Bishop John Shelby Spong boldly approaches those texts that have been used through history to justify the denigration or persecution of others while carrying with them the implied and imposed authority of the claim that they were the "Word of God." As he exposes and challenges what he calls the "terrible texts of the Bible", laying bare the evil done by these texts in the name of God, he also seeks to redeem these texts, hoping to recover their ultimate depth and purpose. Spong looks specifically at texts used to justify homophobia, anti-Semitism, treating women as second-class humans, corporal punishment, and environmental degradation, but he also delivers a new picture of how Christians can use the Bible today. As Spong battles against the way the Bible has been used throughout history, he provides a new framework, introducing people to a proper way to engage this holy book of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
Sarah Sentilles, author of Breaking Up With God: A Love Story, applauds John Shelby Spong’s Reclaiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World, writing that “pulsing beneath his brilliant, thought-provoking, passionate book is this question: can Christianity survive the education of its believers?…A question Bishop Spong answers with a resounding yes.”
A man who has consciously and deliberately walked the path of Christ, John Shelby Spong has lived his entire life inside the Christian Church. In this profound and considered work, he offers a radical new way to look at the gospels today as he shows just how deeply Jewish the Christian Gospels are and how much they reflect the Jewish scriptures, history, and patterns of worship. Pulling back the layers of a long-standing Gentile ignorance, he reveals how the church’s literal reading of the Bible is so far removed from these original Jewish authors’ intent that it is an act of heresy.
Using the Gospel of Matthew as a guide, Spong explores the Bible’s literary and liturgical roots—its grounding in Jewish culture, symbols, icons, and storytelling tradition—to explain how the events of Jesus’ life, including the virgin birth, the miracles, the details of the passion story, and the resurrection and ascension, would have been understood by both the Jewish authors of the various gospels and by the Jewish audiences for which they were originally written. Spong makes clear that it was only after the church became fully Gentile that readers of the Gospels took these stories to be factual, distorting their original meaning.
In Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy, Spong illuminates the gospels as never before and provides a better blueprint for the future than where the church’s leaden and heretical reading of the story of Jesus has led us—one that allows the faithful to live inside the Christian story in the modern world.
The result of this intriguing study is not only to recapture the original message of this gospel, but also to provide us today with a radical new dimension to the claim that in the humanity of Jesus the reality of God has been met and engaged.
At the beginning of the sixteenth century, Christianity was in crisis—a state of conflict that gave birth to the Reformation in 1517. Enduring for more than 200 years, Luther’s movement was then followed by a "revolutionary time of human knowledge." Yet these advances in our thinking had little impact on Christians’ adherence to doctrine—which has led the faith to a critical point once again.
Bible scholar and Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong contends that there is mounting pressure among Christians for a radically new kind of Christianity—a faith deeply connected to the human experience instead of outdated dogma. To keep Christianity vital, he urges modern Christians to update their faith in light of these advances in our knowledge, and to challenge the rigid and problematic Church teachings that emerged with the Reformation. There is a disconnect, he argues, between the language of traditional worship and the language of the twenty-first century. Bridging this divide requires us to rethink and reformulate our basic understanding of God.
With its revolutionary resistance to the authority of the Church in the sixteenth century, Spong sees in Luther’s movement a model for today’s discontented Christians. In fact, the questions they raise resonate with those contemplated by our ancestors. Does the idea of God still have meaning? Can we still follow historic creeds with integrity? Are not such claims as an infallible Pope or an inerrant Bible ridiculous in today’s world?
In Unbelievable, Spong outlines twelve "theses" to help today’s believers more deeply contemplate and reshape their faith. As an educator, clergyman, and writer who has devoted his life to his faith, Spong has enlightened Christians and challenged them to explore their beliefs in new and meaningful ways. In this, his final book, he continues that rigorous tradition, once again offering a revisionist approach that strengthens Christianity and secures its relevance for generations to come.
Writing from his prison cell in Nazi Germany in 1945 Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young German theologian, sketched a vision of what he called "Religionless Christianity." In this book, John Shelby Spong puts flesh onto the bare bones of Bonhoeffer's radical thought. The result is a strikingly new and different portrait of Jesus of Nazareth, a Jesus for the non-religious.
Spong challenges much of the traditional understanding, from the tale of Jesus' miraculous birth to the account of his cosmic ascension into the sky. He questions the historicity of the ideas that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, that he had twelve disciples, or that the miracle stories were ever meant to be descriptions of supernatural events. He also speaks directly to those critics of Christianity who call God a "delusion" and who describe how Christianity has become evil and destructive.
Spong invites his readers to look at Jesus through the lens of both the Jewish scriptures and the liturgical life of the first century synagogue. He proposes a new way of understanding the divinity of Christ as the ultimate dimension of a fulfilled humanity. Jesus for the Non-Religious may be the book that finally brings the pious and the secular into a meaningful dialogue, opening the door to a living Christianity in the post-Christian world.
Read by Alan Sklar
Preface, prologue, and epilogue read by the Author