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Goes too far,
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This review is from: Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks this Meaning of Script (Kindle Edition)
This book gets an extra star because John Shelby Spong writes well, and is thought-provoking even when you don't agree with him. It kept my attention, unlike books by conservative biblical scholars that are often tedious and stick to a prearranged script. Spong is right to point out the problems associated with taking the Bible too literally. Here are some choice quotes:
"My devotion to the Bible was so intense that it led me into a study that finally obliterated any possibility that the Bible could be related to on a literal basis."
"Those who insist on a biblical literalism thus become unwitting accomplices in bringing about the death of the Christianity they so deeply love."
"Fundamentalists will appeal to the need for emotional security by trafficking in religious certainty."
"Fundamentalism is so limited. This is surely why Paul wrote that the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life."
Spong writes to counter the "sterile choice between literalism and nothing". The problem is that the choice he presents in this book is between literalism and meaningless subjectivity. He's got nothing concrete! No virgin birth. No bodily resurrection. No miracles. There's no room for any of this in Spong's apparently closed worldview. His chronological snobbery toward the authors of Scripture is rife throughout. (We're far too educated to believe that sort of thing these days.) Additionally, speculation abounds. For example, he goes overboard in seeking to establish that the apostle Paul was a gay man. He seems obsessed with this sort of thing - I've read the same in at least one of his other books. It comes across as the product of an all too contemporary agenda, and somewhat trite. It seems far more likely that Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was not fleshly desire of a homosexual nature, as Spong suggests, but rather the ever-present 'Judaizers' who followed closely behind Paul in his missionary labours to inform new converts that they needed to be circumcised and follow the Law.
Yes, there are grave difficulties with fundamentalism and the notion of biblical inerrancy. I completely understand why anyone reading the Bible faithfully would want to be free of its shackles. Yet without adherence to the Scriptures as notwithstanding inspired and authoritative, nothing remains but empty speculation. Far safer guides are the likes of C. S. Lewis and N. T. Wright, who capture the imagination with their writings, and give the weary believer something concrete to hold on to without the straightjacket of literalism.
According to Spong, we can't be drawn to a Lord who would destroy a herd of pigs in order to exorcise a demon. Why not? Isn't each soul precious in God's sight? Would Spong feel differently if he was the demon-possessed man? (As for the pigs, Spong deals with midrash elsewhere in his writings. Consider this: the demons entered the swine and were drowned in the lake. Likewise, the devil will be cast into the lake of fire.) Spong also suggests that we should be less than impressed about Jesus cursing the fig tree. Why? It was an acted out parable. Christ looked for fruit, but there was none, and Israel as a nation rejected her Messiah. The New Testament writers were not anti-semitic, as Spong suggests, but simply describe how the Jews by and large rejected God's purposes for them in handing over Jesus to be crucified. The events of A.D. 70 showed that judgement did indeed come upon that generation, just as Jesus prophesied in the Olivet Discourse. Even Spong allows for the possibility of a mid-sixties dating of Mark's Gospel. That being the case, chapter thirteen alone is sufficient to demonstrate both the accuracy of Christ's prophecy and the inspiration of Scripture. Spong takes issue with Jesus's teaching on Gehenna (hell), but doesn't seem to consider the possibility that Jesus was speaking in hyperbole, as He often does elsewhere. This is ironic, as Spong seems to want to take Jesus literally when understanding Him figuratively seems a better approach. But clearly Spong has a problem with God judging nations and individuals.
You learn where you stand by reading someone who takes a more radical view, and reading Spong has helped me to realize just how conservative I am after all, despite no longer being a fundamentalist. I'm grateful to him for that. The most comical aspect of the book was where Spong lamented the perpetuating of myths in daily weather reports on television, where reporters talk about the sun setting and rising. I kid you not. Apparently, this is serious. Here's Spong: "The sun does not rise. The sun does not set. The earth turns on its axis. Our language, however, perpetuates our illusions." Call me backwoods, but surely this is acceptably anthropocentric even for the 21st Century. Spong is a bit too Spock here in his thinking.