The Virgin in the New Testament -- Part 2

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 21 December 2005 0 Comments
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The subject is Children's Sunday school. The hypothesis is that Sunday
school is counter productive and marginally threatens the
collective/progressive understanding of the Christian faith. Sunday School
teaching is necessarily taught at a level that is understandable by
children. Even in the more liberal churches, Old Testament scripture
lessons include stories about Abraham and Sarah, Noah, Moses, King David,
etc. My son at age 6 or 7 asked where Noah put dinosaurs on his boat.
Regardless the dimensions of the boat, whether the animals were in pairs or
sevens, or whether or not dinosaurs existed before "creation" - the simple
fact is that the metaphorical message, or truth is abandoned in favor of a
good tale. The same is true of the New Testament scripture, particularly
with regard to miracles and Jesus - absent the cultural and historical
context. The concept that the Bible is a divinely inspired search for the
human condition in relation to each other and to God is simply not a concept
that is teachable to young children. Statistics and psychology tell us that
teens abandon the Church as an act of independence and, if they return, it
is typically with their own children. They return more often than not with
a children's Sunday school understanding of their faith. Conservatives,
fundamentalists, make them comfortable at this level. Christianity becomes
stuck. Would you please comment?


I think your analysis is essentially correct and I thank you for it. I too
agree that to try to teach children that "the Bible is a divinely-inspired
search for the human condition in relation to each other and to God" is to
invite glassy eyed looks. Frankly, this phrase invites a glassy eyed look
from me. However, that is not the way I would teach the Bible to children.
Children know about myths and stories that have symbolic meaning. I at
least was raised on Humpty Dumpty who understood that when some things are
broken they cannot be repaired. We understand the magic mirror into which
we gaze when we want to see the person we yearn to be. Young girls
instinctively know that Little Red Riding Hood is about a young girl
entering puberty who is told that in order to avoid the wolf, she must stay
on the straight and narrow path.

Why can we not teach our children that the Bible is filled with that kind of
story? The story of the Tower of Babel expresses our yearning to commune
with God. The story of the Virgin Birth gives voice to a Christian
experience that says human life could not produce the power we find in
Jesus. The story of Easter proclaims that even death fades before the life
and love that has been met in Jesus. Miracle stories expressed the yearning
that the kingdom of God had been glimpsed in Jesus. Miracles were the signs
of that kingdom. The Ascension is not about Jesus being propelled into
heaven. It is about the conviction that God and Jesus cannot be separated.
So if God is above the sky, Jesus must go to where God is. Our problem is
that we tend to read the Bible as history when it is more like an
interpretive portraits painted by Jewish artists.

My sense has always been that we must first educate the adults before we
will do anything more than continue the destructive patterns of literalism
into another generation. Religion yearns for certainty. However, if it
ever suggests that it has found it then it begins to sow the seeds of its
own destruction

Before the Church can think about living in the 21st century, the problem
that you address so well in your letter must be confronted. Anyone who has
been successfully doing this task might let us know. I will be happy to pass
it on.

— John Shelby Spong

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Exposing the Bible's Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love
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