“We stand on the shoulders of giants” – Jack Spong was one of my giants. The late Bishop Spong was a tremendous influence on my life as a pastor and theologian. I first learned of him upon reading his book “Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism” while I attended the Iliff School of Theology in the early 1990s. I recall being notably struck by his obvious scholarly competence, his persuasive argumentation, and his clear passion for the well-being of Christianity and the Church. I read more of his books during those years and his writings helped embolden me as a firm liberal Christian. As the years passed, and as the movement that has come to be known as progressive Christianity developed and came onto the scene, at times
I found myself frustrated that the good bishop seemed to be stuck in the modern era’s liberal Christianity while so many of us were shifting into the progressive Christianity that was evolving from mainline liberal Christianity. He seemed to be rigid in his denial of any form of miracles and his christology seemed to make no room for any sort of divinity of Jesus. He also seemed to be beholden to science as a way to explain away things and he didn’t seem to leave much room for Christian mysticism and the allowance that contemporary Christians can experience and commune with the Divine. At times I found his writings to convey an absolutist stridentness ironically akin to the harsh rhetoric from the fundamentalists. (continues below..)
And then… with the passing of just a few more years, Spong’s more recent books not only came ’round to the progressive Christianity à la Borg, Crossan, Burklo, Plumer, etc, but I experienced them in some ways as surpassing it – perhaps as becoming something different – outside the Christian ballpark all together.
As I’ve aged and become a voice within progressive Christianity and an author myself, I’ve come to make more room for paradox, mystery, and increasingly feel less of a need to understand everything – let alone know all the answers. This includes a renewed welcoming of Spong’s nuanced, independent, outside-the-box thinking and an increased valuing of how it furthers the very necessary process of Christianity to reconsider its tenets, truth-claims, and boundaries – in order that it may continue to adapt and evolve to be relevant to new generations of people endeared to the way, teachings, and example of that radically loving man from Nazareth.
May we honor Spong’s legacy and may God bless our efforts to increase love and justice in a world that needs it.
XX – Roger
Rev. Roger Wolsey is a certified Spiritual Director, United Methodist pastor, and serves on the Board of Directors of ProgressiveChristianity.Org. He is a contributing writer for the Progressing Spirit newsletter, and author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity