The Twelve Theses – Bishop Spong

Spong seems to me to have been asking a lot of good questions and rejecting many traditional conclusions but many Episcopalians consider him to be a heretic. They see little difference between his views and Unitarian Universalism.

Spong, unlike Borg and Crossan is not seen as a progressive. He sees himself as part of a long tradition from which he does not seek release. He refuses to turn away from the hard questions, but will never reject the creeds. “I will fight with doctrines like incarnation and the trinity, but I will never reject the truth that people were pointing to when the doctrines were first formed”.

Consider epilepsy or the motion of the sun and how these have been explained in history. The explanations reflected the time in which the explainer lived and the level of knowledge possessed.

Spong thinks that a new Christianity – a real and vital faith that is true to the experience of the past, while dismissing the explanations of the past – can be born anew.

Jesus could be described as a 1st century experience of what people called the divine. The New Testament is a 1st century attempt to explain that experience. The Creeds of the church are a 4th century attempt to codify that experience. No explanation can ever become identical with the truth it attempts to explain since the perception of truth is always expanding and changing. The explosion of knoweledge over the last 500 years has rendered most biblical and creedal presuppositions to be unbelievable to more and more people. The only alternative seems to be a reformation of Christianity that is so radical that Christianity as we know it may die in the process.

The Twelve Theses (as updated by Spong in December 2015):
1. God
Understanding God in theistic categories as “a being, supernatural in power, dwelling somewhere external to the world and capable of invading the world with miraculous power” is no longer believable. Most God talk in liturgy and conversation has thus become meaningless.
2. Jesus – the Christ.
If God can no longer be thought of in theistic terms, then conceiving of Jesus as “the incarnation of the theistic deity” has also become a bankrupt concept.
3. Original Sin – The Myth of the Fall
The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which we human beings have fallen into “Original Sin” is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
4. The Virgin Birth
The virgin birth understood as literal biology is impossible. Far from being a bulwark in defense of the divinity of Christ, the virgin birth actually destroys that divinity.
5. Jesus as the Worker of Miracles
In a post-Newtonian world supernatural invasions of the natural order, performed by God or an “incarnate Jesus,” are simply not viable explanations of what actually happened.
6. Atonement Theology
Atonement theology, especially in its most bizarre “substitutionary” form, presents us with a God who is barbaric, a Jesus who is a victim and it turns human beings into little more than guilt-filled creatures. The phrase “Jesus died for my sins” is not just dangerous, it is absurd.
7. The Resurrection
The Easter event transformed the Christian movement, but that does not mean that it was the physical resuscitation of Jesus’ deceased body back into human history. The earliest biblical records state that “God raised him.” Into what, we need to ask. The experience of resurrection must be separated from its later mythological explanations.
8. The Ascension of Jesus
The biblical story of Jesus’ ascension assumes a three-tiered universe, which was dismissed some five hundred years ago. If Jesus’ ascension was a literal event of history, it is beyond the capacity of our 21st century minds to accept it or to believe it.
9. Ethics.
The ability to define and to separate good from evil can no longer be achieved with appeals to ancient codes like the Ten Commandments or even the Sermon on the Mount. Contemporary moral standards must be hammered out in the juxtaposition between life-affirming moral principles and external situations.
10. Prayer
Prayer, understood as a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history, is little more than an hysterical attempt to turn the holy into the servant of the human. Most of our prayer definitions of the past are thus dependent on an understanding of God that has died.
11. Life after Death
The hope for life after death must be separated forever from behavior control. Traditional views of heaven and hell as places of reward and punishment are no longer conceivable. Christianity must, therefore, abandon its dependence on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
12. Judgment and Discrimination
Judgment is not a human responsibility. Discrimination against any human being on the basis of that which is a “given” is always evil and does not serve the Christian goal of giving “abundant life” to all. Any structure either in the secular world or in the institutional church, which diminishes the humanity of any child of God on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation must be exposed publicly and vigorously. There can be no reason in the church of tomorrow for excusing or even forgiving discriminatory practices. “Sacred Tradition” must never again provide a cover to justify discriminatory evil.

The first two will be very hard for many Christians to even consider.
Consider that we are unable to relate to any divine reality that is outside of time and space. How could it command any allegiance? How can anyone give their life to the first cause or be saved or transformed by it? What then in this world is worthy of our allegiance or our worship? What must we relate to in this world if we are to be saved? What realities beyond ourselves are we dependent on to live a life well lived? Maybe these are questions that could open us up to the world and to each other and to saving realities that Jesus (and others?) may have been pointing to?