John Shelby Spong, the errant and irascible retired Episcopal bishop, gave a lecture at the Episcopal Divinity School on October 21. There he made the sweeping declaration that Christianity's "old symbols increasingly are bankrupt ... [and] the new symbols have not yet fully arisen so that they are recognized." He spoke of the great paradigm shift of Augustine or the 16th Century Reformers and how it is high time for another radical redefinition of Christianity. This "paradigm shift" requires "the death of what has been and the birth of what is to be - and that is never a comfortable time." He has particular problem with the traditional titles of "savior," "redeemer," and "rescuer" applied to Jesus in Scripture, liturgy, hymnody, and preaching. They have "become bankrupt, useless, and even distorted ... I think all of them have got to go." (Remember this is the same Spong who called the Virgin Birth the "entrance myth" that accompanies the "exist myth" of the resurrection.)
The problem with them all is that "They all imply a
particular definition of human life, which I think is false. ... [W]e
are constantly insulting our humanity out of a particular theological
frame of reference. We are beggars approaching God. We are telling God
how unworthy we are." Such a theological construct, said Spong, is
"simply not true. ... It is therefore bad anthropology, and no one can
build good theology on bad anthropology." "Our problem is not a fall into sin," insists Spong. Our problem is "that we have not yet achieved our full humanity." Words
like savior and redeemer and rescuer "simply lock us into the old
paradigm," says Spong. The story of Jesus is instead the proclamation of Jesus "as the
source of love calling us to love beyond every boundary, to love
wastefully, to give it away, to never stop and count the cost: that's a
new image of what it means to be human."
In other words, we do not need to be saved from anything and therefore we do not need a Savior. Instead we need to led by a fully human model into the full humanity that is our goal and destiny in Christ. Christ is not savior but enhancer of our human status and identity. Creedal Christianity needs purging in order for the new wave to be born and take over the failed Christian identity. The gospel according to Spong is that we have a good enough life now but it could be so much better -- freed from the antiquated constraints of morality, sinfulness, and righteousness we have the opportunity to be really free and fully human.
Hmmmm.... sounds exactly like the god we want but really don't need all that much. The freedom he lauds is captivity and that which is fully human is, in reality, the fatal sinful flaw that deprives us of our Creator's intention. There is nothing new here but that is the point. Spong and others offer little that is new. Their paradigms are the same old tried and true dead end roads of Christian heresy over the ages.
But you gotta admit that it is appealing... Think how much more time we would have to devote to developing that full self if we did not have to spend so much time preaching repentance from the old, failed self so stained and marked with sin and its death. But in the end it is a much harder sell. I have been told that Windows 7 has so many enhanced features over Windows Vista and XP but I find myself fairly comfortable with my old XP. Besides I am not sure I want to fork over the cash to cover the cost of the enhancements. In fact, it just may take Microsoft no longer supporting XP (along with its string of vendors) before I might take the ultimate risk of jumping into the newest and best operating system. The same could be said of seeing Christianity basically as an upgrade over the tried and reliable old model -- will the cost of the enhancements be worth the price of change? Now that is the age old question. In the end, what convinces us to abandon the comfortable misery we know is not that something better is out there but that the comfortable old misery is no longer tolerable and its death can no longer be ignored. And that, my friends, sounds exactly like the old, old story of Jesus and the family voice of repentance to prepare His way....