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The Heretic’s Story — A Play About John Shelby Spong

“There are three states of the soul — ignorance, opinion, knowledge — those who are in ignorance are the Pagans, those in knowledge, the true Church, and those in opinion, the Heretics.” –Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata.

The Los Angeles Times reports that retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong is the subject of a new drama written by playwright Colin Cox. It looks like the perfect paring of heretic and admiring playwright:

Written and directed by Cox, the play is based on Spong’s 1999 autobiography, “Here I Stand: My Struggle for a Christianity of Integrity, Love and Equality.” It features actor Stephan Wolfert as the bishop.Cox said Spong’s publisher, HarperSanFrancisco, approached him two years ago about writing a play about the bishop’s life. Cox, director of the Los Angeles-based Will & Co. theater ensemble, described himself in an interview as “not a religious fellow.””Any God who can be killed ought to be killed. That’s the message of the play and, I think, that is the message of Jack Spong,” Cox said. A biochemist by training, Cox said he was smitten by Spong’s take on Christianity and his dismissal of so many traditional views of God.”Once I read Jack’s books, I kind of realized, here’s a man with a different point of view that seems valid to me,” Cox said. “If you’re going to be a Christian, what this man is saying makes sense.”

Retired as the Episcopal Bishop of Newark (New Jersey), Spong is author of a series of well-known books dedicated to the total reformulation of Christianity. The bishop has rejected virtually every major Christian doctrine, ranging from the virgin birth to the incarnation itself. He does not believe that the Bible is the Word of God, and suggests that Christians must learn to overcome the crude and tribal vision of God that the Bible puts forth. He is an ardent supporter of gay rights and a host of other predictably liberal causes. As the newspaper summarizes: At 74, Spong, the retired bishop of Newark, N.J., continues to rile many Christians with his denial of the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection of Jesus and a God who works miracles and exacts punishment. His critics call him a heretic. His critics are right.

Evidently, heresy makes for a good drama, at least in the eyes of those who are staging “A Pebble in My Shoe,” Cox’s play about Spong. And yet, who really believes that anyone will be staging this play a generation from now? The world will then be enamored of other, newly-packaged heresies.

As figures such as G. K. Chesterton and Dorothy Sayers remind us, orthodox Christianity — the Christianity represented by the incarnation and the historic Christian creeds — is the greatest drama of all.

In “The Greatest Drama Ever Staged,” Sayers expressed this truth in memorable words:

Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as a bad press. We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine–dull dogma as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man–and the dogma is the drama.

That drama is summarized quite clearly in the creeds of the Church, and if we think it dull it is because we either have never really read those amazing documents or have recited them so often and so mechanically as to have lost all sense of their meaning. The plot pivots upon a single character, and the whole action is the answer to a single central problem: What think ye of Christ?