Friday, May 18, 2012

Eighth Worst Review: Rescuing the Bible from Spong

Spong: as clerical as
you could get,
without being
Has Skepticism come to this? 

Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism, John Spong (29 + / 54-  votes: - 100 points)

John Spong is a man with an unusual combination of jobs. During the day, he is a bishop in the Anglican church. At night he writes polemics against Christianity. Thus his books satisfy a certain Jeckyl & Hyde or man-bites-dog itch for the abnormal. There are skeptics who write better, and there are Anglicans who write a whole lot better; but Spong appears to have cornered the market for fervent, best-selling skeptics who get a paycheck from the Anglican church at present.

Generally I enjoy reading books written by skeptics and people of other religions who want to disprove Christianity. I usually learn something, and I find the experience enhances my faith. As Churchill said, it is exhilerating to be shot at without effect. From that point of view, the problem with this book is, Spong's argument is so far off, I hardly got the feeling he was shooting at me to begin with. I felt like a bungy jumper forced to jump off a coffee table.

A great deal of Spong's argument is based on very simple philosophical and historical mistakes. For example, it never seems to occur to him that one cannot refute a doctrine by refuting the imagery in which it is (inevitably) couched. This distinction is as true of modern physics as of First Century religion. One does not refute the existence of subatomic particles by poking fun at styrofoam balls. But that is the level on which Spong lives, moves, and usually maintains his rhetorical being.

A clue to the biggest problem with this book can be found in the index. I could not find a single reference to any intelligent modern Christian. Spong doesn't appear to have the slightest idea what educated Christians think, or why. It is hard for me to take seriously the argument of a man who has not even troubled himself to read what the other side has to say, still less to respond. Skeptics like Spong, Russell, Armstrong and much of the Gnu crowd almost seem too angry to think clearly, or to listen to contrary arguments.

If you're looking for arguments against Christianity, there are books that pack a wallop. Elie Wiesel's Night, for example, The Plague by Camus or Silence by Endo trouble my faith more deeply, (though Camus' caricature of Christianity was almost as bad as Spongs, and Endo was a Christian). Those books get to the heart of my own doubts, without embarrassing me by so many contrived arguments and so much shoddy reasoning.

If what you're looking for is truth, however, then I suggest you consider the argument for Christianity as presented by intelligent Christians . . . C. S.Lewis' essay "Fernseed and Elephants," for example, ravages the whole foundation of Spong's approach to Scripture in four pages. (Spong rather resembles two comic characters in Lewis: the Cockney skeptic in That Hideous Strength, and the hymn-humming clergyman on the bus from hell in The Great Divorce.)

Besides refuting many of Spong's errors, a whole range of credentialed modern Christian writers -- philosophers, historians, scientists -- present positive evidence for the faith that Spong appears never to have noticed. They show that, in many ways, the case for Christianity has become stronger in the modern era.

But Spong is not writing for people who have read, or want to read, opposing arguments, nor does it seem that he has done so himself.


Rhology said...

And he has no excuse, having debated James White.

Have you ever written anything about Endo's "Silence"? I wrote a long review on my blog about 6 years ago. It certainly was an interesting book.

David B Marshall said...

I don't know James White. It doesn't look like I have reviewed Silence; maybe I'll take a look. It was interesting to me because it took place in Nagasaki, where I lived for five years, aside from the theme of the book. Deep River also brought back memories.

David B Marshall said...

I see you have four blogs. Where should I look?

Rhology said...


Sorry, shoulda linked it for you.
In reverse chronological order.

This is James White.
Their debate.

Rhology said...

Ah, you lived in Nagasaki 5 years! Wow.

I lived in a tiny island in the Ryukyu chain, halfway to Okinawa from Kagoshima, for 1 year. Kikaijima, just east of Amamioshima.

David B Marshall said...

What was that like? I've often wondered about those little out-lying islands.

Rhology said...

Remote, laid-back. Good food, but there were definitely sometimes shortages of, say, produce, if the ship didn't arrive on time.
Small town atmosphere. My wife and I were the only two gaijin on the island, so we were minor celebrities; that just meant that the schoolkids walking down the street would also point and squeal "Gaijin!" when I'd bike by.
It was really humid, haha. Clean water.
It was pretty different than anything I'd ever experienced, but I praise God for that time.

L.W. Dickel said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
David B Marshall said...

Dickel: This forum is for adults. Act like an adult, and you're welcome to participate.