Friday, May 06, 2005

An Open Letter

Jodster of You Need to be Saved made a comment to my blog of a few days past, in which he invited me to respond by email. I did, but lost it due to my own stupidity. Then, I decided that since it began here, I would post an open email to him in this blog space.

Thank you for contributing your comment to my post, Reading John Shelby Spong. It is fine to disagree with each other, just as long as we don't become disagreeable in the process. In good spirit, I have decided to respond to your offer to communicate further with you. While it would not advance either of our interests to become embroiled in an endless debate, there may be some use in dialoging a bit more. I'm unconvinced, but we shall see.

I write neither as a theologian nor as a historian. I trust that no one will quibble overly much with any minor errors of fact that I might make.

What I most wish to respond to is the very first part of your comment where you find it interesting that so many people want to change the meaning of the scriptures. Of course, that makes me wonder if you really read the article on which you are commenting. As I understand it, the whole point of Spong's work is to try to find the meaning of scripture and not to change it at all. The meaning of scripture cannot be changed, but it is possible that we don 't know all of meaning yet — because we may have been looking through the wrong prism.

We do know that the gospels were written by Jews. We do know, that in the beginning, Jewish believers of Jesus worshipped with other Jews in the same synagogues. In synagogue, The Torah would be read completely in one liturgical year. Spong believes that the gospels were written in the same vein — to be read alongside those very same scriptures. The Easter reading, for example, would coincide with Passover readings.

Each gospel writer found his way of harmonizing the gospel account, as he envisioned it, with what was being read from The Torah on a given Sabbath. They wrote in a midrashic style, so that Jews who would hear the gospel might see Jesus for who He is: one in whom God was present, just as he was present in The Torah.

Another way of putting it is that the gospel writers did not, originally at least, set out to supply a factualized, chronological account of the life of Christ. Their purpose, as Jews, was to reveal Him to other Jews in ways that were relevant to them. If Spong is correct (and he may or may not be — I'm really just blogging about something that I have read and that makes much sense to me), Christendom may have been not interpreting scripture nearly as fully or correctly as possible since Jews and Christians parted company towards the end of the first century. When that happened, Gentiles began to filter Jewish writings through Gentile mentality.

Which brings me to a sensitive and troubling area of your writing. In both your comment to me and in your own blog, you make rather broad statements about Jews. These seem to me to be the kinds of statements that have been made for millennia and have caused Christians to inflict unspeakable hardships on Jews. I think you verge on anti-semitism — unintentionally, I trust.

Since I do not believe this [near anti-semitism] to be your main meaning or intention, I urge you to take great care in how you generalize about a whole ethnic group. Please remember that they gave us both Jesus and the scriptures — all of the scriptures with the possible exception of Luke who was most likely a former Gentile who had already proselytized into Judaism.

You do understand that the early Jewish Christians worshipped in the synagogues with other Jews? They tolerated and were tolerated. It seems that it was largely after the Romans crushed Jerusalem in 70 AD that the two groups moved more firmly and irrevocably apart. Jews decided that they needed to focus on maintaining their core beliefs. Christians moved more and more into the Roman realm, which may be the reason why Pontius Pilate got off so lightly in the gospels and why the Jews were rather excoriated.

I understand your point of view very well, for I was once a young evangelical who studied The Word and accepted it as literal truth. I had sublime assurance that my beliefs were completely true and that others' were highly suspect. Supposed revisionists, like Spong, would infuriate me to no end, and I feared for their souls.

Eventually, I came to realize that God cannot be confined to my little box of narrowly-formed dogma. My evangelical theology was far too small and limiting. My trite beliefs needed to be reexamined and redefined. If God is God, then he can withstand my honest doubts, my vacillations, my search, my own wandering in the wilderness.

I know that your youthful dogma is not about to be steered off its straight and narrow course by the likes of my feeble natterings. I write with a tiny glimmer of hope that you might be slightly more open minded about the sincerity of the faith of others — if not now, then maybe someday — perhaps.



blue2go said...

I think everyone finds their own meaning in scripture, but some meanings get dogmatized into institutions. The problem being (of course!) that every one and every institution thinks that their meaning is the correct one, when really, it's just another interpretation.

I find it interesting that some people (and institutions) not only think that their meaning is the correct one, but that the other points of view are CHANGING the meaning, instead of just looking at the words from another viewpoint. We humans are so tricky and so good at rationalization!

Anonymous said...

I do thank you for your open-minded, and thoughtful response to my comment.

I thank you also for recognizing that no harm is meant toward one person or persons. Your direct mention to that fact is very much appreciated.

The heart of my comment was intended to echo Blue's comment here.

In the succinct and brief comment area, I can understand the impression of narrow-mindedness. Not having read the works that you were disseminating on your blog, I cannot say I was disagreeing or agreeing with you.

I certainly hadn't intended my comment to bring forth this open letter, but rather to add another thought to the ongoing train of comments presented before me.

I will certainly revisit my posting mentioned above with a renewed perspective to ensure that no ill intention is implied. I do link the scriptural references to my thoughts in the blog, and would ask anyone that wonders to check the true source and not rely on my meagre gleanings.

I could never claim that one interpretation is right, while another is wrong. I only believe what I believe to be true, and work to understand better those areas where I may be wrong.

Books like the one you have read are a great tool to add to one's understanding, and certainly allow for the reader to see things in another light. Nothing should replace the Bible, but reading other material can help enhance one's experience with it. I believe that you would agree with me there.

I do not look to debate or convict one thought over another, as, like you, I am neither a theologian or a historian.

If I may clarify, as I have made an implication that was not my intent, I do not know if Mr Sponge is changing or finding meaning of scripture. As I said before, I have not read his work. The opening line of my comment was intented in a wider general sense, and not intented as a direct accusation of Mr. Spong.

Loner said...

The best description I ever heard about God - and our knowledge of Him was related to the story of the five blind men and the elephant. Each man knew the truth of what he touched with his hands - and each man was right, but noon of them had all the information. Each group/religion has some truth and we fill in the rest of our understanding based on that truth. I wonder when we die, if we will finally get to see how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. Loved this path in your blogging.