Clicking on a link provided by Jim West, I found myself reading a pithy review of Jack Spong's book Eternal Life. The reviewer is "known" in the world of biblioblogging in the same sense that Her Majesty's Constabulary will confirm during the course of an investigation that a certain individual is "known" to them. As expected, it was a review with bite.
But here's the interesting thing. If you read the piece cold, you might assume the reviewer is a KJV-toting fundamentalist pouring Beckish bile on "liberal" Christians. If so, you'd only get half marks; bile there is, but Bible-thumping is not the place the reviewer is coming from. But Deane doesn't spell out exactly where it is he's coming from, which is a shame.
I have a more charitable view on Spong. He speaks for a lot of folk who have remained within the mainline denominations. To be caught in the middle, with the slobbering fundagelical loons on the one side and angrily disenchanted tantrum-throwers on the other is hardly a comfortable place to be, but for many people it's the only place they can be given the delicate balance between integrity and tradition. It's people like these who have brought change to their communities, the ordination of women, energy for social justice issues... I'm not sure their critics can point to any comparable accomplishments.
And, let's speak plainly, Spong's influence isn't limited to the pages of obscure church publications, Friday night pub rants and arcane academic journals. It's "out there" on the shelves of countless bookstores and public libraries. It doesn't matter whether it's Jack Spong, Lloyd Geering, or even Richard Dawkins; "popularizing" important issues and taking them to "the great unwashed" inevitably brings down howls of indignation from the people who you'd most expect to welcome the breakthrough of discourse on these very subjects.
"Spong appeals," writes Deane, "to a substantial proportion of self-confessed Christians... who have recognised the shortcomings of their faith but desperately attempt to cling to some form of it." Ouch! But there's an awful lot of assumption in that sentence. If we were to grant that the sentiments are accurate though, then the responsible alternative would be...
But that sentence didn't get written.