John Shelby Spong Goes to Meet God

It’s done, per the notice on the right.

Rather than endure the accusation that he can no longer defend himself, I’ll stick with stuff I’ve already posted, some of which goes back to the beginning of this website/blog.

I’ll start with John Shelby Spong, Surrender Monkey:

John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal Bishop of Newark, is a surrender monkey. His “Call for a New Reformation” is really a call to wave the white flag, throw in the towel, and give up on the God revealed in both Jewish and Christian history. We need, he says, a new language for God because “most theological God-talk is meaningless.”…

I’d go easier on Spong if he’d had a faith crisis, realised he could no longer affirm the basic biblical worldview and teaching, and then had the honesty and integrity to step down from his position of leadership. But that’s not what he did. Instead, he went on the warpath against anything that smells like traditional Christian faith, and he’s tried to take his whole church down his revisionist road. Christians who disagree with him he attacks as “fundamentalists,” and in his worldview, that’s about the worst insult you can utter. Spong ironically exhibits many of the worst attitudes he decries in others: narrow-mindedness, bigotry, and belligerence. He’s a first-rate fundamentalist for his own worldview. (pp. 109-10)

From Bayard Taylor’s The Late Great Ape Debate

From here we go to John Shelby Spong: Calling the Bluff of a White Supremacist:

Spong, as he likes to remind us, is a Southerner, and thus is a descendant of white supremacists of another era. (This is not an uncharitable generalisation; white supremacy was simply assumed by most people raised on that side of the racial divide in the South from the days of slavery to the 1960’s.) His transformation from that to radical is, in part, an attempt to achieve upward intellectual (and perhaps social) mobility. Unfortunately his attitude towards the Africans shows that he is all too willing to take a leaf from his ancestors’ playbook when it suits his purpose.

It’s worth noting that he died in the old capital of the Confederacy.

Then Those Vanishing Episcopal Parishes:

Part of Spong’s problem was that he was a Southerner in a Northern place.  He thought that people would always go to church somewhere, no matter how stupid things got.  This is a common mistake among our ministers.  It simply doesn’t work that way in the Northeast.

Beyond that Spong was an old style radical; he thought that, if we completely changed what Christianity stood for, it would be more acceptable to the modern and post-modern world.  That hasn’t worked out either.  Today’s liberal, imbued with post-modernism, practices a form of deception (and self-deception) that rivals anything Islam can be accused of.  They use words that mean one thing to others but something entirely different to themselves.

Last and not least When Church Becomes Pointless, one of the first things I posted when this site began in 1997:

So let’s take this a step further; suppose you are sitting in an Episcopal pew listening to John Shelby Spong go on about why the basic truths of Christianity have no basis in reality and that those who teach them are a bunch of morons.  Suppose that you finally realize that you think that Spong is right; that all that you’ve said when you’re repeated the Apostles’ or Nicene Creed is false and that the life you have is all you’re expected to get.  What should you do?   You should first realize that life is short and that, if you’re going to live you’d better hurry.  So the sensible thing for you to do is to get up, gather your family, walk out of the church, get into your Lexus or Mercedes, and head to Atlantic City or Las Vegas or South Florida or wherever you need to go to live it up while you still can.

This illustration is to demonstrate a simple point.  If Spong and the other liberals are right, they’re wrong, because the church is really unnecessary and the time we spend there is a waste.  If they’re wrong, they’re really wrong, because they’re sending people to an awful eternity by the unbelief they spread.

There’s more, but I’ll stop. All I have to say is that life for some of us would have been a lot sweeter and simpler without the likes of John Shelby Spong.

The Jawbone of an Ass

This morning’s devotional from St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Memphis features the following morning scripture reading, part of which is reproduced below:

14 When he came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting to meet him. Then the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon him, and the ropes that were on his arms became as flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands. 15 And he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, and put out his hand and took it, and with it he struck 1,000 men. 16 And Samson said,
“With the jawbone of a donkey,
heaps upon heaps,
with the jawbone of a donkey
have I struck down a thousand men.”
17 As soon as he had finished speaking, he threw away the jawbone out of his hand. And that place was called Ramath-lehi…

Every time I see that passage (the Authorised Version refers to it as “the jawbone of an ass”) I think of a story told by my second year Latin teacher, the Rev. Raymond O’Brien, a fine Episcopal minister. (My story about him, intiction and the French bread is here.)

He told the story of an Episcopal seminarian who informed his committee that he wanted to take his oral examinations as a fundamentalist. The committee was aghast; what self-respecting Episcopalian would want to do anything as a fundamentalist? So one of the committee members asked him, “Do you really think that Samson slew a thousand men with the jawbone of an ass?”

His response: “Well, when I consider the havoc the jawbones of some asses have wrought…”

When we consider the course of the Anglican/Episcopal world since then, the response makes much more sense.

Full disclosure: while pursuing my PhD, I successfully petitioned out of my oral examinations. I doubt I’d have a comeback quite as snappy as that one.

HT to the Lay Artiste.

Squaring the Circle of Anglican/Episcopal Ministry

At the end of Dante’s Paradiso, in his vision of God, he says the following:

Like a geometer wholly dedicated
to squaring the circle, both who cannot find,
think as he may, the principle indicated–

so did I study the supernal face.
I yearned to to know just how our image merges
into that circle, and how it then finds place;

But mine were not the wings for such a flight.

Paradiso, XXXIII, 133-139

“Squaring the circle” was a favourite pastime of geometers; it became a proverbial way of saying that something was impossible.

Now we mourn the sudden passing–a classic “challenges infinity and is soon gone” moment–of Thomas McKenzie, rector of the ACNA Church of the Redeemer in Nashville, TN.  McKenzie was on the more progressive side of the ACNA, one that was making itself known–and entering into conflict with more conservative people in the church who thought, “wasn’t getting away from this kind of thing what we’re all about?”  Escaping such is easier said than done, and I think that McKenzie’s life and ministry is a good way of forcing some of us to face reality on some things that we were hoping weren’t true.

I followed McKenzie from a distance like many people: on Twitter, in earlier times on his podcast, and of course his blog.  There are many things he said I didn’t agree with and some I did.  I think what needs to be done is to consider his ministry–and that of many others in the ACNA–in the context of the people he faced every Sunday and ministered to then and during the week.  (Some of the things he set forth made me ask myself, “Why did he leave the Episcopal Church?” but I digress…)

I’ve noted before some important things about the demographic of the Episcopal Church: it’s largely prosperous, educated and white.  That demographic basically replicated itself in the ACNA, and it did so at a time when those who were in that demographic were less inclined to be Christians or go to church than in the past, back when Christianity (in whatever form) was the “way up.”  This presented pastoral challenges for the minister whose flock was drawn from this demographic, and McKenzie met those with gusto.  In doing so he ran afoul of some of the political and theological sensibilities of people inside and outside his parish.

McKenzie sometimes spoke disparagingly of the Anglican/Episcopal world of the recent past, but ultimately he followed the lead of those who, faced with the same demographic, made the same activist response, i.e., people such as Ian Mitchell, James Pike and my high school chaplain.  In doing so he was aided by the influx of the “exvangelicals” (the “C4SO types”) whose aversion to their past fuelled their own “way up” both ecclesiastically and socio-economically.  (We’ve also seen that in the Episcopal past.)

But doing that butts into the obvious (to me at least) problem: the elevated, white demographic was and is part of the problem, not the solution.  For all the social activism in and out of churches, income inequality has generally increased during most of the last half century, the benefits accruing to those in churches such as his. Critical Race Theory types say that ills such as this are due to systemic racism; this is arguable since many of those at the bottom are white.  But according to the “Hoyle” of the present hour, churches such as TEC and ACNA are part of the problem and no amount of angst can fix that, which is why it’s hard to understand why ministers in both take up woke causes and ideas.

But appealing to Hoyle is ultimately unnecessary.  After so many years of trying, I think it’s safe to say that the Anglican/Episcopal paradigm of SJW ministers and privileged laity is unfixable.  North American Anglicanism is stuck in this “lather-rinse-repeat” cycle, and until the secular circumstances change, the cycle won’t.  Like squaring the circle, the attempts by people like McKenzie to make the church relevant to this demographic will insure that it is incapable of real change, either in its laity or in society in general.  This doesn’t mean that all ACNA churches will experience this; however, Episcopal experience teaches us that, if enough do, the rest will be taken down with them.

So is it really that hopeless?  Well, yes, but outside of the wholesale importation of secular ideologies (which some have done) there are two approaches our ministers can take to address this problem.

The first is to teach our people to be equitable, fair and “team player” elites.  This is the classical Episcopal approach and has been for generations, embodied in the “give back” principle that George Conger advocates.  I’m not sure it’s done as much for their eternal destiny as they think, but it’s made for a better society: we only need to look around us to see what happens when it fades away.

The second is to do what Our Lord did to the rich young ruler: tell him to sell all.  That will go over like a lead balloon, and the current substitute for it–be the “quit” in “equity”–won’t go over much better.

To push back against that ignores how Our Lord came into the world in the first place.  As Bossuet notes:

Let us once again go over these words of the angel: You will find a child in swaddling clothes, on a manger; you will know by this sign that it is the Lord. Go to the court of the kings, you will recognize the newborn prince by his covers embellished with gold, and by a fancy cradle which we would like to make a throne. But in order to know the Christ who was born to you, this Lord so high, that David his father, king as he is, calls his Lord, you are only given as a sign the manger where he is lying, and the poor swaddling clothes where his weak childhood is enveloped; that is to say, we only give you a nature similar to yours, infirmities like yours, poverty below yours. Who of you was born in a stable? Who among you, however poor he may be, gives his children a crib for a cradle? Jesus is the only one we see abandoned until this extremity and it is by this mark that he wants to be recognized.

If he wanted to use his power, what gold would crown his head? What purple would burst on his shoulders? What gems would enrich his clothes? But, continues Tertullian, he in turn judged this false splendour, all this borrowed glory, unworthy of him and his family: thus, in refusing it, he despised it; by despising it, he proscribed it; in proscribing it, he has categorized it with the pomp of the devil and of the age.

This is how our fathers the first Christians spoke; but we, unhappy, breathe only ambition and softness.

Phillips an Early Translation? Hardly.

Robin Jordan makes an interesting statement about translations of the Bible into English:

I have been reading J. B. Phillips’ translation of the Gospels into modern English. It is one of the earliest translations of the Gospels into the vernacular. The Gospels are the part of the Bible with which I am the most familiar. I have read the Gospels dozens of times in several different translations. The Gospels are the part of the Bible to which I turn again and again.

Translations of the Bible into English have been done since the days of Wycliffe and Tyndale, but what I think he’s referring to is “modern English” translations. Unfortunately his statement doesn’t pass muster, because, once we get past the flurry of KJV revisions such as the RV and ASV, the first “modern” translation to get widespread currency was the Twentieth Century New Testament. The copyright dates on this are 1900-1904; I have a copy. This translation is a favourite of mine, and I “reissued” it in my Positive Infinity New Testament.

On the other hand Phillips’ translation of the Gospels is copyright 1952, and the entire New Testament 1958. I also have a copy of this as well. Phillips revised the translation in 1972; the whole story of Phillips and many other translations from the last century (including the TCNT) can be found in So Many Versions? Twentieth-Century English Versions of the Bible. (For a “successor” book to this, you can read my book review here.)

I agree that the Sermon on the Mount gets the short shrift in Evangelical focus. As to whether Robin and I adhere to this, take a look at the comments section of this post and decide for yourself. It’s easier said than done, although the attempt is worth the effort.

The Scriptural BCP: Reclaiming the textual tradition with technology

Christians love text. Inheriting the enthusiasm of their Jewish forebears for the written word, Christians have left a blazing trail of text in their wake at every turn: sermons, commentaries, philosophical treatises, and liturgical documentation all have their part in the library. Text is powerful because it comes with triple strengths. Text endures; writing our…

The Scriptural BCP: Reclaiming the textual tradition with technology

He Called Them a Rock and Said They Belonged: Bill Atwood Saves the ACNA Chaplaincy

In the recent kerfuffle over which Anglican province has oversight over the ACNA’s chaplaincy jurisdiction, Bishop Bill Atwood opined the following:

Sorting through the history of the relations between the Anglican Church in North America and the Church of Nigeria, we have discovered that a Canonical action remained unaddressed from several years back. Both the Anglican Church in North America and the Church of Nigeria have agreed on a way forward. There is no longer a question of the place of the Jurisdiction in the Anglican Church in North America. The Jurisdiction is fully integrated with the Anglican Church in North America, will continue to be, and we celebrate that.

So why, you ask, did I write the title the way I did? One thing that many Anglicans don’t know is that Bill Atwood is an accomplished musician, and his album 3:25 am (produced in the UK) is one of the gems of the “Jesus Music” era. My title is based on his opening track to the album, and you can listen to it (and the rest of the album too) below.

The Song of the Drunkards

My last formal, parish-bonding attempt to be a part of the Episcopal Church was in 1978, right after I moved to Chattanooga to work in the family business. I was discontented with Roman Catholicism, having crashed from the high of my college years and the problems surrounding the covenant community business. So the Episcopal Church seemed to be a good place to take a look. Although I had left in part over the liberalism, I was willing to give it a try again. My mother, in the last stages of her knock-down, drag-out divorce, passed up the opportunity to join a Continuing Church (she was too Baptistic for such an enterprise.)

The church I picked was St. Thaddeus Episcopal Church, at the intersection of Highway 153 and 58 Highway (how do you like the way we designate roads around here?) At the time its Rector was one John Livingston Janeway IV. There was one Sunday when the Psalm for the service contained the following verse:

They that sit in the gate speak against me: and the drunkards make songs upon me.

(Psalm 69:12)

In his sermon he expressed the sentiment that he had never been the “song of the drunkards,” and thought the whole idea silly. I sat there uninspired by such handling of the Word of God. Not only that, I had never been the “song of the drunkards” either, but my interaction with same had taught me being on the butt end of their negative sentiments wasn’t a good thing, whether they set it to music or not. It’s worth noting that people don’t “sit in the gate” any more either, not in this country at least. What the verse needed was some cultural explanation, and that’s the point of this post.

Drinking songs are as old as drinking and music. During the “Jesus Music” era, some of what was served up (especially by the Roman Catholics) struck me as having a “drinking song” feel to it, something the folk group could do over beer and pizza after a successful Sunday evening Mass. Probably the best example of a drinking song that achieved long-lasting fame (with changes in the lyrics) is our National Anthem. The laid, high or drunk crowd that’s kneeling these days needs to think about that.

I come from a long time of serious drinkers who followed the custom of people educated in the Victorian era of setting things to poetry. I wonder sometimes how many or these (some of which are on this site) were done “three sheets to the wind.” At least one of them was set to music. (This custom persisted in Evangelical churches; I can remember our Sunday School superintendent reciting these before church in the mid-1980’s.)

So what happened to the “song of the drunkards?” Doubtless the same thing that killed a great deal of people-performed, sometimes improvised singing and playing: recorded music. Before World War I, if you wanted music in your home, you needed to be able to perform it with played instruments and vocals, as was the case in the tavern. After that the way we interact with music changed dramatically, probably not for the better.

Being the song of the drunkards, however, isn’t the only way you can end up on the wrong end. It’s a hard road being on the receiving end of an abusive drunk, be that abuse verbal, physical or both. That, as much as anything, may have clicked in me when Janeway expressed his sentiment about the above verse. They may not have the wit to make up (or adapt) songs any more, but the drunks have other methods at their disposal, and they’re not pretty.

Janeway ended up leaving full-time ministry, being an Interim Rector from time to time. After my own years of church work, I really can’t blame him for his departure. As for myself the restless urge to find better made me leave St. Thaddeus behind, ending up in the brutally educational experience that was First Baptist Church.

Today hard drinking is back with a vengeance. It’s a way to kill the pain of life while at the same time commiserate with drinking buddies, although its practitioners will find it as destructive as those who went before them. So be forewarned: in some Millennial or Gen Z watering hole, you too could end up being the song–or the trash talk–of the drunkards.

The Main Obstacle to Religious Freedom

This past week my wife and I had the chance to attend the International Religious Freedom Summit in Washington, DC. It was an interesting conference on a subject that gets the short shrift these days. In attendance were representatives of several religions including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and many others. The fact that any kind of consensus is emerging on this topic on with this broad of an audience is encouraging.

One of those groups represented was Ahmadiyya Islam. I got to spend some time with these people. I have been intrigued with this group ever since I discovered that these people believe that the Qur’an teaches that Jesus really died on the Cross and was brought back to life. What happened to Jesus after that is where we part company, but to make this claim is a bold one in an Islamic context. Making the claim that Muhammad was not the final prophet is a bold one too, and one which has made them a stench in the nostrils of (particularly) Sunni Islam, with persecution following. Thus, their interest in religious freedom is more than academic, to say the least.

In the course of our conversation I brought up a question that should have gotten more interest at the conference: why are so many averse to the whole concept of religious freedom? My explanation of this follows.

All religion is concerned with going beyond this life. How this happens varies from one to another. In the case of Islam and Christianity, the choice is the same: it is the means that differs so sharply, and with that the results. But ultimately religious people look at life as transcending the limitations of our mortality.

Today we have an elite which is deeply corporatist and desirous to maintain control over the situation and to perpetuate their primacy. I’ve characterised their priorities as getting laid, high or drunk, and their desire is to limit those whom they feel are under them to do the same. If they succeed, then the people’s vision is limited to what they place in front of them: there is no beyond. It’s the mentality of “Imagine” imposed by this corporatist bunch, not just a bunch of superannuated hippies out for a good time.

Religious people throw a monkey wrench into all this by proclaiming that there is a beyond, there is a higher power of some kind that transcends this life. This is a threat to those who rule: it means that they are not the ones that ultimately make the rules or determine the final destiny over those whom they control. This they cannot stand. If they make an alliance with a religion, it means that they feel that its adherents and leadership can be controlled. In the old Soviet Union, the Communists did a pretty good job doing just that with Islam in Central Asia; they managed to keep a lid on things without forcing all of them to become atheists. But times have changed, which is why we’re seeing the brutal crackdown on the Uygurs in Xinjiang.

This is why religious freedom is in such a parlous state these days. Our elites do not want us to see beyond them, and as long as we do they will attempt to punish us.