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12 Theses
of Bishop Spong
of the Episcopal Church


NOTE: Bishop John Shelby Spong is probably the best known figure in contemporary Episcopalianism. He is also one of the most controversial figures in the history of the Episcopal Church. Presented below, for reference only, are his controversial "12 Theses."

It should be noted that other denominations do not generally consider Spong's pronouncements relevant. It should be emphasized that the "12 Theses" are controversial within Spong's own denomination as well. Many Episcopalian clergy have signed petitions affirming their rejection of Spong's theology. Although Spong's influence on the Episcopal Church is significant, the "12 Theses" should not be considered representative of anybody's views except his own. They do not constitute an official Episcopal Church document.

Episcopalian Bishop James Stanton of Dallas said:
First, Spong styles himself a judge of the church, but that is not his actual role. Rather, his continued presence as a bishop in this church constitutes a judgment upon us. While Spong's published positions are well outside any meaningful definition of the Christian faith, this has not taken him outside the [Episcopal] church. By retaining his office while making a travesty of the faith he was ordained to guard, he has dragged much of the church into darkness with him
(Source: Can a Bishop be Wrong? Ten Scholars Challenge John Shelby Spong, Morehouse Publishing, 1998, p. 13).

Those who say of the Episcopal Church, "Stick a fork in it; it's done!" are being unfair. The clergy in the Episcopal Church are almost universally people with good intentions, and many committed members remain. Regardless of the current status of the Episcopal Church, its importance in American history is undeniable.

Those who say that nobody takes the Episcopal Church seriously any more are summarily dismissing a large number of Americans. Between 1990 and 2000, the number of Americans surveyed who identified themselves as Episcopalians was virtually unchanged: 1.7% (Kosmin's National Survey of Religion Identification in 1990, with a sample size of 113,000; Harris Poll in 2000, with a sample size of 15,331). This means that nearly 5 million Americans consider themselves Episcopalians. Many of these are from families which have been Episcopalian for 100 or 200 years. Although the actual membership of the Episcopalian Church has declined steadily for 30 years, there are still about 2.4 million members officially on the roles.

The complete document in Bishop Spong introduces the 12 Theses is his "Call for a New Reformation"

The 12 Theses

1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.

2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.

3. The biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.

4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ's divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.

5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.

6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.

7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.

8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.

9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard writ in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.

10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.

11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.

12. All human beings bear God's image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one's being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.


Spong ends this article by saying:
"So I set these theses today before the Christian world and I stand ready to debate each of them as we prepare to enter the third millennium."

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Disclaimer: Adherents.com is a source of statistical and geographical data, and takes no position on any theological matters. Adherents.com has no position on Bishop Spong, the 12 Theses, or the Episcopal Church. This list is posted here for reference only.