by Georgette Huie
GREENWICH (09/19/2012) -- OK, I admit it: I'm willing to allow that every miracle mentioned in the Bible, including Jesus' bodily resurrection, may have actually happened. Note that "willing to allow" is not the same as "convicted." I just figure that since I wasn't there, it is presumptuous to state either way what may or may not have occurred. My faith in the God made known to us in Jesus Christ is no less strong whether these miracles happened or not. But I suspect that for many in our pews, not to mention the many more not in any pew, heartfelt convicted faith in God is not possible, because faith in God has been equated with belief in the literal biblical word.
But until this summer, I could not articulate a strong and convincing alternative to literalizing the Bible. Yes, I could teach the Biblical scholarship of the last two hundred years, as so many of us have learned in seminary, but I was missing the glue that would put all the pieces and parts into a context that would make sense to a questioning seeker.
And then I decided to "Go BIG" this summer and attend a session course at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, taught by John Shelby Spong. Spong, now in his 80's, was the Episcopal Bishop of Newark, is a member of the Jesus Seminar, is a controversial and forward-thinker, and a prolific writer. The course was based on his latest book, Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World. It is an amazing work, written for laypeople, religious or not. Spong takes almost every book of the Bible, summarizes what most biblical scholars have agreed is true about the books, and more importantly and usefully for me, puts them in context in a way that makes sense of them. Each chapter is a quick read; the writing is to the point and accessible. But Spong is not just summarizing. His thesis about the Synoptic Gospels is the most exciting, insightful thing I have read in a while. And it is compelling.
He believes the Synoptic Gospels were written in the synagogue, intended for use in Jewish liturgy, and that they were never meant to be a literal, blow-by-blow supposedly eyewitness account of Jesus' life and times. Spong's thesis makes more sense of the gospels than anything I've encountered before, and gives us a means of interpretation that keeps head and heart together.
It is scary to be presented with such a different view of the Bible. One class member expressed it well when he said, "It feels like having the rug pulled out from under your feet." And yet, nothing is lost in this view. If anything, there is a greater possibility of seeing Jesus more clearly — and as the song from Godspell goes — loving him more dearly and following him more nearly. No longer stymied by incredible words, we instead hear the inspiring words which moved so many to courageous faith and miraculous community-creating acts. No longer confined to a particular way of reading scripture, the view of this theologian may serve to inspire contemporary disciples to consider how we might embrace God's plan in our lives and in our life together. May it be so for us, for those we serve, and for those we are yet to serve.
Georgette Huie is the Director of Christian Education at the Round Hill Community Church in Greenwich.