Spong challenges much of the traditional understanding, from the tale of Jesus' miraculous birth to the account of his cosmic ascension into the sky. He questions the historicity of the ideas that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, that he had 12 disciples, or that the miracle stories were ever meant to be descriptions of supernatural events. He also speaks directly to those critics of Christianity who call God a "delusion" and who describe Christianity as having become evil and destructive.
Spong invites listeners to examine Jesus in the context of both the Jewish scriptures and the liturgical life of the first-century synagogue. He proposes a new way of understanding the divinity of Christ as the ultimate dimension of a fulfilled humanity. Jesus for the Non-Religious may finally bring the pious and the secular into a meaningful dialogue, opening the door to a living Christianity in the post-Christian world.
©2007 John Shelby Spong; (P)2007 HarperCollins Publishers
Two foci for this review: the text itself, and the narration.
First, narration. God save us. Bishop Spong reads the preface and epilogue, and I found myself wishing he would have read the entire book. His true sincerity, humanity and humility come through in his voice when he reads.
The narrator, however . . . slow, portentous, with odd emphases and ill-timed pauses . . . a real chore to listen to this fellow. He manages to inject a note of contemptuous sarcasm into passages, which seems often at odds with Bishop Spong's words. The narration almost put me off finishing the book.
Now, the text. Bishop Spong makes a compelling case for his vision of Christian scripture as liturgical in nature, freighted with symbolic references to Jesus' Jewish context. I couldn't wait for the final chapters, in which Bishop Spong would tell us how he specifically engages Christ in the modern age; how worship can (or should) be done; what is the nature of God as revealed through Jesus and Jesus' relationship with God - is God truly personal? Is Christ a person to this day, or simply a memory, the acheivements of which we should aspire to?
In essence, Bishop Spong spends a great deal of time methodically deconstructing Christianity in the modern age, but then replaces it with nothing - not even a suggestion on which we can build. I came away with the strong impression that Jesus was just a "really good guy".
Oddly, the resurrection gets short shrift in the concluding chapters. It's as if Bishop Spong doesn't know what to make of it - so he chooses not to deal with it at any length. But the resurrection, arguably the linchpin of Christology, deserves a fair assessment, because it is our understanding of the resurrection that will inform whatever relationship we have with the person of Christ.
I am ultimately frustrated and disapointed; that said, this worthy effort is still worth the listen.
I've read quite a bit of Bishop Spong's output over the past ten years or so. Most of his books function in this way: he spends a great deal of time debunking belief in reading the Bible in a literal way, going verse-by-verse and explaining its meaning in the context of a Jewish midrash reading. (metaphorical, not literal, and in many cases, NOT understanding the Hebrew Bible as prophesying the life of Jesus)
OK, I get that, and it IS really interesting.
But my frustration is this... I really don't see how Bishop Spong differs THAT much from, say, Richard Dawkins in his rejection of a personal god and his inability to cleave to "old time religion" in the face of the discoveries of modern science, especially evolutionary science. I get that, and I agree with him. But he keeps saying that, in spite of all this, he still sees Jesus Christ as his ultimate manifestation of the Divine, and is still able to call himself a Christian. I really would like to be able to take that final step with him, but he never explains how he does that. I was hoping that would be the subject of this new book, but he never does get there. It's yet another retread of the old de-bunking, not significantly different from his last book, "A New Christianity for a New World" (Where, incidentally, I also hoped he'd go there and didn't.)
In short, I've about had it with Bishop Spong because he's all about the negative (this is NOT true) and none about what shape that new kind of faith would take. I'm now hoping to find some writers that will help me figure that out.
Traditional Christianity says "Grace" is "Amazing" when extended by a judge in the sky as he both makes up rules between his eye_blinks / our 'epochs' then circumvents the rules in order to gift us with wholly undeserved love.
Grace is even more amazing when One fully human (Jesus) can extend it freely, infinitely, making no judgment upon any recipient requiring an abiding bureaucracy to author and posit means of redemption. Reverance, awe, wonder, is appropriate toward the One (Jesus) who transcends the anger and fear that are the existential consequence of self conciousnessness, vulnerability and mortality.
Inerrancy takes a spin in the mix-master and emerges puree. Spong debunks oft supposed 'history' in the Gospels and shows them to be a (valid, but not historical) liturgical tradition employed by 1st century writers to represent the powerful and transcendent EXPERIENCE of life and love in Jesus. He helps the reader re-frame Christian vocation as seeking that very real experience of infinitely powerful love and complete freedom – the divine life in the human Christ.
“Jesus for the Non-Religious” underpins my evolving intuitions as a recovering [ fill in label of a common “Christian” movement ] with scholarship that is validating and liberating. This is what Jesus does: He validates and liberates.
trying to see the world with my ears
I agree wtih the reviewer from Milwaukee who said that this book only rehashes and updates Bishop Spong's other books - but this time I "got it" (at least in my head). I think it was his exposition of the theories around the gospels' evolution from liturgical language. I finished the listen with intellectual assent, but --as another reviewer rightly pointed out--- my heart was left in a vacuum. Other writers do a better job of suggesting "what is" and how Jesus can still be a central focus of faith. I'm thinking particularly of Michael Morwood and Matthew Fox, neither of whom have their books in audio format as far as I can find. But perhaps Bishop Spong, coming from a tradition that historical insisted on "what is" -- lets the reader go elsewhere to discover those truth(s) --or maybe his next book...
I am almost Spong's age, and I think we are a generation that understands what Spong is saying/"debunking," but can't quite reach the promised land of seeing with the heart "what is" - the younger emergent Christians may make the entire journay perhaps. In any case, we don't need to understand completely "what is" to take seriously Jesus' commands to do justice and live in right relationship with the planet, our neighbour and ourselves.
Very eye opening and educational. He brings up and answers a lot of questions that I often had but was unwilling to think about too long. Great for understanding religion better.
Spong expresses the certainty that something amazing happened during and at the end of Jesus's life, yet also explains how the explanations we accept as "Gospel" today may have been plausibly embellished to the extent that we cannot know what to believe (exactly).
The failure of Spong to articulate a satisfactory substitute that the human mind can grasp in place of the traditional dogma.
Worth the time to hear succinct presentation of an alternative viewpoint delivered directly, rather than as a "straw-man" by a traditional evangelist.
The subject matter is of great interest to me; hence, the works of John Shelby Spong ranks highest in my library of books.
I am only aware of course material through the Teaching Company that could come close to the academic study of the New Testament.
Clear and concise
Chapter by Chapter there were learning experiences but I suspect the realization that the chapters that talked of the authors of the Gospels using the events that were claimed would happen on the return of the Messiah as recorded in the Old Testament to expand their Gospels after Mark was available really floored me.
If you wish to do a detail comparative analysis of the Gospels and the "why" then this book is great. Those that view the Bible as the true word of God should avoid this reading.
One of the best. Clear, well researched and thoughtfully reasoned. An enlightened understanding of the New Testament and Hebrew Bibles, as well as the myths created by the Church, which has caused so much bigotry and deaths. A must-read for intelligent Christians and others who want to understand Christianity.
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