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Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers In Exile Paperback – April 21, 1999
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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 So Spong is in exile until Christianity is re-formed to discard all of the outdated and, according to Spong, false tenets of Christianity.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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"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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Top customer reviews
Bishop Spong lays out the difficulties with the Christian religion in the modern era, the sources of conflict and confusion, and suggests ways in which we believers can reconcile ourselves with the original intention of Jesus and still call ourselves Christians. Finally, we can know we are still following the faith even though we recognize mythology and allegory in the foundational writing and traditions of the faith.
So far, I have only read one other book by Bishop Spong, "Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes; Freeing Jesus from 2,000 years of Misunderstanding," and I highly recommend it also to help the “Christian in exile” understand the beliefs and traditions of the authors of the Bible. Only by understanding the society and worldview of the authors can one understand the intention behind their words.
Both books are written with the knowledge of a scholar and the craftsmanship of an artist of the English language. They are compelling, to the point, and beautifully written. Ideas are presented clearly, logically, and explained in a way that flows naturally and organically from one to the next.
If you’re a fundamentalist, one who needs to understand the Bible literally, you will not find comfort in Bishop Spong’s ideas. But anyone else, whether “Christian in exile,” Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or any other faith, even atheist, will find these two books compelling and eye opening.
As I’ve turned away from the external theistic Being “up there” (or “out there”), I really had a hard time figuring out the place of prayer. I had struggled for so long in trying to be a traditionally prayerful person to no avail. Of course there was a reason, as the good Bishop points out in his chapter on Prayer, if I no longer believe in this external Being, then of course I wouldn’t have any idea how to pray or to what or whom!! Spong’s chapter on Prayer drew a hallelujah from me. He’s been there, done that. Now prayer for me isn’t just a bunch of words, but prayer is action: to be there for others, to serve, and in Spong’s words, to love “wastefully.”
This is my favorite book of all-time having ANYTHING to do with Christianity, God, Jesus or religion of any kind. I will read it over and over again. I always read with a highlighter – in this book, many pages are totally highlighted. The explanations for why Bishop Spong can no longer accept the traditional dogmas and creeds of the Church “filled in the blanks” for me and gave a new impetus to my journey as a Believer in Exile. Like Bishop Spong, I am an Episcopalian who can no longer accept the traditional Christian doctrines of the virgin birth, incarnation, atonement, an Easter “resuscitation” or a bodily ascension beyond the clouds (all of which are masterfully dealt with in this book). I have long since given up believing in a God who is the Master Puppeteer in the Sky. But, again like Bishop Spong, I can’t give up Jesus – I’m not talking about the Jesus of miracles and magic, nor the Jesus of the creeds and the Trinity – but the Jesus whom I have experienced, who in his holiness has touched God.
There I was in my confusion and unbelief, not knowing where to turn. And then there was this book – it was as if it was written for me personally! I applaud Spong for being courageous and honest in addressing the irrelevancy of age-old doctrines and creeds dealing with biblical inerrancy, creationism, rewards, punishments and Judgment Day, while so-called “religious” people often ignore human rights, whether they be for women, homosexuals or minorities. (In fact, neither the Church nor the Scriptures have always stood for equal rights for people in these three categories!)
I’ve read similar material by other writers, but none of them – unlike Spong – appear to want to lead the present-day Church into the 21st century. I have resisted throwing out the proverbial baby with the bath water, and now thanks to Bishop Spong, I don’t have to! I’ll just change the bath water...
If I were even a partially traditional Christian and not a “believer in exile,” this would have been a very disturbing book. Although I am 80 years old, I am a 21st-century woman, and this 21st-century “believer in exile” thinks this book is TERRIFIC! It is well-written, easy to read and understand, and has been a “Godsend” for me! Before all is said and done, I will have read all of Spong’s books, and some of them I will read several times. I wish I could tell him how much his books, this one in particular, have meant to me, in helping to guide my journey into exile....