Thinking Out Loud

June 21, 2013

Liberal Theology Can’t Shake a Faith That Wasn’t There to Begin With

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:55 am

As I mentioned on Wednesday, Bishop John Shelby Spong is certainly adept at promoting his ideas and getting others to join his cause.

As a columnist for two local newspapers, I had the freedom to write about anything I wanted, a liberty I did not take lightly. While I have certain causes, hobby horses, and pet peeves; I was careful to balance my writing, and had to limit my faith-based stories to Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving.

However, years ago, I noted that the then religion columnist for the Toronto Star would make a habit of returning every other fortnight to either Spong, Marcus Borg, The Jesus Seminar in general, or Tom Harpur who is a Canadian theological equivalent to Borg and Spong. So I wrote to the then public editor for the paper and suggested that any other columnist who kept returning to the same subject would be summarily dismissed. But both religion writers and editors can’t get enough.

It’s not Spong’s views that are dangerous. Any Evangelical will quickly dismiss his ideas and move on to something else. Furthermore, freedom of speech compels me to have to defend his right to publish anything, no matter how bizarre; the old, “I can’t endorse what you say but I acknowledge your right to say it.”

What is dangerous is the theological gullibility of the people who read his stuff. By this I don’t mean atheists or agnostics, within whose circles  Spong has to be some kind of superstar. No, I refer to the Anglicans (Canada) and Episcopalians (US) and liberal Presbyterians and liberals from any other denominations who feel that such writing constitutes enlightenment or anti-Evangelicalism.

At the link we ran on Wednesday to Parchment and Pen, Rob Bowman notes the main points of Spong’s latest book:

  • The Fourth Gospel was not written by the apostle John or any of the disciples.
  • It was produced by at least three different authors over a period of perhaps thirty years.
  • Jesus probably said not even one word attributed to him in the Gospel.
  • Jesus did none of the miracles narrated in the Gospel.
  • Many of the figures appearing in the Gospel never existed.
  • The Gospel contains many indications that it was not meant to be taken literally.
  • The message of the Gospel is not that God became incarnate for our salvation but that human beings can experience personal transformation and a sense of mystical oneness with God (i.e., with being itself).
  • The orthodox creedal doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity depend in large measure on misreading John by taking the Gospel’s statements literally.

I would say, ‘Why stop there?’ Why not:

  • The Gospel of John doesn’t really exist at all in any of our Bibles, we’ve all been deluded into believing that it does when its appearance is actually a mass illusion.

The thing is, the people who read Spong’s latest revelations have no discernment. They nod and smile and discuss it chapter-by-chapter while drinking sherry at the weekly book club meeting — “I really like the part where he said there were actually three people writing as John” — but then quickly toss the book in the box for the annual rummage sale.

Their faith is not shaken at all by what Bowman calls, “extreme, unjustifiable assertions such as that Jesus never said one word attributed to him in the Gospel;” because it’s hard to shake a faith that never existed.

I will grant you there are authorship and continuity problems with John chapter eight, though the story is hardly inconsistent with Jesus’  life, ministry and teachings.  J. Warner Wallace deals with this passage in Cold Case Christianity. But this is insufficient to declare the fourth gospel a forgery or deception on a wide scale.

I’ll take John’s Jesus over John Spong’s Jesus any day.

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