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March 24, 2013


From Crossan to Spong: +Johnston Cares [Not] for His Sheep

Presented without comment (not even a “we tried to tell you” for those who still were not convinced):

[snip]
“A New Plan for Good Friday” | by Bishop John Shelby Spong

Reclaiming Good Friday as a major focus of both Lent and the Christian story will be at the center of my life this year, when I spend that day in Richmond, Virginia, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. This is the church I served as Rector from 1969-1976 and it is a church to which I am still deeply and emotionally connected, even some thirty four years after leaving that position….

...
On an average day in the work week, within a six block radius of St. Paul’s an estimated 100,000 people will be at work in their offices. So through the years, St. Paul’s has offered noonday services, concerts and forums, to which many in this working population have been drawn. This ministry is uniquely focused during the season of Lent, when a noontime half-hour preaching service is held during the forty days of that season. A luncheon is served in St. Paul’s before and after the service, which requires more than 300 volunteers a week, to enable people to attend worship and have lunch within the span of an hour. People from a wide range of Christian traditions come to these services and the daily attendance will range from 100 to 700 people….

The traditional pattern of the past was a three hour [Good Friday] service scheduled from noon to 3:00 p.m., designed to mark the time when Jesus was believed to be dying on the cross [sic]....

This year, St. Paul’s in Richmond decided to try to reverse that trend. A church in the heart of a vibrant downtown filled with people at work might be able to revive this tradition and thus serve all of the suburban churches, where fewer and fewer people are present during the hours of the working day. If successful, a church in the heart of every city in America might follow suit. So these are St. Paul’s plans.

First, the three-hour service is planned as a series of six thirty minute self-contained units, making it possible and convenient for people to come and go from work on the hour or half hour. While some will attend the entire three hours, most will fit their Good Friday observance into their workday schedules.

Second, each of the thirty minute services will include concert level Passiontide music….

Third, the Bishop of Virginia, the Rt. Rev. Shannon Johnston [emphasis added], will preside over the entire service, assisted by the Rev. Wallace Adams-Riley, the current rector of St. Paul’s. The presence of the Bishop gives the service a larger appeal beyond the boundaries of St. Paul’s congregation….

...
My role in this service will be to deliver six meditations, one in each of the six thirty minute services. As we live through these three hours, I will seek to invite people into the meaning of the Passion story as it was told by the author of the Fourth Gospel that we call John. Specifically, I will try to move the Christian Church away from that threadbare Good Friday format of the past that focused on what was called “The Seven Last Words from the Cross.” Those “Words” were never anything more than an attempt to force the gospels into a blended narrative, which makes a mockery out of current biblical scholarship. The overwhelming probability is that the dying Jesus never uttered any one of these “seven last words.” The absolute certainty is that he never uttered all of them….

When John, the final gospel, was written (95-100), he dismissed all of the previous “words” recorded in the earlier gospels and added three new ones never heard of before: “Woman, behold your son; son, behold your mother;” “I thirst,” and “It is finished.” “The Seven Last Words” thus represent a forced unity that the gospels never had and they are, we now know, quite inauthentic. My hope will be that in future Good Friday services the Passion story will be developed according to Mark one year, Matthew the next year, Luke the third year, John the fourth year and then continue the rotation. The authenticity of the individual gospel accounts will thus be restored to Good Friday.

I hope this service sets an example that brings a new biblical understanding of the Passion of Jesus and that it restores Good Friday to a central place in the Church’s life…. 
[snip]

Well, I will allow this one comment: all this fascination about the drama of the Passion from an Episcopal bishop who does not believe in the physical Resurrection, the Atonement, the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, the Star of Bethlehem, the betrayal of Jesus by Judas, or even that Jesus spoke and read Greek. So Bishop Johnston must think that his flock needs to make no connection between Good Friday and Easter, because according to John Shelby Spong, P.B.K., M.Div., D.D. (hon. causa), no such connection ever existed. Good Friday is for black and Bach; Easter is for frocks and flowers.

Carry on.


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36 comments

A Good Friday without Spong would be… well, a very Good Friday.

[1] Posted by Undergroundpewster on 3-24-2013 at 05:00 PM · [top]

Jack Spong writes:

“On an average day in the work week, within a six block radius of St. Paul’s an estimated 100,000 people will be at work in their offices. So through the years, St. Paul’s has offered noonday services, ... People from a wide range of Christian traditions come to these services and the daily attendance will range from 100 to 700 people”

Errr, right.  So Bishop Spong *hopes* to get 0.1% to 0.7% of the relevant group into the church, over a series of six short services. 

Given his usual track record with hopes, I expect the actual number will be much less. 

I wonder, do TEC and Bishop Spong really comprehend how utterly irrelevant they have become to modern America?

[2] Posted by MichaelA on 3-24-2013 at 05:21 PM · [top]

Someone so unlearned as to think that Jesus, whose hometown was a morning walk from the great Greco-Roman city of Sephoris, which was being built during Jesus’ childhood, whose quotes from the Hebrew Bible were nearly all from the Septuagint (which could be a clue when he was speaking Greek), obviously is not qualified on an academic level to say much about Christian doctrine, either. But then, the thoughts of limousine-liberal nonbelievers about the Christian faith aren’t so edifying, anyway.

[3] Posted by A Senior Priest on 3-24-2013 at 05:22 PM · [top]

Crossan, and now Spong.  This bishop is leading his flock astray.

[4] Posted by Katherine on 3-24-2013 at 05:43 PM · [top]

“The Seven Last Words from the Cross.” Those “Words” were never anything more than an attempt to force the gospels into a blended narrative, which makes a mockery out of current biblical scholarship. The overwhelming probability is that the dying Jesus never uttered any one of these “seven last words.” The absolute certainty is that he never uttered all of them….

So “current biblical scholarship” is the object of our devotion.  These jokers (the clergy presenting this stuff) all swore their belief that “the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, and contain all things necessary to salvation.”

[5] Posted by Timothy Fountain on 3-24-2013 at 05:56 PM · [top]

Kyrie Eleison

I am ashamed of my city that the heretic and blasphemer Spong will be at St. Paul’s; a beautiful church now under the pall of TEC and financially supported through the liberal guilt of white people of heterosexual privilege, some of whom may actually arrive by limousine.  I noticed they do not name the readers.  I assume that the esteemed elder RINO statesman Linwood Holton will be the first reader and his daughter, wife of “Timmy” Kaine, will be reader three.  This is interesting since the Kaines are Roman Catholic.  Well, things seem to be holding true to the often told apocryphal joke in Richmond - “there are no shades of gray in Richmond, the politics is all black and white” grin

P.S. Is the Rev. Brian McClaren listed as preacher earlier in Holy Week, Mr. Emergent Church McClaren?  Oh boy, what a week they’re going to have!

[6] Posted by Daniel on 3-24-2013 at 06:05 PM · [top]

Those “Words” were never anything more than an attempt to force the gospels into a blended narrative, which makes a mockery out of current biblical scholarship. The overwhelming probability is that the dying Jesus never uttered any one of these “seven last words.” The absolute certainty is that he never uttered all of them

Oh, heavens, leave us not make a mockery of current Biblical scholarship!  Though it’s perfectly okay to make a mockery of those dumb bunnies over the past two thousand years who were so stupid as to think that the Seven Last Words had any meaning, reality or value.

So what will Bishop Spong be preaching in his bite-sized servicettes for busy working downtown people?

“This season - which our best scholarship tells us was probably appropriated from the local and ethnic traditions of native cultures by the hegemonic imperialism of crude state-enforce Christianity when it was corrupted away from its pristine sources by fundamentalist zealots seeking temporal power and influence by means of a tawdry bargain with the oppressive state apparatus - this season, we commemorate or rather, we choose to remember a man executed by that same coercive state apparatus.  A revolutionary, a forward thinker, a threat to the dominant religious and political paradigms which is why they colluded in his murder.

A man who may or may not have existed in the first place, since modern scholarship is uncertain on that point.  Anyway, we are here in this place to speak and hear his words, if he existed to say them.  And even if he did exist, he may not have said these particular words in part or even at all, or indeed he may not even have said anything like them.  Current scholarship inclines to think that later narrators, as the cult developed around this figure which might be mythic, inserted phrases and whole speeches invented or taken from pre-existing representative mythic figures into what came to be called the ‘Gospels’ - a project intended to force a narrative structure onto the life (if he lived) of this man (if he was a man) called Jesus of Nazareth (if he came from Nazareth or was called Jesus, both of which are disputed points).

So to sum up, my aim is to restore the authenticity of the individual Gospel accounts by telling you they are probably contradictory early attempts at fiction, with no reliable record of anything said by the alleged Jesus from Nazareth who very likely didn’t exist, and certainly if He did, was only a special kind of human killed by the status quo of His day and most certainly did not rise from the death, which is an idea stolen wholesale by the creators of the Christ cult when they were appealing to the wider audience of the Classical world by taking motifs from the ‘dying and rising god’ myths and applying them to the real mortal man who was the figurehead of their mystery cult.  Presuming there was a real mortal man in the first place, as I have already pointed out.

In conclusion, there isn’t really anything important, valuable or helpful in these funny old stories, but they give me an excuse to stand here and talk to you while my former church puts on a concert of proper quality classical church music, not that Haugen and Haas rubbish the Romanists have to put up with.”

And that’s why people should give up their lunch hour to come and listen to this!

[7] Posted by Martha on 3-24-2013 at 06:23 PM · [top]

The purpose of religious practice is union with the Divine. I really don’t care what Jack Spong thinks or does. Here is a simple question, my friends… Does Jack Spong’s theological system produce saints, or does the traditional Church?

[8] Posted by A Senior Priest on 3-24-2013 at 08:47 PM · [top]

Bishop Spong’s naughty schoolboy routine is parasitic on a church that gives a darn about Scripture and doctrine. When no one gives a toot, Spong’s Episcopal shock jock routine disappears in a whisp of vacuity.

Historicize that, dear Bishop.

[9] Posted by driver8 on 3-24-2013 at 08:59 PM · [top]

A similar event is happening in my neck of the woods.  As one colleague quipped, “Well, you have to admit, [the speaker] has always been very clear about the death of Christ.”

[10] Posted by Fr. Andrew Gross on 3-24-2013 at 09:12 PM · [top]

The only thing that surprises me about this is that Spong is still rearing his ugly head somewhere. Of course, TEC has evolved into his kind of church. So it shouldn’t surprise me that he has a place to spout his garbage.

[11] Posted by Nellie on 3-24-2013 at 11:11 PM · [top]

Hope its not fiction. I am betting the farm on the Jesus of the Gospels.

[12] Posted by Going Home on 3-25-2013 at 01:45 AM · [top]

Friends, please don’t miss the take-home on this. Once again we have the “creedally orthodox” Johnston playing nice with those who deny the Creeds (and pretty much everything else).

[13] Posted by David Ould on 3-25-2013 at 05:14 AM · [top]

One thing worse than a wolf in sheep’s clothing is a wolf in shepherd’s clothing.  Bp. Johnston is certainly the latter.

[14] Posted by Cranmerian on 3-25-2013 at 07:39 AM · [top]

I have a friend who attended a three day Spong conference at Kanuga. When questions were finally in order, he asked the bishop if he still attended church. The bishop replied yes and my friend asked “Why?:

[15] Posted by Pb on 3-25-2013 at 07:44 AM · [top]

I would rather remember this as the parish of General Lee and the place where he kneeled next to a black man at the end of the war.

[16] Posted by Adam 12 on 3-25-2013 at 07:57 AM · [top]

“As we live through these three hours, I will seek to invite people into the meaning of the Passion story as it was told by the author of the Fourth Gospel that we call John.”

Ah, verily spoken with a characteristic we call pomposity. 

Were his character tainted by the smallest mote of integrity or honesty, he no doubt would have chosen an alternative profession.  Yet alas.  Arrogance and confusion in competition with irrelevance - the archetype of a 1970’s Episcopal bishop.

[17] Posted by tired on 3-25-2013 at 07:59 AM · [top]

Let’s see now. The details of the crucifixion of Jesus were made up and added to the fourth gospel in order to impose a theology on an otherwise meaningless event. So if by the miracle of scholarship we remove these details, we are left with what? Enough material for six meditations? Good Friday?

[18] Posted by Pb on 3-25-2013 at 10:15 AM · [top]

[comment deleted—violation of commenting policies]

[19] Posted by Simple Man on 3-25-2013 at 10:44 AM · [top]

Father, forgive us.

Luke 23:34
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.


My bad—these words are most likely inauthentic according to contemporary biblical scholarship, and they won’t be addressed until the third year, anway.

[20] Posted by Karla on 3-25-2013 at 11:44 AM · [top]

I am not sure why or how my comment would violate any policies….all I said was that for me, ECUSA was a lost cause and I had moved on, joining the Anglican Ordinariate of the of the Catholic Church….Should I not say that?

[21] Posted by Simple Man on 3-25-2013 at 11:51 AM · [top]

When I was a curate—a long,long time ago—my rector and I took turns with meditation on the Last Words. It happened that one of his was “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” He introduced it by saying, “As Jesus hung on the cross, He was meditating on the Psalms . . .” I was so shocked I had a hard time not jumping up and shouting out my objection. His statement certainly belied all that we know about the painful cruelty of crucifixion, and betrayed my Rector’s apparent Modalism.
desert padre

[22] Posted by desertpadre on 3-25-2013 at 12:34 PM · [top]

I will try to move the Christian Church away from that threadbare Good Friday format of the past that focused on what was called “The Seven Last Words from the Cross.” Those “Words” were never anything more than an attempt to force the gospels into a blended narrative, which makes a mockery out of current biblical scholarship. The overwhelming probability is ...

Johnson does not believe that “current biblical scholarship” should be mocked but then he proceeds to mock the words of the Apostle John as they have been handed down to us through Scripture.

[23] Posted by Betty See on 3-25-2013 at 01:12 PM · [top]

Bishop Spong’s egoism continues to amaze:  He alone is going to “reclaim” Good Friday, and “move” the Church away from its “threadbare” Good Friday traditions by a hand full of meditations during a mere three hours on one Friday afternoon in Richmond (never mind that Good Friday needs no reclamation, and the Church’s Good Friday traditions aren’t “threadbare” at all).

Students of the Bible have known for a long, long time that each of the four Gospels has its own theological perspective on the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore, Bible students, have also long known that the context which permits one to understand these varying perspectives of each Gospel is, precisely, knowledge of the other Gospels, as well as the entire canon of Scripture.

One studies the perspective of each one of the Gospels concerning the Lord Jesus in order to understand better the whole of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, as well as his person and natures. That is why, of course, the Sunday Lectionary specifies that the crucifixion narrative should be read on Palm Sunday from each of the first three Gospels in a three year cycle. The crucifixion narrative from John is, of course, read on Good Friday. What Spong wants done is already done by the Lectionary on Palm Sunday and Good Friday, of course. 

Bishop Spong seems to relish “breaking down” the biblical material concerning the Lord Jesus into its component parts (not just books, but, particularly, the traditions behind the individual texts of Scripture), but he forgets that the whole point of that enterprise is to make it possible to reassemble it all again in a way that is richer and enables a better, fuller understanding of the Son of God and Savior.  Spong seems to think that the breaking down of the material is the point of biblical studies, not the building up of the material and our knowledge and love of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Unfortunately, there are many clerics who make this same mistake, and, hence,  leave a trail of puzzled and distressed Christians behind them, because such clerics don’t put the biblical material about the Lord Jesus back together again, and explain the “big picture”.  They forget that the Church has claimed from early times that it was the whole canon as we have received it, not the material behind the canonical books, that is the record of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

[24] Posted by Viator2 on 3-25-2013 at 03:49 PM · [top]

I am always amazed at the level of intelligence clearly evident by the contributors on this site—and by the amount of time spent properly castigating the evermore deconstructionist efforts of the Western Anglican Church….But at some point, we have to ask—to what end…ECUSA will not be shamed into orthodoxy.  Certainly not by the choir singing to the choir.  What is the plan here and how does it comport with the Lord’s bigger plan?  I, for one, think he does have a bigger plan and that the deconstructionists are properly (maybe even excessively) playing their role.  So that is my question of the day…What is the proper response for each of us in our own way?  What is the proper venue for your energy?  How are we growing Jesus’ church?

Blessings.

[25] Posted by Simple Man on 3-25-2013 at 04:04 PM · [top]

Simple Man,

A fair question. 

Firstly, let’s keep this in context.  To me, posting on blogs is a ministry I am called to.  It is a part-time ministry (very part-time). 

Every person who posts here has a ministry somewhere else, that takes up most of their time.  For me, it is being a lay person in a parish in Australia.  Tjmcmahon is a member of a parish in ACNA, somewhere in the frozen part of the USA I believe ...
tongue laugh Sarah is a member of a parish in TEC.  Matt Kennedy is a priest in ACNA.  etc etc. So, quite a variety.  The Lord does have a bigger plan, and each of us are called to it in different ways.

“But at some point, we have to ask—to what end…ECUSA will not be shamed into orthodoxy.”

Sure, but who is trying to do that?  Christians are first and foremost commanded to be a *witness* to the truth.  How that witness works out is the Lord’s business, not ours. 

Take Elijah for example:  He believed that he was the only witness left in Israel, and that its redemption was hopeless.  But the Lord told him to witness anyway.  In fact, there were many things Elijah was not aware of: one of them being that there were in fact 7,000 other faithful witnesses.  So Elija’s witness was to (a) the wicked in Israel; (b) the compromisers in Israel; (c) the faithful in Israel.  But his witness also extended to the same categories in the “righteous” kingdom of Judah to the south - because it also contained (a) wicked; (b) compromisers; (c) faithful.  In the end, the Lord would destroy both, but also preserve a remnant from both, who followed Elijah’s teachings along with the rest of the prophets.

AND, Elijah’s ministry went even further, to the completely unchurched.  His words and actions, and those of his anointed successor Elisha, were heard and feared in pagan lands.

One last point, in case it is not obvious, Elijah’s witness to Judah has direct application to a specific ministry which Stand Firm has been called upon to exercise lately, being witness to those in ACNA.  Christian witness as seen in the Scriptures always has a two-fold purpose - witness to those outside the church, and witness to those in it.

[26] Posted by MichaelA on 3-25-2013 at 04:43 PM · [top]

My smiley face above was directed at tjmcmahon, not at Sarah - sorry about the formatting!

[27] Posted by MichaelA on 3-25-2013 at 04:44 PM · [top]

Please disregard my last post, I misread this article (copywrited 2013). I mistakenly assumed that this communication was sent by Bishop Shannon Johnson as the current Bishop of Virginia. Now that I have read it more carefully I realize that the article was written by Bishop John Shelby Spong who is planning and implementing the Good Friday service and that Bishop Johnson has been assigned the task of presiding over the entire service.
Please correct me if I have misread this again.

[28] Posted by Betty See on 3-25-2013 at 06:07 PM · [top]

Michael A- Springtime here, and most of the snowdrifts are melted down under 8’, noonday temps are above zero (well, in Fahrenheit).  In point of fact, I am more of a hermit of ACNA in the frozen north, as the closest congregation is hours away.  I did help out with a startup downstate a few years ago, but seldom have the opportunity to visit.

Simple Man- I suppose if there were an Ordinariate parish within 100 miles, I might join one too.  But for the time being, I think perhaps the Lord still has plans for me in the Anglican Communion.  Traditionalists in the AC are clearly under attack from the “Open Evangelicals” who pretend orthodoxy, but for whom everything seems to be a “second order issue.”  They worry so much about unity that they are rapidly becoming unitarians. 

If anything we say or do helps one person turn to Christ, or strengthens the resolve of a bishop or priest “under siege” then it is time well spent.  And remember that things written and discussed here are read in faraway parts of the world, and it lets them know that the work of the Church continues here, in spite of efforts by the leadership of TEC to put a stop to it.

[29] Posted by tjmcmahon on 3-25-2013 at 06:23 PM · [top]

#7 - Martha - great job. I certainly couldn’t have put it any better!
I always wondered why Spong simply didn’t go into the used car business, become a plumber, etc., if he honestly believed that the “faith which was once delivered unto the saints” was just a mish-mosh of barely historical drivel. Does he realized how intellectually dishonest his position is? Has he ever looked at himself in the mirror and gazed upon the walking self contradiction he has become?

[30] Posted by GSP98 on 3-25-2013 at 07:01 PM · [top]

Being a native of Richmond, I consider Spong’s tenure at St Paul’s and his upcoming presentation (I would not honour it by calling it a sermon) to be a worse occurrence for the capital of the Old Dominion than Grant’s siege of the city at the end of the War Between the States, or the conflagration that engulfed the city in April 1865.

[31] Posted by sophy0075 on 3-25-2013 at 07:33 PM · [top]

Betty See (#23 and #28), please accept my apologies. I should have been much clearer in posting that the text of the article stemmed from Bishop Spong, while the invitation to Spong to preach at St. Paul’s came from Bishop Johnston, as canonically it must.

So—do not have any regrets: your remarks in #23 above, addressed to +Johnston, are indeed addressed to him—through his heretical invitee, Bishop Spong. You are right on the mark! Thank you for commenting.

[32] Posted by A. S. Haley on 3-25-2013 at 08:09 PM · [top]

BTW I have vastly more respect for Michael Goulder - one of the NT scholars upon whose scholarship Spong has sometimes drawn. Goulder was a very lovely man, a brilliant scholar whose work was trailblazing and occasionally considered slightly eccentric. When he lost his faith, he resigned his orders. He was asked why he didn’t attempt to save something from the flotsam and jetsam of his once traditional faith. Without God, he said, it was questionable if there was anything left to save.

But for Spong, his entire routine is dependent upon being court jester to the wrecked church of a wrecked faith. It’s a sorrowful and pathetic sight.

[33] Posted by driver8 on 3-25-2013 at 09:52 PM · [top]

Driver8, that sounds like a cue for a poem:

John Henderson, an unbeliever,
Had lately lost his Joie de Vivre
From reading far too many books.
He went about with gloomy looks;
Despair inhabited his breast
And made the man a perfect pest.

Not so his sister, Mary Lunn,
She had a whacking lot of fun!
Though unbelieving as a beast
She didn’t worry in the least,
But drank as hard as she was able
And sang and danced upon the table;

And when she met her brother Jack
She used to smack him on the back
So smartly as to make him jump,
And cry ‘What-ho! You’ve got the hump!’
A phrase which, more than any other,
Was gall and wormwood to her brother;
For, having an agnostic mind,
He was exceedingly refined.

The Christians, a declining band,
Would point with monitory hand
To Henderson his desperation,
To Mary Lunn her dissipation,
And often mutter, ‘Mark my words!
Something will happen to those birds!’

Which came to pass: for Mary Lunn
Died suddenly, at ninety-one,
Of Psittacosis, not before
Becoming an appalling bore.

While Henderson, I’m glad to state,
Though naturally celibate,
Married an intellectual wife
Who made him lead the Higher life
And wouldn’t give him any wine;

Whereby he fell in a decline,
And, at the time of writing this,
Is suffering from paralysis,
The which, we hear with no surprise,
Will shortly end in his demise.

The moral is (it is indeed!)
You mustn’t monkey with the Creed.

[“The Example”, H. Belloc]

[34] Posted by MichaelA on 3-27-2013 at 01:07 AM · [top]

#7- I could swear you were just copying the minutes of the last meeting of the International Fellowship of Biblical Scholars!

I guess the thing that always gets me about Spong is that absolutely nothing he says is original to him.  He is simply parroting the works of Crossan, Borg, etc. He’s not a biblical scholar, even a liberal one.  Neither has he brought anything new to the table as a theologian.  Nothing he offers is anything other than the recycled deconstructionist theology of Tillich and Bultmann.  It’s amazing how so many people who demand a new post-modern gospel take all of their cues from 100- 150 years ago.

It would be somewhat analogous to me trying to make a name for myself by trumpeting my third rate understanding of the works of NT Wright or John Stott.

[35] Posted by billqs on 4-2-2013 at 12:37 PM · [top]

#34 Bravo! Laughed out loud at the final line. That H. Belloc, he should consider writing as a career.

[36] Posted by driver8 on 4-2-2013 at 12:59 PM · [top]

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