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Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks To Believers In Exile A New Reformation of the Church's Faith & Practice Hardcover – April 21, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

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 So Spong is in exile until Christianity is re-formed to discard all of the outdated and, according to Spong, false tenets of Christianity.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


"Spong demolishes the stifling dogma of traditional Christianity in search of the inner core of truth. It is a courageous, passionate attempt to build a credible theology for a skeptical, scientific age." -- Paul Davies, author of The Mind of God

"Spong is a singularity among ecclesiastical leaders in the twentieth century. His candor, courage, and acumen are unparalleled. He aspires to being a dying church back to life by fearlessly confronting the anomalies that have driven all too many Christians into exile." -- Robert W. Funk chair, The Jesus Seminar, and author if Honest to Jesus

"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, top take the first step toward a creative resolution." -- Karen Armstrong, author of A History of God

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 257 pages
  • Publisher: HarperSan Francisco; 1st edition (April 21, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060675322
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060675325
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (293 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #454,369 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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

201 of 226 people found the following review helpful By Sophia VINE VOICE on May 22, 2000
Format: Paperback
In this, his latest theological work, Bishop John Spong systematically delves into contradictions and conflicts between biblical literalism and modern society. He spotlights the uneasy mix between traditional Christian faith and a modern world-view: contrasting the seven-day creation story with fossils dating back billions of years: the understanding of Earth as but one planet in one galaxy of millions are just two examples of the major shifts in the world view that have taken place since the birth and death of Christ.
For those espousing Biblical literalism and fundamentalism, this book will read like utter heresy. For the true atheist, perhaps, it will seem like goody-goody wishful thinking. Yet, throughout it all, Spong clings to the notion that God is Love, God is Life, God as the ultimate Source of All, and urges people, Christians or not, to examine their beliefs and enter into discussion and dialogue about what Christianity and religion mean in the world today, and for the next millennium. Even when I disagree with Bishop Spong's conclusions, he makes me reevaluate my own faith, and thus both stimulates and refreshes it. I am grateful for this book, even as it disturbs me.
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77 of 91 people found the following review helpful By Glen De Shaw on January 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
As one who has read Bishop Jack Spong's writings for years, I am continually amazed at the lack of understanding accorded his books. This latest work is a prime example.
If the critic goes back and READS the book, he or she will soon catch on that Spong is not attacking historic Christianity...but is questioning its cliches. He is, in a sense, nailing his own Theses on the Cathedral door for DISCUSSION, not slavish acceptance.
I have disagreed with Jack Spong on much, if not most of what he has written over the years. He has always made me think, often gets by blood pressure up a bit (but rarely as much as most of those Christian authors we find on the shelves in the local "Bible Bookstore" who haven't printed a new idea in decades, but still manage pump out their quick reading, simplistic, royalty grabbing tomes).
I have no doubt of Spong's individual and unique relationship with Christ. I have no doubt as to his compassion, and desire to work with the tough questions so that the Christian life NEVER fears to ask, and attempt to answer ANY question. Good man, good book. Read carefully, thoughtfully and prayerfully!
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82 of 98 people found the following review helpful By Poniplaizy on April 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book is awesome! I had only gotten a few pages into it and already I felt like Spong must have somehow tapped directly into my brain! He speaks to the many, many people out there who feel disenfranchised by a Christianity that keeps serving up ancient fairy stories that are impossible for anyone with a critical (no, make that functioning) intellect to accept. He asks a lot of the questions we are asking; dares to speak the truth about the anger, defensiveness, and politicism that have characterized the Church; and liberates Jesus from the doctrinal straightjacket the Church has encased him in.

No, Spong doesn't really provide *answers*--but I think that's the point. So often people who question are told, basically, to shut up and believe because shutting up and believing is what faith is all about. Spong replies that questioning and reformulating is healthy. I agree with him wholeheartedly that unless Christianity wakes up and starts reexamining itself, it is going to die. Thinking people will dismiss it as a useless relic because it will be so inadequate for their everyday lives. It's happening that way now.

I highly recommend that anybody with any spiritual life whatsoever read this book! It is extremely thought-provoking (which is probably why the fundies can't stand it), and no matter what belief system you arrive at, you need to arrive there informed.
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42 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Jim on December 31, 2001
Format: Paperback
Spong must have been reading my mind. He clearly articulates all the doubts I have long felt and lets me know that I am not alone in this. Many churches seem to only reluctantly discard outdated doctrine - one example given is that it wasn't until 1991 that the Catholic church officially acknowledged that Galileo was right (and the Bible is clearly wrong) regarding the nature of the earth and solar system! (some fundamentalists still don't seem to accept that!) I have often thought - as Spong suggests - that most churches expect me to "check in my brain at the front door". I cannot do this, so I sit through church services thinking "are they for real?"
Spong encourages those of us just starting down the path to go to the next level. He lets us know that it ok to use our God given power of reason to question everything and anything that the church traditionally teaches. He provides historical context to show us where the current teachings came from, then presents alternative views. Some point out that his teachings are really not that new - and they may be right for those well read on liberal "theology" - but they were new and refreshing ideas to me.
An example of how he takes it to the next level: I have long ago dismissed the idea of a theistic God sitting like a king in heaven somewhere. But still the church teaches the doctrine of Trinity as a core concept that must not be questioned. But as Spong points out - of what good is the concept is God in "3 persons" once you have discarded the idea of God as a personal being.
What of virgin births and physical resurrections from the dead?
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