Resurrection: Myth or Reality?
By: John Shelby Spong
Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism
By: John Shelby Spong
Liberating the Gospels
By: John Shelby Spong
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Other Articles By Derek Miller:
A Review of Liberating the Gospels by John Shelby Spong
Liberating the Gospels was the seventh book that I read by Spong, and each time I pick up a new one, I am continually amazed at the incredible honesty, truthfulness, and excitement that each book holds.
Explore More Whosoever:
What Easter is All About:
A Review of John Shelby Spong's "Resurrection: Myth or Reality?"
As a liberal Christian, I have always had quite a few unanswered questions about the event
that is commonly known as Easter. Growing up in a conservative household, I was raised
to believe that Easter meant a literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ that occurred on the
third day after he gave himself up to be executed for the sins of the world. Although I had
long ago dismissed the theory that Jesus died for the sins of the world, Spong changed my
opinions drastically as I read "Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism."
In this previous
book, Spong convinced me that a physical resuscitation of Jesus had never taken place at
all. He argued that the resurrection stories are heavily symbolic and must not (along with the
rest of the Gospels) be taken literally. Still, the event called Easter remained shrouded in my
mind. It wasn't until I read "Resurrection: Myth or Reality" that I began to realize what
Easter is all about. Spong took me on a thrilling journey through history and beyond
Scripture as I arrived at an understanding of why the resurrection stories were written, why
certain symbols were used, and most importantly, what this all means to Christians today.
In order to reconstruct the Easter moment, Spong employs a Jewish literary device known
as midrash. Much like a parable, midrash uses supernatural or otherwise incredulous events
as symbols for a timeless truth. In essence, it captures the present inside the symbols of
yesterday, preserving the inner meanings of the faith story for current and future
generations. Midrash cannot be found in a literal reading of the text; one must read between
the lines to capture the hidden (true) meaning of what is being said. When the traditional
Easter story is examined under this midrashic lens, a whole new story emerges.
The story that Spong recreates is much more believable and appropriate than the traditional
tale. Spong's rendering of Easter begins when Jesus and the disciples travel to Jerusalem
for Passover. During the Passover celebration, Jesus is recognized by the Jewish
authorities as a rebel and a political threat, for which he is put to death. The disciples,
shocked, flee to their homes in Galilee to mourn their loss. Over the course of the next six
months, however, Peter and his companions realize that there was something about the life
of their rabbi that made him divine. They understood that the spirit of Jesus transcended
death because the way Jesus died was exactly like
they way he lived. He gave his life to others and for others. He loved wastefully and
selflessly. In that living and
dying, the disciples concluded that Jesus revealed the meaning of God. God is not victory,
their point of view stated. God is the presence of transcendent meaning in the midst of
human defeat. God is not the promise of an infinite reward. God is the meaning that is
present in the face of fate, tragedy, and undeserved pain. God cannot be seen in Jesus'
escape from death at Easter until God is first seen in the crucified one who gives life as he
dies, who offers forgiveness as he is victimized, who shows love as he is hated.
Spong's rendering of Jesus as one who gave his life away to others also reveals the true
meaning of Easter. Easter is not about believing in incongruent stories that have been
disproved by the laws of science. Easter is about realizing that Jesus is the meaning of God.
It is Easter that caused the disciples to travel back to Jerusalem six months later during the
feast of the Tabernacles to proclaim that "He has risen!" and "Death cannot contain him!"
Easter also caused the need for early Christian writers to capture the sentiments in
subjective, non-literal words so that we, too, can enter the text and experience the moment
anew every day. We, too, can proclaim that Jesus lives on in each one of us as Easter
becomes a timeless invitation to enter the meaning of God by living for others, expecting no
reward, loving wastefully no matter what the cost. When we do that, we are Easter people
and resurrection becomes real.
I have the distinct pleasure of saying that "Resurrection: Myth or Reality?" is one of the
most influential, spirit-giving books that I have ever read. Each time I read Spong, I marvel
at the way that this one man can shatter all of tradition and yet make the new experience
even more sincere and invigorating. I highly recommend Spong's books to all Christians
searching for a new way to approach the Scripture. "Resurrection: Myth or Reality?" and
"This Hebrew Lord" are the best two of the ones that I've read so far. But make no
mistake, everything he writes is a gem and I can't thank him enough for giving me a
religion and a strong sense of spirituality that I otherwise wouldn't have. All of Spong's
writing is nothing short of an extraordinary blessing.
Copyright © 2002 by the author
All Rights Reserved
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