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Eternal Life: A New Vision: Beyond Religion, Beyond Theism, Beyond Heaven and Hell Hardcover – September 1, 2009

4.5 out of 5 stars 139 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this challenging, intellectually rigorous culmination of his body of theological work, retired Episcopal bishop Spong (Jesus for the Non-Religious) provides a lucid historical analysis of the development of human religious thought from the onset of self-conscious awareness to the present, and a compelling argument for the creation of a new religious paradigm. Offering deeply personal reflections on his own Christian journey and priestly career, Spong reviews a lifetime of passionate engagement with biblical study and with questions of faith, charting his growing discomfort with language that seemed limited, falsifying and inadequate. Arguing that modern scientific understanding necessitates dismissing outdated metaphors and assumptions by which faith seeks to calm human anxiety, Spong suggests an understanding of God not as a person, but as the process that calls personhood into being. Spong's examination of the gospel resurrection accounts includes an intriguing interpretation of John's portrayal of Jesus as a being so courageously present that he was open to the ultimate reality of life, love and being. This work, bound to be influential, offers new insights into religion's big questions about life and death, making an invaluable contribution to both religious scholarship and faithful exploration. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“In Spong’s perpetual quest for truth and knowledge, he has transformed the enigmatic cosmic energy of the ‘big bang’ into an afterglow of human hope for the ages.” (Daniel H. Gregory, M.D., Senior Attending Physician, Bassett Healthcare)

“Fear of death is the most fundamental fear of human existence. The only way it can be conquered is through knowledge and experience of your eternal being. Eternal Life: A New Vision is elegant invitation to find this part of yourself and be liberated.” (Deepak Chopra, author of The Third Jesus)

“His courage, candor and intense awareness are unique gifts to people both inside and outside Christianity at this critical time in human and planetary history.” (Matthew Fox, author of Original Blessing)

“This work, bound to be influential, offers new insights into religion’s big questions about life and death, making an invaluable contribution to both religious scholarship and faithful exploration.” (Publishers Weekly)

“Spong has spent his life and work making sense of this most fundamental human issue . . . His fans will find this spiritual autobiography fascinating, but so, too, should anyone interested in the still uncomfortable topics of death and mortality.” (Booklist)

“With subtlety and complexity, Spong promotes an idea of an ongoing existence beyond our physicality, one that entirely supercedes “religious” notions of Heaven or Hell and even conventional notions of God . . . Spong’s writing here as elsewhere is intelligent, engaged, comforting, and uplifting. ” (Library Journal)

“Spong once again puts his intellectual money on common sense . . . Religion’s purpose, he claims, is “security, not Truth” - a key insight that demands, in turn, a set of wholly new visions. . . . Spong . . . [is] a unique visionary.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

“John Shelby Spong, the reinterpreter of Christianity for the doubtful, retired as the Episcopal bishop of New Jersey in 2001 but not from his religious provocations. . . . People have to get beyond the idea of God as a heavenly judge who hands out rewards and punishment,.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

“Eternal Life: A New Vision doesn’t actually give us a clear vision of eternal life at all. Spong would never do that.... Instead he frees us to dream a dream of what life, eternal or otherwise, might be.” (Central Coast Express)

“Spong invites us to engage the questions, to revel in the mystery, and finally to find our place within God’s place, our time within God’s time, and our life within God’s life.” (Anglican and Episcopal History)

A Necessary Personal Word
Read the first chapter of Eternal Life: A New Vision by John Shelby Spong [PDF].

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; First Edition edition (September 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060762063
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060762063
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (139 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,596 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
OK, let's set the record straight: I'm a progressive Christian - I've read (and enjoyed) even Gretta Vosper's book (With or Without God) - and I've read most of Spong's bestsellers. I've always LOVED Jack Spong as a preacher and have been privileged to hear him speak in person a half a dozen times. As an author, I would have to say that he has his moments (Here I Stand, Why Christianity Must Change or Die and A New Christianity for a New World are excellent) but, in general, if I rate his speaking as an A+, some of his books get an A but often only a B or C.

The very cool thing about Spong's books is that they track his own personal growth in knowledge and, dare I say, enlightenment (for lack of a better term). This gives his books a personal touch which, for me, allows me to see the depth dimension of his being - something which many authors keep well hidden. Recent books by folks like Elaine Pagels (Beyond Belief) and Bart Ehrman (Misquoting Jesus) reveal the personal spiritual sides of the authors and I appreciate that greatly. It's not like you're reading some dispassionate objective dissertation - it makes the material live and breathe.

With that as background, if you're still reading, here's the review:

In his latest book, Eternal Life: A New Vision, Jack Spong's life work dedicated to finding meaning in the Christian tradition blossoms fully and completely by transcending it (but not abandoning it). In some of his early books, he shows the flaws apparent (should I say "obvious") in human-made Christian institutions and doctrine, yet, offers little to give us hope or meaning in their absence.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am a great fan of Bishop John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal Bishop of Newark. I have read four of his books and have been receiving his weekly essay via the Internet for years. Although I am not a Christian, I find it inspiring to read his idea of transforming Christianity to make it wholly conform to scientific knowledge. Spong is all but a humanist, as he describes himself as "God-intoxicated," with a completely different idea of God from the usual father figure.

I confess that I have been puzzled by Spong's repeated definition of God as "the source of life, the source of love, and 'the ground of all being,' which he adopted from his spiritual guide, Paul Tillich. I had hoped that this book would shed further light on this definition. Here, Spong finally reveals that he is a mystic, and that this hallowed tradition of mysticism has seen God through inner experience, not external revelation. He asserts that God is not the theistic, creative, all-controlling deity of the Bible, but rather a divine aspect of our own nature as human beings. Jesus, he says, was fully human, and did not come down to earth as an incarnate God to "save" humankind from original sin (which does not exist, because of evolution). Spong disavows all the miraculous and supernatural explanations of God and Jesus, and believes that the Gospel writers were not trying to be literal in their descriptions of the life of
Jesus. Instead, they were explaining in their limited vocabulary the God-experience like-minded people saw in Jesus.

Spong's main thesis is that human self-consciousness, superseding the consciousness of other animals, left us with fear and anxiety when it was experienced by early man.
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If you are looking for indisputable proof that humans survive their death, you will not find it here. If you are seeking support for the traditional viewpoints of institutional religion, especially fundamentalist Christianity, don't look here either. What John Spong does offer his readers is what he has offered throughout all his books, an often deeply personal, totally honest, thoroughly researched, exploration of the subject from how he now sees it on his own journey. Although it will undoubtedly make some angry, and disappoint others, this is a haunting, breautiful book that penetrates to the deepest depths of that ultimate question, if we die shall we live again. It is a book that draws you in and invites you to experience in your own time and way at least some of what the author has experienced. Spong has wrestled with the ultimate questions much the way Jacob wrestled with the angel. He searches, he challenges, and he offers no easy answers. Like Jacob, readers may come away with a dislocated hip, but they will be blessed, and in the words of Albert Schweitzer, "In their own way they will come to know who He is."
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Format: Hardcover
If you enjoy wrestling with the big questions in life, and recognize the value of wisdom and experience--especially when coupled with sixty years of scholarly study of theology and philosophy; diligent pursuit of ever-elusive truth through reason; intellectual honesty; insatiable curiosity; and an astute mind and loving heart--then you owe it to yourself to read "Eternal Life: A New Vision," the culmination of Bishop John Shelby Spong's seventy-nine-year journey of inquiry. "Eternal Life" goes beyond religion, beyond heaven and hell, and explores a very different interpretation of the Christian story and history, and what that Christian "experience" can mean to a modern mind--specifically in terms of life, death, and life after death.

This latest--and last--book by Bishop John Shelby Spong is difficult to review in some ways; it is not easily characterized by simple technical questions about scripture or Biblical interpretation. Rather, "Eternal Life" covers the biggest and toughest of questions.

A few relevant disclaimers: 1) This reviewer is a non-theist, and no longer believes in god. 2) Many skeptics and non-believers break ranks with Spong insofar as he persists in using "God language" like "salvation," "eternal," and "redemption". Such breaks are evidenced by the Bishop's participation in some formal debates with atheists. Still, it seems that if we discard our symbols and metaphors we might arguably just as well discard all attempts at articulating the human experience--including art, myth, literature, and all of language. As Spong frequently points out, language is but symbol. It is therefore worth pointing out that the naturalist, skeptical, and materialist reader may want to be patient with Spong's use of loaded symbolic terms.
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