Posted by: smstrouse | October 22, 2016

Tribute (no, not obituary) to John Shelby Spong

10435394_738971892823266_204175467777320157_nMany of you know that John Shelby Spong had a stroke back on September 10th. Thankfully, he’s expected to make a good recovery. According to Bishop Spong’s Facebook page, “at minimum, the expectation is for almost 90% physical and 95%+ cognitive recovery”.

For many years I’ve been receiving weekly columns written by Bishop Spong. Along with his books and lectures, these have been  a source of immeasurable value in my own continuing exploration of what it means to be a progressive Christian. (You too can subscribe here)

While Bishop Spong continues to recuperate from his stroke, the task of writing some of
these columns has been given to guest authors. Last week, I was 41oaa1ffy3l-_sx386_bo1204203200_pleased to see that Fred Plumer, the Acting Executive Director of, was the featured writer.  You can read his entire essay when you subscribe, but I’ll share a taste of it here. Fred echoes much of my own story of moving away from the Christological paradigm I had been taught, then wandering in the wilderness and wrestling with my beliefs and unbeliefs, and finally coming into the Promised Land of a Christianity that makes much more sense – while also including the awareness of Mystery. If you’ve never read his book Christpower, co-authored withLucy Newton Boswell Negus, I recommend it to you.

Here’s the excerpt from Fred Plumer:
When I graduated from Seminary and few years before this incident, I had already dissolved my belief in the old paradigm of Jesus dying for our sins. Between the fact that I had attended a liberal seminary and my very early relationship with the Jesus Seminar, I really had little or no Christology left. As a pastor, I talked about the man, Jesus, who gave us many moral, ethical and spiritual lessons about how to live our lives. I knew he was a Jew and a Galilean, which was a minority of a minority. Yes, he was a special man and he had laid out a fairly simple way to live in harmony with self, with others, and with Abba, even in the most difficult times. But, like the great line in the famous musical, Jesus Christ Super Star, “he was just a man.”

But over the years Bishop Spong started filling in the blanks for me that gave both life and purpose to the Jesus I had studied for ten years at that point. Although I did not realize it at the time, I had a pretty one dimensional and no colors in my portrait of Jesus. I now realize what Bishop Spong provided for me is something like “a paint by the numbers” portrait of Jesus. As I read each of Jack’s books, I would fill in more of the painting, year after year. I read lots of other books, of course. I would guess in that twenty-five year period, I read three to four hundred books or more, many of which were helpful and some were great.

But it has been Bishop Spong’s books that gave my “portrait” color, depth, and life.

I really couldn’t have said it any better.

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