Bishop John Spong has published another book. This one is entitled “Jesus for the Non-Religious”
Ben Myers has a review of the book, pointing out the good intentions and the admirable desire of the book to bring modern biblical scholarship to the common reader, but also pointing out the numerous ways in which Bishop Spong relies on out-dated scholarship when he does so.
Myers however finds the key problem with this book – and with so many others lately – when he makes the following observation about the Jesus presented to the readers of the book:
“[According to Spong] Jesus overcomes our prejudices and stereotypes, so that we can be inclusive and tolerant towards others. This, in a nutshell, is ‘the new reformation’; this is Bishop Spong’s Jesus.
And for all Spong’s iconoclastic claims, there is something strangely familiar about this Jesus. A Jesus who champions inclusiveness and tolerance is a Jesus who looks suspiciously like – well, like ourselves. Presumably Spong’s readers will already identify with the Western liberal values of tolerance and inclusiveness. We did not learn those values from Jesus, but, thanks to Spong, we discover subsequently that Jesus himself is also committed to the same values.
The function of Spong’s Jesus is thus simply to maintain the social and political status quo. He takes our own most cherished and self-evident Western values, and he provides them with a theological justification. Thus our own values are made absolute and unimpeachable – they are elevated to the status of ideology. Simply put, Spong tells us that political correctness is correct, since even Jesus was politically correct.
This should give pause to any reader of the Gospels. After all, the Gospels consistently depict a Jesus who is radical and confronting and unsettling – a Jesus who challenges the status quo, who hangs out with the wrong people and antagonises the establishment, who resists every attempt to domesticate his message, refusing to allow his actions to be calmly assimilated into any existing religious framework. And for just this reason, the Jesus of the Gospels is finally executed. In contrast, however, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would be offended by Bishop Spong’s politically correct Jesus. A Jesus whose sole commitment is to tolerant inclusiveness is simply not the kind of Jesus whom anyone would want to crucify.”
This danger of finding, upon careful study, that Jesus is actually telling us that we should be just like we want to be anyways, is not unique to Bishop Spong or to modern inclusivist theological thought. It’s pretty trivial to observe that within the right-wing of American theological teaching, a claim that careful reading of the biblical accounts of Jesus show him to be a prototype model American citizen who’s imprimatur supports most any action the present American administration undertakes.
Nor is this projection of ourselves onto Jesus unique to our particular moment in history. It was the recognition that ultimately any attempt to uncover the “real Jesus” by getting “behind” the gospel accounts would end up creating a figure who was a projection of our most cherished beliefs that finally derailed the “Historical Jesus” movement from serious scholarly pursuit.
Albert Schweitzer said of the whole enterprise, (something to the order of) “When we peer down into the wells of history to see the truth, what we ultimately end up seeing is our own face reflecting back up at us.”
Read the rest: John Shelby Spong: Jesus for the Non-Religious