Sunday, November 07, 2010

John Shelby Spong and the Hereafter

When I first started this blog five years ago, people told me "your ideas remind me of Bishop Spong," the liberal theologian and former Bishop of the Episcopal church. Having never read him (as one just starting to emerge out of the sheltered enclave of the evangelical subculture), I checked out his books. In a way, these people were right. Spong was coming to similar conclusions as I, saying we should rescue the Bible from fundamentalists and that the popular literal and narrow interpretation of scripture is nonsensical (e.g. on gays, women, inerrancy, etc). While still embracing Jesus as one who revealed God and encouraging us to follow his example of selfless love.

Yet upon closer examination, I decided Spong goes too far. He seemed to doubt almost everything, concluding there was no supernatural elements in the Bible including the resurrection. Those positions seemed to me to be just as "fundamentalist" as the literalists, by deciding on these issues, not on the merit of objective biblical scholarship itself, but from a preconceived position. Like other progressives like Garry Wills would, I still feel that way. However, after seeing Spong speak last month in Seattle (touting his new book, Eternal Life: A New Vision), I have a new appreciation for his spiritual journey. I found him to be delightful, sensible, and full of compassion. And, one who believes in life after death, albeit without telling us exactly what it will be like. (I mean, who can?)

That's exactly what the new movie Hereafter does as well. Although sometimes excruciatingly slow, the movie gives us a glimpse of a place beyond death where light and peace await, without labeling a source of the light as God or Christ. Hereafter seems to base its theory of beyond on the many near death experiences that have been documented. Spong's book doesn't focus on those but is based on Spong's own personal research and vision for experiencing eternity starting now in a way that transcends religion. To me, the movie and Spong's book is at the very least a wonderful sign of spiritual yearning and sense most people seem to intrinsically possess, which is a stark contradiction to the popular view of materialism. Just some of my observations.