Monday, 11 June 2007
I'm currently reading John Shelby Spong's latest book, Jesus for the Non-Religious. Spong (not to be confused with former WCG minister Grant Spong) is an interesting chap. Despite being a retired Episcopal bishop of the liberal persuasion, his roots are fundamentalist, and that shows in his style of writing which beats around no bushes and pulls no punches. Whatever else this book may be, wishy-washy it isn't.
Several years ago Bishop Spong toured New Zealand and I was dragged along to hear him by a relative. I'm glad I went. I've read almost everything he's published, and hugely respect his raw honesty. Spong, unlike most of the bland, anemic types in mainline Christian leadership, is a scrapper. Lord knows the liberal church needs a lot more like him.
For many fundagelicals Spong is the devil incarnate as he threatens to toss out their much loved "treasure trove of beddy-bye stories" (to recall a memorable expression I once heard Garner Ted Armstrong use.) In this latest book he sets about to systematically deconstruct the Jesus of popular imagination, and by golly, he does a pretty thorough job. He also demonstrates quite conclusively that the gospel accounts are anything but literal history. Others have gone this way before, but they usually pussyfoot around lest offence be taken (and church funds dry up!), their work dying the death of a thousand qualifications.
People can respond to challenges like Spong's in one of two ways. They can circle the wagons and throw up a stockade of denial. Or they can look the challenge in the eye and deal with it with integrity. That may mean some painful growth but, what the heck, better to deal with reality than hide among the fluffy pillows and proof texts of self-deception. After the usual dose of bland confections doled out by the run-of-the-mill Bible-babblers and conformist clergy, Spong is like a fiery Indian curry. Be sure and have a large pitcher of cold water handy.