That was the question my friend Tracy asked Bishop Jack Spong when he visited Colchester to talk about his latest book, Eternal life: A new vision. The bishop had given us an entertaining hour or so about how yesterday's God has been replaced by today's scientific discovery. He had continued with an explanation of how, in his view, our eternal life is part of our innermost being. Then Tracy asked her question. The reply was that he just did not know. Tracy was not satisfied. Quietly, she mused that typified her experience of reading Spong: that he knocks down established church thinking but does not replace it with anything.
I can understand her disquiet. In his book, Jesus for the non-religious, for example, Spong systematically goes through the Bible, explaining how much of it could not have happened to our modern way of thinking. Another of his books, Why Christianity must change or die, makes the case that the language of the Church does not fit with our modern-day understanding of God. Thus many of us are forced to be hypocrites in church, and church can seem like a fanciful alien world to non-church goers. But inwardly I was cheering at the honesty of Spong's answer to this impossible question. What else could he say? Like him, we are all just human beings trying to make sense of this beautiful but unjust world, guided by a book which proclaims a vision of a fairer, more equal way of living. And, as Spong is often quoted as saying, "You shouldn't have to twist your brain into a first century pretzel to do that".
Bishop John (Jack) Shelby Spong was the Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey before his retirement in 2000. He is known for confronting controversies within the Church and is an outspoken advocate for change.
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