Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy
John Shelby Spong, Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy (New York: Harper One) 2016.
Even if one doesn't agree with all of the progressive positions taken by John Shelby Spong, you have to respect his dedication and discipline when it comes to Biblical study. This book is based on years of very careful and intricate study of the Gospel of Matthew. His knowledge of Jewish heritage and the cycle of the Jewish year also come through strongly in his writing. In fact, his deep understanding and years of study almost become a weakness in the text because he relies so heavily on his own knowledge and understanding. It isn't that the book is devoid of footnotes, but there are some places where he makes claims that are not supported by others. That isn't to say that the claims he makes are unbelievable, just that there are a few new ideas in the text that challenge a careful reader. Sometimes it is difficult to obtain independent confirmation of points he makes.
Nonetheless, this is an excellent book with some challenging ideas that requires careful reading and thinking and opens the reader to new ways of understanding the Gospel narratives. His challenge to Biblical literalists is real and his case against applying their techniques to interpretation is strong.
It is often the case when scholarship pushes the limits of my understanding and challenges some of my preconceived notions that my approach is shifted by reading the works of the scholars. It will be true in this case, as well. I'll probably never return to all of my previous understandings of the Gospel of Matthew. And I'll probably keep Spong's book handy for future readings, study and preaching on the text.