Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile Paperback – Apr 21 1999
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John Shelby Spong is the Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey, and has enjoyed a career filled with controversy, much of it thanks to his many bestselling books, such as Born of a Woman, Living in Sin?, and Liberating the Gospels. He has tapped into an audience of people who are at once spiritually starved and curious, yet unwilling or unable to embrace Christianity.
Spong refers to himself as a believer in exile. He believes the world into which Christianity was born was limited and provincial, particularly when viewed from the perspective of the progress in knowledge and technology made over the past two millennia. This makes any ideas or beliefs formulated in 1st-century Judea totally inadequate to our progressive minds and lives today. So Spong is in exile until Christianity is re-formed to discard all of the outdated and, according to Spong, false tenets of Christianity.
He begins his book by exposing the Apostles Creed line by line, then methodically moves on through the heart of Christian belief, carefully exploring each aspect, demonstrating in each case the inadequacies of Christianity as detailed in the Bible and in the traditions of the Church. The epilogue includes Spong's own creed, recast to reflect the beliefs he considers relevant to Christianity at the end of the 20th century.
Oddly enough, Spong's views do not seem particularly new. In fact, his views seem very much in keeping with the religious humanist variety of Unitarianism. What is remarkable is not the beliefs themselves, but that an Episcopal bishop would be the one to embrace and espouse them. Spong has become a trumpeter in the battle of beliefs, not just in the Episcopal communion, but in the realm of Christian faith in general in this country. His books are bestsellers and are in turn, presumably, read by those who, whether they agree or disagree, all acknowledge that in some way, Spong is involved in setting the agenda. This book, as the admitted "summation of his life's work" tells every reader what the complete agenda will be, for the next few years at least. --Patricia Klein --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"Bishop Spong is a passionate, illuminating original. His
knowledgeable concern for the future of Christianity offers
strength, hope, and theological solutions."
-- -- Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D., author of Women Who Run
with the Wolves, The Gift of Story, and The Faithful
"Should be required reading for everyone concerned with facing
head-on the intellectual and spiritual challenges of
late-twentieth-century religious life."
-- -- Karen L. King, Harvard Divinity School
"Bishop Spong is a passionate, illuminating original. His knowledgeable concern for the future of Christianity offers strength, hope, and theological solutions." -- Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D., author of Women Who Run with the Wolves, The Gift of Story, and The Faithful Gardener
"Should be required reading for everyone concerned with facing head-on the intellectual and spiritual challenges of late-twentieth-century religious life." -- Karen L. King, Harvard Divinity School
"Spong demolishes the stifling dogma of traditional Christianity in search of the inner core of truth. This book is a courageous, passionate attempt to build a credible theology for a skeptical, scientific age." -- Paul Davies, author of The Mind of God
"This is an important contribution to the Christian dilemma of our time. With reverence, courage, and compassion, Bishop Spong helps his readers to articulate their difficulties with the conception of God and, in so doing, to take the first step toward a creative resolution." -- Karen Armstrong, author of A History of GodSee all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
During the first chapter, the Bishop manages to refute every basic principle or belief of traditional Christianity. He uses scientific data, mathematical data, medical discoveries, and vivid examples to make his point. For example, if God lives in Heaven and Heaven is up, Americans and Chinese are pointing in opposite directions toward God. So where is God? Of course, this was not a problem when the Bible was written because they knew the world was flat and Heaven was up.
The author maintains that the state of faith of our postmodern world is "exile." We are believers in exile because we have been forced by scientific and medical advances to leave a place of ancient beliefs that we can never return to. Bishop Spong begins to methodically examine all the major factors that have combined to destroy each portion of the traditional Christian belief system: God, Jesus, the Bible, Heaven, hell, hymns, and prayer. Nothing escapes his scrutiny.
Bishop Spong states: "Part of the nature of the exile experience is that it is a death watch for God as we have known that God." He states that the demise of theism began in the breakdown of a biblical literalism in Germany in the early 1800s.
Whether you agree with Bishop Spong or not, this is an excellent book. He has provided many points to ponder. He presents solid arguments that can no longer be ignored. These conflicts within the Christian must be acknowledged. Officials must deal with them. I recommend this book for all: Christians and nonbelievers alike.
Spong's idea of a God who will replace the theistic God is more difficult to understand. The new God is described as a "transcending reality" found in all forms of life but only humans have the capacity to recognize it. Spong seeks this God in his own depths.
Spong may seem to be slightly outrageous but he can never be accused of having a closed mind. I always feel energized after reading one of his books - including this one.
Countless Christians are now left without a supernatural parent figure in the sky able to intervene in their behalf. Some of these opt for the secular city while others try to carry on the struggle to maintain an increasingly weakened faith. It is the latter group in particular that Spong identifies as believers in exile whom he wishes to reach with a new message of hope.
Can Christianity survive without a theistic God and a theistic Jesus? Spong tries to answer this question by first examining some of the Christian images of Jesus. The favorite candidate for elimination by the author is that of Jesus as Redeemer. Since we are constantly evolving out of our more primitive past it does not make sense to assume that humans need to be rescued from a fall into sin from a previous state of perfection.
Spong does see Jesus, however, as a Spirit person and a God presence. There is a divine presence within all of us. Spong regards this presence as Spirit and believes that it was in Jesus in a most profound way. The author views God as a universal presence which undergirds all of life.
Spong looks upon himself as a believer who is now living in exile. When he dies he expects to enter into another existence. Meanwhile he wants to invite other believers in exile to explore with him new possibilities of Christian worship and faith.
How can intelligent religious people -- those with a knowledge of evolution, science, and an awareness of life's complexities, continue to profess a faith that has been disproven on many levels? How can people get meaning out of a religious tradition so hopelessly out of date that it doesn't speak to its audience? The fact is, Spong writes, many people (himself included) profess a faith that they no longer believe, and still others fall away from their faith into a kind of reluctant athiesm, unable any longer to believe the dogma they were raised with.
What Spong offers in this book is a bridge between outdated theism and the spiritual vacuum of athiesm. Spong details the alternative of "nontheism" -- a religious belief that incorporates what we have come to know about science and the world with a strong belief in God and Christ. He does this through his trademark style of debunking biblical literalism and church bigotry. What emerges is a philosophy far more suited to the times than the outdated dogma that damages so many Christians today.
This book is brilliant, really. Spong seeks a spirituality that deanthropormophizes God -- that appreciates the amazing complexity of the universe and human history without being threatened by the fact that much of the Bible has been disproven, that the church is too hierarchical and corrupt, and that there are no easy answers. His viewpoint is inclusive and intelligent, and he writes wonderfully.
Most recent customer reviews
This book written in 1999 may seem a little dated but I assure you, it is not . Spong says what I have been feeling for many years, in his excellent critique of the church and... Read morePublished 2 months ago by brian
I made the mistake of reading this book before reading "Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism." Now this book makes much more sense. Bp. Read morePublished on July 3 2004
I think that it's wonderful that Bishop Spong is addressing the issue of homophobia and heterosexism in the church. Read morePublished on June 1 2004
As an ex-Christian, but still a believer in God, I looked forward to reading Spong's work. I have digested much since leaving Christianity... Read morePublished on May 30 2004 by Wisconsin Dad
In a postmodern era, where truth is relative and reality undefinable, this book provides quick and easy pain relief, kind of like taking morphine for cancer. Read morePublished on May 4 2004 by Jacob & Kiki Hantla
I read this book a number of years ago when I identified myself as one of Spong's "Believers in Exile. Read morePublished on March 25 2004
Now-retired Episcopal bishop Shelby Spong has never shied away from contentious statements regarding his faith. Read morePublished on Feb. 13 2004 by James Kosub
since Christianity has changed a multitude of times over the years. Bishop Spong is a deep thinker and I believe a man with a good heart. Read morePublished on Jan. 29 2004
The Bible says in the end times there will be false prophets... right here is one of them.Published on Jan. 21 2004