Faith and Reason

In support of Bishop Jack Spong

We have received this letter from Australia in response to Andrew’s earlier reflections on Bishop Spong’s autobiography.

I have found Bishop Spong’s autobiography very interesting particularly because it explains the events in his life that caused him to write his various books. These works, I believe, fall into two groupings:

  1. The helpful earlier books (listed below) which clearly bring into focus aspects of modern scholarship important for thinking persons living in the 21st Century; and
  2. His book Why Christianity must Change or Die (1998). This book is a great disappointment to me because it leaps into issues so profound that most readers (including myself) have to put them into the ‘too hard’ basket of their minds. Spong himself puts forward his ‘Twelve Theses’ as ‘a manifesto calling the church to a new reformation’ (see page 249 of autobiography) - indeed a lofty vision!

But Spong’s contributions must not be dismissed. Today’s Anglican Church (in Australia at least) has a major credibility problem with regard to matters of belief. Few people today believe that all the events portrayed in scripture and the creeds actually happened as described - but that is exactly what an outsider would see our church teaching. It is not good enough to recite liturgies in public but to agree, privately, that what was said may not have been a literal interpretation, I believe the time is ripe for an informed dialogue to begin with clergy, informed laity and intellectuals working through various problem areas. Spong’s earlier books (listed below) provide useful starting points for such study. And in what better place for this dialogue to begin than St Peter’s Magazine?

It should not be impossible for the Anglican Church to use material from discussions like this to develop a “Supplementary Statement of Belief” relevant for our times. I see this needing to be little more than a listing of various issues of concern according to the extent of agreement, and giving alternative understandings for more controversial matters. The Anglican Church must move quickly on this matter of belief. It is no use for our Synods to discuss matters like the ordination of women bishops (on the Australian agenda) if there is no church left for them to preside over when the dust settles!

I should add that till now I have tried to resolve these matters in my own mind by taking note of Richard Hooker, one of our early theologians. Hooker saw a believer getting strength from three sources: the teachings of scripture, the traditions of the church, and use of reason. A problem I find in breaking belief into compartments is that it results in a ‘schizophrenic Anglican’ who has great difficulty in passing on such a faith to others. Surely the Church can do something to help us all? This problem must be solvable.

Some of Spong’s earlier books which justify further study:

  • This Hebrew Lord (1988)
  • Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism (1991)
  • Resurrection: Myth or Reality? (1994)
  • Liberating the Gospels (1996)

Dr Howard Quinian, Canberra A.C.T., Australia

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Last revised 2nd June 2001