Wednesday, February 27, 2008

John Shelby Spong on God

The post by John Shelby Spong ran in the On Faith section of the Washington Post a few days ago. This is by far the most cogent defense of God as a concept and experience that I have heard from a member of the mainstream clergy.

Please note that I am not a Christian (although I was raised Catholic), so the Biblical account of God has little to do with my experience. But no matter one's faith, I am always happy to see the experience of God separated from the concepts we use (which are necessarily limited) to define or talk about God.

John Shelby Spong

Former Bishop, Episcopal Diocese of Newark

"“On Faith”" panelist John Shelby Spong served as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark for 24 years before his retirement in 2000. His books, seeking to make contemporary theology accessible to lay readers, have sold over a million copies. His latest book, The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Discover the God of Love (2005), examines the holy book of the Judeo-Christian tradition. A committed Christian who has spent a lifetime studying the Bible and whose life has been deeply shaped by it, Spong has been a visiting lecturer at universities, Including Harvard, and churches worldwide, delivering more than 200 public lectures each year to standing-room only crowds. His best-selling books include Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, A New Christianity for a New World, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, and Here I Stand.

And here is the bit of wisdom he had to share:

Question Faith? Fear Not

There is a vast difference between the experience of God and the explanation of that experience. God cannot be captured in human words, but human concepts of God can be.

Those concepts are, however, always time warped and time bound as all things are when reduced to words. If one does not question, doubt and challenge his or her own faith assertions and creedal affirmations, then one becomes an idolater. God becomes little more than our own creation.

The Bible is a human explanation of the God experience, first of the Jews, then of the Christians. The Bible is, therefore, not the “Word of God” in any literal sense. It is a human creation. So are the creeds, doctrines, dogmas and traditions of the Christian Church. The idea that anyone would suggest that it is inappropriate to question these human concepts lies somewhere between the ridiculous and the absurd.

Only people and institutions fearful of the adequacy of their version of truth would suggest otherwise.

The comments are not as lame as one might expect, either.

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