Rescuing Christianity from Spong (part 2)

We’ll be working our way slowly over the next couple of weeks through the Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism study guide. But let’s look at chapter 1. It opens with a quote from Spong:

If the only people that talk about the Bible are fundamentalists… then fewer and fewer people are going to take seriously a book or a church that appears to them to be so antiquated.

Let’s now start the first chapter in the study guide which summarizes Spong in Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: a Bishop rethinks the meaning of Scripture.  Here is the summary provided (i’ve numbered the paragraphs below for easy reference):

(I) Bishop John Shelby Spong was raised in the segregated South as a fundamentalist. Countless times he heard the Bible quoted to justify segregation. He was bothered that the same people never question the type of.we would allow slavery. The quoting of text seemed to take place so that people could maintain their prejudices.

(II) When a person “sinned,” the devil (or Satan) was often blamed.  This technique got the “sinner” off the hook. No responsibility was required.

(III) Fundamentalists find security in their religion. When another person upsets that security by questioning their beliefs, fundamentalists tend to pray for the other, maybe even pray the other’s early death. It is considered righteous. In one instance, a man prayed that the next time Bishop Spong took a plane it would crash. Did he not stop to think that a plane crash would kill many people in addition to Bishop Spong.

(IV) The while mainline churches do not use the Bible to defend segregation, some use it to defend their prejudice against women. Paul wrote several passages that, if followed, would mean that women should not sing in the choir or teach Sunday school, let alone be ordained as ministers.… the fundamentalist literal interpretation of the Bible has resulted in countless numbers leaving the church. They cannot find meaning in the biblical myths that contradict what they have learned from science. The theology of the mainline church might appeal to these people, but unfortunately that theology is unknown to much of the laity. Many people working mainline churches know very little about the Bible. Although their clergy are well educated, they are for some reason failing to pass on their knowledge about the Bible. Therefore, many people seem to have only two options: they can continue attending church this ignorance of its message or they can leave the church because its message is irrelevant. Bishop Spong wrote Rescuing Bible from Fundamentalism to enlighten people about the Bible’s message–a truth that goes well beyond a literal interpretation. Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism offers insight to those who have not been exposed to biblical scholarship. It is Bishop Spong’s deepest hope that this book will be “a means through which they can return to church in honesty or be enabled to worship God with a renewed integrity in the church that they have never left” (pgs 11-12).

Now let’s see if we can extrapolate the underlying presuppositions about we just write about.

  • As stated previously, Spong uses the terms “fundamentalists” and “literal interpretation” to refer to those who believe in the truth of the Bible and in the realm of the supernatural. That is to say Bible believing Christians, Orthodox Christians, classical or historic Christianity.
  • For Spong, the Bible maintains no normative moral authority over the conscience of the Christian. Providing biblical support for a theological conviction is merely the abdication of one’s personal responsibility.
  • The quotation marks around the word “sinner” in paragraph II are telling. This hints at his overall rejection of the doctrines of total depravity, original sin, and the fallenness of man’s moral condition as taught everywhere on the pages of the Bible.
  • As the guide says, “the fundamentalist literal interpretation of the Bible has resulted in countless numbers leaving the church.”
  • Thinking people are faced with a dilemma: they can continue attending church this ignorance of its message or they can leave the church because its message is irrelevant.

Some thoughts:

1. If Spong really was raised in an environment where people prayed for their enemies death it’s really unfortunate and tragic. No excuse can be made for proof-texting the Bible to justify a previously existing racism or sexism. No defense should be made for that type of behavior, and I certainly won’t do it.

2. Point 4 above is quite ironic, because in fact it is the liberal Christian churches, the type Spong opines for, that have suffered a mass exodus of members over the past few decades. Referencing historian Mark Noll and others, the wikipedia article on decline of Mainline Protestantism (i.e. liberal protestantism) says:

Mainline denominations peaked in membership in the 1950s and have declined steadily in the last half century. From 1960 to 1988, mainline church membership declined from 31 million to 25 million, then fell to 21 million in 2005. Today, they are a minority among American Protestants, claiming approximately 15 percent of American adults among their adherents.

3. Thinking church-people are indeed faced with a dilemma. Either familiarize themselves with the beliefs and doctrines of the historic Christian faith (as expressed in the Bible), or gather at a congregation that is Christian in name only.

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Posted on August 4, 2010, in Christian Worldview. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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