John Shelby Spong: Anglican Nightmare

Wayne Jackson
John Shelby Spong, a retired bishop of the Anglican Church, has made a career of being a rogue “priest” who assaults almost everything that is sacred within the Christian religion. His outrageous ideology has been an embarrassment to many of his Anglican kinsmen. This week’s Penpoints focuses upon some of Spong’s theological aberrations.

John Shelby Spong has long been known as the “nightmare” of the more conservative element of the Anglican Church in America. He is as radically liberal as it is possible to be — and still maintain a nominal identification with the name “Christian.”

Spong was born in North Carolina in 1931. His father, an alcoholic, died when the lad was twelve, and he was taken under the tutelage of a local priest who became a father figure to him. Pursuing his theological education, Spong was ordained into the Anglican priesthood in 1955, at the age of twenty-four.

From his earliest days, working with students from Duke University, the young man dedicated himself to challenging college students who were out of “fundamentalist” backgrounds. Having himself ingested radicalism, Spong became increasingly obsessed with dismantling the “conservative” approach to faith. Purportedly, he wanted to show his youthful proteges that “religion is not incompatible with intellectual inquiry.” The “intellectual” aspect of his ambition was his own tainted view of the Scriptures.

In 1976, Spong was “consecrated” as “Bishop Coadjutor” of the Episcopal Church in Newark, New Jersey, and, as sympathetic writer1, Ellen Barrett, has observed, “the Episcopal Church has not been the same since.”

In 1982, the Church’s “General Convention” proposed a study to examine the “changing patterns of family life.” Taking note of the fact that thousands of couples were living in sexual intimacy outside of marriage, and that there was a growing defense toward “same-sex” unions, the Newark diocese under Spong’s leadership ventured to unravel the confusion. The committee’s findings were reported in 1987. With a “logic” that would jolt Aristotle in his grave, Spong and crew concluded that since “sex inside of marriage is not always holy, but can be abused,” it must reasonably follow that sometimes sex outside of traditional “marriage” just might be acceptable as well! Such convoluted reasoning is an embarrassment to any critically-thinking human being.

From this point on Spong was thrust into the flames of national controversy — and he loved every moment of it. His newfound fame appeared to drive him further and further into modernistic radicalism. It is much more difficult to find an issue that Spong is “right” about, than to find one he is “wrong” about. It is a travesty that he associates himself with Christianity to any degree. The following points are illustrative of his skeptical mentality.

Spong’s view of God

Spong’s “god” is not the God of the Hebrew/Christian Scriptures. According to a sympathetic reviewer, the ex-bishop believes that the traditional view2 of God is dead and that “most theological God-talk today is meaningless.”

Spong’s idea3 is that Jehovah is not even an independent entity; rather, the god-essence — whatever that is — is merely something “deep within us.” This is not biblical theism; it is a form of paganistic <& /lib/dictionaryLink.mas, word => “pantheism” &>.

Spong and Darwin

Spong is saturated with Darwinism. He believes4 the Genesis record regarding the origin of man is “pre-Darwinian mythology” and “post-Darwinian nonsense.” In this, he casts reflection upon the Savior (Mt. 19:4). Such aspersions, however, trouble the gentleman not at all. He claims5 there are passages in the Gospels that portray Jesus as “narrow-minded, vindictive, and even hypocritical.”

The former Anglican bishop rejects the biblical proposition that Jesus was conceived in the body of a virgin. He does not believe Christ performed miracles, or that he possessed the very nature of deity. He repudiates the unshakable truth that the Lord was raised from the dead6.

Though Spong claims to have studied the Bible with great “intensity,” his writings reveal an abysmal lack of knowledge of the sacred text. His ignorance is exceeded only by his arrogant disrespect for the time-tested volume. If the Bible continues to be viewed literally, he asserts, it is “doomed to be cast aside as both dated and irrelevant” — an exercise which he has mastered already7. One can hardly suppress the conviction that the world’s best-selling Book will be revered still — long after Spong’s memory is but a faintly lingering stench.

It is a nauseating labor to review the spiritual foibles of this delusional theological celebrity. Spong happily defends a number of vile sexual evils, e.g., fornication, adultery, and homosexuality. He is much in favor of same-sex “marriages,” as if arbitrarily calling a sexual aberration “marriage” makes it so.

Not everything that parades under the name “Christian” is deserving of that appellation. And there is no better example of that maxim than that of John Shelby Spong, the rogue “priest” who has made a career of bashing the Son of God and disgracing that sacred name before an uninformed public.

For a more complete review of Spong’s ideology, see What’s Wrong With Bishop Spong.

  • 1 See Profile of a Bishop: John Shelby Spong.
    fn2. Liberator, 2; See "John Shelby Spong

  • A Revolutionary, Rational Anti-Religionist":
    fn3. Spong, John Shelby (1991), p. 212.
    fn4. Liberator, 2.
    fn5. Spong (1991), p. 33.
    fn6. See Spong’s books: Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture, Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Birth of Jesus, and Resurrection: Myth or Reality? A Bishop’s Search for the Origins of Christianity.
    fn7. Spong, John Shelby (1991), p. 15.
    Spong, John Shelby (1991), Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture, San Francisco: Harper, 1991.
    Spong, John Shelby (1992), Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Birth of Jesus, San Francisco: Harper.
    Spong, John Shelby (1994), Resurrection: Myth or Reality? A Bishop’s Search for the Origins of Christianity, San Francisco: Harper.