John Shelby Spong

Bishop John Shelby Spong Update

By Cassandra Farrin | 1.13.2017

Yesterday afternoon Bishop John Shelby Spong shared a letter with an update on his health. Jack, who is best known to the Westar community for books such as Why Christianity Must Change or Die, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, and, most recently, Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy, suffered a stroke in September 2016. Happily, his recovery is progressing very well, and his forthcoming book Charting a New Reformation is staying on schedule.

However, he has made the hard decision to relinquish his regular column with Progressive Christianity. A number of people, including myself, will be helping to transition to the next generation of the column. Other contributors include Matthew Fox, Gretta Vosper, David Felten, Kevin Thews Forrester, “Science” Mike McHargue, Mark Sandlin, Eric Alexander, and Roger Wolsey.

Jack warmly thanked everyone for their support during this difficult time:

I want to thank you all for the many letters I have received. More than thirty thousand letters have come to me since the stroke. There was no way I could acknowledge them or even respond to them, but I read every one of them and was warmed by the experience.

Progressive Christianity Board President Fred Plumer, who described their work together over the years as “one of the most rewarding experiences in my life,” explained that the next phase of the newsletter would be a “new Bishop Spong inspired and endorsed series, called A New Reformation.” This comes on the eve of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and after a year-long project kicked off by Bishop Spong with a list of Twelve Theses that reject supernatural beliefs, like the virgin birth, and call for new approaches to common Christian concerns, like prayer and ethics. “We envision this series forming a virtual society around the world that serves to perpetuate and expand upon his thoughts,” Plumer explained.

I know that Bishop John Shelby Spong has been an important person to many people at Westar, so I hope you will find this update encouraging and reassuring. I have fond memories of sharing a meal with Jack and his wife Christine at a Westar national meeting several years ago, and I wish them continued strength and healing in the coming year!

I also hope my future contributions to carry the newsletter forward will do him proud ... not by repeating what he has already so ably said himself, but by taking the conversation about the future of religion in new directions, especially through respectful dialogue with other world religious, spiritual, and humanist traditions. In that spirit, my first contribution profiles the first Japanese Buddhist to attempt historical-critical activities in, believe it or not, 18th-century isolationist Japan. I am envisioning future contributions that draw from world literature and history to keep conversations about religion grounded in a wide, meaningful context.

Cassandra FarrinCassandra Farrin joined Westar in 2010. A US-UK Fulbright Scholar, she has an M.A. in Religious Studies from Lancaster University (England) and a B.A. in Religious Studies from Willamette University. She is passionate about books and projects that in some way address the intersection of ethics and early Christian history.