According to Spong, who described himself as not being a "biblical literalist," it's not possible to be a Christian and deny the "reality of the resurrection." But, says Spong, this reality should not be understood as a physical return from death. What appear to be historical narratives are more properly understood as symbolism employed by Jesus' followers to convey their powerful and ineffable "God experience." A God-experience, says Spong, must be put into human words and our language is not big enough to envelop that inbreaking of eternity.
Granted, our language is not capable of capturing God's totality. But that's not to say that language is incapable of communicating any truths about God. As Francis Schaeffer noted, God has not given us exhaustive truth, but He has given us true (though partial) Truth.
Once I heard Bishop Spong's take on the inadequacy of language to describe God, I patiently waited for him to refute himself by ascribing some attributes to God. I wasn't disappointed. In his closing statements, just a few moments after saying "I cannot tell you who God is or what God is," the bishop proceeded to affirm that God is the source of love and the ground of all being.
It was evident to me that what really motivates Spong is the desire to make the Bible and Christianity plausible to the modern mind. This means adopting a hermeneutic that takes all references to miraculous events as poetic symbolism. If we fail to open the Scriptures to scholarship (by which Bishop Spong means the naturalistic rationalism assumed by the so-called biblical scholars of the Jesus Seminar of which he is a member) we will end up twisting twenty-first century minds into first century pretzels.
As I watched and listened to the exchange, the words of C. S. Lewis in the first chapter of Miracles, kept coming to mind:
...the question whether miracles occur can never be answered simply by experience. Every event which might claim to be a miracle is, in the last resort, something presented to our sense, something seen, heard, touched, smelled, or tasted. And our sense are not infallible. If anything extraordinary seems to have happened, we can always say that we have been the victims of an illusion. If we hold a philosophy which excludes the supernatural, this is what we always shall say. What we learn from experience depends on the kind of philosophy we bring to experience. It is therefore useless to appeal to experience before we have settled, as well as we can, the philosophical question.Another Lewis quote, this one from"Learning in War-Time," is likewise appropriate. "Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered." Those interested in learning how to answer the bad philosophy of the Jesus Seminar will find this article by Dr. Craig of interest.