My Debt to Bishop Spong
It usually takes me a few days of thinking about something I’ve read before I have really assimilated it and am prepared to respond to it. I don’t know what it is, but maybe it’s something about having a good night’s sleep, or having some extra time to mull over what I’ve read. But I’m finding that blog posts I most want to respond to are ones I read between two and ten days ago. That’s bad timing for blogging, where there is some kind of informal principle that you are only supposed to comment on posts from today or perhaps yesterday. I think it takes some time for information to seep into me, make connections with what is already inside, and come back up to the surface as some kind of meaningful response.
So the posts that have me thinking the most today were, or course, posted some time ago. The most recent was a post by Quixie, defending Bishop Spong against the attacks of angry Evangelicals. She writes,
When rhetoric becomes vitriolic, though, I am convinced that it invariably reveals much more about the speaker than it does about the object of the scorn.
I tend to agree. But it seems to me that Spong’s own language can be just as acerbic towards Evangelicals. I read his Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalismduring my first year as a Christian camp counselor, when I was just sorting through what I believed. More than anything else, the thing that kept me from embracing his position was the amount of scorn and mockery he continued to heap upon “fundamentalists,” which meant anyone who was less-than-willing to ‘explain away’ the parts of the Bible that are disturbing to (at that time) 20th century ears. What, I wonder, does this say about Spong himself?
Spong’s over-the-top attitude led me to side with the ‘fundamentalists’ he was critiquing, though I had never set foot in a fundamentalist church and my interaction with Evangelicals had been minimal. At the time I read the book I had been a member of my parent’s mainline church for years, but I had only attended an Evangelical church maybe twice in my life. There really was no reason I should have assumed that my ‘side’ was fundamentalism other than the fact that he was so down on it.
When I initially finished the book, my main impression was that Spong had significantly overstated his case and was completely wrong. For instance, Spong turns Paul into a homosexual on the basis of his conjecture that same-sex-attraction was Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’ (2 Cor 12.7-10).
If blogs take a few days to assimilate, then books, I think, take a little longer. Spong’s book was essentially my introduction to biblical studies. So after a little time to reflect on his book, I realized that he had forever shut the door for me to ever read scripture and assume there are no difficulties. So despite the many theological disagreements I might have with Spong, I wonder if he may have been more foundational in my Christian life than I have given him credit for. Many of my faith questions have come from an implicit wrestling with the theological agenda he set for me over a decade ago.