Thursday, December 17, 2009

John Shelby Spong on God, Humanity, and Jesus

I am not a Christian, I am a Pagan.  But I grew up Christian, Presbyterian flavor, and still retain a lot of interest in the dominant form of religion in the U.S.   Naturally I'm not terribly interested in the orthodox form of Christianity.  My views of the religion have been most shaped by John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal bishop, and Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar.  Both have written numerous books and I've read several by each of them.  Spong remains a Christian, but does not believe in a lot of what is generally considered to define Christianity.  Ehrman has become an agnostic because of the question of human suffering.

Spong has an email newsletter in which he answers questions from readers.  In the following Q and A, he gives in brief his view of God, humanity, and Jesus, and what they mean in a post-Darwin world.  IF I were to be Christian, it would be something along these lines:

Tom Weller of Panama City, Florida, writes:

In your recent response about Darwin (in which you suggested the atonement theology will no longer be an adequate way to interpret the Jesus story) you said, "The traditional meaning of the Eucharist will have to be revised." Looking at the Eucharistic prayers of various denominations, including the United Church of Christ, I find them all focused on sacrificial death and atonement, all including the "words of institution." Is there a Eucharistic prayer that is not so focused that you are aware of or that you like? Or, perhaps, have you drafted a proposal of your own that we could see?

Dear Tom,

I have run into many Eucharistic prayers that are almost a denial of sacrificial thinking; the Church is certainly moving in that direction. I have never tried to write one, since liturgy has never been my talent. I do believe that Darwin's thinking will finally force the Christian Church to alter the way it talks about God, Jesus, salvation and human life. When that insight finally dawns on the Christian consciousness, the result will be a reformation so total that it will put the Reformation of the 16th century into the category of an afternoon tea party.

We will have to recognize first that we cannot define God; we can only experience the sense of transcendence, wonder and awe. When we talk about God, we are not talking about an external being, we are talking about a human perception and, as such, God is ever changing. When we talk about human life, we are not talking about a fallen sinner, but about an incompletely evolved creature that cracked the boundary into self-consciousness and needs to be empowered to become whole, something more than a survival-oriented creature. When we talk about Jesus, we are not talking about an external savior who came to rescue us, but a life in whom and through whom transcendence has broken into history. Jesus does not save us from a fall that never happened or restore us to a status that we have never had. He empowers us to be more deeply and fully human and to enter higher and higher levels of consciousness where we finally discover that we live in God and God lives in us. The Eucharist then becomes a celebration of who we are and a call to walk more deeply into the meaning of humanity.

It was my work trying to understand life after death that drew me in this direction. I think we are headed for the most exciting century in Christian history. I anticipate that most of what we call religion today will die in the next century. Rigor mortis has already set in. Out of that death, however, will come a new beginning. I am glad that I have lived to see the birth pangs. Hard labor is ahead but a new creation is being born and in that new creation God will be newly experienced and newly discovered — not as a Being who lives above the sky, but as the presence that is revealed in the heart of the human.

Take these thoughts to your next Eucharist.

– John Shelby Spong

Posted via web from reannon's posterous

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