The scary thing about Bishop Spong
Bishop Spong is the Christian that the others love to hate. He is feared and reviled. Robert Iles talks of Spong’s absurdities which is mild. Bishop Jensen of Sydney says he attacks the evangelical presentation of the gospel. "He thus gives comfort to the unbelievers who reject it." Bishop Forsyth accuses Spong of a "gutting of the Christian faith."
I reckon the scary thing about Jack Spong is how conservative he is! He is faithful to the biblical record. He seems to believe in some sort personal resurrection. He hangs in with the church, even though he feels he is in exile. He seeks to be faithful to Christ; indeed he is in love with Jesus.
The scary thing is not that he should be like this. The scary thing is that so many Christians are so ignorant that this is how he is; that they find him so challenging, and so beyond anything they can conceive as being Christian. He is simply being honest to the best we know of our faith and its history. He is refusing to be like so many ministers who refuse to tell what they know from their theological training and keep their parishioners in ignorance of the reality of the theological world. Mind you, who can blame them; it's hard enough being challenged by modern scholarship, let alone being crucified by the terrified people of you congregation.
When I was in my first semester at theological college we were visited by a theologian from Europe. He spoke at our Wednesday community Colloquium. I was raw and ignorant enough to not really understand what he was talking about. I could see, however, how he was irritating some of my more senior colleagues; people I now recognise to be among the more conservative of our clergy. After one more hostile, if not slightly rude question, he lost some patience. His European accent thickened. "Theology is like a jigsaw puzzle with too many pieces," he replied with obvious frustration. "You can never fit anything in neatly. There are always some pieces left over." It's a lesson I've never forgotten as we so often try and make everything come out even... as if we could get God under control.
The bit that Spong leaves out of the jigsaw is the future. He fits in all that we know. He faces the contradictions of Scripture head on. He does not shirk from the hard questions we find when we honestly look at how old ideas and answers no longer provide satisfaction. And he leaves the future open. He removes the fatherly pap that so many churchmen provide. He says he does not know. He owns he does not have answers to where the church will go. He leaves us to trust in God. That's the scary thing we can't forgive him. He doesn't tell us it will all be OK. And we educated clergy, even the ones who kept our heads down and just did the work and have tried to ignore it ever since... we can't ignore him. We know he is right. We cannot shut our eyes and ears to the obvious that Jack Spong puts in front of us. Too conservative by half! If only he would go off the rails... then we could ignore him.