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Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile Paperback – Apr 21 1999

3.2 out of 5 stars 157 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 257 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; 1st edition (April 21 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060675365
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060675363
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.7 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 535 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars 157 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #96,498 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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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 So Spong is in exile until Christianity is re-formed to discard all of the outdated and, according to Spong, false tenets of Christianity.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.


"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 God""Bishop Spong is a passionate, illuminating original. His knowledgeable concern for the future of Christianity offers strength, hope, and theological solutions." -- Clarissa Pinkola Est?s, 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 Spong's manifesto, offering his vision for the institution he made his career serving." -- "Library Journal"

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Customer Reviews

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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 the bible. I was a christian in its Pentecostal flavor for 35 years. ( Yes I was a true christian for the doubters reading this , I was steeped in its ideology ) I slowly became disillusioned by it all over several years and I have been detached from church completely for over 2 years . Spong speaks of the Christians in exile and attempts to guide us into a vision of a more progressive Christianity . I am agnostic concerning the version of Christianity pasted down since 325 CE. However ,Spong gives us hope that Christianity can change into a more humanistic way. I am skeptical that they will ever drop the atonement doctrine where the shedding of blood was necessary to appease an angry tribal god and the teachings on Jesus being the divine rescuer . It a good read and I would highly recommend it for those seeking spiritual truth.
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Format: Paperback
This book has been awarded the Publisher's Weekly "Best Book of the Year." The author is the Episcopal Bishop of Newark in New Jersey. He has written fifteen other books, all hailed as controversial. He says theta the word "controversial" has become attached to his name and is almost a part of his identity. This book is no exception.
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.
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Format: Paperback
Spong continues to amaze me in this book with both the breadth of his research and the number of his insights. One of the more interesting discussions he continues from earlier works is about theism - the idea that there is a personal God somewhere else who intervenes in the affairs of earth in order to accomplish the divine will. He cites Sigmund Freud who believed that theistic religion came about because of the trauma of self-consciousness experienced by the earliest humans. Now there is no work left for a theistic God to perform since the power attributed to this deity can be explained due to scientific advances.
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.
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John Shelby Spong has pointed out in WHY CHRISTIANITY MUST CHANGE OR DIE that the early church creeds were not completed until the last few decades of the Third Century and this was accomplished only after an intense theological debate among church leaders. Because of all that we have learned through science during the following seventeen centuries, many of the words of these antiquated creeds have become meaningless to us.
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.
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