FOCUS ON JOHN SHELBY SPONG (Apologia 1st pub. 2000) – Reviewed
BOOK REVIEW: Reproduced from NZ Catholic – May 20, 2001, p. 19
Reviewer: The late Bishop John Mackey DD, CBE (d. 2014) was the Bishop Emeritus of Auckland.
Review Title: Bishop Spong shown as shallow, inaccurate
This is a difficult publication to review because it is a journal rather than a book, with almost 20 articles from a variety of authors. The presentation is attractive, the print clear and the photos and illustrations illuminating.
It is produced by The Wellington Christian Apologetics Society (Inc.), a body of Christians who defend traditional Christian beliefs against the more fashionable secular beliefs of people like Lloyd Geering, James Veitch and the American, Anglican Bishop Spong. This volume is devoted to a critique of Bishop Spong, his many publications and his lectures. There is also an article on Veitch, a follow-on from a previous volume, Focus on James Veitch.
The criticisms of Bishop Spong’s scholarship are really quite devastating. In almost every area in which he claims competence, and from which he draws his conclusions that Christianity is an outmoded proposition, he is shown to be either shallow or inaccurate, and often both. This is not surprising because the faith that Geering, Veitch and Spong expound is as much a faith as that of any other worshipper. The difference is that they have transferred their allegiance from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the faith of Our Lord Jesus Christ to the worship of humanity. Such worship is hard to justify.
The essays are all very competently presented. Some are short and trenchant; others are longer and more meticulous in the exposition of Spong’s shallow erudition. This is especially true of three long essays by the editor, David H. Lane. He writes: “While there is sometimes a fine line between argument that is ad hominem and a rigorous critique, we have sought to avoid charges/accusations of dishonesty, stupidity, hypocrisy, and the like, even though the subject of our investigation regularly directs such barbs at his critics.”
The exposition of the mind of Bishop Spong reveals, I think, an attitude that a writer on Utopias, in a recent Time magazine, describes: “The Utopian state of mind indicates a yearning to be released from history, to shed the burdens of free will, failure and improvisation. Basically Utopia is for authoritarians and weaklings.” Bishop Spong is among the authoritarians undoubtedly.
The religion, if one can call it that, which Bishop Spong and his collaborators preach is unashamedly man-worship. Arnold Toynbee, in his own reflections on religion in human behaviour, said: “Every form of man-worship is a religious expression of self-centredness, and is consequently infected with the intellectual mistake and the moral sin of treating a part of the universe as if it were the whole… Man-worship of any kind is unable to satisfy Man’s spiritual needs.”
In the long run it needs to be criticised, as this volume does, rather than become the darling of the secular media, as it currently is.
Book Review: Reproduced from NZ Catholic – May 20, 2001, p. 19.
Note: John Mackey DD, CBE, [Stuff News photo above] (11 January 1918 – 20 January 2014) was the ninth Bishop of Auckland, New Zealand (1974-1983). Prior to that he had been Professor of Church History at Holy Cross College and lecturer in Church History at the University of Otago. He gained a doctorate in education and a Master’s degree in history and was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and a Graduate Scholarship to the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, studying there for two years before returning to take up the appointment of Director of Education for the Auckland diocese.
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