Lambeth Conference
from Canterbury, England

Earle Fox

Monday, July 20, 1998

Two Articles


John Spong is reported as having said all kinds of thing - many of which which prove him to be no longer a Christian. However, one of his latest splashes has an oblique bit of merit to it, at least as reported in the "Church of England Newspaper". Spong was interviewed by Andrew Carey, son of the Archbishop, George Carey. In that interview, Spong is quoted as saying of the 3rd world Christians:

"They've moved out of animism into a very superstitious kind of Christianity. They've yet to face the intellectual revolution of Copernicus and Einstein that we've had to face in the developing world: that is just not on their radar screen."

His point is that he, John Spong, has navigated those troublesome waters and come out a wise man on the subject, and wishes to educate them as to how they should handle the matter. If he was showing some honest learning on the subject, he might indeed use his enormous gifts of communication for the Kingdom. But that is not to be. At least not, apparently, in the near future.

His statements have been taken, as one would expect, with great offense by the 3rd world folks. Where the 3rd world bishops are is, I think, of little concern to Spong. He makes other comments as well which are very denigrating to the third world, which are torpedoing his own case. He is currently one of the best men on our team.

But, to be fair to Spong, he is not entirely wrong in the above statement, just badly motivated.  The statement quoted above is largely true -- except for the word "superstitious" -- which is, of course, precisely the point Spong wishes to make.

What the 3rd world Christians see is a westernized Christianity which has shown itself incompetent to deal with secularizing. "Westernized" has come to mean "secularized" -- when it should have come to mean "Christian". We Christians have been marginalized and plowed under by secularists all during the 20th century. We do appear to be emerging out from under our rocks, however.

It is clearly true that the 3rd world Christians have indeed not yet had to face the full power of secularized technology and industrialization. And there is no question that they will. Indeed, it is upon them now, no small thanks to John Spong, et al -- who support that secular rejection of Biblical Christianity.

It must be noted that the problem is not in any instance whatsoever either science or technology. The problem is the secularization of science and technology -- those two wonderful gifts from God (exactly the opposite of Spong's contention - that secularization is the answer to the problem, which is the Bible). One more example of our fallen human tendency to steal from God whatever He, in His love and mercy, chooses to give us. Secularization is always stealing from God, witting or unwitting.

The third-world bishops and other Christians may well be of assistance to us temporarily by lending their voices to sanity in faith and practice. But they do not have the answers to secularization, and they themselves will shortly be under full-scale attack on just those very issues. 

As their wives will find out at the "Spouses Conference" which is running concurrently.  The feminists, and right along side of them, the homosexualists, (or such as can wiggle into the program) will be aiming for the minds and hearts of the bishops' wives. Secularization is an issue which will have to be faced successfully here in the West, and by westerners. Successfully dealing with secularization may our greatest gift to the rest of the world for the coming 21st century.

Spong goes on to try (again) to impale the Biblical worldview on the spear of "literalism" and/or "fundamentalism". He makes a distinction between "fundamentalist" and "literalist":

"The fundamentalists are fundamentalist about everything; literalists are more speculative about what they are fundamentalist about."

The charge is a silly one, because Spong himself has to choose where he will and will not be literal. Everyone must make that choice. And everyone must come down somewhere with a literal meaning for some of his words and statements. Not everything can be analogy, because every analogy requires some literal content -- with which to be analogous.

The way therefore to nail Spong down is to pursue him to state his literal statements, his absolute commitments, and then force him to defend those. He will resist that with every possible strategy, but he will begin to expose himself for the intellectual bully and charlatan that he is if someone can get to him this way.

I will try to illustrate that process in later posts.

I had hopes that Bishop Peter Lee from South Africa might, since Spong agreed to dialogue with him. But it does not look at present as though Lee will pursue Spong in that way.




Archbishop Carey gave his opening talk -- a talk which was predictable -- struggling hard to combine orthodoxy with open, honest discussion.  That is the hard task before the bishops.

His one clear exception to both orthodoxy and reason is the ordination of women - on which he makes no reasonable (at least visible to this author) attempt to be orthodox or Biblical, and must inevitably fall into the same kind of treatment of Scripture into which the homosexualists fall. I.e., mistreating passages and giving them meanings which they do not have. Homosexualists and radical feminists work hand in glove.

Nevertheless, Carey did a good job for someone who probably has only a vague notion of how he will maintain open, honest discussion and at the same time keep an honestly Biblical worldview, faith, and practice. Precisely the "liberal" vs. "conservative" tug of war. But not an insoluble one.

The issue is epistemology -- coming to a solid understanding and conclusion about how we know the truth. A proper epistemology can solve the "liberal-conservative" split. Carey is right in both of his points: honest and open discussion along with Biblical conclusions. But he does not indicate that he is capable of showing us how to do that.

The problem, of course, is that one cannot guarantee beforehand that a really honest discussion will lead to the Christian faith. What if the evidence points the other way? Don't we have to dig our heels in somewhere -- such as by asserting the infallibility of something?

Well, what if it does go the "wrong" way? If we are wrong, would we not want to know? Sadly, often the answer is "no, we do not want to know." And if that is the case, we have forfeited the right to be heard by others.

Insofar as we evangelize and convert, we are asking other folks to put their beliefs on the line and risk them in open discussion and exploration, we are asking them to consider the possibility that they could be wrong. If we are not willing to engage in that open-ended process ourselves, we have no right to ask anyone else to do so either. That is intellectually and spiritual dishonesty, and disgraces the name of God. It implies that we do not really believe our view of God, that it will stand up in honest discussion. And it implies that the reputation of God must be defended dishonestly.  God cannot appreciate that.

Honest faith and honest conservatism is always built on honest pursuit of truth. Any faith built on resistance to honest pursuit of truth is no faith at all. At least not Biblical faith.

A Counter-Example: a few homosexualists were outside the auditorium where Carey was to speak, with placards and occasional loud voices protesting Carey's anti-homosexualist views. He is against the view and the condition, not the persons. At any rate, I engaged one of them in conversation with the two liner I often use.  I said:

I am on the other side of the fence from you folks. But if the evidence shows that God approves of homosexuality and that it is medically a safe way to live, then I will stand with you and support your cause. But if the evidence goes the other way, would you be willing to reconsider your position?

The first rule of any significant discussion ("Come, let us reason together....") is to discover whether the aim of the discussion is to find the truth of the matter. I.e., to go by fact and logic. Get the honest evidence.

You can predict the response. He did not want to answer my question and kept changing the subject. But I kept pressing to bring him back to it. Finally he said that, yes, he wanted to go by the evidence also. And I think he at least half way meant it.  At least he relaxed and put his placard down.  I said that that was good, that he and I had some common ground to talk on, rather than throwing emotional bricks at each other. I shook his hand and said, "Thank you, and God bless you, brother." It was a real victory. Small but real, and the kind under which honest liberals and honest conservatives must come together. And the kind that pseudo-liberals (who do not liberate) and pseudo-conservatives (who do not conserve) will never be able to accomplish.

We did not discuss the hard issues, and had we gotten together, it may not have been able to happen, but it is a absolutely essential step toward such a discussion. We must clarify what we mutually believe honest and candid discussion to be, or we are wasting our time.

It was a very difficult admission for him.

But it is equally difficult for "conservatives" also. There are many, many conservatives who do not know how to conserve, and who believe that "reason" is a tool of the enemy. Never mind that the Anglican "three-legged stool" (so-called -- Scripture, Tradition, and Reason) includes reason as one of the legs. Very few Anglicans either understand reason, its function, or the honest rules of dialogue. Or, if they do, they are not interested in risking their own comfort to put those principles to work.

God invites us all into precisely that honest dialogue, based on fact and logic. "Come, let us reason together." People get worried when I suggest such an idea, thinking (one must suppose) that God and reason really do not go together.

But God is the only totally reasonable being in the whole cosmos, and reason and reasonable dialogue are an essential aspect of the strategy by which He will win the world back to Himself. Or at least that part of the world that is willing to get into that dialogue with Him. The biggest problem is that most of us do not show up for the discussion, so He has to deal with us the hard way -- the 2x4 to get our attention.  Or, if it comes to that, the Assyrians.  Such as --  9-11-01. 

Let us get on with the courageous task of shedding our suits of armor, living in the light, and becoming vulnerable to the queries of the opposition. That is precisely where God wins His battle.

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