Final Thoughts on Sins of Scripture
It is time to post some final thoughts on The Sins of Scripture by John Shelby Spong. The former bishop of Newark continues with the sin of certainty: that Christianity is the only way to God. He contends that this was never the intention of the early church, that this was a political move by Constantine in the development of later creeds.
If one is to accept that the Bible is the Word of God, which Spong does not, then one is left only with one conclusion: that Jesus is the only path to God. This is summed up beautifully by John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” Spong, however, is free to come to a different conclusion since he does not accept the Bible as God’s Word. And he comes to a vastly different conclusion.
Spong hopes that one day, all the faiths of the world will come together and talk over their differences, and that we can use the best of all the faiths to come to a new faith. A New World Order, as it were. This will scare any Tim LaHaye junkie senseless, as we all know that that is, in LaHaye’s interpretation of Revelation, one of the signs of the End Times. As a historicist, I don’t believe in any of the crap spouted in the Left Behind series, but an interfaith future still gives me some pause. I believe that it is naive to assume anything like this will ever happen. There are vast theological chasms between many of the world’s faiths, and contrary to popular belief, we don’t all worship the same god.
How can anyone think that the transcendent, infinite-personal God of the Bible is the same deistic deity worshiped by Muslims? Or the cosmic energy of life worshiped by Eastern faiths? Or the natural polytheism espoused by Wicca? No, as the Jewish faith states, God is echad, uniquely God.
In the final section of the book, Spong eloquently explains what is known as JEDP theory; the theory that the Torah is not written by Moses but by a multitude of authors from different periods of Jewish history. First, the Yahwist writer wrote during the first Jewish monarchy under King David. Next, the Elohist writer wrote his piece during fracturing of the two kingdoms. The Deuteronic writer wrote during the time of King Josiah (for whom this blog is named) and “planted” a book in the Temple for people to “find” with his own laws passed as “God’s Word.” Finally, the Priestly writer wrote during the Exile and redacted all of these documents into the form we know today.
This theory was designed for a few reasons. First and foremost, it is considered unlikely that the Jewish faith as it stands today was practiced during the time of Moses. Now that Darwinian evolution is here, we humans need to see an evolution in everything, including religion. It is for that primary reason that JEDP theory was developed. The unified narratives of the Torah are split into four parts, or “revisions,” conducted throughout Jewish history.
Nevermind that little evidence of this theory has been uncovered. Each copy of the Old Testament that we have (we have very few) from ancient days shows the text in its exact form as we know it today. The keepers of the text are very strict about how copies are made, almost militant in fact. It is unlikely that anyone would have been permitted to revise the Scriptures in the sweeping ways that Spong is claiming that they were revised. Especially knowing that they were considered the very Word of God from the beginning.
Glenn Miller makes a compelling case for Mosaic authorship of the Torah here.
In all, I see no reason to read the Scriptures as anything but the literal history that they are. Spong’s disbelief centers around the miracles that Scripture contains, such as the Virgin Birth that he denies or Jesus’ Ascension into heaven. Offering a defense for these things is really the subject of another post, suffice it to say that if one accepts the Bible as literally true, then one has no alternative but to accept those stories as true also. But Spong doesn’t accept the Bible as true, and that part and parcel what the problem is.
The conclusion that I’ve come to is the same question I’ve had from the beginning of this series: If you are going to deny the truth of every Christian distinctive, why call yourself a Christian? I can’t figure out why Spong clings to that label, because he clearly isn’t a Christian.