For all his bravado and rock star status among leftists – especially on college campuses and in mainline churches – John Shelby Spong doesn’t know much. His arrogance when attempting to deconstruct Christianity reminds me of Ben Stein’s surreal interview with a stammering Richard Dawkins in “Expelled.”
Spong, the retired Episcopal bishop from New Jersey, delights in attempting to “reinvent” Christianity. Some of his titles include: “A New Christianity for a New World,” “Why Christianity Must Change or Die,” and that old, malevolent chestnut, “Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism” – all hideous books masquerading as scholarship and reasoned argument. In fact, Spong is an apologist for unbelief. He and Richard Dawkins could ghostwrite each other’s books.
One of the bishop’s more intriguing books is “Here I Stand: My Struggle For a Christianity of Integrity, Love, & Equality.”
“My struggle,” indeed. It sounds like a religious “Mein Kampf.”
Which brings me to a delicious irony.
Bishop Spong loves to tout his efforts to combat all sorts of societal ills, including – cue laugh track – anti-Semitism.
In “The Sins of Scripture,” Spong exposes what he calls anti-Semitism in the Gospels (not a new area of scholarship). Now, he does expose some of the Jew-hatred promoted by much of the church over the centuries, but in “Here I Stand,” Spong reveals in fascinating detail that he has no problem denying Jewish history or their role in world history, which, I unashamedly proclaim, is about to play out in dramatic fashion, according to the Prophets.
Among Spong’s early influences was the British historian Arnold Toynbee, who was annoyed with the Jews because they didn’t take their place in the line of history with the Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians and other dust-bin dwellers. Toynbee called the Jews “living fossils” because, well, they shouldn’t be here.
Spong had other influences, too, as he moved from seminary into the various churches where he taught over the next decades.
In fact, he rather proudly states in “Here I Stand” that he adopted the motto of one of his theology professors, Clifford L. Stanley: “Any God who can be killed ought to be killed.”
The man danced the theological dance of any radical scholar who wished to blaspheme the Bible and the God who inspired it.
Spong also naturally embraced Darwinian philosophy and fell into the JEDP (documentary hypothesis) theory, which in brief is a method of studying the Old Testament in which (seemingly legions) of unknown redactors cobbled together folk tales to produce early books of the Bible. Think a whole team of Hebrew John Grishams.
For Spong, it is a given that Genesis is myth. This, of course, undercuts Jewish history, which began in those records and paves the way for deconstructing the Hebrew Scriptures that Spong professes to love.
In Chapter 9 of “Here I Stand,” Spong is effusive in praise of … himself:
“As the year continued at St. John’s, people began to comment on my love for the Hebrew Scriptures,” he writes. “The Jews seemed to me to be lusty people, life affirming and God-filled. God was for them a presence with which they wrestled, rather than a supernatural parent figure before whom they bowed in repressed obedience.”
Keep in mind that this is essentially the God described in Exodus, who made plain his own stature in the First Commandment. But of course, Spong rejects the Exodus account as real history.
During his time at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Va., Spong introduced his plan called the “Isaiah 58:12 Program,” in which “an elected body would receive proposals from community groups for programs that could make real and long-term differences.”
The program itself was a classic Spong-ism. Rather than feed people with the knowledge that the Bible can be trusted where it touches on philosophy, history, and science, he used the actual text for a social program.
Isaiah 58:12 says: “And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.”
That the Jews have fulfilled ancient prophecies in dramatic fashion is seemingly lost on Spong. They in fact are not lost on him; he simply detests the prophecies and so seeks to change them into something else.
I once attended one of Spong’s lectures at an Episcopal Church. There he delighted the friendly audience of 250 with his sarcastic bashing of Scripture and orthodox Christianity. His favorite target was Bible prophecy. During the Q-and-A period, Spong fielded enough softball questions to qualify as an Olympic athlete.
Except that I asked him, “What do you do with Exodus 12:14?”
The passage refers to God’s proclamation to the Israelites that they would observe Passover forever. This astonishing prophecy was delivered 3,700 years ago and each year, Jews all over the world – many of them secular – dutifully celebrate Passover as a reminder of God’s rescue operation from Egyptian taskmasters.
Spong knew exactly what I was getting at – he turned and put his fingers to his lips as if in deep thought. Finally, he managed that he simply rejects predictive prophecy.
Guess what? His answer isn’t good enough. And neither is his library of books that bash the Bible and Christianity. Truly, the bishop/emperor has no theological clothes at all. He is simply a small man who dislikes the God of the Bible, much like social change agents like Herbert Spencer, Thomas Huxley and Dawkins.
Spong’s hubris is gargantuan. On p. 68 of “Here I Stand,” he writes: “I had begun my long theological journey into maturity.”
In fact, his weird, winding theological assertions, in all his books, are simply childish.
The most poignant page in “Here I Stand” is not text, but rather the beginning of the photo section. There, at the top of the page, we see a smiling, earnest and hopeful 12-year-old John Spong in 1943. How sad that this young man, poised to begin his ascent into adulthood, would descend into an unbelief that has infected countless people he’s come into contact with since.
From “Here I Stand,” here’s the takeaway:
Spong is Wrong.