Friday, December 19, 2008

Bishop Spong Q&A 12/2008

William from Newmarket, Ontario, writes:

If the roots of the Christ story are indeed in Egyptian mythology (according to Tom Harpur's book The Pagan Christ) or the continuation of Jewish Epic History (according to your Jesus for the Non-Religious) then who were the writers of the gospels? How did they acquire the expertise to make such a complex adaptation and what drove them, in spite of the risk of persecution, to adapt these myths to the person of Jesus of Nazareth, either as if this person was an historical figure, or if he never existed?

Dear William,

The writers of the gospels were Jewish people who represented the second or third Christian generation. They wrote in Greek, not Aramaic, which was the language Jesus and his disciples spoke. The gospels — at least the first three: Mark, Matthew and Luke — are the products of the Synagogue, which had shaped the Jesus story dramatically over the 40-70 year period that transpired between the crucifixion and the gospel writing tradition.

I disagree with Tom Harpur's thesis, for I do not think Egyptian mythology can shape the Jesus story in as short a period of time as existed. I note that Paul writes in Galatians, a book that is usually dated in the early 50's, that he had conversed with Peter and other "pillars" of the Christian movement within four to nine years of his conversion, which scholars date one to six years after the crucifixion. Mythology needs more time than that to develop.

People need to embrace the fact that the Jesus story was kept alive, recalled and celebrated in the Synagogue, for that is where the followers of Jesus worshiped every Sabbath. The Synagogue and the Christian Church did not separate until 88 C.E.

I am quite sure Jesus of Nazareth was a person of history in whom and through whom Jewish people believed that they had experienced the presence of the holy God. It was in that experience that Christianity was born. The earliest articulation of that faith came from Paul who wrote, "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to God."

How we tell the world of the meaning of that experience is still what Christianity is all about.

– John Shelby Spong

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

On Faith & Beliefs

(A paraphrase of Lloyd Geering)

Once we distinguish between faith and the holding of certain beliefs Christian faith can be seen in quite a new light. The very act of discarding worn-out beliefs, far from demonstrating a lack of faith, may in fact be just the opposite. It may open the door for genuine faith to operate again. Indeed, the modern doubter who rejects the Biblical description of God in the interest of truth may be manifesting more faith than the traditional theist.

The assertion that one needs to believe a particular set of doctrines in order to have faith is an invitation not to faith but to credulity(gullibility). There is a world of difference between child-like faith and childish credulity (gullibility).

In a remarkable little book, The Faith to Doubt, M. Holmes Hartshorne wrote,

People today are not in need of assurances about the truth of doubtful beliefs. They need the courage to doubt. They need the faith by which to reject their idols. The churches cannot preach to this age if they stand outside of it, living in the illusory security of yesterday’s beliefs. These lie about us broken, and we cannot by taking thought raise them from the dead.

Doubt is not the enemy of faith but its ally, as the enemy of false beliefs. All beliefs should be continually subjected to doubt and critical examination and, when found to be false or inadequate, they should be discarded.