The doubting bishop

Here’s another article of mine that has just gone online.

My story for BC Christian News on retired and controversial Bishop John Shelby Spong‘s recent visit to Vancouver was going to include some interview material, at first, but I was given a relatively low word count, and I didn’t speak to him until after his evening lecture and book-signing, by which time we were both pretty tired, and he didn’t really say much that he hadn’t already said in the lecture; so instead of putting in the time to transcribe the tape, I just wrote this report based on my notes from the lecture. Plus, because my editor had assigned the story to me only two days before, and had couriered Spong’s latest book The Sins of Scripture to me just one day before — and all while I was juggling various other assignments — I hadn’t had time to read the book and probe his thoughts as well as I might have wanted to.

FWIW, I had interviewed Spong once before, on a bright and sunny summer’s afternoon six years ago, in conjunction with his then-newest book Why Christianity Must Change or Die (my review), and we were both more alert and articulate then.

I have mixed feelings about the guy, myself. I appreciate his thirst for knowledge, as well as his desire to keep his knowledge and his worship in some sort of relationship, but I am also repulsed by the way he builds up walls between himself and his intellectual opponents, the way he makes his theology completely subservient to the science and political ideologies of the day, and the way he cannot express one positive belief without expressing a dozen or two negative beliefs first. I can be a champion nit-picker, at times, and there is something about Spong’s always-on-the-attack mode that appeals to the worst in me, I think. Plus it seems to me that Spong, for all his talk of relevancy, is still wrestling with the demons of his pre-World War II childhood, in a way that has already made him culturally and theologically irrelevant himself. As I say in my review of his earlier book, as liberal Episcopalians go, I much prefer the approach of a guy like Marcus Borg.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his award-winning film column for that paper, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He has also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005) and The Bible in Motion: A Handbook of the Bible and Its Reception in Film (De Gruyter, 2016).