Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Sponged Spong

Our good friend, Ben Myers over at F&T did a fine job of critiquing Spong's book Jesus for the Non-Religious. His post started a good discussion about the good Bishop and his theology. A few months ago, my friend and I had a good conversation about Spong. My friend is convinced that Spong is one of good things that is happening in contemporary biblical scholarship. This is my responds to the discussion which was a result of my reading of McGrath's A Passion for the Truth.

I appreciate Bishop Spong’s effort to free Christianity from the shackles of the Fundamentalism and its tenets. However, as I read his attacks on fundamentalism, I understand that he seems to start with the premise that the people within the fold of fundamentalism are all simple-minded and ignorant. That they have been imprisoned by the churches or its leaders imposed authority over them. But we know that this is not necessarily true. Many people who consider them themselves fundamentalist know how to think critically for themselves. Most of them believe that fundamentalism is a better option than modern liberalism which Spong is trying to propagate. All of us know the problem of fundamentalism. The weakness of this movement is well known and we don’t need a Bishop Spong to tell us about it.

I try reading Spong’s books but somehow I lost the motivation to continue. His tirades against fundamentalism and his praises of liberal scholarship made me weary to read more any of his books. Perhaps if fundamentalism did not exist the good Bishop will have nothing to write about. I just wish that he would stop attacking it and write something proactive rather than reactive. Here I would like to follow the criticism of Allister McGrath in his book, The Passion for Truth. I will quote extensively from this book because I know I can never tell this better than he does.

McGrath says that if we will reject fundamentalism, what are we to replace it with? There is a real need to rescue the Bible from fundamentalism; but those who claim to rescue it often shackle it to their own ends. And this is where Bishop Spong, whose somewhat modern theological competence is vastly exceeded by his ability to obtain media attention, comes in. In his Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism—a work which have been dismissed as utterly inconsequential were its writer is not a bishop—Spong offers to liberate the Bible from a fundamentalist stranglehold. But it soon becomes clear that the Bible is to be “liberated” only to be enslaved to the latest cultural norms prevailing among the Greater New England liberal elite. This work is as aggressive in its modernity and intolerant and dismissive of the views of others.

For example, at one point, Spong tentatively advances the idea that Paul might have been a homosexual. A few pages later, it seems to have become an established result of New Testament scholarship, leading Spong to the conclusion that one of the church’s greatest teachers was a ‘rigidly controlled gay male.’ The hard historical evidence for this dramatic assertion? Nil. One cannot help wondering if the New Testament is being less than subtly massaged here, to fit the sensitivities of a retrospective liberal conscience.

Bishop Spong recognizes that his views are unpopular, and believes that this is because they are thoroughly up to date and intellectually respectable. Sadly, they are just unpopular. Spong constructs a fantasy world in which his own vision of a politically correct culture leads him to impose political and social stereotypes upon the New Testament with a fierce and uncritical dogmatism assumed were only associated with the likes of Jerry Falwell (and Al Mohler, I should add). The pseudo-scholarly character of Spong’s approach has been pointed out by N.T. Wright. Commenting on Spong’s attempts to cast himself as a persecuted hero, standing on the truth in the midst of a fundamentalism ocean, Wright remarks:
Spong rushes on, constructing imaginary historical worlds and inviting us to base our faith and life upon them. If we refuse this invitation he will, no doubt, hurl his favorite abuse-word at us again. But if everyone who disagrees with Spong’s book turns out to be fundamentalist, then I suppose that all fundamentalist churches in the world would not be able to contain the new members who would suddenly arrive on their doorsteps.

McGrath emphasizes that it is not enough to argue for the need to wrest the Scripture free from those who imprison it with the severe limitations of a fundamentalist approach. But too often, the professed liberators of Scripture proceed immediately to imprison it within their own worldview. And we all know this is no liberation; this is merely a change in dictators.

I’m not a fundamentalist but given a choice I would prefer to side with fundamentalism as Spong’s modern liberal worldview seems to undermine the authority of the Word of God. I may add that the authority of the scripture is not bestowed by humanity nor the church, its authority is inherent in the words of the Scripture. This authority is merely recognized by those who read and believe in it.

Just one evangelical scholar would say… “If I am asked why I receive Scripture as the Word of God… [I answer] … Because the Bible is the only record of the redeeming love of God, because in the Bible alone I find God drawing near to us in Jesus Christ, and declaring to us in him his will for our salvation. And this record I know to be true witness of his Spirit in my heart, whereby I am assured that none other than God himself is able to speak such words to my soul.


Jayred said...

Too much in liberalism in Christianity can be 'dangerous.'

I've heard of Christian discos in the Netherlands and gay Christian churches in Canada. I'm not quick to judge these liberal movements in Christian circles. However, it does bother me....

I guess if I were to choose between fundamentalism and liberalism, I would choose the former. Although I still believe in balance in everything.

Joey said...

You're right. Everything should be keep in balance. Easier said than done though. I respect scholars who in spite of their higher learning can still consider the Bible as authoritative.