Statesboro, GA, USA
I can't blame you for wanting to shift the conversation away from Spong.
Didn't I bring up his name first? I very much would like to talk about Spong's position (which I saw couched in your statements), and intend to.
His credentials are overwhelming, his works popular, his arguments formidable. There is a reason why Falwell won't debate him.
There are so many out there with "credentials", that I prefer rather to look at the argumentation, and determine whether or not it is valid. College degrees and rank do not ensure correct thinking. Neither does popularity. In fact, it's often indirectly proportionate with soundness of ideas. For example, you picked a "popular" preacher for an adversary, rather than someone versed in Christian apologetics or history. Though I won't venture to criticize Jerry Falwell here, he’s only a strawman for Spong to choose.
Spong’s ideas, from what I've read, are not at all original ... they reflect much 19th century and early to mid 20th century liberal theology and philosophy. They echo the works of Friedrich Schleiermacher, Paul Tillich, and John Robinson. And as far as historical criticism, it also definitely rings in the tradition of Albert Schweitzer, D.F. Strauss, J.E. Renan, and Rudolph Bultmann. But there is also conservative scholarship to counter these views and methods of criticism ... and all of them are not “evangelicals” as commonly used. As Colin Brown wrote:
The word ‘conservative’ is perhaps an unfortunate one. It is a term which is loaded against itself. It conjures up the atmosphere of reaction for its own sake, of diehards making last-ditch efforts to thwart the honest intentions of the progressives. But in the sense that I am using it here, it denotes a wide variety of Christian scholars who believed that the historic Christian faith was still tenable despite modern philosophical and critical attacks. These scholars were not all Evangelicals, although they were agreed with the Evangelicals on essentials. (Philosophy & The Christian Faith, 164)
Brown goes on to give an extensive list of the scholars who upheld the historicity of the Bible ... B.F. Wescott, J.B. Lightfoot, F.J.A. Hort, Alfred Plummer, Sir William Ramsay, James Denney, H.B. Swete, James Orr, Alfred Edersheim, E.W. Hengstenberg, Theodor Zahn, Charles Hodge, and B.B. Warfield. My lay-reading on both sides is relatively sparse, but I bring all of this up to say that it is wrong to claim that the liberal side represents the intelligentsia, while the conservative side represents the deluded ... and I too, am speaking of their “position”. I have read enough to know that the “anti-intellectual” slur against those who believe in the historicity and dogma of the Bible, is unfounded.
I also use "liberal" in the sense of Brown, not at all as political liberalism, but as describing a certain kind of scholarship. I think the term is just as misleading as "conservative". I use it only because there is a lack of more widely recognized term. The conjectures of these liberal Bible historians have turned out to be no more than speculative reconstructions ... similar to what they accuse the actual New Testament texts of being. Only their “proof” has not been so compelling, unless of course there is an underlying philosophy which disallows the miraculous beforehand ... in which case any reconstruction of history appears more plausible than what is assumed impossible. Inheriting the pedantic empiricism of Hume, and the spirit of Renaissance Humanism, Spong takes all of these assumptions forth in his mission of demythologizing Christianity.
Another great difficulty I have with Spong's position, is that it is an attempt to live on two planes which will not be unified ... Atheism and Christianity. It's the ultimate edible, yet keepsake cake. He tries to convince us over and over of some way to preserve piety and religious “meaning” that is more than utterly subjective, while debunking the historicity and divinity of the bible. Why does he try so hard to urge men to be believing unbelievers? If a soldier in the Civil war ventured to wear gray pants and a blue coat, and tote a firearm, he would doubtless be shot by both sides. It is interesting that we are discussing nihilism, because, as much as I disagree with them, I find thinkers like Nietzsche to be more consistent than Spong. Nietzsche would have criticized his position relentlessly. Just read “The Madman”. For while Spong’s premises are the same as Nietzsche’s (naturalistic methodology), he refuses to say “God is dead”, but rather that “God is different” ... that we must reinterpret God in terms of humanistic philosophy. He says that Christianity must change or die, lose it’s fundamental “real” claims, or perish. His call is for embalming and keeping God around for something akin to tourism. Nietzsche would have called this only a refusal to bury a stinking corpse. From the other firing line, I see Spong described in the writing of a favorite “fundamentalist” of mine, A.B. Bruce ...
... many in our day call themselves Christians whose theory of the universe (or Weltanschauung, as the Germans call it) does not allow them to believe in the miraculous in any shape or in any sphere; with whom it is an axiom that the continuity of nature's course cannot be broken, and who therefore cannot even go the length of Socinians in their view of Christ and declare Him to be, without qualification, the Holy One of God, the morally sinless One. Even men like Renan claim to be Christians, and, like Balaam, bless Him whom their philosophy compels them to blame. Our modern Balaams all confess that Jesus is at least the holiest of men, if not the absolutely Holy One. They are constrained to bless the Man of Nazareth. They are spellbound by the Star of Bethlehem, as was the Eastern soothsayer by the Star of Jacob, and are forced to say in effect: "How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? or how shall I defy, whom the Lord hath not defied? Behold, I have received commandment to bless: and He hath blessed; and I cannot reverse it."(Numbers 23:8,20). Others not going so far as Renan, shrinking from thoroughgoing naturalism, believing in a perfect Christ, a moral miracle, yet affect a Christianity independent of dogma, and as little as possible encumbered by miracle, a Christianity purely ethical, consisting mainly in admiration of Christ's character and moral teaching; and, as the professors of such a Christianity, regard themselves as exemplary disciples of Christ. Such are the men of whom the author of Supernatural Religion speaks as characterized by a "tendency to eliminate from Christianity, with thoughtless dexterity, every supernatural element which does not quite accord with current opinions," and as endeavoring "to arrest for a moment the pursuing wolves of doubt and unbelief by practically throwing to them scrap by scrap the very doctrines which constitute the claims of Christianity to be regarded as a divine revelation at all."(i, 92). Such men can hardly be said to have a consistent theory of the universe, for they hold opinions based on incompatible theories, are naturalistic in tendency, yet will not carry out naturalism to all its consequences. They are either not able, or are disinclined, to realize the alternatives and to obey the voice of logic, which like a stern policeman bids them "Move on;" but would rather hold views which unite the alternatives in one compound eclectic creed, like Schleiermacher,--himself an excellent example of the class,--of whom Strauss remarks that he ground down Christianity and Pantheism to powder, and so mixed them that it is hard to say where Pantheism ends and Christianity begins. In presence of such a spirit of compromise, so widespread, and recommended by the example of many men of ability and influence, it requires some courage to have and hold a definite position, or to resist the temptation to yield to the current and adopt the watchword: Christianity without dogma and miracle. But perhaps it will be easier by and by to realize the alternatives, when time has more clearly shown whither present tendencies lead. Meantime it is the evening twilight, and for the moment it seems as if we could do without the sun, for though he is below the horizon, the air is still full of light. But wait awhile; and the deepening of the twilight into the darkness of night will show how far Christ the Holy One of the Church's confession can be dispensed with as the Sun of the spiritual world. (The Training of The Twelve)
And like Bruce, I agree with Paul when he wrote that “ ...if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Corinthians 15:14).
Here are a couple of links, a bit more critical of Spong’s position. If anyone is checking him out, it would be healthy to hear some potential problems as well as his praise ... and then make a judgment from there.
Also here are a few links about Biblical criticism in general, and in particular about N.T. Wright, one of the best examples of a scholar who refutes the form criticism and liberal scholarship (embodied in the ‘Jesus Seminar’) which many of Spong’s ideas are founded upon.
More later on your moral criticism of Old Testament Law ... I’ve run out of time for today.