In a Good Friday service at historic St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, retired Bishop John Shelby Spong decried the Nicene Creed as “a radical distortion of the Gospel of John,” asserted that several of the apostles were “mythological” and declared that Jesus Christ did not die to redeem humanity from its sins.
This Gospel sees Jesus as a life lived so deeply that he reached mystical oneness with God,” proposed Spong.
He argued that Jesus could say “I and the father are one” only because he was inviting his disciples “to enter a mystical reality of divine human oneness.”
Instead of portraying the crucifixion of Jesus being about his sacrifice, Spong claimed the author of the book of John intended a “call to all of us to be whole people – to find yourself and give yourself away.”
“God does not need human sacrifice to forgive,” Spong declared. “John’s Jesus is not about saving sinners and rescuing the lost. It is about moving beyond self-consciousness to universal consciousness.”
“Jesus does not die for your sins in this [John's] gospel; he dies to make you whole,” Spong announced from the pulpit. “As evolving creatures, the problem is not that we have fallen, but that we are not yet fully human.”
“We are not sinners, the church got that wrong, we are rather incomplete human beings,” Spong concluded with an “amen” that was echoed by the congregation and clergy present.
Rob Bell's gospel is remarkably similar to that of Bishop Spong. In his sympathetic biography of Bell, James Wellman writes, that according to Bell love wins the in the sense that God’s will is the reconciliation of all things—the soul, the body, the earth, the cosmos, and everything in it.
Bell believes that Christ’s sacrifice is not for God’s sake. Rather, it is the ultimate revelation of the innocent victim, the final scapegoat. It is not God who demands the violent sacrifice of Jesus. Rather, humans demanded it. The wrath was human, not divine.
According to Wellman, Bell represents the public face of the transformation of American evangelicalism. Thankfully, that view is more wishful thinking than critical analysis. We've seen it all before.
Back in 1937, Richard Niebuhr summarized the liberal/progressive gospel as:
A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.
Spong has been declaring the death of historic Christianity for years and announcing the birth of a new form of Christianity for a new world. Now Bell is touted as the new face of American Christianity. Instead these men represent Christian movements in the final stages of decline and decay.