The 12 Theses of John Shelby Spong

In my social media surfing, I came across a post about the 12 Theses of Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong.  I can’t find the article but I was able to find a blog post by Spong himself where the theses are laid out.

I’m going to post them in full below the “fold” but reading them reminds me of how we have similar progressive theses operating in some quarters of the Catholic Church.

Those of us who had any experience in the Anglican Communion of Canterbury know the dangers when “experience” and  “history” take on the role of trumping doctrine.   So, in a sense the Spong  Theses are a preview of coming attractions for a movie we definitely do not wish to see.

On that note, I noticed a little excerpt of New York Time columnist Ross Douthat’s upcoming book To Change the Church:  Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism

It seems here he is noticing a similar trend.

“Yet this is where Francis-era liberal Catholicism has so often ended up—in arguments that imply the Church must use Jesus to go beyond Jesus, as it were, using his approach to the ritual law as a means to evade or qualify the moral law, which means evading or qualifying his own explicit commandments and declaring them a pharisaism that the late-modern church should traffic in no more.  To fulfill Jesus’ mission, to follow the Jesus of faith, even the Jesus of Scripture must be left behind,”  Douthat writes.

Now for those waiting with bated breath for the  Spong theses here they are.  Notice how seductive they are.  Your thoughts?

The Twelve Theses

  1. God

Understanding God in theistic categories as “a being, supernatural in power, dwelling somewhere external to the world and capable of invading the world with miraculous power” is no longer believable. Most God talk in liturgy and conversation has thus become meaningless.

  1. Jesus – the Christ.

If God can no longer be thought of in theistic terms, then conceiving of Jesus as “the incarnation of the theistic deity” has also become a bankrupt concept.

  1. Original Sin – The Myth of the Fall

The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which we human beings have fallen into “Original Sin” is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.

  1. The Virgin Birth

The virgin birth understood as literal biology is impossible. Far from being a bulwark in defense of the divinity of Christ, the virgin birth actually destroys that divinity.

  1. Jesus as the Worker of Miracles

In a post-Newtonian world supernatural invasions of the natural order, performed by God or an “incarnate Jesus,” are simply not viable explanations of what actually happened.

  1. Atonement Theology

Atonement theology, especially in its most bizarre “substitutionary” form, presents us with a God who is barbaric, a Jesus who is a victim and it turns human beings into little more than guilt-filled creatures. The phrase “Jesus died for my sins” is not just dangerous, it is absurd.

  1. The Resurrection

The Easter event transformed the Christian movement, but that does not mean that it was the physical resuscitation of Jesus’ deceased body back into human history. The earliest biblical records state that “God raised him.” Into what, we need to ask. The experience of resurrection must be separated from its later mythological explanations.

  1. The Ascension of Jesus

The biblical story of Jesus’ ascension assumes a three-tiered universe, which was dismissed some five hundred years ago. If Jesus’ ascension was a literal event of history, it is beyond the capacity of our 21st century minds to accept it or to believe it.

  1. Ethics.

The ability to define and to separate good from evil can no longer be achieved with appeals to ancient codes like the Ten Commandments or even the Sermon on the Mount. Contemporary moral standards must be hammered out in the juxtaposition between life-affirming moral principles and external situations.

  1. Prayer

Prayer, understood as a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history, is little more than an hysterical attempt to turn the holy into the servant of the human. Most of our prayer definitions of the past are thus dependent on an understanding of God that has died.

  1. Life after Death

The hope for life after death must be separated forever from behavior control. Traditional views of heaven and hell as places of reward and punishment are no longer conceivable. Christianity must, therefore, abandon its dependence on guilt as a motivator of behavior.

  1. Judgment and Discrimination

Judgment is not a human responsibility. Discrimination against any human being on the basis of that which is a “given” is always evil and does not serve the Christian goal of giving “abundant life” to all. Any structure either in the secular world or in the institutional church, which diminishes the humanity of any child of God on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation must be exposed publicly and vigorously. There can be no reason in the church of tomorrow for excusing or even forgiving discriminatory practices. “Sacred Tradition” must never again provide a cover to justify discriminatory evil.





4 thoughts on “The 12 Theses of John Shelby Spong

  1. Spong’s theses are typical nonsense from a mindset that ignores the science of metaphysics first brought to us by the likes of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. These ancient scholars proved rigorously — and I mean those words in the same sense as the proof of a mathematical theorem — that ideas and emotions are neither physical nor the result of any sort of physical engine, and thus that the mind (psyche) also is neither a physical organ nor a physical engine. The following quotation captures this distinction perfectly: the brain is matter (an organ in the human body), but the mind is not.

    What is mind? No matter.
    What is matter? Never mind!
    — T. H. Key </blockquote.

    Back in elementary school, we learned the distinction between a number and a numeral — to wit, that a number is an idea, and thus has no physical existence, and that a numeral is a physical representation of a number. Thus, “6” and “six” and “||||||” and “VI” and “0110” (binary) or “off-on-on-off” (bits in a computer) and the spoken word “six” are all numerals that, by various conventions, represent the number called six. Printed letters on a page and atmospheric pressure oscillations of various phonic sequences have no intrinsic meaning. Rather, a language is a convention that associates various ideas with various physical representations — identical physical representations may have radially different — and even completely opposite — meanings in different languages.

    Once one understands that the mind is not physical, and thus acknowledges an the existence of a non-physical entity, one has to acknowledge that a non-physical entity, such as a deity, can exist and that such an existence is fully compatible with the physical realm. One professor of philosophy told me that Plato went further, and actually proved the existence of a deity with the attributes of the God of Judeo-Christian faith. I have not studied the writings of Plato, so I cannot verify his claim — but I also cannot dispute it.

    Tragically, Spong’s theses represent a radical rejection of Christian faith that I dare to identify as apostasy. It is really tragic that such nonsense is coming from a bishop of The Episcopal Church (TEC).

    That said, the attribution of these ideas to Pope Francis or to his agenda is also clearly wrong. Far from abandoning our Messiah, Pope Francis is calling to light our Lord’s teachings and actions that many seem to have forgotten and challenging us to incorporate them fully into our life as the Body of Christ. “What would Jesus do?” (WWJD?) may seem trite, but it is the fundamental question that always must guide our actions.



  2. Thanks for leaving me this reminder of the degree to which Spong espoused heresy. I will not waste any time rebutting his idiosyncratic beliefs, but I can only wonder how such a man got to be bishop at all.


  3. Actually Spong theses from his book “Unbelievable” make a lot of sense when you read the whole book thoroughly. The claims of ‘heresy’ are founded on indoctrinated belief. He is not asking people to give up their beliefs but rather to look at how the essential Christian message (not the dogma) and mythology) can be communicated in a modern western secular world.
    Sure, on the surface, it challenges the church establishment (and perhaps even clergy livelihoods) but it shows a rare insight into bringing the message of God’s love to those who find the story of scripture difficult to swallow.
    Finally, they are just theses – ideas – worth discussing rather than dismissing out of hand.


    • The very idea that there is an “essential Christian message (not the dogma and mythology)” is an absurdity unknown to the apostles and every succeeding generation of Christians until about 200 years ago – made more absurd still by the fact that the propounders of that occult “essential Christian message” notion have never been able to agree among themselves about the nature and content of that purported “essential Christian message.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s