After reading four books by Bishop John Shelby Spong, I have decided to reevaluate the first of his books that I read, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture. As you can tell from the title, this book was written to reach out to the “recovering fundamentalists” in Christianity that have found, for one reason or another, that they cannot accept the oppressive religion that they were raised in.
Spong writes to those that just couldn’t quite understand how the world was created in six days and why the Bible is prejudiced against homosexuals and women, among others. The book is perfect for people who could never fathom how a man could be born of a virgin and then literally resurrect after his death.
In order to prove his case, Spong carefully examines the motives of the Bible’s authors and casts these fundamentalist interpretations of Biblical “impossibilities” into a new light, far from literalism, but even closer to the love of God for “all peoples of all nations.” It is important for the reader to understand, though, that Spong believes in midrash, a Jewish literary device that stresses the meaning behind the mythical framework of the Bible.
Spong isn’t just out there to destroy your faith — he honestly believes that there is an important reason for why supernatural tales were incorporated into the Bible, and as he rescues the Bible from fundamentalism, he carefully builds it back up again via the midrashic tradition.
Many readers will discover that their faith is stronger after reading Spong’s exegesis against fundamentalism. Personally, Spong strengthened my faith through this book, even though the title indirectly suggests that his purpose is to destroy it.
Since so many people will inevitably misconstrue the title of this book as a hysterical mantra against all things religious, I must stress that, contrary to some reviewers’ attacks, Spong is an honest theologian whose purpose is to strengthen faith — not to destroy it completely. As he writes in Born of a Woman: A Bishop Rethinks the Virgin Birth and the Treatment of Women by a Male-Dominated Church, his purpose is not to seek theological agreement in Christianity. Instead, he seeks theological honesty and reveres the willingness to seek truth in dialogue. I believe that many of the critics of this book do not understand this man’s good intentions and they attack him out of fear and misunderstanding because they believe that their faith is somehow in grave danger.
As you read this book and allow Spong to titillate your soul, you must always remember that this book is not an “attack” on Christianity. If you choose to view it as such, you will learn nothing from this book and you will have compromised Spong’s wishes for a religion of honesty, integrity and dialogue.
When read with an open mind, Spong’s book can enlighten and bring fulfillment to the Christians among us who cannot be bound to a first-century mindset when dealing with a 21st-century faith. Although Spong’s scholarship can get a little heavy at times (especially in this book), the summation of his ideas will leave you dazzled in the end.
I recommend this book to all churchmen and -women who are disillusioned with traditional church views that violently clash with scientific and moral advancements. I can almost guarantee that you will not agree with everything that Spong has to say — but the honest, virtuous dialogue is so refreshing that it would be crazy to give this book anything less than five stars.