“Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks this Meaning of Script” by John Shelby Spong is one of those books that will likely never make it onto the shelves of a Cum Books.
Which makes me incredibly grateful for book subscription services.
Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism is the quickest way to completely obliterate your beliefs about what you thought the Bible is saying. It is also the best way to reignite the desire to be part of the Christ movement as it is meant to be.
What makes the book so good?
Well, Bishop Spong doesn’t pull any punches when looking at the literalised version of scripture. In places he points out issues with scripture where I had difficulties with the Biblical text. In other places, he punches a hole right through my firmly held beliefs that I needed to reassess.
Despite the fact that this critical analysis of scripture is easy to do (just pick up any book on modern history and you’ll understand what I mean), he does it from a place of deep reverence for our faith and the Bible. He has spent his life pouring over scripture, studying its context, and digging in to understand what Jesus means for the modern man. And this can be observed throughout the book.
His critique is never aimed at the Bible itself. But it is always aimed at our desire to create security through certainty in beliefs. The beliefs that the Bible is a) the inerrant Word of God, and b) literally true. This is what Biblical fundamentalism means. Bishop Spong is ruthless in his criticism towards this mindset because it is dangerous for the church to stick to these thinking patterns.
Biblical fundamentalism – The Death Knell of Christianity
Because Biblical fundamentalism demands that we crystallise the words of first century Christians as inerrant and literally true, it has become harder for the thinking person to sign up to the cause.
Imagine a woman, who didn’t grow up in church, starts attending church and she soon learns that the God, she is required to worship, has relegated her to lesser roles in the church. Can women, throughout the world, be expected to honestly worship such a God?
Liberal churches might be less squeamish at this concept, because they let women preach at least. Even though they’re not allowed to lead a church.
So, let’s take it a step further. Imagine, a young woman, battling with her sexuality walks into a Church. The first sermon she hears that Jesus loves her, but for her to be truly part of the community, she needs to “be healed”.
Even though it might only be one young woman (or man) walking out of the church at that moment, the whole world is turning their back on the fundamentalist Jesus movement.
Rescuing the Bible – Seeking the Truth beneath the text
Bishop Spong is an advocate for Bible study, and not in the way that we’ve been accustomed to. He is quite vocal in his epilogue about the Bible illiteracy of the mainstream churchgoer.
He exhorts Christians to dedicate more time to study scripture in the context that it is written. To find the truth that the author, who limited by the confines of their time and space, tried to convey universal truths. He places the responsibility on us to discover those truths, to find Jesus in them and share this Gospel with the world.
It is a terrifying place to venture into. Religion, and our certainties about scripture, creates a safe space where we don’t need to take any risks. We don’t need to think, judge, and make mistakes. All we must do is bend our minds backwards into the mould of a first century thinker. It might be hard, but at least we’ll have the certainty of being “right.”
And yet, it is in those very vulnerable places that we meet God. Isn’t that, after all, why Peter wanted to leave the boat?