John Shelby Spong is a retired Episcopal bishop and the author of Jesus for the Non-Religious, an attempt to make the Christian faith relevant to a new generation. Despite identifying as a Christian, Spong is quite explicit that he rejects nearly all historic Christian beliefs, including -but not limited to- the existence of a supernatural God. His motivation for writing this book is to create a new Christianity that will “set the stage for the emergence of a new burst of Christian energy and power that has not been seen for hundreds of years” (p. xiii).
– Spong’s understanding of the connection between the Old Testament and the life of Jesus is excellent. Unfortunately, on the basis of this connection, he rejects most of the life of Jesus as fictional.
– Spong’s reason for rejecting traditional Christian beliefs is refreshingly honest: he understands them and detests them. ‘Detest’ is not an unfairly pejorative word. “I do not… believe in a deity who does miracles – nor do I even want such a God” (p. 54); “The death of theism is greatly to be desired,” (p. 237); the traditional Christian God is a “divine child abuser. We should rejoice in the death of such a deity” (p. 238); etc… etc…
– Surprisingly, Spong recognizes the implications of the disciples’ post-Resurrection transformation and their shift to Sunday worship as “powerful data, which scream that something of great significance happened after the crucifixion of Jesus” (p. 121).
– There is little attempt at rational argumentation in the book. Spong simply makes pronouncements about ‘what all scholars know,’ even though his conclusions would make the most skeptical scholars queasy. For example, he questions whether Jesus had twelve disciples, whether he was betrayed, whether his mother’s name was Mary, etc…
– On the other hand, when particular stories in the gospels suit his purpose, Spong will adopt them without much commentary. Amazingly, he takes John’s gospel (considered to be the least historically reliable by the very critics he appeals to earlier in the book) to best capture the “portrait of Jesus that [he is] seeking to describe” (p. 263).
– Despite criticizing traditional Christian beliefs as “literal nonsense” and “theological gobbledygook” (p. 8), Spong’s book is filled with vague phrases like “the Jesus experience”, “Christ meaning”, “Jesus lived out the meaning of God”, or “God is a life force.”
– Perhaps the weightiest criticism of all is that, despite Spong’s insistence that he is a “committed Christian” (p. 67) who refers to “the Jesus I call Lord” (p. 264), his vision for the Christian faith flies directly in the face of almost everything Jesus taught. To pick the most glaring example, Spong never wrestles with the fact that Jesus was a devout Jew who worshiped, prayed to, and trusted in the supernatural, miracle-working, divine Creator and Judge that Spong finds so utterly repugnant. How is it that Jesus can be the “fullness of God and humanity” (p. 67), and yet be so completely and wrongly devoted to a wicked, barbaric, tribal deity? Spong doesn’t say.
This book was bad. The content was poor. The tone managed to be caustic and sanctimonious at the same time. And the book’s spine creaked incessantly. Don’t read it.