Bishop Spong, the Theological Criminal

The Virtual Atheism of John Shelby Spong

A Former 'Bishop' or not, This Man Stands Outside of the Community of the Faithful

J ohn Shelby Spong, who was born in 1931 in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S., is the notorious retired Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark (based in Newark, New Jersey). Spong has been something of a 'heavyweight' (at least, reputation-wise) liberal writer on Christianity and on the Scriptures. He has promoted all the usual liberal causes, things such as racial equality, gay rights and he is an especially keen supporter of ordaining homosexuals to Christian ministry.

"...Spong is a theological miscreant and criminal who is prepared to ride roughshod over the conclusions of the greatest theological minds of the last several hundred years."

The bishop has written 24 books, books in which his approach is typically dogmatic and authoritative, moreover he always - somewhat arrogantly - assumes his own high level of scholarship. Despite this, that 'scholarship' has increasingly been called into question during the last few years. Frankly, anybody who holds the Bible in any sort of respect must see Spong as a theological miscreant and criminal who is prepared to ride roughshod over the conclusions of the greatest theological minds of the last several hundred years. Steeped in the 'human progress can solve all problems' worldview of Modernism, he later added some of the more destructive influences of Post-Modernism to his conclusions ('who can even say what words mean?') Generally supportive of the existentialist theology of Paul Tillich, Spong is also a man who seems to bristle with hatred for the Christian Gospel. This emotion is apparently so fierce that he has spent several decades attempting to undermine biblical Christianity wherever possible.

Spong calls for a fundamental rethinking of Christian belief, away from Theism and from the concept of an afterlife as reward or punishment for human behaviour, towards a more modern social liberal approach. This man has made some incredible statements about Christianity, statements which tend to make one gasp with amazement that they could come from a man who was employed for many years as a "Christian minister."

Bishop Spong
Spong, who has done much to court publicity and attention.

In his A Call For Reformation which appears on his website, Spong states his '12 Points' for requesting a new reformation. He makes several amazing statements such as the following:

"Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found."

"Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt."

"The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense."

"There is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time."

Elsewhere, Spong has also stated the following:

"I am amazed that given the knowledge revolution of the last 600 years, anyone could still regard the Bible as the dictated word of God, inerrant and eternal ..."

Gerald O'Collins, Professor of Fundamental Theology, Gregorian University, Rome, has stated that "Spong's work simply does not belong to the world of international scholarship." In fact that is a widespread opinion among numerous Bible scholars including an increasing number from a loosely liberal background.

Even Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, generally regarded as standing on the liberal wing of Anglicanism, wrote a response to Spong's '12 points' in 1998, when he was the Bishop of Monmouth. Williams wrote that
"... I cannot in any way see Bishop Spong's theses as representing a defensible or even an interesting Christian future. And I want to know whether the Christian past scripture and tradition, really appears to him as empty and sterile as this text suggests."

Can a Bishop Be Wrong? in which ten scholars challenge Spong's conclusions, is one of the several books available which have taken Spong to task; the book is edited by Peter Moore. While this particular book has been criticized as simply being a collection of essays which often repeat some of the same points, many books, and internet articles, critical of Spong have appeared.

Michael Bott and Jonathan Sarfati have very well stated,

"Spong approaches the Bible with his own politically correct spectacles. This leads him to impose his political and social stereotypes upon the Bible with a crude dogmatism devoid of scholarly insight. To add weight to this cause, Spong desperately tries to dress up his claims as scientific and scholarly."
('Whats Wrong with Bishop Spong?'

We sometimes have to stop and remind ourselves that this enemy of the Church and of Christianity was actually (until his retirement), an Episcopalian bishop! Yet we must ask, could a bishop of the Episcopalian church be so ignorant as to utter the following comment:

"Is not the primary message of the Easter narratives that even the barrier of death must not deter us in our quest for life and love?" ('Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism,' p. 146).

Can a fully accredited bishop seriously have such a weak and plainly erroneous view of the 'message of Easter'? Frankly, it beggars belief.

Spong, who does not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, has attempted to explain away the empty tomb by claiming that there was no tomb in the first place, and that Jesus was buried in a common grave. He has erroneously claimed that no New Testament authority exists for a tomb. In fact, this is incorrect; Paul the Apostle certainly stated that Jesus was buried, which in Greek is etafh (etaphē), and this word literally means entombed (from en, ‘in’; taphos, ‘tomb’). Peter also contrasted Jesus, whose body did not ‘see decay’ (NIV), with David, whose body still lay in his tomb (Acts 2:22-35). At the very least, this is seriously sloppy scholarship by the hopelessly muddled former bishop.

In a very encouraging development, Spong was forbidden to preach or officiate in the Sydney diocese during his 2007 Australian book tour by Sydney Archbishop Peter Jensen, something which had also happened in 2001. (source:

It would be fair to say that Spong has now rejected just about all the central and pivotal tenets of the Christian Faith - but where a "bishop" does that, should he not have been requested to resign his bishopric? Not, alas, in the dreadfully confused and compromised U.S. Episcopal denomination. Spong even considers that the whole idea of 'sin' was nothing more than a tool of the ecclesiastical elite to use as a tool to manipulate people’s behaviour and feelings of inadequacy! (source:

Since Spong rejects any concept of supernaturalism, fully accepting every single tenet of Darwinism, and since he claims that the Scriptures have no authority, is this not tantamount to Spong being an atheist? Surely this is indeed the case and Spong should be concluded as such. Therefore UK Apologetics does not list Spong with those within the Church who have sought for a better understanding of Christianity by occasionally producing helpful and even challenging writings which - nevertheless - assume our great creeds of faith. While this man may have been employed by Episcopalianism for many years, he may - in our opinion - certainly be considered as outside of the Faith of Jesus Christ along with such people as Don Cupitt (who, we understand, is technically a "deacon").

I want to introduce our readers to two articles which critique the work of John Shelby Spong in rather more detail:

Spong Kong Phooey
(This is a very good general critique showing where Spong has frequently been in error. Longish, but not too long. Approachable).

Whats Wrong With Bishop Spong?
(A very long and quite detailed critique of the great errors within Spong's writings. But it is always readable).

UK Apologetics, October, 2008.