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Jesus for the Non-Religious Hardcover – February 27, 2007

4.4 out of 5 stars 198 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Spong, the iconoclastic former Episcopal bishop of Newark, details in this impassioned work both his "deep commitment to Jesus of Nazareth" and his "deep alienation from the traditional symbols" that surround Jesus. For Spong, scholarship on the Bible and a modern scientific worldview demonstrate that traditional teachings like the Trinity and prayer for divine intervention must be debunked as the mythological trappings of a primitive worldview. These are so much "religion," which was devised by our evolutionary forebears to head off existential anxiety in the face of death. What's left? The power of the "Christ experience," in which Jesus transcends tribal notions of the deity and reaches out to all people. Spong says Jesus had such great "energy" and "integrity" about him that his followers inflated to the point of describing him as a deity masquerading in human form; however, we can still get at the historical origin of these myths by returning to Jesus' humanity, especially his Jewishness. Spong so often suggests the backwardness and insecurity of those who disagree with him that his rhetoric borders on the fundamentalist. His own historical and theological reconstructions would be more palatable if he seemed more aware that he too is engaged in mythmaking. (Feb. 27)
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About the Author

John Shelby Spong was the Episcopal (Anglican) bishop of Newark for twenty-four years. Since then he has taught at Harvard, Drew, the University of the Pacific, and the Berkeley Graduate Theological Union. Selling over a million copies, his books include The Sins of Scripture, Eternal Life: A New Vision, Jesus for the Non-Religious, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, and his autobiography, Here I Stand. His weekly online column reaches thousands of subscribers all over the world. He lives with his wife, Christine, in Morris Plains, New Jersey.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne; 1 edition (February 27, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060762071
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060762070
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (198 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #360,720 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Shelby Spong was the Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey for twenty-four years before his retirement in 2000. He is one of the leading spokespersons for liberal Christianity and has been featured on 60 Minutes, Good Morning America, FOX News Live, and Extra. This book is based on the William Belden Noble lectures Spong delivered at Harvard.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Tired of Bible-thumpers, door-to-door evangelists and televangelists? Ashamed to call yourself a Christian because people will think you're a bigoted know-nothing? Do you have a deep attachment to the man Jesus but wouldn't be caught dead in a church? Well, take hope!

Jack Spong has thrown religious clutter overboard in this exciting new book and allowed people of the 21st century to see the wonder and awe which Jesus' original followers must have experienced in his presence. Not superman just a super man!

In the first third of the book, Spong, dismantles all the man-made supernatural rubbish layered on the human Jesus. The reasons why the early Church did these things are many and varied but "modern" scholars, over the past 150 years or so, now know that things like the virgin birth and bodily resurrection were NOT things that the earliest followers of Jesus would have recognized as having anything to do with what Jesus was about.

The middle third of the book focuses on how and why the original evangelists made Jesus look like the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy and/or a figure of importance like Moses or David. Most of us read this stuff in the Bible and just assume that it's "history" but once again, Spong points out that modern scholarship recognizes this as interpretive material to make Jesus the next logical step for Jews and eventually Gentiles in God's "plan" for us.

The final third of the book is really the pinnacle of Spong's thinking regarding where people of a spiritual inclination (Christian or otherwise) can go with this de-mythologized human Jesus.
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I have enjoyed all of Bishop John Shelby Spong's books. This latest addition weaves together Bishop Spong's interpretation of how the gospel stories came about and how they should be viewed by the contemporary Christian. He makes a compelling argument that much of what appears in the gospels represents a reformulation of pre-existing Jewish folklore as expressed in the Old Testament in an attempt to understand the significance of the historical Jesus. I especially enjoyed his chapter that discusses how the Christian church will ultimately fail if it continues to struggle to hang on to old and outdated interpretations that even the faithful no longer take seriously.

I had hoped that Bishop Spong would further develop what it was about the Jesus of history that made the writers feel compelled to wrap Jesus's story in such complex mythology. The latter parts of the book I felt were weak in this regard. His premise is that a man like Jesus who transcended the boundaries of prejudice, stereotype, and other human frailties was deemed to be a reflection of God and consequently became wrapped into the mythology of the Jewish Old Testament. To my mind, there must have been more than that. There have been other great men of history (Gandhi comes to mind) that did not produce the impact that Jesus Christ did. I could not help feeling that there must have been something more to the Christ story...much more to make the evangelists go through the trouble that they did to produce the gospel stories of this great man.

Despite this shortcoming, I found the book to be well-written, informative, and very interesting. I highly recommend it for Progressive Christians. Orthodox Christians will not like this book and I look forward to their reviews that will undoubtably follow.
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John Shelby Spong is an excellent theologian, making faith possible for persons for whom integrity of belief is important. He argues that NT events from the life of Jesus are not based in actual happenings but are creations by NT writers drawing from OT images that are then applied to Jesus and his ministy. Thus, Spong is able to dismiss virtually all historical references in the gospels. This reviewer is thoroughly familiar with the theological meaning of mythology (PHD in NT studies from St. Andrews Univ. Scotland), and agrees with many of the conclusions that Spong reaches, but I prefer to see a core element of historical data which led the NT writers to return to the OT for religious language that will describe the event and input meaning to it. They see events in the life of Jesus with OT history and in order to tell the story they use Ot imagery and language. Thus Spong is correct in challenging specific details in the story telling, but for me, he is far to quick to dismiss far too much of the gospel data.

We agree that Jesus was an historical figure--but I do not believe Spong has done his research in extra-biblical data that provides evidence that could be understood to document events particularly from Luke's gospel.

Spong's book might be very helpful for persons looking for theological meaning in the Jesus story, but too much data surrounding that ministry is dismissed as creative story telling. I began making a list and quickly found 25 things that Spong dismisses as having no historical identity (no star, no Bethlehem, no Judas, no 12 disciples, no burial in a tomb, no cleansing of the temple, etc.etc).
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