Those religious folk who cannot get their minds beyond the limits that language imposes, and they are numerous, will always hear these words as an attempt a deicide. The death of theism will be understood by them only as the death of God or as the affirmation of atheism. At the same time, the more secularized members of our society will hear in my words echoes of what came to called “deism” in the aftermath of the Enlightenment. Deism was an affirmation of God, but one that located God so far beyond the life of this world that there was no possibility of a divine relationship. It was for most people nothing more than the first step to which human beings were being driven by the advances of knowledge on our inevitable pilgrimage from the theism of the past through the deism of the present into the atheism of the future.
Both groups will be wrong. To deny theism is not to be an atheist. To propose that we step beyond theism is not to join the secular sojourn in a meaningless deism. I believe passionately in God. Yet I now find the theistic definition of God far too limiting. I want to move to a place where I can propose something new. I am no longer interested in clinging to the theistic answer because the questions that theism is supposed to address are no longer being asked.
I seek rather to walk beyond what I regard as a meaningless debate between three inadequate definitions of God – theism, deism, and atheism – in order to suggest some new possibilities, because I am convinced the death of the first two does not make atheism the only remaining alternative, nor does it bring to an end the possibility of confronting in a new way the reality of God.
John Shelby Spong
(from A New Christianity for a New World)