A number of years ago I was wandering through my local used bookstore, as I love to do, when I came across the Nag Hammadi library. Having already learned about Gnostic thought the lanuage of the translated documents was recognizable from the Gnostic perspective. I believed then, as today, that if the message was consistent with the belief of the Church it was acceptable to use on Sunday. My wife and I found that we really enjoyed the Gospel of Thomas. We often commented that we would like to see the Gospel of Thomas read during Sunday services.
We considered expanding the Biblical Canon for many years. You don’t need to be a Scripture nerd to think that inspiration and God’s message can come from many different people, places and times. Perhaps you feel differently?
All Christians realize that if God has revealed Himself by communicating His will to man, man must be able to know with assurance where that revelation lies. Hence the need for a list (i.e. canon) of books of the Bible. In other words, man needs to know without error (i.e. infallibly) what the books of the Bible are. There must be an authority which will make that decision… The Bible is the book of the Church; she is not the Church of the Bible. It was the Church–her leadership, faithful people–guided by the authority of the Spirit of Truth which discovered the books inspired by God in their writing. The Church did not create the canon; she discerned the canon. Fixed canons of the Old and New Testaments, hence the Bible, were not known much before the end of the 2nd and early 3rd century.
Seems like if we did it once we can do it again. Right?
The Bible, as presently constituted, makes the assumption that God no longer speaks through people in this world and has not done so since II Peter, the last written book that was added to the Canon of Scripture about 135 CE.
Included in our sacred text at this moment are no voices of women, no voices of people of color and no voices from the last 2000 years of Christian history. Surely a book suffering from those limitations cannot be called in any literal sense “The Word of God” unless you assume that the word of the Lord can only be found in males (who are generally thought of as white although they are actually middle eastern), and that they all lived between 1000 BCE and 135 CE! Surely God is not so limited, nor has God been on a sabbatical for the last 2000 years!
So why can we not supplement our scriptures with other voices? We can call these readings in church: “The Contemporary Lesson” or something similar. Among the things I would like to be considered for inclusion in such a practice are:
The letter from a Birmingham Jail, by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Some of the writings from recognized female religious leaders through the ages like Hildegard of Bingen in the early 12th century and Julian of Norwich in the late 14th century. More contemporary female voices might include Mary Seton from the 17th century and Dorothy Day from the 20th century. Contemporary female leaders of great and even daring insight might include Karen Armstrong and Elaine Pagels.
Some of the voices of the Third World like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Oscar Romero and Leonardo Boff would bring to “scripture” a very different accent.
Frontier voices that moved Christianity in new directions might include such shaping theologians as Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, Meister Eckhart, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Erasmus, Teilhard de Chardin, John A. T. Robinson, Edward Schillebeeckx, Hans Kung, Paul Tillich and John Elbridge Hines.
– John Shelby Spong
Dear surfers, Bishop Spong gave us his list. I offered one of my own. What would you like to see added to our Biblical Canon? Let’s keep the discussion going. Our faith and our future depend on it. Tell me what you think.