An Examination Of The Theology Of Bishop John Shelby Spong -- By: Stephanie D. Monk

Journal: Global Journal of Classical Theology
Volume: GJCT 09:1 (Jun 2011)
Article: An Examination Of The Theology Of Bishop John Shelby Spong
Author: Stephanie D. Monk

An Examination Of The Theology Of Bishop John Shelby Spong

Stephanie D. Monk

Patrick Henry College



John Shelby Spong was born in North Carolina on June 16, 1931. His mother was a strict Presbyterian, so Spong grew up in the church, but from an aunt’s insistence he started singing in choir at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and soon became deeply involved in the Episcopalian Church. Spong’s father was an alcoholic and died after a heart attack in 1943. As a young child, Spong was deeply troubled by his father’s displeasure, and after his father’s death, Spong resented his mother’s emotional dependency upon him in making him the leader of the family when he was not emotionally prepared for that role.1 Spong married Joan Ketner in 1952, and received his Master of Divinity degree in 1955 from the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia. In 1976 he was appointed Bishop of Newark where he served for 24 years, retiring in 2001. In 1988 his wife, Joan, died of cancer. Two years later he married Christine Barney. Bishop Spong is the author, or co-author, of twenty-one books. As a favored media personality, his greatest influence has been in popularizing liberal Christian viewpoints in a format that is easily comprehensible by the layperson.2


Bishop Spong consistently ranks Bishop John A.T. Robinson and his book Honest to God as one of the most important influences on the development of his theological ideas. As Spong states, “There is no doubt that John Robinson was my ancestor in faith. He was also my spiritual father in whose pathway I have deliberately tried to walk.”3 Spong also lists Bultmannn and Tillich as notable influences on his beliefs.4


Before addressing Spong’s specific beliefs, it is necessary to explain the midrash technique, based on Michael Goulder’s work in Jewish traditions, that Spong uses for analyzing Scripture.5 Spong defines midrash as follows:

What is midrash? It is both a collection of the interpretations of sacred Scripture and a method for the continued expansion of the sacred Scripture…. Midrash is the Jewish way of saying that everything to be venerated in the present must somehow be connected with a sacred moment in the past. It is the ability to rework an ancient theme in a new context.6

Thus, everything that is recorded in the Gospels should be interpreted as mi...

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