Modern Era Marcionism: Critiquing “The Sins Of Scripture” By John Shelby Spong -- By: John Makujina
Modern Era Marcionism: Critiquing “The Sins Of Scripture” By John Shelby Spong
Associate Professor, Erskine Theological Seminary
For almost two thousand years Christian theologians have attempted to harmonize the distinctive theological emphases of the two testaments. One of the earliest and most memorable attempts simply involved cutting the Gordian knot: Marcion of Sinope, unable to reconcile the benighted God of the Old Testament with Christ and the gospel, expelled the entire Old Testament and parts of the New from the Christian canon. Although Marcion was condemned as a heretic (A.D. 144), rejection of biblical passages and doctrines on ethical grounds is a pathology that continues to plague the church.
The latest such voice comes from John Shelby Spong, the highly controversial Episcopal bishop and tireless opponent of historic Christianity, especially evangelicalism. In his recent book The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love (HarperCollins, 2005), Spong continues in the tradition of neo-Marcionists like Friedrich Delitzsch (Die grosse Täuschung, 1921). But whereas Delitzsch thrashed the Old Testament by measuring it against the New, Spong outdoes him, and many others, by subjecting both testaments to a remorseless flogging when he finds them in conflict with his modern sensibilities. In fact, contemporary ethics (environmentalism, feminism, religious pluralism, etc.) so dominate his thinking and regulate his critique of the Bible that his book is organized into eight sections, most of which are governed by some facet of the popular wisdom.
The optimism generated by initial disclosures of his lifelong love for the Scriptures and dedication to Bible study (5-10) quickly evaporates amid a series of deeply condescending remarks against the Bible—amounting to cheap shots in many cases. For instance, he ridicules certain prophetic books simply because he finds them uninspiring and less than spectacular (273, see 145). Additionally, he denigrates the Bible or conservative Christians and their doctrines as either “boring” (214), “petty” (273), “simply wrong” (173, 176), “nonsense” (173), “frail, fragile and pitiful” (123), “bankrupt” (177), “overtly ignorant” (133), “neurotic” (167, 171, 176), “evil” (12, 133), idolatrous (217, 229), bigoted (11, 12, 133, 233), and even “demonic” (125, 217, 228, 276).
These scorching epithets—representative of the book’s overall tone—are the result of a programmatic hermeneutical approach to the Bible that is both transparent and often utterly predictable: if a biblical teaching comports with modern values, it is worthy of acceptance; if not, it must be scrapped. Hence, wit...
Click here to subscribe