Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Discerning Myths that Abound

October 12, 2009 was Columbus Day, and its kind of ironic for me because just the other day, maybe about a week ago, my 10 year old daughter came up to me and told me the most incredible story. She told me the story of Christopher Columbus and his raw courage in the face of mutinous sailors who were in mortal terror of sailing over the edge of a flat earth. I thought to myself, my goodness, for a 10 year old, you’re waxing eloquent on Christopher Columbus. So I asked her; “Where in the world did you get that type of information?“ “Social studies,” she replied, “my teacher taught it to me.” And I thought, how incredibly bizarre that a teacher in an age of enlightenment would teach such a thing?

The truth of the matter is for the first 15 centuries of the Christian era, unanimous scholarly opinion pronounced the earth spherically. In other words, everybody knew that the earth was not flat. In fact, the whole notion of the flat earth was concocted as a way to discredit Christianity. They tried to point out even after Christopher Columbus had established the world to be round in 1492 that the church by its highest authority continued to erect theological barriers to this geographical truth. In other words, the church was bent on teaching flat earth even though Christopher Columbus had demonstrated that the earth was a sphere. So this is a story or myth concocted to discredit Christianity, and yet the irony of ironies is that even in Christian schools, Christian school teachers are teaching young Christian students this myth. Again, this is a complete myth, and the ancient Greek philosophers knew that the earth was spherical.[1]

So one of things that you as a Christian need to do, and this is one of the purpose of the Bible Answer Man show, is to learn to put on your bologna detector, because this ministry and the Bible Answer Man broadcast is all about discernment, learning how to exercise your God given discernment skills. You have to discern between wheat and chaff and heat and light. There are all kinds of myths circulating in the secular and spiritual world and you have to know the difference between truth and error. Why? Because we are told in the Word of God to put on the belt of truth (Eph. 6:14), it is the belt of truth that holds up the Christian’s armor. When that buckle breaks the cloak that protects you against the devil’s schemes simply falls from your shoulders and crumples to the ground.

We live in an age in which lies travel halfway around the world before truth has had a chance to put its boots on. An Internet lie flies around the world in micro seconds, so it is ever more important for you as the believer to distinguish truth from error because, if not we’re going to fall for all kinds of things.

We’ve got a guy coming to Charlotte; his name is Bishop John Shelby Spong. He is a former bishop in New Jersey and he’s writing all kinds of books, and in his books, he is making the following declarations:

• There is no supernatural God who lives above the sky or beyond the universe.

• There is no parental deity watching over us from whom we can expect help.

• The idea of Jesus in perpetual orbit doesn’t mean much to me.[2]

In other words, this guy is a sort of fundamentalist on the left. He thinks that when the Bible says, “Jesus ascended into Heaven” that He’s traveling out of our little universe now and struggling with oxygen deprivation. He doesn’t understand that Jesus as the God-Man transcends time and space. In other words, he’s not particularly sophisticated, but he’s writing and speaking under the guise of sophistication that we now live in a scientific world and there is no need or room for the supernatural. He goes on to say,

There are no record books, and no heavenly judge. Heaven and hell are human constructs designed to make fair in some ultimate way the unfairness of life. [3]

Well, if you look at his background you get some kind of an indication of where he’s coming from, and we can all commiserate with him. Spong tells the story that he lost his father—a man given to alcoholism, gambling, cigarette smoking and profanity—and yet “when callers coming to our home to express their regrets,” they told him “what a fine Christian man” his father was, and that he “should be comforted by the conviction that he was to receive his reward.” Spong says, “The words simply did not add up. If religion was designed to comfort me, it failed. It brought me, rather, into intense emotional conflict."[4]

So he uses this experience as a way of getting rid of the supernatural. There wasn’t any great relief in the story he was being told, therefore, the biblical story from his perspective can’t be true. He’s now going around the country asking disaffected Christians to consider his crucial questions such as “What will happen if our suspicions are validated and this defense shield called religion loses its credibility?” In other words, we live an age of scientific enlightenment, religion doesn’t work any more, it’s the belief of obscurantist. So can we still survive even though we have demonstrated that God does not exist? He goes on “What will happen if the external supernatural God of religion dies? Can the human psyche bear the experience of self-consciousness without the narcotic of supernaturalism?"[5]

This is the idea Spong has of God, who was a bishop in an Episcopal church by the way. Spong thinks that Christianity is crutch for weak minded people. It’s a narcotic that we take to feel good. But all of Spong thinking is a delusion and it’s in this age when God is said to be a delusion, which by the way Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion is also coming to Charlotte. That we have to demonstrate—not as an apologetic issue but as the apologetic issue—that the universe didn’t spring out of nothing, but that God created the universe. This should be obvious to every thinking person anywhere that a cause requires an effect equal to or greater than itself. You don’t have a cosmos without a cosmos creator. This wouldn’t make any sense. Spong and Dawkins are 19th century thinkers living in the 21st century—that’s the problem—and they act like the Christians are a 19th century thinkers living in the 21st century, nothing could be farther from the truth.

We have all the evidence and support we could possibly want for a biblical worldview, and John Shelby Spong is headed in the wrong direction. Should I feel sorry for him? Well of course, he’s 78 years old and he’s facing his own mortality. Of course I feel sorry for him. But what I don’t feel sorry for is the fact that he is a man with premeditation leading all kinds of people into a ditch.

It was Spong who said all of the following: no biblical scholar thinks that John wrote the fourth gospel;[6] John’s Gospel does not contain “a single word…actually spoken by the historic Jesus;”[7] the Gospels presented a Jesus who is sometimes as “narrow minded, vindictive and even hypocritical;”[8] no reputable scholar accepts the virgin birth;[9] the miraculous works of Jesus were myths;[10] Paul was a “self loathing” “rigidly controlled gay male;”[11] the Bible is full of errors and contradictions;[12] and anyone who holds that the Bible is without error is ignorant, culturally backwards[13], fearful and insecure people who are not serious Christians who don’t even read the Bible they pretend to defend.[14] Now I’ll give him that last point that he is generally right that Bibles are gathering dust, but what is not gathering dust is those that discredit the Bible.

We live in an age of professors gone wild: Daniel Dennet, Christopher Hitchens, Bart Ehrman, Richard Dawkins, and Bishop John Shelby Spong. They are touring the country, they are on television shows, and radio shows.

Our local newspaper talks about Spong’s venues as being overpopulated by people, and that everyone wants to come hear him talk, and they so intrigued. They don’t know that he’s talking nonsense. Why? They don’t know truth.

At CRI and the Bible Answer Man we have a tag line, “Because Truth Matters.” We do what we do “Because Truth Matters.” We defend the reliability of the Bible and the divinity of Jesus Christ “Because Truth Matters.” We demonstrate that the universe is not eternal and that it did not spring out of nothing “Because Truth Matters.” We say how one views their origins will ultimately determine how they live their life, that evolution is the great cosmogenic myth of the twenty-first century, and we ask people to live with eternity in mind “Because Truth Matters.”

John Shelby Spong is dead wrong when he says, “Heaven and hell are human constructs”[15]. The ancients knew better. Without a Heaven and Hell, Hitler dies in the comforting arms of his mistress without any eternal consequences. The ancients knew better than to think such rubbish. Ideas have life and death consequences; consequences not just for time but for eternity.

I’ve addressed a lot here on history and John Shelby Spong. I would recommend three resources, first on the Bible and theology I recommend my Complete Bible Answer Book. On history I recommend the book Truth and Transformation by Dr. Vishal Mangalwadi and his CD series Must the Sun Set on the West. All available at our Website of or by calling us at 1-888-7000-0274.


[1] See Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and Modern Historians by Jeffrey Burton Russell (Praeger Paperback 1997)
[2] “Controversial Bishop Returning Home,” by Miriam Durkin, The Charlotte Observer, 10/9/09, More Information Section of Web article, under What Spong Thinks (

[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid. Main article

[5] Ibid. Main article
[6] Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, John Shelby Spong (HarperSanFrancisco, 1991), 193.

[7] Ibid. 191.
[8] Ibid. 21.

[9] Ibid. 215.

[10] Ibid. 129-33, 143-44
[11] Ibid. 109-126.

[12] Ibid, 16-23.

[13] Ibid.9.

[14] Ibid., 3-5, 79, 133, 217

[15] “Controversial Bishop Returning Home,” by Miriam Durkin, The Charlotte Observer, 10/9/09, More Information Section of Web article, under What Spong Thinks (


John Tucker said...

Great article, Hank! Thanks for fighting the good fight. My prayers and financial support continue for CRI and BAM. Grace to you, my brother. -John

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Not only did the Roman and Greek branches of Christianity both understand that the earth was round, but a Greek mathematician had measured its circumference with reasonable accuracy in 500 B.C. or so. Many historians who acknowledge this attribute the "flat earth" component of the Columbus myth to Washington Irving. The fact is, for 300 years after Columbus's voyage, nobody really remembered him or paid much attention to him. After the United States won its independence, well meaning cultural patriots began casting around for heroes with some antiquity, which is a tall order when your nation is only a few years old, made up of settlers who arrived in the previous 200 years or less. They came up with... Columbus! An odd choice, since he certainly did NOT sail to make the world safe for democracy. He served an absolute monarchy, and aspired to a hereditary aristocracy. Then to flatter the new story line, we get this "flat earth" nonsense. Columbus tripped over America by accident, having estimated that the earth was only 15,000 miles around, when most scholars and clerics KNEW it was more like 25,000 miles. To the day he died, he thought he was sailing off the coast of Asia.

Boris said...

What a crock. No Protestant denomination accepted the findings of Galileo or Copernicus, in particular that the earth was round and orbited the sun until well into the 19th century. Up until then all Protestant denominations held to the flat immovable earth clearly described and implied in both testaments. The cosmological theory that was universally accepted in Copernicus' time placed the earth in the center of the universe. It was based on the Almagest (The Great Compilation), a book written by Ptolemy in the second century BC. According to this geocentric model of the universe the earth was surrounded by eight spheres that supposedly encircled it. For over 12 centuries the model served astronomers, scientists and theologians. The moon, sun, planets and stars each occupied a separate sphere which moved in accordance with the perceived motion of the celestial body occupying it. The model envisioned that the moon occupied the first sphere, Mercury the second, Venus the third, then came the sun, followed by Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. The fixed stars occupied the eighth sphere. Theologians placed heaven on the ninth sphere, and by symmetry, placed nine rings of hell below the surface of the earth. Guess what. They were all wrong. Now I'd like to challenge any Christian to show me scriptural evidence that the earth moves and orbits the sun and isn't immovable. Or you people can keep trying to find ways to justify all the scientific inaccuracies in the Buybull.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Boris, you speak with your usual half-baked ignorance. Copernicus introduced the heliocentric concept, the notion that the earth revolved around the sun, as did the planets, rather than everything revolving around the earth. Many early Protestants did indeed dispute that notion -- notably Martin Luther and Melancthon, not to mention bloody John Calvin. However, the Ptolemaic theory, which you allude to, assumed that the entire universe revolved around a ROUND earth, not a flat one.

Copernicus's theory wasn't very good, because he assumed all planets moved in perfect circles. His theory did not explain observed motion even as well as the Ptolemaic theory. Only when Tycho Brahe realized that all orbits are elliptical did the heliocentric theory really make sense, and begin to explain observed motion in a simpler way.

Incidentally, it is true that in some backwoods schools in North America in the 18th and 19th centuries, applicants for teaching jobs were asked "is the earth round or flat?" -- and if they wanted the job answered "I'm not sure, but I can teach it either way." There have been people who believed the earth was flat, long after Columbus, and somehow thought that there was some Biblical basis to this belief. However, such people had not been reading their Bible with any care.

Boris said...

The important point is that flat earth beliefs come from the exact same place that anti-evolution beliefs come from: the Bible. One is no more asinine than the other.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Flat earth beliefs do not come from the Bible, period. They are a notion that has crept into our culture from people ignorant of both the Bible, and science, and who never travelled more than six miles from their place of birth.

Anti-evolution has many roots, but to the extent that Biblical authority is claimed, the Bible has been misunderstood. As I have said many times, the foundations of evolutionary biology are all laid out in the first two chapters of Genesis. Want details? OK.