Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture

The GLBTRT has been reviewing books and movies in its newsletter since the early 1990s. Trace the evolution of queer publishing through these historic reviews. This review was originally published in Vol. 3, No 3 & 4 Spring/Summer 1991. 

Cover of Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of ScriptureRescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture. By John Shelby Spong. Harper, 1991. $16.95. (ISBN 0-0Ml67509-8).

Generally speaking, one of the tenets of fundamentalist American Christianity is the literal interpretation of the Bible. This isa basic belief held by some members
of nearly all mainstream Christian denominations, and is an absolute in more conservative and extremist sects.

This has proven a two-edged sword: it provides a comfort zone for Christians who need a rigid structure for their religious beliefs; and it has become a means of condemning the civil rights and feminist movements, as well as a weapon against gay and lesbian lifestyles. The results have been a continuing hostility to gays, lesbians and feminists, and often rejection of Christianity by those groups.

John Shelby Spong is the Episcopal bishop of Newark, and Peck’s Bad Boy of the Christian Left. In this study, Spong reviews biblical scholarship to demonstrate that literal interpretation is simply insupportable. He shows how many of the stories of the Old Testament are apocryphal; others are chronologically inaccurate. The four main books of the New Testament often contradict each other, and Paul was captive to the social mores of his times.

Spong’s argument that the Bible can in fact be basis for an abiding faith, and that minorities need not feel disenfranchised is a strong one. His hypothesis that Paul was probably a repressed homosexual weakens that argument somewhat, but it is an interesting consideration nonetheless.

It is doubtful that Spong’s book will change the minds of many fundamentalists, but it will provide support for readers who have had to wrestle with the apparent opposition of lifestyle and religious faith. Recommended for general readers and for all religion collections.

Reviewed by Jim McPeak
Lepper Public Library
Lisbon, Ohio

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