Friday, April 02, 2004

Rowan Williams on John Shelby Spong

Why doesn't John Shelby Spong simply become a Unitarian? This is an interesting exchange between a real Anglican (Rowan Williams) and a Unitarian who is pretending to be an Anglican (John Shelby Spong). I am not trying to insult Spong by calling him a Unitarian. I am simply saying that he could more authentically be his own true self as a Unitarian rather than as an Anglican.

I for one am a Methodist. But if after careful examination of Wesleyan doctrine, I realized that I had more in common with Lutheran theology, I would simply become a Lutheran. I would not try to change the Methodist Church and insist that it become more Lutheran. I am not arguing at this point for Methodism or Lutheranism, I'm just saying, be who you are.

In a similar way, if John Shelby Spong really believes what he apparently believes, he should be a Unitarian, not an Anglican. Instead of doing this, however, he is asking the Anglican church to become more Unitarian. The honest thing for him to do would be for him to become Unitarian. Does he have enough integrity to do this?


Anonymous said...

Nice observation. I have said the same thing myself since having read Spong's "Why Christianity Must Change". I have come to the conclusion that John Shelby Spong will not change allegiances owing to his having to forfeit his bishop pension.

Yvonne said...

He certainly has a lot in common with Unitarianism, but then so do a lot of liberal Anglicans who don't want to believe that Christianity is the One True Way (TM). Maybe, since Christians of all stripes have to live in a multi-faith world, they would do well to listen to Spong and his ilk.

Joltin' Django said...

I receive e-mails from J.S. Spong on a regular basis. In his most recent e-mail he lectures a feller who asked him a simple question:

I saw in your records that you wrote an essay, "Why I am not a Unitarian." I tried unsuccessfully to retrieve that essay. Could you repeat it please?

J.S. Spong didn't "repeat" his essay, and he said not a word about how he's more Unitarian than Anglican.

What a coward.

kathleen said...

I agree with Spong staying exactly where he is, changes need to come and by not do it from within.

PamBG said...

I'm not a huge fan of Spong's theology but there are a lot of people who don't see their denomination as a matter of choice but rather as part of who they are.

For example, I have Roman Catholic friends who grew up in the Southern US who are very close to me theologically (I'm a Methodist too) but who don't feel that they could change their denomination any more than they could change their sex.

I see it over here in the UK too when members of our Methodist Church die and they have left instructions that their funeral is to be taken by the parish priest (C of E). The reason? They were born and baptised C of E. They worshiped in a Methodist Church, became a member, but are 'really' Anglican.

Just sayin'

Jonathan said...

I hear your point, Pam. I grew up Methodist, and that's the biggest reason I am a Methodist today. But I must say, if I had signficant theological differences with the doctrinal standards of the UMC (for example, if I did not believe in the resurrection or the Trinity), I hope I would have the integrity to turn in my ordination credentials.

PamBG said...

I actually feel the same way that you do about Spong, but you asked the question 'Why doesn't he leave?' and I'm trying to understand that question.

If one thinks one is right - and he most clearly thinks he is right - then why would he leave?

The more complicated and 'interesting' question is 'What does a church body do with a retired bishop intent on being heretical?'

By the way, just FYI, most conservative Anglicans over here consider Rowan Williams to be a heretic and people are even getting up in arms over Tom Wright now that John Piper has called Wright a heretic in all but name. That probably doesn't mean anything, but I find it interesting as it's usually only us 'liberals' who view ++RW as a godly man.

Jonathan said...

Pam, John Shelby Spong was intent on being heretical long before he retired. That is when he should have been dealt with.

The episcopacy of John Shelby Spong is more problematic than the episcopacy of Gene Robinson.

Anyone who calls Tom Wright or Rowan Williams a heretic does not understand the term.

Jonathan said...

Pam, I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

You asked,
If one thinks one is right - and he most clearly thinks he is right - then why would he leave?

My answer would be, because if he is right, then his church is wrong, and why would one want to be a member of a church that one believes to be wrong about its central message? (I could understnad if one thinks that the church should tweek its message here and there, but Spong is saying that the fundamental doctrine of the Anglican Communion is flawed).

It is like entering a chess tournament and then telling everyone that really chess is an outdated game, and everyone should really be playing checkers. The chess tournament committee should say, "Look, if you want to play checkers, then go play checkers with others who want to play that game. As for us, we play chess."

PamBG said...

Jonathan, forgive me. But I think you're saying something along the lines of 'The Church hierarchy' should have dealt with him a long time ago. I agree with you.

But I don't think he'd see it as saying 'chess is an outdated game.' I think he'd see it as saying 'Actually, you don't understand the real nature of the game and you're playing it by the wrong rules'. Which is what most dogmatic people do (and I see him as dogmatic as most fundamentalists).

I agree with you that he shouldn't be clergy let alone a bishop. But I can see why he doesn't want to leave the Anglican communion.

I don't know the man and I'm only going by what I've read in his books. I'm not surprised he was raised fundamentalist. He exhibits all the behaviour I experienced growing up in a fundamentalist church. One of the things that winds me up about his books is that he uses the same kind of derogatory language that fundamentalists use against people who don't agree with them. People like that don't leave denominations. They believe that the denomination has left them and that they are right.

Jonathan said...

I think you're basically right, Pam. Another person who has yet to outgrow his fundamentalist childhood (because he is stuck in an adolescent rebellion against it) is Bart Ehrman. It seems to me that Ehrman is more honest about it though. He doesn't claim to be a Christian anymore, whereas Spong still does. But their beliefs are about the same.