Why Christianity Must Change Or Die: A Bishop Speaks To Believers In Exile

  jagbir singh <www.adishakti.org@gmail.com>
Date:  Fri Aug 6, 2004  7:43 pm
Subject:  Why Christianity Must Change Or Die: A Bishop Speaks To Believers In Exile

Why Christianity Must Change Or Die: A Bishop Speaks To Believers In Exile
by John Shelby Spong





"So it needs to be clearly said that the God presence of this Jesus will lead us ultimately beyond every religious definition. Indeed, it will lead beyond Jesus himself. That becomes essential to human development whenever our idolatrous convictions identify the messenger of God with God. So the Ground of Being will finally be worshipped apart from any system of religious thought. It is a startling but real insight into the future of worship.

I believe in that gift of the Spirit who was called "the giver of
life." Once we located God only externally, and called this God the
Father Almighty. Next, we located this God in Jesus, and we called
him the Son Incarnate. Now we locate God in every person, and we
call this God the Holy Spirit. I believe that this Spirit inevitably
creates a community of faith that will come, in time, to open this
world to God as the very Ground of its life and Being....

Religion is, therefore, not what we have always thought it to be.
Religion is not a system of belief. It is not a catalogue of
revealed truth. It is not an activity designed to control behavior,
to reward virtue, and to punish vice. Religion is, rather, a human
attempt to process the God experience, which breaks forth from our
own depths and wells up constantly within us. We must lay down,
therefore, the primitive claims we have made for our religious
traditions. None of them is drawn from outworldly revelations. None
of them is inerrant or infallible. None of them represents the only
way to God. None of them can be used legitimately to coerce or
compel another to belief. All evangelical and missionary activities
designed to convert the heathen are base born. They are expressions
of our sense of superiority and our hostility toward those who are
different. The only divine mission in life that the Church of the
future could possibly have is to open people to the recognition that
the ground of their very being is holy and that when they are in
touch with that holy Ground of Being, they can share in God's
creation by giving life, love, and being to others. That is the task
of those who claim to be God bearers. The Christians of the world
are not here to build institutions, to convert other people, or even
to claim that we can speak for God. Those aspects of our religious
heritage must be sacrificed as the premodern misunderstandings of
our primitive history. We are now exile people."
John Shelby Spong
Why Christianity Must Change Or Die: A Bishop Speaks To Believers In


Book Review
by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

The spiritual tone for this book is set when John Shelby Spong, the bestselling author and Episcopal bishop of Newark, New Jersey, thanks his fundamentalist critics for identifying him as "a resource for the religious seekers of our world who yearn to believe in God but who are also repelled by the premodern literalizations that so frequently masquerade as Christianity." He speaks to those who thirst for a church that is not fearful of inquiry, freedom, and knowledge.

In place of theism's emphasis on an external, personal, supernatural, and invasive God, Bishop Spong suggests recognizing the reality of God through images such as the Ground of All Being and the Source of Love. Instead of Jesus the rescuer, he prefers Christ the spirit person. Instead of praying to a faraway God, Spong posits the radical idea that praying and living fully, richly, and deeply are the same thing. Instead of traditional worship, the author envisions activity marked by "the self-conscious awareness that all of us are or can be God bearers and life givers." And instead of the thirteenth century understandings of heaven and hell, he unspools his own beliefs about eternity. While Bishop Spong says he is addressing "believers in exile," he actually asks all the right questions of the Christian establishment.

Comments from people who have read this book

Rating: 5/5 - The true "silent majority" will delight in the honesty.
Even a reader who disagreed with Bishop Spong would acknowledge that Spong's documentation and conclusions as presented in this book are well conceived. As usual for this author, in this book he gives straightforward and honest commentary on subjects that often receive tongue-in-cheek treatment. Spong is a person of great vision and promotes an understanding of Christianity that enlightened people can use as a template for modern and post-modern eras. As revolutionary in his concepts as Luther or Calvin, Spong calls us into an understanding of Christian love as a subset of all human love, discarding the fictional legends of Christianity, while recognizing the genesis of these legends. Refreshingly different from Luther or Calvin, however, Spong makes this call in an effort to unite, rather than to encourage a schism. His efforts are universal rather than tribal. Every one of Spong's books has been astonishingly consistent with my own personal beliefs and, I strongly suspect, those of many others. If this book is his best, it is only because it is his latest. Invariably, Spong's points are clearly documented. Most importantly, they are correct. The world is blessed that Bishop Spong is willing to share his visions with us, and to explicate them so convincingly. 

Rating: 5/5 - Great references
Nice book for its host of theological references. He has a huge library of books in his bibliography and lots of bible verses next to what he says to back up his arguments. This makes it a wonderful book for stickies!

Some of his interrogative sentences can be confusing at times, but you just need to reread them one or two more times before you get it.

I don't think his books can rescue people from fundamentalism. My mom is a fundamentalist and I know that when I argued with her in the past and got her to a vulnerable point she started using subconscious psychological defenses, such as semantic literalism, bogus questions, absolute truths, and questioning the reality of the five senses. The Freudian analysis he talks about I've witnessed through my mom and others as being quite real.

If you are aware of the damage caused by theistic belief systems, then you know how much this matters. The challenge is to temper our anger with compassion, somehow. If we really do believe in something that transcends pain and pleasure, then love, after all, is all that we have. Plus we need psychologists to help us find ways to free people from these traps, because they really are traps. It's heartbreaking that so many Christian fundamentalists don't know who they are in life and that causes them to be so destructive towards others.

Read this book, but be careful. The facts stated here will be more hazardous to some fundamentalists than drinking hemlock.

Rating: 5/5 - It's time to give up "childish things."
This is a very moving and wise book. It is strong spiritual meat for those who are ready to give up "childish things," as St. Paul said. Bishop Spong refreshingly realizes that Christianity has a credibility problem. The Church has to start over again. It must stop thinking in terms of an old man in the sky, a supernatural Santa Claus who will swoop down to save us from natural disasters, illness, death, and the consequences of our own stupidity. It has to stop trying to impose moral prohibitions that have nothing to do with the truths of human biology and psychology, or with true justice and compassion. Freedom, knowledge, and wisdom must be our new commandments; our knowledge of God will based upon the truths revealed in our humanity, in which God truly exists. His style is powerful, clear, and sometimes lyrical. This is a great book by someone who speaks compassionately in a language we non-Christians can understand. I hoped to find in it some common ground from which believers and non-believers could begin a dialogue, and I was not disappointed.

Rating: 5/5 - Spong Builds His Messages.
I made the mistake of reading this book before reading "Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism." Now this book makes much more sense. Bp. Spong does his homework, builds his themes carefully and provides references as one reads along. I suggest that his books be read in order of their publication date for the full impact.

Some may argue that Bp. Spong is no longer Christian. I would argue that he demonstrates in his every thought and action that he is a true Christ-follower and it is integrated into his very being. He is a thinker who encourages others to do the same.


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