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For Spong, 82, the answer is an emphatic no.
"I don’t think the Resurrection has anything to do with physical resuscitation," he said. "I think it means the life of Jesus was raised back into the life of God, not into the life of this world, and that it was out of this that his presence" — not his body — "was manifested to certain witnesses."
Like Rivett, he too believes the Resurrection must be placed in context to be interpreted and understood — something he tried to do as a young priest in the Bible Belt through yearlong Bible study classes culminating in the Easter story.
"I tried to help people get out of that literalism," he said. "But you don’t do it in a single sermon. You need time to lay the groundwork and for people to process it, ask questions. You have to begin to build it."
Spong’s Bible studies were enormously popular, attracting 300 people to each session, he said. His congregations grew as a result.
"When people hear it, they grab on to it," Spong said. "They could not believe the superstitious stuff and they were brainwashed to believe that if they could not believe it literallythey could not be a Christian."
A Christian, Spong said, is one who accepts the reality of God without the requirement of a literal belief in miracles.
"What the Resurrection says is that Jesus breaks every human limit, including the limit of death, and by walking in his path you can catch a glimpse of that," he said. "And I think that’s a pretty good message."
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