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Originally published in Creation 24(2):15, March 2002
Bishop John Shelby Spong is well known for attacking almost every Christian doctrine he swore in his ordination vows to uphold, e.g. God as sovereign Creator, the Incarnation, Virginal Conception and Resurrection of Christ, and substitionary atonement. (All this while drawing a salary contributed by those who presumably expect their leaders to defend the official beliefs of their church.)
Not many face up, however, to the fact that his views on all these issues all flow naturally from his acceptance of the idea of an evolutionary flow of history. Spong says:
“I live on the other side of Charles Darwin. And Charles Darwin not only made us Christians face the fact that the literal creation story cannot be quite so literal, but he also destroyed the primary myth by which we had told the Jesus story for centuries. That myth suggested that there was a finished creation from which we human beings had fallen into sin, and therefore needed a rescuing divine presence to lift us back to what God had originally created us to be. But Charles Darwin says that there was no perfect creation because it is not yet finished. It is still unfolding. And there was no perfect human life which then corrupted itself and fell into sin, there was rather a single cell that emerged slowly over 4½ to 5 billion years, into increasing complexity, into increasing consciousness.
“And so the story of Jesus who comes to rescue us from the Fall becomes a nonsensical story. So how can we tell the Jesus story with integrity and with power, against the background of a humanity that is not fallen but is simply unfinished?”1
If the Bible is not accepted as true in its history, the Gospel story also comes to be rejected. Note how even the idea of “progressive creation”, so eagerly embraced by many evangelical leaders who reject evolution, also logically destroys the idea of a perfect, finished creation which fell due to Adam’s sin. This is because millions of years attributed to the fossils (rather than being caused by a global Flood) means death and disease well before Adam. Hence it contains within it the seeds of the same sort of thinking which spawned Spong’s views.