March 11, 2018


I can’t tell you how excited I was to be browsing among the shelves in Barnes & Noble recently and came across the latest book by John Shelby Spong titled, “Unbelievable.” He is a retired Episcopal Bishop and a prolific author. He has been writing books since 1973 and claims this to be his final contribution to the world at age 89. I am attracted to authors who force me to leave my comfort zone and realize there is a great big world out there from which I can learn if I choose to do so.

Bishop Spong is progressive in his outlook and could be offensive to those who have allowed their beliefs to be set in stone. He doesn’t question the experience of God, but is skeptical of the explanations of God.

He says, “The explosion of knowledge over the last 500 years in the West has rendered most of the biblical and creedal presuppositions unbelievable. They rise out of a world that no longer exists. Yet Churches continue to operate as if the eternal truth could be placed into these earthen vessels, proclaiming that in both the Bible and the creeds, ultimate truth has been captured forever. The result is that Christianity seems less and less believable to more and more people.” He calls for a new Reformation framed in the form of 12 Theses. 1. God, 2. Jesus the Christ, 3. Original Sin, 4. The Virgin Birth, 5. Miracles, 6. Atonement Theology, 7. Easter, 8. The Ascension, 9. Ethics, 10. Prayer, 11. Life After Death, 12. Universalism.

I always encourage Catholics to read because it gives us confidence in discussing our faith. So many adult Catholics feel uncomfortable having conversations about what they believe because they never question it or never give themselves permission to doubt or wonder. As a result, many are incapable of having an adult conversation in which they feel competent. It can be life giving to have your mind and heart deeply moved by well-educated people writing about their experiences of God and how the Church can make that experience come to life. 

John Spong’s following statement may entice you to pick up the book and read it, if only because you will be shocked, “God, I believe, is an experience that is real. Creeds are, however, nothing more than attempted explanations of that God experience. Theology thus represents little more than human attempts to organize the explanations. Doctrine then becomes only the attempt to enforce the theology arrived at in those creeds. Finally, dogma develops, which is doctrine literalized and turned into idolatry.” 

You and/or I may disagree vehemently with Bishop Spong’s conclusions, but the book will surely bring out your passion one way or the other. Say what you will but he has done his homework.

Enjoy life & Lent!
Fr. Coyne


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