Jim Packer were ordinands or prospective ordinands today they would also be accused of an ‘unwillingness to listen’.[6]

This is the kind of sickness that will kill the Anglican Church and it is what George Carey should really be addressing – BIG TIME!

 

G. Conclusion

When core doctrines of biblical Christianity, the Gospel content, and a high view of Scripture are abandoned, Nick Howard’s experience should become the norm. Theological liberals cannot tolerate evangelicals and evangelicals will not buy into the liberal agenda.

What is left for the picking? I can’t see any future than to let the liberal Anglican churches die and the evangelicals to do church planting of evangelical Anglican churches – probably under another name. Or, the evangelical Anglicans will migrate to another evangelical denomination.

The ‘Anglican Down Under’ website questions, ‘A Post Anglican Denomination Emerging in New Zealand?’ which involves evangelical Anglican clergymen from Australia. Churches have been planted in Auckland and Christchurch. The author of this article mentioned The Campus Church in Christchurch and stated that ‘Its current pastor I have heard in personal conversation describe himself as Anglican, but he has no formal relationship with the Bishop of Christchurch. Its site is here and I do not think you will find on it any sign as to whom the leadership of the church is accountable’. Is this the evangelical Anglicanism of the future in regions of liberal Anglican influence?

The ‘Reformed and Post-Anglican’ website has noted:

To the distress of the bishops of yet other, mostly Anglo-Catholic [Anglican], dioceses Sydney has offered a process of ‘affiliation’ to so-called independent Evangelical churches in their territories, sometimes so placed as to be in direct competition with a bona fide [Anglican] parish of the diocese.

Although the diocese has not formally planted these churches outside its diocesan boundaries, they have often been seeded by individual Sydney parishes in a wave of cross-borders incursions dating from the 1990s.[7]

The challenge is that of 1 John 4:1, ‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world’ (ESV). Liberal Anglicanism does not agree with Scripture in some prominent areas (see Paul Badham’s summary above), so it is promoting false teaching and needs to be corrected. If correction is refused, the churches need to be abandoned as liberal theology promotes a dangerous virus that is deadly to vital Christianity.

H. Works consulted

Lasley, D M 1999. Rescuing Christianity from Bishop Kevorkian, review of John Shelby Spong’s, Why Christianity Must Change or Die (online), Anglican Voice, June 2. Available at http://www.anglicanvoice.org/voice/spong0699.htm (Accessed 4 November 2001). On 23 December 2013, this article was no longer available at Anglican Voice, but was available at Virtue (1999).

Virtue, D 1999. Rescuing Christianity from Bishop Kevorkian – A Baptist looks at Spong (this is the review by Marty Lasley). Virtue Online (online), 2 June. Available at: http://listserv.virtueonline.org/pipermail/virtueonline_listserv.virtueonline.org/1999-June/000415.html (Accessed 23 December 2013).

I.  Notes

 


[1] Lewis Smith 2013. ‘Former archbishop Lord Carey attacks David Cameron for “aggressive secularism” in the Government’s approach to same-sex marriage’, The Independent (online), 30 March 2013. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/former-archbishop-lord-carey-attacks-david-cameron-for-aggressive-secularism-in-the-governments-approach-to-samesex-marriage-8554864.html (Accessed 23 December 2013).

[2] This article was published on 13 February 2005, VirtueOnline.org. Available at: http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/print.php?storyid=2076 (Accessed 23 December 2013).

[3] Ibid.

[4] The article states that ‘Revd Prof Paul Badham is Emeritus Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David (Lampeter Campus) and a Modern Church Vice-president’.

[5] The date of publication of this article at the top of the article is given as 23 December 2013. However, the original publication date must have been ;prior to this as the article has this statement at its conclusion: ‘Nick Howard will be speaking on God and Politics at Lansdowne Baptist Church, Bournemouth, at the 6.30pm service on 1 October’. I can’t imagine that this is referring to 1 October 2014. There was an article title, ‘Michael Howard’s son turned down for ordination because of biblical views’ (online), The Daily Mail, 30 September 2006, available at EV News. Available at: http://www.evangelicals.org/news.asp?id=511 (Accessed 23 December 2013).

[6] Mainstream Anglican 2006. Serious issues over ordination (online), 5 October 2006. Available at: http://www.anglican-mainstream.net/2006/10/05/serious-issues-over-ordination/ (Accessed 23 December 2013).

[7] This is the article, ‘Sydney Anglicans and the Threat to World Anglicanism’ (online), August 29, 2011. Available at: http://reformationanglicanism.blogspot.com.au/2011/08/sydney-anglicans-and-threat-to-world.html (Accessed 23 December 2013).

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 October 2015.

Damning evidence against theological liberalism

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

By Spencer D Gear

J Gresham Machen wrote this book in 1923, Christianity & Liberalism (New York: Macmillan). It is now in the public domain. An html version is HERE.

(image courtesy Eerdmans)

He wrote:

In the sphere of religion, in particular, the present time is a time of conflict; the great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology. This modern non-redemptive religion is called “modernism” or “liberalism.” Both names are unsatisfactory; the latter, in particular, is question-begging. The movement designated as “liberalism” is regarded as “liberal” only by its friends; to its opponents it seems to involve a narrow ignoring of many relevant facts. And indeed the movement is so various in its manifestations that one may almost despair of finding any common name which will apply to all its forms. But manifold as are the forms in which the movement appears, the root of the movement is one; the many varieties of modern liberal religion are rooted in naturalism–that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God (as distinguished from the ordinary course of nature) in connection with the origin of Christianity. The word “naturalism” is here used in a sense somewhat different from its philosophical meaning. In this non-philosophical sense it describes with fair accuracy the real root of what is called, by what may turn out to be a degradation of an originally noble word, “liberal” religion (Machen 1923:4-5).

If it was bad then, imagine what it is like in the early 21st century?

What are the differences in belief between orthodox Christianity and liberal Christianity? How do we define ‘orthodox Christianity’ and ‘liberal Christianity’?

The orthodox, evangelical Christianity with which I am associated can be defined according to the Statement of Faith of the National Association of Evangelicals:

  • We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.
  • We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
  • We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
  • We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.
  • We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.
  • We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.

The liberal Christianity to which I refer can be defined according to ‘This we believe’ of the Progressive Christian Network (PCN) in Britain. The development of this credo was explained:

Gradually the focus of discussion changed. The statements in the Nicene Creed do not make any reference to the implications for us as followers of Jesus, they are historic statements to meet the particular need of the time when they are created … but for all of us, it was the commitment to follow Jesus which was paramount. It was agreed that we all regarded ourselves as “followers of Jesus whose life expressed something utterly profound and took to the limit the idea that power is not all important, that expressed the values of love, peace and justice.” We are all “committed to the way of Jesus which we find worthwhile and which takes us nearer to the underlying sacredness …. To God” and therein is mystery.

This is a developing, possible statement of faith or credo of progressive, liberal Christian faith by the Progressive Christian Network (Britain). It states:

    We are committed to:

  • being Jesus’ followers
  • imitating / living Jesus’ values
  • valuing Jesus’ example
  • sharing Jesus’ way to deity
  • trusting life’s ultimate goodness, sacredness and purpose.

The National Council of Churches (USA) has a liberal Christian statement of faith that lacks the essential theological specifics, just like the PCN’s credo. The NCC’s statement of faith it:

The National Council of Churches is a community of Christian communions, which, in response to the gospel as revealed in the Scriptures, confess Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word of God, as Savior and Lord.

These communions covenant with one another to manifest ever more fully the unity of the Church.

Relying upon the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, the communions come together as the Council in common mission, serving in all creation to the glory of God.

Both of these affirmations of theological liberalism don’t want to get into the specifics of the nature of God, human beings, sin, salvation, and Jesus Christ. Nebulous is the way to go!

Enter John Shelby Spong

Bishop John Shelby Spong portrait 2006.png

(photo courtesy Wikipedia)

One of the most damning pieces of evidence against John Shelby Spong’s theologically liberal views are what happened when he was bishop of the Episcopalian Church, Newark, NJ. It is reported inNewark’s Disastrous Decline Under Spong: Post-Mortem of a Bishop’s Tenure’.[1] Here it was reported:

Prior to Spong’s arrival as bishop coadjutor in 1977, the Diocese of Newark, like the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A (ECUSA), was facing a slow but steady decline from its peak membership in the 1960s. After Spong became the bishop in 1979, the rate of decline began to pick up.

Between 1978 and 1999, the number of baptized persons in the diocese fell from 64,323 to 36,340, a loss of 27,983 members in 21 years. That’s a disastrous 43.5% decline. The Episcopal Church, by contrast, saw a decline in the number of baptized persons from 3,057,162 in 1978 to 2,339,133 in 1997, a loss of 718, 499, or a substantial 23.4%, according to the 1998 Church Annual.

The Diocese of Newark under Spong, thus, has declined at a rate 20.1 percentage points higher than the rate for the entire Episcopal Church. This rate of decline is 86% faster than the Episcopal Church, whose losses are considerable in and of themselves.

As any statistician would note, the losses in the Diocese of Newark represent a highly statistically significant variation from the trends within the Episcopal Church. No systematic effort has been made to get at the exact causes that made losses in the diocese so much greater.

Ominously for the future, church members in the diocese are also getting older and there are fewer children in Sunday School. In 1976 there Were 10,186 children pupils in Sunday School. In 1999 there were only 4,833, a loss of 5,353. That’s 52.6% decline.

By 1997 the diocese had closed at least 18 parishes or missions which had existed when Spong became bishop. All of these parishes or missions were in urban areas. The details of the closing of these churches was reported by the author in an article in United Voice in 1997 titled “The Diocese of Newark’s Graveyard of Urban Ministry.”

The rate of decline under Spong – already fairly torrid – sharply accelerated after 1995. During the 1980s and early 1990s, there was often a loss of 1,000 members a year. From 1995 to 1998, there was a stunning drop from 44, 246 to 36,597 in only three years, a drop of 7,649 — or more than 2,500 a year.

The rate of membership decline under Spong is disastrous by any reasonable measure. Such a pace of decline cannot continue if the diocese is to survive and if the Episcopal church is to retain more than a marginal presence in northern New Jersey.

What’s the truth about the death of theism? Wherever theological liberalism has taken hold, church numbers have declined. Frank Pastore put it this way: ‘We’ve all witnessed the plummeting attendance of liberal mainline denominations for decades’ (‘The National Council of Churches should have died’).

An example would be the USA Episcopal Church. This recent article, ‘Episcopal Church Task Force Releases Report on Restructuring Plans(July 17, 2013).

“Entrenched bureaucracies and dozens of committees or commissions have accumulated over time. This has occurred even as the Episcopal Church has dropped from a high of 3.6 million members in the mid-1960s to 1.9 million members today,” said Walton. “The large amount of money that sustained these structures in the past is long gone, and the church looks very different than it did a generation ago.”

What’s the evidence for Church growth & decline?

Missions Jump

(image courtesy ChristArt)

Go to Christian forums on the Internet and you can find those who are promoting theological liberalism and want to put down anything that seems to be of a conservative Christian persuasion. Here are samples:

In my research on church growth or decline, I found these helpful statistics on church growth and decline:

As these links indicate statistically and generally, conservative, evangelical Protestants and conservative Roman Catholics around the world are growing in numbers while liberal Christian denominations are diminishing in size. The statistics are in and they are not applauding theological liberalism. Conservative, orthodox Christianity is on the upswing (generally) while liberalism is on the decline.

Frank Pastore’s assessment of the theologically liberal National Council of Churches (USA) was:

So much for the ‘church’ part of the National Council. These liberal groups really are putting their money where their mouth(piece) is, right onto the lips of the NCC.

The next time you hear or read the words “National Council of Churches”, remember they don’t represent the people in the pews, they represent the liberal foundations and organizations that are keeping them on life support.

The market had shouted. The NCC should have died.

Notes:


[1] This is referring to retired Episcopal bishop, John Shelby Spong. See his website HERE. See also:

(1) Bonhoeffer versus John Shelby Spong;

(2) John Shelby Spong: Anglican Nightmare;

(3) Spong, the Measure of All Things;

(4) Bishop Spong, the Theological Criminal: The Virtual Atheism of John Shelby Spong;

(5) Spong Kong Phooey: Why Spong’s “Christianity” is already dead;

(6) What’s Wrong With (Former) Bishop Spong? Rethinking the Scholarship of John Shelby Spong;

(7) Things John Shelby Spong Thinks He Knows About the Gospel of John;

(8) The bishop who was not.

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 March 2017.

Spong promotes salvation viruses called ‘offensive’ and ‘anathema’

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Rotavirus (image courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

When a bishop, clergy person or any church leader plants seeds of a salvation virus, it is a reasonable deduction that there will be a decline in denominational numbers and indications of ‘death’ in a congregation or denomination of that bishop or clergy person.

Spong’s own diagnosis of the virus is called ‘offensive’ and ‘anathema’. Stay tuned for details.

Ex-archbishop of Canterbury, Lord George Carey, pointed in this direction, but he did not lay the blame at the feet of liberal theology. It was reported in the British newspaper, The Telegraph:

The Church of England is “one generation away from extinction”, the former Archbishop of Canterbury has warned.

Lord Carey, 78, said churchgoers should be “ashamed” of themselves for failing to invest more in young people and called for urgent action before its too late.

The outspoken Lord said that unless more was done to attract new worshipers then every one of the 43 CofE dioceses across the world could be wiped out within 25 years.

He also expressed fears that the modern church was too old fashioned and “not the most exciting place to meet new people” (Riley-Smith 2013).

A follow-up article by A N Wilson stated: ‘So what do I make of Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, saying that the Church is only one generation from extinction, its clergy gripped by a “feeling of defeat” and its congregations worn down with “heaviness”? Is he just suffering from peevish-old-man syndrome?’ (Wilson 2013).

His claim was that ‘there are two simple reasons for this, and there is nothing anyone can say that will make these reasons go away’. Those are:

(1) The church’s view on sex and living together, with no sex permitted outside of marriage;

(2) Unbelief in the churches. Wilson stated:

The second reason is a much bigger thing. That is the decline of belief itself. Most people simply cannot subscribe to the traditional creeds. No number of Alpha courses can make people believe that God took human form of a Virgin, or rose from the dead. They simply can’t swallow it. They see no reason, therefore, to listen to a Church that propounds these stories and then presumes to tell them how to behave in the bedroom.

When there was a tradition of church-going, there was more room for unbelief. When a young priest told Archbishop Michael Ramsey that he had lost his faith in God, Ramsey replied, after a long pause: “It doesn’t matter – it doesn’t matter.” You can’t imagine Lord Carey saying that (Wilson 2013).

1.  How would Christians respond to Carey’s views?

Archbishop george carey1.jpg

George Carey (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

I posted links to the above two articles on a large Christian forum[1] and asked for discussion on reasons for the demise of the Church of England (Anglican) and the apologetic issues these raised.

Here are a few grabs from the responses:

6pointblue-small ‘Yes, liberal Christianity is coming to an end. Also, with OBAMA Care, Liberals are coming to an end. Now we can really start preaching the True Gospel. Praise God’.[2]

6pointblue-small ‘We need a more objective stand than liberals take, and a more inclusive acceptance of reality than fundamentalists do, so we can present a unified understanding of reality that we can defend and that has something substantive to offer. Either extreme will undermine our relevance to the world, as well as our own faith’.[3]

6pointblue-small A response to the above post that ‘liberal Christianity is coming to an end’, was: ‘On the contrary, it appears that while political liberalism may be limited, liberal Christianity is spreading and becoming even more brazen and extreme’.[4]

2.  Enter John Shelby Spong

J S Spong (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

My response to the last comment was:[5]

You will need to provide me with statistical documentation that supports your claim.

One of the most damning pieces of evidence against John Shelby Spong’s theologically liberal views is contained in what happened when he was bishop of the Episcopalian Church diocese of Newark, NJ. It is reported in ‘Newark’s Disastrous Decline Under Spong: Post-Mortem of a Bishop’s Tenure’. Here it was reported:

Prior to Spong’s arrival as bishop coadjutor in 1977, the Diocese of Newark, like the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A (ECUSA), was facing a slow but steady decline from its peak membership in the 1960s. After Spong became the bishop in 1979, the rate of decline began to pick up.

Between 1978 and 1999, the number of baptized persons in the diocese fell from 64,323 to 36,340, a loss of 27,983 members in 21 years. That’s a disastrous 43.5% decline. The Episcopal Church, by contrast, saw a decline in the number of baptized persons from 3,057,162 in 1978 to 2,339,133 in 1997, a loss of 718, 499, or a substantial 23.4%, according to the 1998 Church Annual.

The Diocese of Newark under Spong, thus, has declined at a rate 20.1 percentage points higher than the rate for the entire Episcopal Church. This rate of decline is 86% faster than the Episcopal Church, whose losses are considerable in and of themselves.

As any statistician would note, the losses in the Diocese of Newark represent a highly statistically significant variation from the trends within the Episcopal Church. No systematic effort has been made to get at the exact causes that made losses in the diocese so much greater.

Ominously for the future, church members in the diocese are also getting older and there are fewer children in Sunday School. In 1976 there were 10,186 children pupils in Sunday School. In 1999 there were only 4,833, a loss of 5,353. That’s 52.6% decline.

By 1997 the diocese had closed at least 18 parishes or missions which had existed when Spong became bishop. All of these parishes or missions were in urban areas. The details of the closing of these churches was reported by the author in an article in United Voice in 1997 titled “The Diocese of Newark’s Graveyard of Urban Ministry.”

The rate of decline under Spong – already fairly torrid – sharply accelerated after 1995. During the 1980s and early 1990s, there was often a loss of 1,000 members a year. From 1995 to 1998, there was a stunning drop from 44, 246 to 36,597 in only three years, a drop of 7,649 — or more than 2,500 a year.

The rate of membership decline under Spong is disastrous by any reasonable measure. Such a pace of decline cannot continue if the diocese is to survive and if the Episcopal church is to retain more than a marginal presence in northern New Jersey.

What’s the truth about the death of theism? This is but one example of what happens when theological liberalism has taken hold. Church numbers have crashed.

Continuing with the USA Episcopal Church as an example, this recent article, ‘Episcopal Church Task Force Releases Report on Restructuring Plans’ (July 17, 2013), stated.

“Entrenched bureaucracies and dozens of committees or commissions have accumulated over time. This has occurred even as the Episcopal Church has dropped from a high of 3.6 million members in the mid-1960s to 1.9 million members today,” said Walton. “The large amount of money that sustained these structures in the past is long gone, and the church looks very different than it did a generation ago.”

A response to the above information I provided was:

“Statistical evidence” for a cultural trend?

It’s apparent to me that you are approaching this solely in terms of membership figures, whereas I clearly addressed the growing influence and brazenness of liberal theology overall.

While it is true that the denominations already known to be among the more liberal have been losing members recently, my point was that liberal views are becoming more accepted in the remaining churches and also that the liberalism itself is pushing boundaries that would have been thought shocking or outrageous only a few years ago.[6]

Another replied:

6pointblue-small ‘Here’s a site with historical data for the UK: British Religion in Numbers | News about BRIN.ac.uk, and religious data in general .

As I read it, this isn’t an Anglican problem. It affects all Christianity in the UK except Catholics. And Catholic growth is probably immigration, not conversions.

Furthermore, there seems to be an assumption here that unpopularity implies there’s some problem with the Church. What reason is there to believe that? Does the Bible suggest that truth will be popular?[7]

My response was:

The theme I started in this thread was ‘the demise of liberal Christianity’. I was not meaning to convey a concept of ‘unpopularity’, but to try to promote discussion on why liberal Christianity (theological liberalism was my target) is leading to the demise of the CofE in the UK.

This person asked: ‘Does the Bible suggest that truth will be popular?’ The theological liberal could use that same kind of question to point to the demise of liberalism and that the ‘truth’ of liberalism was not popular.

I know that this issue raises lots of possibilities, some of which are:

  • What is liberal Christianity?
  • Does it primarily relate to historical-critical assaults on the Bible?
  • Is it associated with politically correct doctrines on homosexual marriage, equality of men and women in ministry, inclusion of clergy who no longer believe in the Christian faith, etc?
  • Are many evangelical, charismatic and Pentecostal churches promoting agendas by which sound doctrine is minimised?
  • How do various denominations define scriptural authority?
  • Etc.[8]

3.  Were they slanted questions?

These types of questions sounded too conservative for Hedrick:

I assume you’re aware that almost all of your questions are inherently slanted.

Are you by chance associated with the conservative assault on Scriptural authority, replacing what Jesus said with conservative traditions?

Surely we can do better than this.[9]

Of course the questions are slanted. I’m an evangelical Christian and I’m asking questions relating to the evangel – the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ:[10]

I provided links to 2 articles and the second one raised the issue of unbelief among the people and clergy in the church. Here we are dealing with theological liberalism or disbelief in the ranks.

The Barna Research organisation in the USA has found that nearly 60% of youth disconnect with the church after age 15.

See Barna’s articles:

How should I reply?[11]

With respect, these are genuine questions that I’m raising about issues in the church.

Neither you nor I comes to this forum with complete objectivity.

Did you not note that your response here to me is inherently slanted? I could ask of you: Are you by any chance associated with the non-conservative stance on scriptural authority and have replaced what Jesus said with non-conservative traditions?

We can do better than this by providing exegesis of the Scriptures (or is that considered too conservative?) to demonstrate our beliefs.

His reply was: ‘No, unbelief has nothing to do with liberal theology, though unbelief in conservative theology certainly does’.[12]There is information to the contrary:

Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS), in The Aquila Report, does not agree with you (and neither do I). RTS’s headline was:

What is the Root of Liberal Theology?
Unbelief is the root of Liberal Theology. Never forget, the attacks we are witnessing in our day on our faith are coming from within the visible Church.

Written by Mike Ratliff, Monday, November 18, 2013

4.  The Spong ‘virus’

John Shelby Spong sits at his desk at his New Jersey home on Sept. 12, 2013. The liberal churchman writes longhand with a fountain pen on yellow legal pads. RNS photo by David Gibson

[Photo courtesy Religion News Service (RNS)]

This link from RNS stated, ‘John Shelby Spong sits at his desk at his New Jersey home on Sept. 12, 2013. The liberal churchman writes longhand with a fountain pen on yellow legal pads. RNS photo by David Gibson’

This was a challenge presented to me:

Now you just need to prove that decline was all because of Bishop Spong. In many western countries there was a decline in many mainstream churches while big increases in other places. How much of that decline was due to Spong and how much was a national trend as more people walk away from the church because of poor views put out by the church*? I’m sure some of the decline was because of Spong but certainly not all of it and I dare say not the majority of it.[13]

These are some of the viruses against eternal salvation that Spong has developed and promoted, some of which relate to core Christian doctrines? Examples include:

clip_image002The atonement is an ‘offensive idea’ (Spong 2001:10)

clip_image002[1]‘I am a Christian. I believe that God is real. I call Jesus my Lord. Yet I do not define God as a supernatural being. I believe passionately in God. This God is not identified with doctrines, creeds, and traditions’ (Spong 2001:3, 64, 74).
clip_image002[2]He rejoices that ‘the blinding idolatry of traditional theism [read, supernatural Christianity] has finally departed from my life’ More than that, he proclaims, “Theism is dead, I joyfully proclaim, but God is real” (Spong 2001:74, 77)

clip_image002[3]He’s against evangelism and missionary enterprises, the latter being ‘base-born, rejecting, negative, and yes, I would even say evil’ (2001:178). This redefinition of missions as ‘evil’ is associated with his universalism and theory that ‘we possess neither certainty nor eternal truth’ (Spong 2001:179).

clip_image002[4]‘The idea that Jesus is the only way to God or that only those who have been washed in the blood of Christ are ever to be listed among the saved, has become anathema and even dangerous in our shrinking world’ (Spong 2001:179).

clip_image002[5]‘There is a strong probability that the story of Joseph of Arimathea was developed to cover the apostles’ pain at the memory of Jesus’ having no one to claim his body and of his death as a common criminal. His body was probably dumped unceremoniously into a common grave, the location of which has never been known-then or now. This fragment in Paul’s sermon in Acts thus rings with startling accuracy….
The empty tomb tradition does not appear to be part of the primitive kerygma. It was attached to the Jerusalem tradition, which I have suggested was quite secondary to the Galilean tradition’ (Spong 1994:225).

clip_image002[6]‘If the resurrection of Jesus cannot be believed by assenting to the fantastic descriptions included in the Gospels, then Christianity is doomed. For that view of resurrection is not believable, and if that is all there is, then Christianity, which depends upon the truth and authenticity of Jesus’ resurrection, also is not believable’ (Spong 1994:238).

clip_image002[7]‘I dismiss heaven as a place of reward, and I dismiss hell as a place of punishment. I find neither definition either believable or appealing’ (Spong 1994:288).

clip_image002[8]‘For Paul there were no empty tombs, no disappearance from the grave of the physical body, no physical resurrection, no physical appearances of a Christ who would eat fish, offer his wounds for inspection, or rise physically into the sky after an appropriate length of time. None of these ideas can be found in reading Paul’ (Spong 1994:51).

clip_image002[9]‘Christianity is not about the divine becoming human so much as it is about the human becoming divine. That is a paradigm shift of the first order’ (Spong 2013).

Therefore, it is not surprising that Spong’s salvific disease led to this kind of spiritual ‘death’ in the Episcopal diocese of Newark NJ when Spong was bishop:

Spong [had] been the Episcopal Bishop of Newark [New Jersey] since 1976. He has presided over one of the most rapid witherings of any diocese in the Episcopal Church [USA]. The most charitable assessment shows that Newark’s parish membership rolls have evaporated by more than 42 percent. Less charitable accounts put the rate at over 50 percent. (Lasley, 1999).

With this kind of salvific disease being spread by Spong, it is a reasonable assumption that this kind of liberal Christianity will lead to the demise of that brand. Of course, Spong’s view is radically different. He wrote:

‘The evidence that God, understood theistically, is dying or is perhaps already dead is overwhelming…. the death of the theistic God was first announced by Friedrich Nietzsche in the nineteenth century…. As this theistic God dies visibly in the very midst of our present civilization…. The old myth of theism has lost its power and its appeal’ (Spong 2001:21, 33, 35).

Spong has nailed it. His interpretation of the supernatural theistic God is that this view is dying and it is an old myth that has lost its power. Is that the truth or not?

5.  Has the supernatural theistic God lost his power?

Bread from God

(image courtesy ChristArt)

What does the evidence demonstrate? James Wellman conducted 300 interviews in a limited survey of carefully selected evangelical and liberal churches in the Pacific Northwest of the USA to try ‘to wrestle with the internecine [mutually destructive] conflicts percolating in the American Protestant landscape’. He ‘could find few liberal churches that were were actually growing, financially or in membership’. He located 12 liberal  congregations to participate in the research, but the criteria were limiting. These had to be liberal congregations that ‘maintained or at least come close to maintaining their membership and financial levels over three years. I also sought out churches that had a sustained a distinct institutional identity led by a stable core of leaders, clergy and lay’.  So this research is based on limited criteria. It is not a random sample of evangelical an liberal churches. He noted that ‘the liberal churches that I chose were dynamic and spiritually rich congregations’, but he had ‘difficulty in discovering vital liberal Protestant churches’ as ‘there were no few thriving liberal churches’ (Wellman 2008:xiii).

His research concluded that,

evangelical entrepreneurial congregations can and do thrive…. At the same time, though with less numerical success, liberal congregations can create vital congregations…. A countervailing factor to growth for liberals is the focus on individualism within their churches. Paradoxically, this emphasis on autonomy both attracts northwesterners to these churches, but also mitigates strong commitments to these groups…. In particular, Episcopal churches have achieved a mix of allowing liberals to ‘think what they want’ while at the same time offering a liturgical experience that is deeply rooted in a tradition…. I am not sure that liberals know they want both a form of tradition and the space of free thought, but in practice this combination allowed for the most vital forms of liberal congregational life.

From my research [in the Pacific Northwest, USA], I saw a bouquet of evangelical churches, large and small, flourishing and ambitious to grow in the future. There are few obvious signs that this will change. I do think that the growth will plateau in the near future, but only time will tell. The libertarian and liberal nature of the region is powerful and enduring…. Liberal religionists in this study have much more in common with those who practice nature religion and in this way liberals are more susceptible to this form of relatively unorganized religion than are evangelicals….

As I’ve mentioned throughout this study, American evangelicals have made significant strides, nationally, in gaining a greater share of the Protestant pie (Wellman 2008:272, 282-283).

What was Wellman’s worldview? He spoke of ‘being a liberal Christian myself’ (Wellman 2008:284).

Works consulted

Lasley, D M 1999. Rescuing Christianity from Bishop Kevorkian, review of John Shelby Spong’s, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, for Anglican Voice, posted June 2 1999. Retrieved on November 4, 2001, from http://www.anglicanvoice.org/voice/spong0699.htm. It is no longer available on Anglican Voice, but is available at: http://listserv.virtueonline.org/pipermail/virtueonline_listserv.virtueonline.org/1999-June/000415.html (Accessed 25 November 2013).

Riley-Smith, B 2013. Church of England ‘will be extinct in one generation’, warns ex-archbishop. The Telegraph (online), 18 November. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10457520/Church-of-England-will-be-extinct-in-one-generation-warns-ex-archbishop.html (Accessed 25 November 2013).

Spong, J S 1994. Resurrection myth or reality? A bishop’s search for the origins of Christianity. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Spong, J S 2001. A  new Christianity for a new world: Why traditional faith is dying and how a new faith is being born. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Spong, J S 2013, Gospel of John: What everyone should know about the fourth Gospel. Huffington Post: Religion, The Blog (online), 11 June. Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-shelby-spong/gospel-of-john-what-everyone-knows-about-the-fourth-gospel_b_3422026.html?ref=topbar (Accessed 25 November 2013).

Wellman Jr, J K  2008. Evangelical vs. liberal: The clash of Christian cultures in the Pacific Northwest. New York, New York: Oxford University Press.

Wilson, A N 2013. Lord Carey’s vision for the Church might kill it off. The Telegraph (online), 19 November. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10460230/Lord-Careys-vision-for-the-Church-might-kill-it-off.html (Accessed 25 November 2013).

Notes:


[1] Christian Forums, Apologetics, ‘Demise of liberal Christianity’, OzSpen #1,21 November 2013. Available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7788780/ (Accessed 25 November 2013).

[2] Ibid., johnregnier #2.

[3] Ibid., Pervivale #6.

[4] Albion #12, http://www.christianforums.com/t7788780-2/.

[5] Ibid., OzSpen #14.

[6] Ibid., Albion #15.

[7] Ibid., Hedrick #18.

[8] Ibid., OzSpen #19.

[9] Ibid., Henrick #21, http://www.christianforums.com/t7788780-3/.

[10] Ibid., OzSpen #22.

[11] Ibid., OzSpen #23.

[12] Ibid., Hedrick #28.

[13] TheDag #38, http://www.christianforums.com/t7788780-4/.
Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 15 April 2016.

How to destroy a Christian denomination

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

By Spencer D. Gear

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).png

Courtesy Wikipedia

If your denomination lost 100,000 members in a year, wouldn’t you think that this would be enough of a ‘hint’ to investigate why this is happening?

You may be interested to see the effect of theological liberalism on a denomination. What happens when a denomination gives up its commitment to the integrity of Scripture and seeks another view of the Bible? What is the effect of a denomination giving up its evangelical faith for something else? What happens when a denomination is promoting a politically correct agenda rather than a biblical agenda?

Take a read of what this has done and is doing to the Presbyterian Church (USA): ‘2012 statistics show dramatic decrease in PCUSA membership, congregations‘. Here you will learn that

Membership in the Presbyterian Church (USA) declined by more than 100,000 last year, according to the 2012 statistics released recently by the denomination’s Office of the General Assembly. It is the single largest annual membership decline since the PCUSA was formed in 1983….

[Mateen] Elass said that the explanation from Parsons “boils down to two things: 1) All the mainline churches are in decline; the PCUSA is a mainline church; therefore it is in decline. 2) Our culture is increasingly resistant to affiliating with religious institutions — how can we help it if people today don’t want to sign on the dotted line …? Both these reasons, whether true or not, show a desire to excuse the leadership from responsibility rather than a passion to turn things around. There are certain churches that are growing in this environment. Why not study them and invest the denomination’s significant resources in retooling itself to become a more effective proponent of the gospel? Why not return with passion to the heart of the Biblical Gospel rather than giving itself over to causes that are ancillary to the church’s true mission?”

He continued, “On the other hand, the denomination is leaking like a sieve when it comes to membership retention. The number who transferred out to other denominations by certificate was up 126 percent from 2011 (52,064 compared to 23,082). The number lost through ‘other’ means (cleaning the rolls, usually) was up about 4 percent (from 95,613 to 99,067). The only category showing a slight decrease in losses from that of 2011 was in number of deaths. This is small consolation.”

For some diagnoses of what is happening in the PC(USA), take a read of these:
designRed-small The end of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Mark Roberts
designRed-small Fighting the wrong battle in the PCUSA, Calvin Fox
designRed-small The Road to Gay Ordination in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Donald Fortson III
designRed-small 13 Differences Between the PCA and the PCUSA, Andrew Webb

Mateen Elass, a former PC(USA) pastor, gave his assessment in ‘A Long Oblivion in the Same Direction’. Part of his assessment reads:

I have a few suggestions for Gradye and other PCUSA leaders seeking to reach more Americans with the gospel and reverse the decline of the denomination:

1) In the name of racial diversity, invest more effort in reaching out to white Anglo-Saxon Americans. This is still the largest segment of American society, but the group that is fleeing evangelical and mainline churches in largest numbers. On the other hand, failure to do this will at least lead the PCUSA to perhaps reach an expired GA goal of 20% minority membership by 2010. As more WASPs leave the church, and minority numbers hold steady, overall minority percentages will increase dramatically. Not what was originally envisioned, I’m sure, but hey, at least it’s a goal to check off.

2) Since Jesus said to go where the fields were white unto harvest, and since the Pew report indicates that those most likely to affiliate with religious institutions are the politically conservative, begin a top to bottom house-cleaning of social, political and economic endorsements that lean leftward, and replace them with ones that lean right. This will attract those most likely to affiliate and give you a chance to welcome larger numbers into membership. Right now, you’re pitching your message to those least likely to respond. Isn’t that a waste of time and energy?

3) Since the unaffiliated (that fastest growing segment of the younger American population) is turned off by power-grabbing, money-grubbing religious institutions, and since you obviously want to reach this segment of society, rein in all the presbyteries and synods and GA entities that are lording it over individual congregations seeking to leave the PCUSA. Instead of ignoring or secretly encouraging them as they abuse their institutional power to cause as much pain as possible and extract as much money as they can in exchange for permission to legally become part of the body of Christ in another denominational structure, why not remove the property trust clause from the Book of Order, or declare that all churches are free to leave, no strings attached, no fees assessed? Any wishing to stay will do so voluntarily, and all unaffiliateds will see that the PCUSA is in fact not a money-grubbing, power-obsessed institution. Perhaps in observing such Christian grace, they will begin flooding into the new PCUSA.

These suggestions are, of course, made with tongue in cheek, though they each contain a kernel of truth worth considering as the denomination reels with its losses.

For some of my assessment of what happens when theological liberalism invades churches and denominations, see:

blue-satin-arrow-small Is liberal theology heresy?

blue-satin-arrow-small What does historical-critical theology do to the Bible?

blue-satin-arrow-small Is theology important?

blue-satin-arrow-small Spong’s deadly Christianity

blue-satin-arrow-small John Shelby Spong & the Churches of Christ (Victoria, Australia)

blue-satin-arrow-small Spong’s swan song — at last!

blue-satin-arrow-small Why would a Presbyterian denomination reject Jesus’ atoning sacrifice as propitiation?

blue-satin-arrow-small The Gospel Distortion: A reply to John Shelby Spong

That should be enough to get you thinking about core elements of the Christian faith and what to do about spiritual surgery – cutting out the diseased stuff in any church or denomination.

First Presbyterian Church of Houston

Courtesy Wikipedia

 

Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 3 November 2015.

Christianity in free fall: the Toronto blessing

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

(courtesy thepocketscroll.com)

By Spencer D Gear

I urge you to view what happens when the Scriptures are abandoned and chaos sets in. Take a read of My Experiences with the Toronto Vineyard (Rick Friedrich of Michigan)

Why wasn’t there pastoral leadership that stopped this lunacy and called it for what it was – an erroneous view of Christianity. Correcting false doctrine seems to be low on the agenda of many in the church today. What Toronto (and Pensacola) descended into was something abhorrent.

I pray for God’s leaders to become just that – men and women who are not afraid to correct and stop false doctrine. As a result, in some of these churches there is still a movement of existential nonsense when some churches gather. Sound doctrine goes out the window!

What is existentialism in religion?

clip_image001

Rudolf Bultmann (courtesy Wikipedia)

I use the term ‘religion’ because it is a far cry from the self-denial and commitment of Jesus Christ. Existentialist religion happens when experience is given a prominent place. We saw an example with German liberal, Rudolf Bultmann (AD 1884-1976), when he de-mythologised the Bible in the 20th century. In his chapter on ‘modern biblical interpretation and existential philosophy’, he wrote:

Over and over again I hear the objection that de-mythologizing transforms Christian faith into philosophy. This objection arises from the fact that I call de-mythologizing an interpretation, an existentialist interpretation, and that I make use of conceptions developed especially by Martin Heidegger in existentialist philosophy (1958:45).

See, ‘Rudolf Bultmann: A critique’, for an assessment of Bultmann’s theology.

But what is existentialism?

(courtesy www.wrs.vcu. edu)

 

Wikipedia has a lay-level article on existentialism that tries to help our understanding of what is happening in philosophy, psychology and counselling, and in the Christian churches. This philosophy, which is alive and well in many evangelical and Pentecostal churches around the world, is defined thus:

Existentialism is generally considered to be the philosophical and cultural movement which holds that the starting point of philosophical thinking must be the individual and the experiences of the individual, that moral thinking and scientific thinking together do not suffice to understand human existence, and, therefore, that a further set of categories, governed by the norm of authenticity, is necessary to understand human existence. (Authenticity, in the context of existentialism, is being true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.)…. Existentialists generally regard traditional systematic or academic philosophies, in both style and content, as too abstract and remote from concrete human experience.

When applied to the church, this means that your experience of Jesus is given primary importance. Where do biblical teaching and theology fit into existentialist Christianity? Existentialism is alive and well thanks to liberal Christianity and the Pentecostal-charismatic movement.

However, there is a supposed difference. Liberal Christianity denigrates the Scriptures and has a different view of God. Let’s look at a couple of examples.

1. One assessment of Bultmann’s view was, ‘One could not know much about God, only what God did for one. (When Macquarrie urged him to follow Tillich in using the philosophy of Being to reconstruct a purified theism, Bultmann could only confess: “I myself cannot conceive of an ontological basis.”) One could not do much for God, only gamble one’s life on his reality and on his power to uphold one. One could not say much to God, only give thanks and surrender’ (Edwards 1976). Bultmann himself wrote, ‘The invisibility of God excludes every myth which tries to make God and His action visible; God holds Himself from view and observation. We can believe in God only in spite of experience, just as we can accept justification [by faith] only in spite of conscience’ (Bultmann 1958:83-84). That description automatically excludes Jesus, the second person of the Trinity as God, and his visible actions in our world.

2. How about the Episcopalian, John Shelby Spong’s, view of God? He wrote, ‘I refer here to a deity who is “a being,” not even if we claim for God the status of the highest being. I speak rather of the God I experience as the Ground and Source of All Being and therefore the presence that calls me to step beyond every boundary…. I intend to demonstrate that probing this new God-possibility begins with a search for clues in our religious past…. The limits on the theistic definition of God have been present for centuries…. The theistic God of the past was created by us and in our own image? As I have suggested in a previous book, “If horses had gods would they not look like horses?’ (Spong 2001:60-61). See my analysis of this publication by Spong in, ‘Spong’s swan song – at last!

3. Listen to Paul Tillich! ‘If God is called the living, if he is the ground of the creative processes of life, if history has significance for him, if there is no negative principle in addition to him which could account for evil and sin, how can one avoid positing a dialectical negativity in God himself?… The anticipation of nothingness at death gives human existence its existential character (Tillich 1968:I 210).

The Pentecostal-charismatic movement, at least in theory, confirms the authority of Scripture and of the Lord God Almighty as revealed in the Bible. However, I have my questions after visiting the website of this leading Pentecostal church on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, Kings Christian Church (Buderim) and the outreach church that is now known as Noosa Hillsong. A friend of mine who visited this Buderim church called it an ‘ex-church’. The Brisbane Courier-Mail (April 22, 2007) described Kings Christian Church as ‘a new brand of church’ in which this could happen on women’s day:

IN A new building in the Sunshine Coast hinterland a woman spoons froth off a cappuccino. On her left, a teenager has her nails buffed while a silver-haired grandmother deliberates between shades of pearl and puce.

“I’ll take the pearl polish this week,” says the elderly woman. “And I’d love another coffee.”

It’s ladies’ day at the Kings Christian Church, west of Maroochydore, and groups of women are seated around “pampering stations”.

As Pastor Steve Penny dons a headset and prepares to take the stage, the women receive free manicures and premium coffee in the church’s new $4.5 million Champions Centre.

In this article, Pastor Penny ‘says young people expect the latest equipment’. The Courier-Mail goes on to report,

Officials expect to turn heads at the Champions Centre official opening and six-car giveaway next Sunday. The cars, which have been advertised on TV, will be handed out before free pizza and ice cream.

There will be jumping castles, buggy rides and fireworks at the “Event Spectacular”.

Pastor Penny said the giveaways were a means of expressing the church’s interest in the community. He said money spent on cars was donated by members and would ultimately come back to the church.

That sounds awfully like the advertising I wrote in my former days as a radio/TV announcer and copywriter. It is worldly thinking. How would it stack up against the emphases of Jesus’ instructions on being a Christian disciple?

There is some further information about Kings Christian Church, Buderim. The Sunshine Coast Daily reported problems with this church in 2010: ‘Residents fed up with church noise’ (20 January 2010). Part of the article read:

A MAJOR youth conference at a Tanawha church designed to instil community values in the young has instead led to a community backlash over the “deafening” live music at the event.

Unresolved, long-standing issues over the regular live music that blares from the massive Kings Christian Church, which has a congregation of about 1500 and hosts numerous events, reached flashpoint on Monday when the inaugural four-day Queensland Youth Alive Conference opened.

Fed-up nearby residents said years of complaints to the church, Sunshine Coast council and police over the “pounding bass” emanating from the church had landed on deaf ears.

Up to 600 people are attending this week’s youth conference, although it is believed the church’s huge hall can accommodate 1000 people.

“The music started at nine this morning,” one resident said yesterday.

“I feel traumatised. I’m tired … very traumatised.”

Police have been called to the Crosby Hill Road address an astonishing 17 times since 2007 – mainly because of excessive noise and traffic complaints – but said its hands were tied because council had issued the venue with a permit to stage church meetings.

Therefore, the provisions of the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act did not apply, a police spokeswoman said.

Police were last called to the church on Monday night, but once again residents were left frustrated.

“I would prefer a brothel over there,” another resident said.

“A legalised brothel that was quiet would be better than this. You don’t behave like this under normal Christianity.”

James Macpherson, who recently took over as the church’s senior pastor but is currently based in Townsville, plans to meet with residents when he arrives on the Coast soon.

Mr Macpherson said the church should be a “blessing to the community”.

“So I’m happy to sit down with people and talk things through,” he said.

Jesus gave this solemn warning about the cost of discipleship. This is not the cost of emotionalism and falling over at a meeting. It is more than Christianity in free fall. Discipleship involves a serious commitment:

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? (Matthew 16:24-26 ESV).

Related image(courtesy watchman4wales)

So existentialism and materialism are alive and well in this kind of Pentecostal-charismatic church. But also could it be catching on at Lifepointe Baptist Church, North Buderim?

Both the liberals and many Pentecostals emphasise an experience of God, but the experiences are radically different. Both can degenerate into existential encounters, one like Paul Tillich’s view and the other like the Toronto Blessing or Kings Christian Church.

Liberal Christianity and existentialism

Existentialists, in contrast to determinism and set rules or boundaries, want radical human freedom. German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, called any sort of determinism, ‘inauthenticity’. So, when human beings act freely rather than conforming to any church, conventional opinion, or the Scriptures, there is an unquestioned commitment to experience.

Erickson (1997:92) considers that experience is a presupposition, an unquestioned starting point. Erickson gave the example of Jean-Paul Sartre’s atheism: ‘There cannot be a god, for if there were, he would be a major encroachment on my freedom. I know, however, that I am free. Therefore, there is no God’.

Liberal theologian, Paul Tillich (AD 1886-1965), has tried to synthesise Protestant Christian theology with existentialist philosophy. See his Systematic Theology (1968) in which he stated:

The personal encounter with God and the reunion with him are the heart of all genuine religion. It presupposes the presence of a transforming power and the turn toward the ultimate from all preliminary concerns. Yet, in its distorted form, “piety” becomes a tool with which to achieve a transformation within one’s self (1968:II 99).

But who is his God/god? He stated that ‘”God has become man” is not a paradoxical but a nonsensical statement. It is a combination of words which makes sense only if it is not meant to mean what the words say’ (1968:II 109). He explains further,

Ground of Being http://www.doxa.ws/Being/Ground_Being.html

What liberalism does to missions

Take a read of this assessment of liberalism and missionary activities:

The relativistic scientific world view which underlies mainline liberalism finds it hard to be completely comfortable with the exclusiveness of the evangelical claim. Because of its respect for other religions, it is at best ambivalent about evangelization of non-Christians. Its witness is necessarily unaggressive witness, and it is far more comfortable with social witness (Hutcheson 1981).

Now look at the impact on missions when theological liberals are compared with conservative, evangelical organisations (in Erickson 1997:13):[1]

Number of foreign missionaries under appointment 1972 1988
Group A: Liberal in theology

1. American Baptist Churches

2. Episcopal Church

3. United Church of Christ

4. United Methodist Church

5. United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

 

262

165

244

951

604

 

179

72

214

416

435

Group B: Conservative Christian organisations

1. Evangelical Foreign Missions Association

2. Interdenominational Foreign Missions Association

3. Wycliffe Bible Translators

4. Southern Baptist Convention

 

 

7,074

6,130

2,220

2,507

 

 

9,000+

8,000+

2,269

3,839

Where are the sound doctrine and discernment promoted by these church leaders?

I’m saddened to speak like this, but we are called upon to uphold sound doctrine which comes from Scripture itself and not some existential experience. It is certainly true that those who repent of their sins and turn in faith to Jesus Christ alone for salvation, experience new life in Christ. See, ‘The content of the Gospel’.

The promotion of sound doctrine means that false teaching and ungodly manifestations will be stopped by church leaders.

What happened in that video above (Toronto ‘Blessing’) and what is happening in liberal and Pentecostal churches causes me to be ashamed to identify with a Christianity that will allow that kind of manifestation.

Related image(courtesy www.liveleak.com)

 

Where are the people of discernment in these ‘churches’? This is biblical Christianity:

“He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound [healthy] doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9 ESV)

AND

“Teach what accords with sound [healthy] doctrine” (Titus 2:1 ESV).

In the midst of Paul’s teaching on the gifts of the Spirit, he stated:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom 12:2 ESV).

Then in 1 Corinthians we have this need when the gifts are manifested:

So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church (1 Cor. 14:12 ESV)

AND

Let the others weigh what is said (1 Cor 14:29 ESV)…. For God is not a God of confusion but peace (14:33)…. But all things should be done decently and in order (14:40).

When Toronto descended into what we saw on the video, we have the Word of God being violated because the people (especially the leaders) refused to implement what was taught in 1 Corinthians 14 and Romans 12.

Are we seeing here the fulfilment of 2 Timothy 4:3 and the movement away from sound or healthy teaching to accommodate people with itching ears? Could ‘itching ears’ include hair cuts, nail manicures, swimming pools and gyms?

I pray that Christian leaders will take the Scriptures seriously and stop this chaotic existentialism that happens in far too many churches. It is still going on around the world. I am a supporter of the continuing gifts of the Spirit, but I cannot promote this unbiblical chaos and movement away from sound teaching to existentialism and/or materialism – all in the name of the church.

Works consulted

Bultmann, R 1958. Jesus Christ and Mythology. London: SCM Press Ltd.

Edwards, D L 1976. Rudolf Bultmann: Scholar of faith (online). Christian Century, September 1-8, 728-730. Available at: http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1827 (Accessed 13 June 2012).

Erickson, M J 1997. The evangelical left: Encountering postconservative evangelical theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books.

Hutcheson Jr., R G 1981. Crisis in overseas mission: Shall we leave it to the independents? (online) Christian Century, March 18, 290-296. Available at: http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1740 (Accessed 12 June 2012).

Spong, J S 2001. A new Christianity for a new world: Why traditional faith is dying and how a new faith is being born. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Tillich, P 1968. Systematic theology (combined volume of 3 vols). Digswell Place, Welwyn, Herts [UK]: James Nisbet & Co Ltd.

Notes:


[1] Erickson (1997:13, n. 1) gained this information from two mission handbooks: Missions Handbook: North American Protestant Ministries Overseas (1973) and Missions Handbook: USA/Canada Protestant Ministries Overseas (1989).

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 24 November 2015.

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JEDP Documentary Hypothesis refuted

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

(Diagram of Documentary Hypothesis, courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

RefCath[1], who said he is Catholic and Reformed, responded to one of my posts on the topic of “the Documentary Hypothesis” (DH) on Christian Forums. He wrote:

the DH is an hypothesis attempting to explain the development of the biblical text taking into account specific textual phenomena. For example, in Genesis 6-9 there does seem to be two stories having been combined. However, the traditional DH has been challenged and indeed very few biblical scholars adhere to it. Whybray offers a substantial critique of the DH however his solution is radical, like John Van Seters. Personally I’d go with Christoph Levin or David Carr. Farewell to the Yahwist?: The Composition of the Pentateuch in Recent European Interpretation is an excellent read.

This is my response (I’m OzSpen):

This JEDP overview and brief refutation makes some valid points against the JEDP Hypothesis, “The J.E.D.P. Theory: An Explanation and Refutation” by Brian Davis of Xenos Fellowship.[2] JEDP is designed by those who want to deny the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and I will not support such a view.

I have a higher view of Jesus Christ than the JEDP folks seem to have, in my support of Mosaic authorship. Mr Miller wrote on the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch:

Livingstone summarizes the external evidence in PCE: 218-219:

“The term ‘the book of Moses,’ found in II Chronicles 25:4; 35:12; Ezra 3:2; 6:18; and Nehemiah 8:1; 13:1, surely included the Book of Genesis and also testifies to a belief in Israelite circles in the fifth century B.C. that all five of the books were the work of Moses. Ben Sira (Ecclus. 24:23), Philo, Josephus, and the authors of the Gospels held that Moses was intimately related to the Pentateuch. Philo and Josephus even explicitly said that Moses wrote Deuteronomy 34:5-12. Other writers of the New Testament tie the Pentateuch to Moses. The Jewish Talmud asserts that whoever denied Mosaic authorship would be excluded from Paradise.”

To this may be added the explicit statements of Jesus:

· Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.” (Matt 8.4)

· For Moses said, `Honor your father and your mother,’ and, `Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ (Mark 7.10)

· “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. (Mark 10.5)

· Now about the dead rising — have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, `I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? (Mark 12.26)

· “He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'” (Luke 16.31)

· He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” (Luke 24.44)

· Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. (John 3.14)

· If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47 But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” (John 5.46f)

· 19 Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?” (John 7.19)

· Jesus said to them, “I did one miracle, and you are all astonished. 22 Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a child on the Sabbath. 23 Now if a child can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing the whole man on the Sabbath? 24 Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment.” (John 7.21ff)

Thus, the external evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of Mosaic authorship of the core substance (and most of the form) of the Pentateuch.

We have seen that the internal evidence for the antiquity of the Pentateuchal materials is exceedingly abundant, and that the external witness to Mosaic authority is virtually unanimous and very early. The main residual challenges to Mosaic authorship are in supposed historical inaccuracies (e.g. domestication of the camel), which I cannot go into now, but will later. The vast array of KNOWN historical points of validation, however, should engender a sense of humility in us, before judging this surprisingly accurate text as being in error!

Mr Miller was responding to an objector in ‘Was the Pentateuch “adulterated” by later additions?“’

Notes:


[1] #48, available at: http://www.christianforums.com/t7619203-5/ (Accessed 1 January 2012).

[2] When I updated this current writing on 22 February 2015, this article was no longer available online.

 

Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 15 October 2015.

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Spong’s deadly Christianity

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Bishop John Shelby Spong portrait 2006.png

J S Spong 2006 (courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

I read the article, “An Evening with John Shelby Spong,” in the Uniting Church of Queensland’s, Journey magazine, online (28 September 2007). Then, I read the positive letter towards Spong’s Christianity by Noel Preston.

1. Dear editor

I wrote this letter-to-the-editor of Journey:[1]

Letters to the editor,
Journey
Sent 27 Oct 2007 to:
journey@ucaqld.com.au

Dear Editor,

It is with sadness that I must disagree profoundly with Noel Preston’s assessment of  Bishop Spong as having “the positive impact . . . on behalf of Christian faith” (Journey, Letters, Nov. 07).    While Spong was Bishop of Newark, NJ, the Episcopalians voted with their feet.  Membership dropped by more than 40%.  That redefines “positive impact.”

Spong throws out core Christian beliefs such as the atonement, calling it an “offensive idea.”  He denies the bodily resurrection of Christ, yet still wants to say: “I am a Christian. I believe that God is real. I call Jesus my Lord. Yet I do not define God as a supernatural being. I believe passionately in God. This God is not identified with doctrines, creeds, and traditions” (A New Christianity for a New World, pp. 3, 10, 64, 74).

Luke T. Johnson, a scholar of NT & Christian origins, states that “having a bishop [Spong] with opinions like these is a bit like hiring a plumber who wants to ‘rethink pipes.’  Spong imagines that he has escaped his own fundamentalist past, but he has not.  He remains defined by the literalism he so doggedly battles” (The Real Jesus, p. 33).

Anglican Bishop of Durham, England, and former Oxford scholar, N. T. Wright, takes Spong’s view to task in, Who Was Jesus?

Another has described Spong as “Mr. I-am-a-bishop-who-believes-nothing-of-the-Gospel”.[2]

Yet, Rev. Preston wants to link Spong to professing “his allegiance to Jesus Christ despite challenging certain questionable beliefs.”  Which Jesus?

Spong’s denial of central Christian beliefs makes him heterodox in his theology.  To call his ministry “prophetic” is an abuse of the word.  Spong’s Jesus is no more than regurgitated 19th century liberalism.

“Didn’t it happen to Jesus of Nazareth?” Rev. Preston asks?  Yes it did, but not for an anaemic Christ stripped of his essence by bishops like Spong.  Spongian “christianity” is deadly to church life.

Sincerely,
Spencer Gear,
Hervey Bay

2. The pro-Spong letter

This is the Noel Preston letter to which I was referring:

Spong again[3]

I write to commend you for the October Journey.

I was especially appreciative of the three commentaries on Bishop Spong’s public meeting in Brisbane.

I do not dissent from the impressions reported and share with Bruce Johnson a measure of disappointment that the address I heard from Jack Spong was short on the detail of “a new approach” to theology, though I have great admiration for the positive impact the Bishop has had on behalf of Christian faith throughout a courageous ministry lasting decades.

Your editorial on the subject mused over what it is that causes such a reaction by many to the 78 year old Bishop.

I suspect its intensity has something to do with his determination to profess his allegiance to Jesus Christ despite challenging certain questionable beliefs, moral codes and institutional norms which have been dubiously confused with the essence of the Gospel.

Perhaps his detractors might opine: “If he could just stop pretending to be a disciple it would be easier to tolerate him!”

This is not an unusual story.

As some of your readers would recognise, attempts to be prophetic from within a religious tradition often bring forth a vehement reaction.

Didn’t it happen to Jesus of Nazareth?

Noel Preston
Auchenflower

3. The edited letter

If you have written letters to editors of newspapers and magazines, you will know that an original letter can be edited to eliminate some of the original material. This is what happened with my letter.

This is how my letter appeared in Journey, December 2007, p. 19.

Spong again

It is with sadness that I must disagree profoundly with Noel Preston’s assessment of Bishop Spong as having “the positive impact on behalf of Christian faith” (November Journey).

While Spong was Bishop of Newark, the Episcopalians voted with their feet. Membership dropped by more than 40%. That redefines “positive impact”.

Spong throws out core Christian beliefs such as the atonement, calling it an “offensive idea”.

He denies the bodily resurrection of Christ, yet still wants to say: “I am a Christian. I believe that God is real. I call Jesus my Lord. Yet I do not define God as a supernatural being” (A New Christianity for a New World).

Luke T. Johnson, a scholar of New Testament and Christian origins, states that “having a bishop [Spong] with opinions like these is a bit like hiring a plumber who wants to ‘rethink pipes’.

Spong imagines that he has escaped his own fundamentalist past, but he has not.

To call his ministry ‘prophetic’ is an abuse of the word.

Spong’s Jesus is no more than regurgitated 19th century liberalism.

“Didn’t it happen to Jesus of Nazareth?” Rev Preston asks.

Yes it did, but not for an anaemic Christ stripped of his essence by bishops like Spong.

Spongian ‘Christianity’ is deadly to church life.

Spencer Gear, Hervey Bay

a. Please note what was edited from my letter

blue-satin-arrow-small The page reference numbers for Spong’s A New Christianity for a New World (Spong 2001) were eliminated. Not including these prevents others from checking out my quotes with ease. But that is inconsequential compared with other more substantive issues that were edited out.

blue-satin-arrow-small  This is what I stated about Luke Johnson, ‘Luke T. Johnson, a scholar of NT & Christian origins, states that “having a bishop [Spong] with opinions like these is a bit like hiring a plumber who wants to ‘rethink pipes’.  Spong imagines that he has escaped his own fundamentalist past, but he has not.  He remains defined by the literalism he so doggedly battles’ (The Real Jesus, p. 33). How was it edited in my published letter?

Luke T. Johnson, a scholar of New Testament and Christian origins, states that “having a bishop [Spong] with opinions like these is a bit like hiring a plumber who wants to ‘rethink pipes’.

Spong imagines that he has escaped his own fundamentalist past, but he has not.

The Journey publication of my letter reads as though I wrote the last sentence. That sentence was not created by me. It is a quote from Luke T Johnson (1996:33). This is unacceptable editing when I am made to say something another author wrote. It makes it look like plagiarism when that is not the way I presented it in my letter.

blue-satin-arrow-small What I stated from Anglican scholar, N T Wright, was excised. I wrote: ‘Anglican Bishop of Durham, England, and former Oxford scholar, N. T. Wright, takes Spong’s view to task in, Who Was Jesus?

It was important to note that Wright provided a refutation of Spong in Wright’s book, Who Was Jesus? (1993). This is because both Spong and Wright are Anglicans but reach radically different conclusions concerning Jesus. Wright’s scholarship is regarded by many scholars as more substantive than Spong’s, and there are reasons for this.

Wright challenged Spong:

In particular, talk of ‘my Christ’ is the kind of thing that, as Spong must realize, leaves him wide open to the charge of sheer subjectivism – especially when it is combined with a continual downplaying of historical truth. How do we know that Spong’s ‘Christ’ is the real Christ?…

Spong has, in short, cut himself off from serious historical study. The world that he has opened up is a world which he himself calls midrash, however inaccurately. It is a world where the modern exegete can reconstruct a fantasy-history in the interests of a current ideology (Wright 1993:67, 91).

4.  A theologian’s critique of Spong

Gerald O’Collins, Professor of fundamental theology, Gregorian University, Rome, reviewed Spong’s book, Resurrection: Myth or reality (1994). In the first paragraph of his review, O’Collins stated that Spong ‘seems a caring, prayerful person. But a kindly heart and lots of fine rhetoric cannot make up for the lack of scholarship and critical judgement shown throughout this book’ (O’Collins 2000:112).

He wrote of Spong’s inaccuracy as a scholar:

What is said about a key verb St Paul uses in Gal. i:15f. shows that the bishop has forgotten any Greek he ever knew….

Raymond Brown and Joseph Fitzmyer are listed among those unfortunates who have “found themselves removed, silenced, harassed, or compromised in some way”. This is news to me. Fr Brown has been and Fr Fitzmyer is a member of the papal biblical commission. Is this a Machiavellian way of compromising them?

Later in the book both turn up again in company with 15 other “New Testament scholars”, who all allegedly join with the bishop in “rejecting

the literal narratives about the Resurrection” as no more than “Christian legends”.

They and some others on that list might well consider bringing a legal action against the bishop and/or his publishers for professional defamation.

Brown and Fitzmyer have repeatedly gone on record as accepting the historicity of the burial by Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus’s post-Resurrection appearances and the discovery of his empty tomb – all of which Spong rejects.

In a curious fashion the bishop talks of his seventeen “New Testament scholars” in the present tense: “we who are convinced”, “we who reject”, and so forth.

Half of them (like William Albright, Rudolf Bultmann, C. H . Dodd, E. C. Hoskyns and Karl Rahner) are long dead and have no chance of dissociating themselves from Spong and his views.

Some of them, such as Karl Rahner, Hans Kung and Edward Schillebeeckx, cannot be classified as New Testament scholars in the proper sense of the term. Does the bishop really care about accuracy and truth? Or is all this part of what he calls floating with him “on a sea of timelessness”? (O’Collins 2000:112).

So what is O’Collins estimate of Crossan’s scholarship?

His work simply does not belong to the world of international scholarship. No genuine scholars will be taken in by this book. But ordinary readers who are not too familiar with modern biblical studies could easily be impressed by Spong’s title of “bishop” and his pretended scholarship (O’Collins 2000:113).

5.  Spong’s shoddy Greek knowledge

Wphthe vs. apokalupsa

What was O’Collins’ complaint about Spong’s use of Greek in relation to Galatians 1:15? He did not present details in his review but it becomes obvious with an examination of what Spong wrote, if one has a introductory knowledge of NT Greek.

Galatians 1:15-16 states, ‘But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with flesh and blood’ (RSV). The RSV was the version used in Spong (1994).

Spong stated of Gal 1:15-16a,

The word for ‘reveal’ in this text is ?phth?, the same word used in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures to describe the appearances of God (theophanies) or angels of God (angelophanies). The Septuagint uses ?phth? to describe a theophany to Abraham: ‘then the Lord appeared [?phth?] to Abram, and said, “To your descendants I will give this land”’ (Gen 12:7. What was the nature of the theophany? Was it really ‘physical’? What was the means of hearing God’s voice speak? Was it audible to any ear? Was it capable of being recorded or objectified?…

?phth? means to have one’s eyes opened to see dimensions beyond the physical. It means to have a revelatory encounter with the holy. It relates to the nature of visions, but not so much subjective hallucinations as seeing into that which is ultimately real, into God or God’s inbreaking future.

Luke used this same word when he had the disciples say Jesus ‘has appeared to Simon’ (Luke 24:34) [Spong 1994:53-54].

Spong’s shoddy understanding of Greek comes to the fore here. He is completely wrong with the verb he names and then expounds in Gal 1:16a. The word used in this verse is not ?phth?, but apokalupsai, which is the present tense, middle voice, subjunctive mood verb of apokalupt?.

Spong named the wrong Greek verb and set about expounding a wrong verb in Gal 1:16a that did not exist in that verse. This accounts for O’Collins’ sarcastic comment ‘that the bishop has forgotten any Greek he ever knew’. So what Spong said about the verb for ‘reveal’ in Gal 1:15-16a was wrong because that was not the verb used for ‘reveal’ in Gal 1:16a. How could an author, published with a major publisher, make such a basic error I his knowledge of NT Greek?

6.  Further objections to the edited letter

  • The letter that I sent to Journey, stated: ‘Another has described Spong as “Mr. I-am-a-bishop-who-believes-nothing-of-the-Gospel”’. This was eliminated from the published letter, but this is only a minor point of editorial deletion.
  • However, this statement by me was a signification deletion in my published letter: ‘Yet, Rev. Preston wants to link Spong to professing “his allegiance to Jesus Christ despite challenging certain questionable beliefs.”  Which Jesus?’ Why not publish this statement? I was challenging Rev Dr Noel Preston’s positive support for Spong’s unorthodox teaching. Spong’s Jesus is not the Jesus revealed in the New Testament. So to ask, ‘Which Jesus?’ is a valid inquiry. Spong’s view of Jesus versus that revealed in Scripture should be exposed, whether in a letter or in an article.

These articles discuss the demise of liberal Christianity:

7.  Conclusion

John Shelby Spong is promoting a radical agenda of ‘another Jesus’ who is not revealed in Scripture. Spong’s Jesus is that of liberal, historical-critical Christianity that has proceeded to empty churches for more than a century.

It is important to review the content of a letter-to-the-editor published when compared with the original. Take opportunities to write again to that newspaper or journal to take up the editorial censorship/deletions by the editor of letters. If this second letter is not published by way of correction, use online facilities to correct it – as I’ve attempted to do here.

For my other exposes of Spong’s unorthodox (heretical) teachings, see my articles:

Works consulted

Johnson, L T 1996. The real Jesus: The misguided quest for the historical Jesus and the truth of the traditional Gospels. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

O’Collins, G 2000. What of the Spong song? “Resurrection: Myth or reality”, A bishop’s search for the origins of Christianity; Review by Gerald O’Collins (online), [4]112-113. Apologia: The journal of the Wellington Christian Apologetics Society (Inc.), vol 7(2/3). Available at: http://www.christian-apologetics.org/pdf/SpongRev20Web.pdf (Accessed 21 November 2013).

Spong, J S 1994. Resurrection: Myth or reality? A bishop’s search for the origins of Christianity. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Spong, J. S. 2001. A new Christianity for a new world. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

Wright, N T 1993. Who Was Jesus? Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.[5]

Notes:


[1] This letter was published in ‘Letters’, Journey, December 2007, p. 19, available at: http://www.journeyonline.com.au/download.php?pdfId=66.

[2] Amazon review by ‘matt’ of N T Wright’s, Who was Jesus? (1993, Eerdmans), available at: http://www.amazon.com/Who-Was-Jesus-Wright/product-reviews/0802806945 (Accessed 21 November 2013).

[3] The following letter is in “Letters,” Journey, November 2007, p. 15. Journey is published by the Uniting Church in Australia, Queensland Synod. This is available online at: http://www.journeyonline.com.au/download.php?pdfId=65 (Accessed 21 November 2013). However, on 1 December 2015 it was no longer available online.

[4] This republishing of the article stated that it was ‘First published in the Tablet (London) (10 September, 1994). Republished in Welcome (September 1994, No. 101)’ [O’Collins 2000:112].

[5] This was first published by SPCK, London, in 1992.

 

Copyright © 2007 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 14 October 2015..

John Shelby Spong and the Churches of Christ (Victoria, Australia)

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

John Shelby Spong 2006 (image courtesy Wikipedia)

By Spencer D Gear

When I read Merrill Kitchen’s [2] favourable article towards ex-Bishop Spong, in “The Future Church and Bishop John Shelby Spong” [3], I wondered if Kitchen and I were reading the same author. This is only one view by a leader within the Churches of Christ in Australia, but she is in a position of influence — the principal of a theological college of influence in Melbourne, Australia.

I thought I had read an adequate sample of Spong’s views in Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, Born of a Woman, Resurrection Myth or Reality?, and his latest which he claims will be his last — Spong’s swan song — A New Christianity for a New World. [4] But I was not ready for the sanitised version of Spong in this article. [5]

This is the Spong who rejects fundamental doctrines of the faith, yet Kitchen gave him the honoured status of being “clearly a believer but one who refuses to toe the ecclesiastical line when doctrine and tradition inhibit spiritual growth.” She claims Spong is calling us back to “a New Testament Church style and proclamation.” [6] Really?

A. The nature of Spongian religion

Kitchen rightly asks, “So what does Spong believe?” Yes, he believes the things that Kitchen raised in the article, but he believes much more that tell us what kind of a believer he really is and what his new style of church will look like in the future.

Will it be like the New Testament church (e.g. the Book of Acts and the Epistles) or more like Spong’s own brand of religion? To arrive at her sympathetic understanding of Spong, Kitchen has forgotten to tell us about some of the fundamentals of the faith that have been rejected or redefined by Spong. He sees his “task of seeking to redefine Jesus” as something that he does not take “easily or lightly.” [7]

1.    How is the faith redefined?

He claims he is a Christian, believes God is real and calls Jesus his Lord. Yet he does not define God as a supernatural being. In fact, for him, “Theism is dead, I joyfully proclaim, but God is real.” [8] By theism, he means supernatural Christianity. He believes passionately in God, but this God is not identified with doctrines, creeds, and traditions. [9]

For prayer, he proposes “substitute words” that have been identified down through the centuries “with the mystical disciplines of spiritual development — words such as meditation and contemplation” that will include “centering prayer” and breathing exercises. [10]

He’s against evangelism and missionary enterprises, the latter being “base-born, rejecting, negative, and yes, I would even say evil.” [11] This shocking redefinition of missions as “evil” is associated with his universalism and theory that “we possess neither certainty nor eternal truth.” [12]

 

2. The characteristics of Spong’s new brand of Christianity

The fundamentals are gone. What would cause him to come to conclusions that are so contrary to historic, classical Christianity? He’s all for life and love because they “transcend all boundaries” but

“Exclusive religious propaganda can no longer be sustained. The idea that Jesus is the only way to God or that only those who have been washed in the blood of Christ are ever to be listed among the saved, has become anathema and even dangerous in our shrinking world.” [13]His assumptions are driving his theological agenda: God is not a personal being; he throws out Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. There is no literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead nor a literal star or virgin birth — that’s mythology! There’s no ascension of Jesus Christ and there will be no Second Coming of Christ.

Christ did not found a church. We are not born sinful. The fall into sin by Adam and Eve is mythical. Women are not less human and less holy than men (I agree!). Homosexuals are not morally depraved; the Bible is not the literal word of God and certainly is not inspired. Forget about absolute Christian ethics because “time makes ancient good uncouth.” [14] The colour of one’s skin or ethnic background does not constitute grounds for making one superior or inferior (I agree!).

He repudiates baptism and the commemoration of the Lord’s Supper. “Since the diagnosis (sinful human nature) was wrong, the prescribed cure (atonement) cannot be right.” Since the fall into sin is a wrong diagnosis, baptism “to wash away the effects of a fall into sin that never occurred is inappropriate.” As for the Eucharist, this “reenactment of a sacrifice . . . becomes theological nonsense.” [15]

The supernatural is out. There will be no singing of praises to a theistic deity: “I treat the language of worship like I treat the language of love. It is primitive, excessive, flowery, poetic, evocative. No one really believes it literally.” [16] There will be his ill-defined, mystical “God-experience”. We could do that in a mosque, temple, synagogue, holy place, or ecclesia (his preferred word). There will be no confessing our sins to a “parental judge.” [17] There will be no literalised faith story. It will “never claim that it already possesses truth by divine revelation.” [18]

3. The church of tomorrow

As for the church of tomorrow, will it be a return to the New Testament church style as Kitchen suggests? Hardly!

The ecclesia of the future will be a place for “Catholic and Protestant, orthodox and heretic, liberal and evangelical, Jew and Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu” and where worship of this “god” will not be “bounded by our formulas, our creeds, our doctrines, our liturgies, or even our Bible, but still real, infinitely real.” [19] God is not a personal being, not even the highest being but the one he experiences as “the Ground and Source of All Being and therefore the presence that calls me to step beyond every boundary.” [20] This is a rejuvenated liberalism of Paul Tillich.

This new community, the ecclesia, “must be able to allow God and Satan to come together in each of us. It must allow light and darkness to be united. It must bind good and evil into one. It must unite Christ with Anti-Christ, Jesus with Judas, male with female, heterosexual with homosexual.” [21]

This is a church built in cloud cuckoo land – out of the minds of Spong and his friends! It is beyond radical. It is blasphemous!

B. Spong and evangelicals

Spong has a particular aversion to evangelical, Bible-believing Christianity (he calls it fundamentalism). He is not interested in “confronting or challenging those conservative, fundamentalist elements of Christianity that are so prevalent today. Why? He believes they will “die of their own irrelevance” as they cling “to attitudes of the past that are simply withering on the vine.” [22]

He goes to great lengths in denigrating traditional, evangelical Christianity, even to the point of making blasphemous statements such as these: “I am free of the God who was deemed to be incomplete unless constantly receiving our endless praises; the God who required that we acknowledge ourselves as born in sin and therefore as helpless; the God who seemed to delight in punishing sinners; the God who, we were told, gloried in our childlike, groveling dependency. Worshiping that theistic God did not allow us to grow into the new humanity.” [23]

In spite of these blasphemous statements about the Almighty God, Kitchen wants to give him this kind of credit: “. . . He is far from being an atheist and is certainly more than a philosophical humanist. . . Spong’s faith is firmly bonded to the person of Jesus.” [24] But which Jesus? Paul, the Apostle, warned of the one who “comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received” (2 Cor. 11:4, English Standard Version). It is evident from the writings of Spong that he wants nothing to do with the New Testament picture of Jesus Christ, yet Kitchen lauds him as “clearly a believer.” [25] Both Kitchen and Spong have redefined believers, if this is the case.

Spong does not want to deal with conservative, fundamentalist Christianity, and believes that it has no application to life today. He comments that “nowhere is this better seen than when one observes how the word Christian is used in our contemporary world.” [26] This is the pot calling the kettle black! It is Spong who has demolished the Bible’s definition of a Christian.

Among Spong’s 205 items in the bibliography of his latest book, [27] it is not surprising that there is not one that refutes his views or presents a scholarly evangelical perspective. I looked for Don Carson, William Lane Craig, Ben Witherington III., N. T. Wright, J. P. Moreland, Ravi Zacharias, Australia’s Paul Barnett, and other leading defenders of the evangelical faith., but they were absent.

His theological supporters from the Jesus Seminar and other liberals are everywhere – John Crossan, Marcus Borg, Robert Funk, Michael Goulder, John Hick, John A. T. Robinson, Paul Tillich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Don Cupitt. Spongism is one-eyed religion that is intolerant of opposing views, especially those of the “fundamentalists” (evangelicals).

C.    Emptying or growing churches? Spongian religion has a killer instinct.

One of the most damning pieces of evidence against Spong’s views are that the facts do not stack up concerning the demise of supernatural Christianity. What’s the truth about the death of theism? Wherever theological liberalism has taken hold, church numbers have crashed. Based on The Episcopal Church Annual (USA), membership of that dominantly theological liberal denomination, fell from a high of 3.6 million baptised Episcopalians in 1965, to 2.3 million in 1997– a loss of fully one-third of its membership. [28] The average Sunday attendance in the year 1998 was 843,213. [29] Two years later (the year 2000), it had further declined to 839,760. [30] “Mainline [church] membership is down (by nearly 6 million members) since 1965” in the USA. [31]

It is no wonder that the Newark Diocese of the Episcopal Church is talking about the need for church growth. [31a]

Church growth around the world

According to the World Christian Encyclopedia (David Barrett), world-wide“around 17 million people become church members each year through conversion, and some 7 million leave the church.” This leaves an annual net growth of approximately 10 million people. We would love to see more, but this is hard evidence against Spong’s death of theism. [32]

There are some other strong indicators that Jesus is alive and well and the church is growing. In the Ukraine, in the past three years, some 70 new house churches have been planted in Crimea, most in places previously without a church. [33]

In the city of Xinjiang, China, there were 20-30 small churches with about 300 believers in 1994. Through courage, vision and the Lord’s direction, five couples have been used to enable rapid growth. Over a period of three years, the growth has been so strong that there are now almost 500 churches with about 100,000 members in four districts. This growth has so concerned the Government that it has infiltrated the churches, persecuted the believers, and gone on television, accusing the groups of being a cult. [34]

During the last 10 years of the “Decade of Harvest” among the Nigerian Assemblies of God in Africa, there has been extraordinary growth. The church has not only gained 1.2 million new members, but also ordained 5,026 new pastors and planted 4,044 new churches in Nigeria. The emphasis on reaching previously unreached people groups led to 75 churches being planted in areas previously untouched by Christianity. [35]

World-wide, the Pentecostal movement has grown from no adherents in 1906 to approximately 500 million today. Yet Spong has the audacity to say that “Christianity as we have known it increasingly displays signs of rigor mortis.” [36]

There certainly are areas where the Christian church is showing significant decline, especially in the Western world. About 100 years ago, Wales experienced a heaven-sent revival. The proportion of the total Welsh population attending church has declined from 14.6% in 1982 to 8.7% in 1995. [37]

God’s church is being persecuted around the world, but is showing growth internationally. Spong’s thesis is dead in the water. It is his ideology, a la John A. T. Robinson, radical theological liberalism, that kills churches.

The Episcopalians of Spong’s diocese voted with their feet while he was bishop. One report said that

“Spong [had] been the Episcopal Bishop of Newark [New Jersey] since 1976. He has presided over one of the most rapid witherings of any diocese in the Episcopal Church [USA]. The most charitable assessment shows that Newark’s parish membership rolls have evaporated by more than 42 percent. Less charitable accounts put the rate at over 50 percent.” [38]

When we throw out the Scriptures as the standard for theology, where do we go for answers? Here we have a new kind of religion, out of the minds of Spong himself and his friends. Yet Spong thinks his views are the future of faith, a new Christianity for a new world! Welcome to Spongism, “Christianity” with a killer instinct. He is searching “for that elusive truth of God that lies beneath the literal words of that sacred text.” [39] When the up-front words are too offensive to the human mind, instead of reading and interpreting them as any other piece of literature, you invent your own approach. Here, Spong wants to find the meaning behind the text. We shall see that this type of interpretation leads him to accept many things that are politically correct in our secular society — out with the supernatural, no heaven or hell in the afterlife, acceptance of homosexuality, etc.

Yet, Spong is so blind that he cannot admit what his brand of Christianity does to churches:

“Only those whom the traditionalists mistakenly call liberals carry within themselves the seeds of renewal and future life for the religious traditions of yesterday. A title more proper than ‘liberal’ might well be ‘open’ or ‘realist.'” [40]

D.    Is Spongian religion the future of the church?

I have written at length providing some of the evidence, because Kitchen’s article does not give an accurate picture of John Shelby Spong’s world-view. He is not “the future of the church” as the article’s title indicates. His brand of Christianity has a track record – the death of congregations. On Spong’s recent visit to Australia, the then Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane, Peter Hollingworth (who at the time of writing this article was Australia’s Governor-General), prevented his speaking in Brisbane Anglican Churches. Instead, the Uniting Church (a merger of Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational churches) accepted him as a speaker.

Paul warned the Corinthians: “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough” (2 Corinthians 11:3-4). Spong is preaching another Jesus to that of the Scriptures. His writings tell us what kind of a believer he is and what kind of a church he wants to see developed in the future. He is not a believer in the Jesus of the Scriptures, nor is his church one aligned with the New Testament.

The Spongian Jesus is not the real Jesus of the New Testament.

1.    Theology does matter

Based on her article, what are the elements of Spongian theology that are part of this new style of church? “Spong is calling people back to a New Testament style of proclamation, which is not a new idea for the movement we call Churches of Christ.” [41] What is a new idea, however, is a prominent representative of a formerly evangelical denomination in Victoria, supporting the heretical teachings of John Shelby Spong.

This is the principal of the Churches of Christ theological college in the state of Victoria, Australia, identifying Spong’s “New Testament style of proclamation” with the Churches of Christ movement. “Is [Spong] a “contemporary heretic who must be silenced” or “does he offer hope to a struggling Church in a post-Christian age?” [42] The tone of Kitchen’s article infers that Spong is offering hope to the church, even the Churches of Christ in Victoria.

    What kind of hope is this?

2.    Spong’s theology and the Churches of Christ

Spong’s theology offers the Churches of Christ (Australia) and any person or denomination the following views: [43]

  • Re-envisioning our concepts of God:
  • God is “a presence at the heart of life, available to everyone and not as the special possession of a religious institution”;
  • God is not an ancient deity who is “distant, apart and above the lives of a sinful humanity”;
  • God is not “the kind of supernatural being who engages in instant gratification, magical wizardry and capricious favouritism”;
  • God is “to be seen and experienced as intimately present in all creation” [Note: This sounds more like monism/Hinduism, than Christianity, to me!]; God’s identity “is revealed when barriers are broken and community is formed”;
  • God’s identity “is revealed when barriers are broken and community is formed”;
  • God is not “a record keeping deity before whom I will appear at the day of judgment to have my eternal destination announced. . . My heart will never worship what my mind has rejected.”
  • Spong has “his doubts about the process of resurrection [of Jesus],” according to Kitchen. Doubts? Hardly!

Spong is straight forward about his views on resurrection. Speaking of the resurrection of Jesus, he wrote:

“It is easy to identify the legendary elements of the resurrection narratives. Angels who descend in earthquakes, speak, and roll back stones; tombs that are empty; apparitions that appear and disappear; rich men who make graves available; thieves who comment from their crosses of pain — these are legends all. Sacred legends, I might add, but legends nonetheless. . . What happened that gave birth to the legendary details [in the New Testament records] that gathered around the moment of Easter? Why did they gather? Hundreds of millions of people have lived and died on this earth — some of them famous, powerful people — and no similar legends gathered around them. Why this one man, at this time, in this place? . . .“The primacy of Galilee [and not Jerusalem for the crucifixion and resurrection] means that all of the appearance narratives that purport to be the physical manifestations of the dead body that somehow was enabled to be revivified and to walk out of a tomb are also legends and myths that cannot be literalized. The risen Jesus did not literally eat fish in Jerusalem. Thomas did not touch the physical wounds. Resurrection may mean many things, but these details are not literally a part of that reality. To affirm Galilee as the primary locale in the experience of Easter is a radical step, but it is nonetheless a step that the Bible itself seems to acknowledge” [44]

This new style of church will mean a re-evaluation of what it means to be the Church. It will

  • not be hierarchical;
  • be honest in its worship;
  • be focussed on real life and not an escape from reality;
  • recognise God’s journeying presence;
  • have a commitment to communality;
  • acknowledge that all who gather at the Lord’s table are ministers and need to function as such [Note: I agree. But why should it be limited to those who gather for the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper? “All are ministers” should apply to all Christian believers. See I Cor. 14:26.];
  • “be a celebration of life in all its complexity.”
  • “rejoice in Scripture, but not be bound by ancient ‘cultic or cultural limitations'”

[Note: How can this church follow Spong in its rejoicing in Scripture when “the biblical texts themselves” have “proved to be quite untrustworthy”? [45]  This must be the mystical God-experience of Spong’s invention that is unrelated to what the text says directly. To understand what Spong is getting at, he speaks of John’s Gospel as “the least literal and the most accurate. . . Literalize John and you will lose this Gospel. For that which is literalized becomes nonsense, while truth that is approached through sign and symbol becomes the very doorway into God.” [46] It’s amazing what conclusions are reached when one throws out the Bible and makes up his own “sign and symbol” religion! What are the limits?].

  • There will be “a mystery and wonder that exceeds the dogmatic assertions of religious formulations.”
  • But “Spong’s faith is firmly bonded to the person of Jesus,” says Kitchen. This Jesus “was a God experience of the reality of that Ground of Being.” Spong claims that “Christpower, written as one word, has become for me a way to describe the Christ life that is the gift of the Spirit, the mark of membership in the Christian community.” [47]

Spong’s own words tell us how deeply he is committed to the value of experience, rather than to the content of the propositional revelation of the Word of God:

“Behind the narrative [of Scripture] is an unnarrated proclamation. Behind the proclamation is an intense life-giving experience. The task of Bible study is to lead believers into truth, a truth that is never captured in mere words but a truth that is real, a truth that when experienced erupts within us in expanding ways, calling us simultaneously deeper and deeper into life, and not coincidentally, deeper and deeper into God. . .“Human life alone could not produce that which we have experienced in Jesus Christ. He is of God, so the Christmas story points to truth, but the words used to describe or capture that truth are not themselves true in any literal sense.” [48]

[Note: This is the existential Christ of theological liberals such as Paul Tillich, John A. T. Robinson, Rudolf Bultmann, etc. It is a redefined Jesus who is radically different to the Jesus of the New Testament.]

  • This new kind of church includes a belief in life after death, but it is an eternity “that lies beyond the limits of my human finitude and in which I can participate.” Elsewhere, Spong is more specific. After five years of study on life after death, this study:
  • “seemed to lead me to no final conclusions. . . I still do not know what to say or how to express my convictions on this subject except with a consuming vagueness.” [49]
  • “I dismiss heaven as a place of reward, and I dismiss hell as a place of punishment. I find neither definition either believable or appealing.” [50]
  • If this kind of theology still makes Spong “clearly a believer,” according to Kitchen, what kind of a believer is he? What will believers in this new style church be like?;
  • Spong “refuses to toe the ecclesiastical line when doctrine and tradition inhibit spiritual growth, or deny the reality of human experience, or discriminate against any person.” [51]

E.    Conclusion

Spongian religion is out of the mind of Spong and his theological ilk. His statements about heaven and hell, in rejecting the orthodox doctrines, are testimony to this fact: “I find neither definition either believable or appealing.” [52] It does not matter what the authoritative Word of God states, it must be “believable and appealing” to Spong for him to accept it. In this writer’s view, this represents theological arrogance and autonomy.

When you invent your own religion, there is no need to listen to the text of Scripture. Therefore, Spongian theology and its counterparts (Tillich, J.A.T. Robinson, Bonhoeffer) can assert:

    1.    “There was no biologically literal virgin birth, no miraculous overcoming of barrenness in the birth of John the Baptist, no angel Gabriel who appeared to Mary, no deaf muteness, no angelic chorus that peopled the heavens to announce Jesus’ birth to hillside shepherds, no journey to Bethlehem, no presentation or purification in Jerusalem, and no childhood temple story.” [53]

2.    Paul, the man from Tarsus, was “a rigidly controlled gay male, I believe, [who] taught the Christian church what the love of God means and what, therefore, Christ means as God’s agent.” [54]

3.    Rationalistic, humanistic, existential views are promoted. The Bible is myth. [55] The mythology of Mark’s Gospel is superseded by today’s knowledge. “We understand what causes wind and wave, epilepsy and deaf muteness in ways that involve no appeal to supernatural forces.” [56]

4.    There’s no need for the supernatural in our modern world. Spong’s language is, “Theism is dead.” [57] But this kind of statement is not original with Spong; it is found in his mentor and friend, John A. T. Robinson [58], who wrote about “the end of theism.” [59] Paul Tillich had spoken of three kinds of theism, one [60] of which “must be transcended because it is irrelevant” and another kind [61] “must be transcended because it is wrong. It is bad theology.” [62]

5.    Autonomous humanistic godlessness reigns. In the preface to his latest book, Spong highlights, thus supporting, the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “God would have us know that we must live as those who manage our lives without God. . . Go is weak and powerless in the world.” [63]

6.    The Bible’s authors are out of date: “They are not in touch with emerging contemporary knowledge.” [64]

7.    If you don’t like what the literal words are saying, make up your own and than claim they are the truth. That’s what Spong has done with the birth narratives of Jesus: “My purpose here [with the birth story] is to see the truth to which these narratives point. Birth narratives tell us nothing about the birth of the person who is featured in those narratives. They do tell us a great deal, however, about the adult life of the one whose birth is being narrated.” [65]

Who said so? Spong did. Reinterpretation according to Spong’s own meaning is the order of the day for his theological inventions. Pity help me if I read his book with the same disdain for literal interpretation.

Since theology matters, Kitchen’s views in support of Spong, if promoted and accepted, will spell the demise of the Churches of Christ if her views are widely accepted. We know it from Spong’s own track record and the record of theological liberalism world-wide.

Pray for the Churches of Christ, Victoria, to return to biblical Christianity!

Endnotes:

2. Merrill Kitchen is the principal of the Churches of Christ Theological College, Mulgrave, Vic., Australia.

3. Merrill Kitchen, “The Future Church and Bishop John Shelby Spong,” The Australian Christian, 28 November 2001, p. 17. This article appeared in the “Theology Matters” feature of the magazine. The Australian Christian is an official Churches of Christ magazine in Australia.

4. John Shelby Spong, A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith Is Dying and How a New Faith Is Being Born. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.

5. For ease of reference, I will refer only to his latest book (ibid.), but similar beliefs are documented in his other books that I have read.

6. Kitchen, “The Future Church and Bishop John Shelby Spong,” p. 17.

7. Spong, A New Christianity for a New World, p. 130.

8. Ibid., p. 77.

9. See ibid., pp. 3, 64, 74.

10. Ibid., p. 193.

11. Ibid., p. 178.

12. Ibid., p. 179.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid., pp. 2, 6. Elsewhere, Spong writes: “In time the virgin birth account will join Adam and Eve and the story of the cosmic ascension as clearly recognized mythological elements in our faith tradition whose purpose was not to describe a literal event but to capture the transcendent dimensions of God in the earthbound words and concepts of first-century human beings” (John Shelby Spong, Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Birth of Jesus. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, p. 45).

15. Ibid., p. 124.

16. Ibid., p. 204.

17. Ibid., p. 206.

18. Ibid., p. 214.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid., pp. 59-60.

21. Ibid., p. 167.

22. Ibid., p. 12.

23. Ibid., p. 75.

24. Kitchen, “The Future Church and Bishop John Shelby Spong,” p. 17.

25. Ibid.

26. Spong, A New Christianity for a New World, p. 12.

27. A New Christianity for a New World.

28. These figures of decline are based on Louie Crew, “Charting the Episcopal Church. Retrieved on November 4, 2001, from http://newark.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/chartecusa.html, p. 9 (A4 size, printed).

29. Rev. Dr. Leslie P. Fairfield, “Modernist Decline and Biblical Renewal: The Episcopal Church from 1870-2000,” American Anglican Council website, posted January 24, 2001. Retrieved on October 15, 2001, from http://www.americananglican.org/Issues/Issues.dfm?ID-91.  On 6 May 2007, it was available from: http://www.strategicnetwork.org/index.php?loc=kb&view=v&id=3486&fto=1081&

30. Louie Crew, “Growth and Decline in ECUSA Attendance, 1991-2000.” Retrieved on 6 May 2007, from:http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/growthdecline90-00.html. The Episcopalian Church USA has shown “30 years of membership decline and over a million members lost” [The Institute on Religion and Democracy, “Episcopal Action.” Retrieved on 6 May 2007 from: http://www.ird-renew.org/site/pp.asp?c=fvKVLfMVIsG&b=308889.  See also, “Charting the Episcopal Church,” Louie Crew. Retrieved on June 6, 2004, from http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/chartecusa.html.

31. Robert Wuthnow, “Still Toeing the Mainline,” retrieved on November 4, 2001, from http://www.beliefnet.com/story/31/story_3171_1.html. This article states that, “More than 20 million Americans still hold membership in mainline churches. The largest mainline denominations are the United Methodist Church, with 8.7 million members; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with 5.2 million members; the Presbyterian Church (USA), with 2.6 million members; the Episcopal Church, with 2.5 million members; and the American Baptist Churches USA and the United Church of Christ, each with 1.5 million members.”

31a. The 2003 Diocesan Conference on Church Growth, October 24-25, 2003 – Xavier Center, Convent Station, NJ, retrieved from: http://www.dioceseofnewark.org/churchgrowth/  [26th December 2003]

32. “10M new converts, 32M Christian children per year,” [Source: Justin Long, Assoc. Editor of World Christian Encyclopedia (David Barrett)]. World-wide statistics plus news from Bulgaria, Chile, Brazil, DAWN Fridayfax 1998 #04. Retrieved on November 4, 2001, from http://www.jesus.org.uk/dawn/1998/dawn9804.html.

33. “Ukraine: 70 new house churches in the Crimea,” DAWN Fridayfax 2001 #24, News from Germany, Ukraine and China. Retrieved on November 4, 2001, from http://www.jesus.org.uk/dawn/2001/dawn24.html.

34. “China: 100,000 new believers in Xinjiang in 3 years,” DAWN Fridayfax 2001 #24, News from Germany, Ukraine and China. Retrieved on November 4, 2001, from http://www.jesus.org.uk/dawn/2001/dawn24.html.

35. “Nigeria: Assemblies of God plant 4,044 new churches in 10 years,” DAWN Fridayfax 2001#3. Retrieved on November 14, 2001, from http://www.jesus.org.uk/dawn/2001/dawn03.html. The source is the AoG news, 3 January 2001.

36. Spong, A New Christianity for a New World, p. 8.

37. “Wales: Church decline generally but slight increase for Anglicans,” Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS), 7 March 1997. Retrieved on November 3, 2001, from www.anglicancommunion.org/acns/acnsarchive/acns1100/acns1153.html. The report went on to say that “the Church in Wales congregations (Anglicans) report that there has been a slight increase in the size of their congregations in the last five years [i.e.. prior to 1997]. The report also found that Churches identifying themselves as Anglo-Catholic or Broad, or Charismatic were growing the most.”

38. “Rescuing Christianity from Bishop Kevorkian,” D. Marty Lasley, review of John Shelby Spong’s, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, for Anglican Voice, posted June 2 1999. Retrieved on 6 May 2007 from: http://listserv.episcopalian.org/wa.exe?A2=ind9906&L=virtuosity&H=1&P=272 (this link was no longer available in Oct 2013, but it is available at: http://listserv.virtueonline.org/pipermail/virtueonline_listserv.virtueonline.org/1999-June/000415.html  (Accessed 15 October 2013).

39. Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, pp. x, xi.

40. Spong, Born of a Woman, p. 176.

41. Kitchen, “The Future Church and Bishop John Shelby Spong,” p. 17 (emphasis added).

42. Ibid.

43. These are based on Kitchen, “The Future Church and Bishop John Shelby Spong,” p. 17.

44. John Shelby Spong, Resurrection Myth or Reality? A Bishop’s Search for the Origins of Christianity. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1994, pp. 233, 235-236.

45. Ibid., p. 235.

46. John Shelby Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991, p. 207.

47. Ibid., ch. 13, n4, p. 253.

48. Ibid., p. 225.

49. Spong, Resurrection Myth or Reality, p. 287.

50. Ibid., p. 288.

51. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes in the bullet points above are from Kitchen, “The Future Church and Bishop John Shelby Spong,” p. 17.

52. Spong, Resurrection Myth or Reality?, p. 288.

53. Spong, Born of a Woman, pp. 157-158.

54. Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, p. 125.

55. John A. T. Robinson speaks the same kind of language about “the Genesis stories of the Creation and Fall were representations of the deepest truths about man and the universe in the form of myth rather than history, and were non the less valid for that” (Honest to God. London: SCM Press Ltd, 1963, p. 33). Rudolf Bultmann, the demythologiser of the Bible, took a similar line: “There is nothing specifically Christian in the mythical view of the world as such. It is simply the cosmology of a pre-scientific age” (Kerygma and Myth, vol. 1, p. 3, in Robinson, ibid., p. 34).

56. Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, p. 143.

57. Spong, A New Christianity for a New World, p. 77.

58. Spong writes that one of the tasks of his book “is to move forward the work begun in the last century by a man who was my mentor and my friend. His name was John Arthur Thomas Robinson” (ibid., p. x).

59. Robinson, Honest to God, p. 39.

60. This is the theism of “the unspecified affirmation of God” (Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 1952, p. 182).

61. This is “theological theism. . . It usually develops the so-called arguments for the ‘existence’ of God” (ibid., p. 184). Elsewhere, Tillich rejects the existence of the God proclaimed by orthodoxy: “Ordinary theism has made God a heavenly, completely perfect person who resides above the world and mankind. The protest of atheism against such a highest person is correct. There is no evidence for his existence, nor is he a matter of ultimate concern. . .” (Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, vol. 1. Digswell Place: James Nisbet & Co Ltd, 1968, p. 271).

62. Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be, p. 184.

63. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, dated July 16, 1944. A fuller quote reads: “God would have us know that we must live as those who manage our lives without God. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us. . . Before God and with God we live without God. . . Go is weak and powerless in the world and that is precisely the way, the only way in which he is with us to help us.” (in Spong, A New Christianity for a New World, p. ix).

64. Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, p. 9.

65. Ibid., p. 215.

Do you want life or death in the church?

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Copyright © 2007 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 20 May 2016.

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The Gospel Distortion: A reply to John Shelby Spong [1]

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

By Spencer D Gear

Spong during CrossWalk America 2006 (photo courtesy Wikipedia)

Does the Bible need to be rescued from fundamentalism? Does “old time religion” disenfranchise the homosexuals, women and others in the church? Or is Bishop Spong promoting another agenda?

In building his case to support Bishop Spong’s opposition to fundamentalism, (“The Gospel Truth?” The Canberra Times, August 4, 1991), Robert Macklin used a number of unfair methods to distort the views of Bible-believing Christians.

It is erroneous to argue from the basis of such a logical fallacy as name-calling. Labelling certain church groups, with which one disagrees, as “fundamentalists” and associating them with the names of people like Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell & Jimmy Swaggart is an unhelpful way of dealing with these Christians because it fails to confront the facts of their beliefs.

Flower7 However, one of the main themes that pervades this article is the writer’s and Bishop Spong’s opposition to the literal interpretation of the Bible, which they associate with fundamentalism. No definition of “literalism” is given. I am left to assume that this is the standard approach of theological liberalism, which does not want to take the Bible at face value. They find supernaturalism difficult to accommodate in a rationalistic, naturalistic, materialistic world-view.

The literal interpretation of any piece of literature means that narrative, poetry, prophecy, and figures of speech are read as such. If I were to read The Canberra Times the way Bishop Spong wants me to read the Bible, it would lose all comprehension because I would always be looking for the deeper meaning behind the actual words.

Just imagine the imaginative dreams (deeper meaning!) one could create by looking for the hidden, secret meaning behind a Canberra Times statement such as, “Meninga smashes record” (CT, August 1, 1991). There is no warrant for reading this newspaper in such a manner. Neither is there any justification for such an approach to New Testament interpretation. Literalism is nothing more than the natural way of reading books, magazines and newspapers. It is not the “beast” to be expunged from fundamentalism. Rather than “destroying Christianity by their literalistic claims,” fundamentalists are using the common sense way of reading any piece of literature.

The difficulty Bishop Spong seems to have, is accepting the supernaturalism he reads when he comes to the Scripture. That, however, is not a struggle with literalism, but presuppositional bias.

There is inaccurate stereotyping of these Christians throughout the article. Macklin claims fundamentalist churches are the fastest growing in Australian Christianity because they often appeal “to men, especially those in social crisis, either from divorce, alcohol, gambling, or spiritual despair.” My 30 years of experience in Bible-believing churches has not revealed this emphasis. Yes, there have been males and females whose lives have been radically changed through an encounter with the living Christ. But to say that conservative Christianity focuses on socially displaced males is distortion.

Abominable claims are made about fundamentalists: the earth is the centre of the universe and the world is flat. Such allegations should be treated with jocular disdain. Surely, the readers are not so naive as to believe that “evolution is a fact of life.” Molecular biologist, Michael Denton of the Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney, in his seminal book, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis [2], helped put an end to that myth. Evolution is a theory, not fact, and a very shaky theory at that.

Several invalid assumptions need to be addressed. “The rejection of reason for faith” is not part of biblical Christianity. The apostle Paul is a staunch example. He reasoned, persuaded, and powerfully refuted both the religious and irreligious. For him it was faith founded on fact, not a mindless leap of faith into the dark.

To conclude that after the scientific method was developed in the 18th century, “faith and science were largely regarded as incompatible,” is refuted by the evidence. The scientific method requires repeated observations in the present time and recording of data to support or falsify an hypothesis. Such an approach is impossible for any historical document, whether it be Captain Arthur Phillip’s writings or the Bible.

Scholar, theologian and apologist, Dr. John Montgomery says that for any historical writing, one must “go directly to the documents themselves and subject them to the tests of reliability employed in general historiography and literary criticism.” [3] These tests are bibliographical (an analysis of the textual tradition), the internal evidence, and external evidence.

After subjecting the Bible to this type of scrutiny, Professor Clark Pinnock concluded:

There exists no document from the ancient world witnessed by so excellent a set of textual and historical testimonies, and offering so superb an array of historical data on which an intelligent decision may be made. An honest [person] cannot dismiss a source of this kind. Scepticism regarding the historical credentials of Christianity is based upon an irrational bias. [4]To call Bishop Spong’s book “revolutionary scholarship” fails to come to terms with some of the comments Spong made in the article. He says, “I know of no reputable biblical scholar in the world today who takes these birth narratives [in the Gospels] literally. Telephone calls to three Australian scholars, Dr. Clifford Wilson (Pacific College of Graduate Studies, Melbourne), Dr. David Williams (Ridley College, University of Melbourne), and world-renowned New Testament scholar, Dr. Leon Morris (formerly, Principal, Ridley College, University of Melbourne) revealed that all three accept the birth narratives in the Gospel as literally true. As do Dr. F.F. Bruce (England), Dr. Donald Carson (USA) and a host of other New Testament scholars Dr. Spong chooses to ignore.

Dr. Leon Morris’s commentary on the Gospel of John is one of the most substantial and scholarly in the English language. He says “the basic reason for holding that the author was John the Apostle is that this appears to be what the Gospel itself teaches… It is also the case that there are some claims to eyewitness testimony” (by John, Christ’s personal disciple). [5] Yet Bishop Spong claims that “the words of Jesus (in John’s Gospel) … cannot possibl[y] have been the literal words of the historic Jesus.” Other scholars disagree, yet Spong’s writing is called “revolutionary scholarship.” Hardly! It is warmed up theological liberalism with its anti-supernatural bias.

Bishop Spong attributes “the tone, the feat, the passion, and the behaviour” of the apostle Paul to “the realisation that he was a homosexual male.” When I mentioned this to Melbourne scholar, Dr. David Williams, he asked, “What’s the ground for this? Paul condemns homosexuality.”

It seems that Spong’s rejection of the literal interpretation of the Bible forces him to insert the wanderings of his own imagination. If he accepted the Scripture at face value, he would find the simple answer to Paul’s motivation: “The love of Christ controls us” — not a gay relationship. Paul’s conversion to Christ on the Damascus Road was the sole reason for his zeal to promote Christ’s gospel. To attribute it to epilepsy, as Spong does, is fanciful speculation without a basis in fact. With his weak view of Scripture and anti-supernatural bias, it is not surprising that he also rejects the virgin birth of Christ.

While Bishop Spong has aimed his theological canons at fundamentalism in 1991, his hypotheses are old-time theological liberalism in a new garb. These hypotheses have been successfully refuted in books such as George Eldon Ladd’s The New Testament and Criticism. Ladd concludes that

An evangelical (fundamentalist) understanding of the Bible as the Word of God is not per se hostile to a sober criticism; rather, an evangelical faith demands a critical methodology in the reconstruction of the historical side of the process of revelation. [5]

Rather than rescuing the Bible from fundamentalism, Spong would be better advised to rescue himself from the view of Scripture that distorts the natural meaning of the text. Clergy with his view are helping to empty the mainline churches. Fundamentalism is growing because it takes God at his literal word, proclaims the Gospel of freedom from bondage and oppression through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Anything less is a distortion of the Gospel truth.

Notes:

1. This manuscript was submitted to The Canberra Times, Canberra, ACT, Australia, for consideration for publication as a response to Robert Macklin’s article, “The Gospel Truth?”, The Canberra Times (Sunday, August 4, 1991, p. 17). It was published as “Distorting the Gospel Truth,” The Canberra Times, August 11, 1991, p. 10. At that time I was Senior Minister of Woden Valley (Waramanga) and Tuggeranong Alliance Churches, ACT (Canberra), Australia.

2. Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. London: Burnett Books, 1985. (The USA edition was published by Adler & Adler).

3. John Warwick Montgomery, History & Christianity: A Vigorous, convincing Presentation of the Evidence for a Historical Jesus. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 1965, p. 26. Military historian, C. Sanders, said that these tests were bibliographical, internal, and external (see C. Sanders, Introduction to Research in English Literary History. NewYork: Macmillan, 1952, pp. 143 ff. In Montgomery, pp. 26ff)

4. Clark Pinnock, Set Forth Your Case. New Jersey: The Craig Press, 1968, p. 58, in Josh McDowell, More Than A Carpenter. Eastbourne, E. Sussex (England): Kingsway Publications, 1977, p. 56. [The USA edition was published by Tyndale House Publishers, 1977.]

5. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament (F. F. Bruce, Gen. Ed.). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1971, pp. 9, 15.

6. George Eldon Ladd, The New Testament and Criticism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967, p. 215.


Copyright (c) 2007 Spencer D. Gear.  This document last updated at Date: 11 October 2015.

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