Honestly, there is so much wrong about John Shelby Spong it is hard to say anything at all. I started this post just to share a tidbit or two about the god he worships and I find myself having to add layer upon layer of explanation so that you get the idea.
The reason for this post is that I recently purchased Spong’s book, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, in order to check a quote of his that I am using in a side project. I thought that I would start reading the book in its entirety in order to review it at a future date, but I couldn’t get past Chapter 1. His book is filled with so much heresy that it is war on the soul of a true believer. It is filled with so many lies, half-truths, and attacks on the faith of Christianity, that I find myself in agreement with those in our past who thought some books were only worth of the burn pile.
This man has artfully set himself up as an expert on religion and has been craftily misleading people for years. He was given authority by the Episcopal Church by being exalted to the empty position of bishop. In Episcopal circles, this means he stuck around long enough, and earned enough liberal merit badges by endorsing enough heretical positions, to be awarded the colorful robe.
To the average true Christian, his robe means nothing. But to the masses, it means he speaks for a god (little ‘g’ on purpose) of their liking.
When I say that John Shelby Spong is a heretic, I don’t mean I disagree with him on one or two points of theology. What I mean is that his theology is so void of anything biblical that it is dripping with heresy. If he were a poet, or atheist, or an accountant, it wouldn’t matter. But men like Spong have large followings because he has the shadow of Christianity, but also an intense hatred for those of the faith, just as the Pharisees had in Paul’s day.
Some might say that this is a strong statement. Does Spong really hate true believers? Not in a red-faced argumentative way. But in his continued attack on the faith he demonstrates the greatest hatred. He attacks the truth of Scripture while replacing that truth with a case for his subjective feelings.
Here is how it started, Spong wrote:
I define myself above all other things as a believer [in what?]. I am indeed a passionate believer. God is the ultimate reality in my life. I live in a constant and almost mystical awareness of the divine presence. I sometimes think of myself as one who breathes the very air of God or, to borrow an image from the East, as one who swims in the infinite depths of the sea of God… I am what I would call a God-intoxicated human being.
Any true believer would be offended at such a description of Spong and his god, simply for his lack of reverence and his ability to ignore Scripture all together. The Triune God of Scripture is not someone we swim inside, or become intoxicated with. We don’t “breathe in” His presence. We bow in humble adoration. We approach with boldness if we are in Christ, yet filled with humility because we fully understand our own sinfulness and the price that had to be paid in order for us to enter into His presence.
Some might claim that Spong was just being poetic in his description of who he thinks himself to be. Please note that none of the Psalmists ever describe their relationship with God like a dive into the local swimming pool. They never treat God with such a level of unholiness.
But wait, there is more. Spong was only getting started on the first page of his book. When a heretic starts writing, he does so in order to please those who are not true believers by challenging every concept of Scripture about the living and true God. Spong does so by challenging the Apostles’ Creed. Here, we get an inkling of that challenge.
The God I know is not concrete or specific. This God is rather shrouded in mystery, wonder and awe. The deeper I journey into the divine presence, the less any literalized phrases, including the phrases of the Christian creed, seem relevant. The God I know can only be pointed to; this God can never be enclosed by propositional statements [which itself is a propositional statement].
What he is describing about himself, his followers and their god is exactly what Our Lord said about the Pharisees and those who reject the propositional truths about the God of Scripture: “they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven (Mark 4:12).”
Spong, like many in liberalism and evangelicalism, doesn’t want the God of Scripture. They hate the God they find there. As we see above, Spong wants a god that cannot be defined at all. He is the one setting this standard by claiming that “this God can never be enclosed by propositional statements.” (Never mind that anything that Spong has to say about God is put forth in propositional statements.)
By making god undefinable, Spong is really redefining god all together. He is trying to move his followers further away from Scripture (the authors of which have a really bad habit of making propositional statements about the true God) in order to help them all be a peace about their sin and their need for a savior. If you spend any time in Scritpure at all you will find that the main point is that God provides a Savior. Spong doesn’t want that Savior.
This is the type of redefinition that heretics use that appeals to those who are not true Christians because it makes it sound as if we cannot know God at all. It makes one sound erudite, by saying we cannot really know anything about God, except what we feel about God. It’s claiming to be well thought out, but thoughtfully ignorant, all at the same time. It is really a clever trick on the part of the heretic. Yet, the last thing these people want is the God who has given us propositional statements about Himself. The Triune God is one of truth and declaration.
When Spong makes such a statement, what he is actually doing is continuing the lie that he is the knowledgeable one concerning all things god, and we need to turn to him for our understanding, which will be perpetuated simply because god, for Spong and his followers, changes with their mood swings. Never mind the fact that he cannot tell us anything propositionally one way or another about the god he likes.
It is true that we can never fathom the full riches of Who God is. But we can, and should, meditate upon the truths He has made known to us in Scripture. Yes, what we find is clear declarations about Who He is, and who we are. They are hard and wonderful truths. They are not for the faint of heart. They are not for the spiritually blind, like Spong.