Periodically John Shelby Spong inflicts on the world another one of his rescue missions. In 2012 he wrote Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World, and it has proved to be right up there with the rest of his manifestos. His opinion is clear: “I do not think for one moment that the Bible is in any literal sense the ‘Word of God’.” In fact, he assures us that, as an Episcopal bishop, he rejects the same Christianity and Bible that the militant atheists reject. To Spong, the Bible contains a kernel of history which is “well hidden under layers of myth and fantasy”. He wants to bring us all to “an understanding that does not hesitate to go through the Bible in order to transcend it, and thus that provides no security”. The Bible is, in Spong’s view, “a tribal story” put together by human beings trying to make sense of their existence.
Before we feel too overwhelmed with gratitude, we should stop and ask where this leads us. The irreligious might gravitate to Richard Dawkins; the religious to Bishop Spong. But the difference is only verbal. Spong is a little less strident, Dawkins is marginally more logical. John Wesley managed to be both gracious and
logical when he asserted that “if there be any mistakes in the Bible, there may well be a thousand. If there be one falsehood in that book, it did not come from the God of truth”. God is true, and because He is true, all His words are true (Ps. 119:160). God is true even if every man is a liar (Rom. 3:4). As the ageing Joshua prepared to go the way of all the earth, he remained confident that not one of all the good promises that the Lord had given Israel had failed. All had been fulfilled (Josh.23:14). If a supposed prophet spoke in the name of the Lord, and what he said did not take place, that prophet had spoken presumptuously and was not to be feared (Deut.18:22). Contrary to Spong’s claim, and that believed by many today, the Bible is not a collection of camp-fire stories, well meaning or otherwise. It is what it claims to be – the true Word of the true God. It is precisely because we have a God who speaks that we can ignore a bishop who speculates.