New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith Is Dying and how a New Faith Is Being Born

New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith Is Dying and how a New Faith Is Being Born

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by John Shelby Spong

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In his bestselling Why Christianity Must Change or Die, Bishop Spong described the toxins that are poisoning the Church. Now in his newest work, he offers the antidote. Spong explains why the traditional understandings of God, Christ, the Church, and their rules and dogmas are wrong and dangerous. He spells out his contemporary vision of God, Jesus, prayer,See more details below


In his bestselling Why Christianity Must Change or Die, Bishop Spong described the toxins that are poisoning the Church. Now in his newest work, he offers the antidote. Spong explains why the traditional understandings of God, Christ, the Church, and their rules and dogmas are wrong and dangerous. He spells out his contemporary vision of God, Jesus, prayer, worship, evil, the afterlife, and the Church as a community of love, equality, and truth.

In offering his vision of that which might be for the Church, Spong has poured his heart, soul, and mind into this book as the ultimate legacy of his struggle to discover and promote a Christianity that makes sense today.

Editorial Reviews

Robert W. Funk
Bishop Spong's new book is filled with trenchant insights, searing honesty, and boundless hope.
Publishers Weekly
Religious reformer Spong builds upon the program he initiated in Why Christianity Must Change or Die as he outlines what he believes is an authentic faith for a new millennium. Taking cues from the works of John A.T. Robinson, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Rudolf Bultmann, Spong proclaims that theism the view that a supernatural deity creates and provides for humanity is merely a "human coping device, created by traumatized self-conscious creatures to enable them to deal with the anxiety of self-awareness." The theistic God, for Spong as for Freud and Feuerbach before him, is nothing but a projection of our own desires and wishes. Since the theistic God was a construct that helped humans cope with their anxieties, the hysteria and trauma rampant in our society today is proof, says Spong, that the theistic God has died. But once theism is extinct, many of the central ideas of conventional Christianity, such as original sin, the incarnation and the Resurrection, tumble into uselessness. Spong's "new Christianity" is rather old, though. Just as in 19th-century theological liberalism, Jesus is god-presence and god is the ground of all being. Moreover, Spong recycles the central ideas of his previous nine books. At worst, this is an uninspiring and unoriginal tract for a formless and meandering quasi-spiritual life. At best, however, Spong openly reveals his honest struggles to fashion a living faith that transcends what he sees as the sterility of the Christianity in which he was formed. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In what he claims to be his parting manifesto, Spong, the former Episcopal bishop of Newark, NJ, saves his sharpest salvos for organized religion in general and Christianity in particular. Arguing for the full humanity of women, gays, and other disenfranchised groups, Spong continues arguments begun in earlier works (e.g., Why Christianity Must Change or Die), striving to improve upon his previously vilified or misunderstood ideas, such as the figurative nature of the Passion, the death of theism, and various dogmas and creeds that fall under the "theistic firewall of [religious] hysteria." Still, he doesn't anticipate much clerical support; he speaks instead to "the ordinary people whose name is legion" and is somewhat defensive in tone. As with his previous works, faithful folk will struggle with the radical nature of his vision, laboring to see what is fundamentally Christian in his Christianity. Loyal Spongians will welcome the conversation, but foes will be further infuriated. Purchase accordingly. Sandra Collins, Duquesne Univ. Lib., Pittsburgh Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
1st ed
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 1.01(d)

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Chapter One

A Place To Begin:
The Old Is No More;
The New Is Not Yet

Between 1910 and 1915, in response to biblical criticism in gen-eral and to the challenge of Charles Darwin in particular, a groupof conservative Christians published a series of pamphlets underthe title The Fundamentals. From those pamphlets the wordfundamentalism as a description of the literal beliefs of conserva-tive Christians entered the religious vocabulary.

The tracts defended such things as the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, the Davidic authorship of the Psalms, and the accuracy of the biblical prophecy predicting specific events in the life an death of Jesus Christ. Each of these suppositions has been successfully challenged by modern scholarship. Beyond that, these tracts also defended the literal accuracy of what they called "the primary Christian themes." In time these basic fundamentals of Christianity were said to be five doctrines was thought to be an act not just of heresy, but of actual apostasy.These five fundamentals were:
  1. The inspiration of scripture as the literal, revealed word of God.

  2. The virgin birth as the miraculous and literal means by which the divine nature of Christ has been guaranteed.

  3. The substitutionary view of the atonement that was accomplished in the death of Jesus. The affirmation of the saving power of his blood and the gift of salvation that was accomplished by his death.

  4. The certainty of the physical bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The accuracy of both the empty-tomb and the appearance stories in the gospeltradition.

  5. The truth of the second coming of Jesus, the reality of the Day of Judgment, which would be based on the record of one's life, and the certainty of heaven and hell as eternal places of reward and punishment.

Today I find each of these fundamentals, as traditionally understood, to be not just naive, but eminently rejectable. Nor would any of them be supported in our generation by reputable Christian scholars.Scripture is filled with cultural attitudes that we have long ago abandoned and with behavior that is today regarded as immoral. Concepts such as the virgin birth, the physical resurrection, and the second coming are today more often regarded as symbols to be understood theologically than as events that occurred in literal history. The substitutionary view of the atonement has become grotesque, both in its understanding of a God who requires the shed blood of a human sacrifice as a prerequisite for salvation and in its definition of humanity as fallen and depraved.If these things still constitute the faith of Christian people, then Christianity has become fir me and for countless others hopelesslyunbelievable. Surely the essence of Christianity is not found in anyor all of these propositions.

-- John Shelby Spong,
from a public speech at the Graduate Theological
Union, Berkeley, California, 2001

I am a Christian.

For forty-five years I have served the Christian church as a deacon, priest, and bishop. I continue to serve that church today in a wide variety of ways in my official retirement. I believe that God is real and that I live deeply and significantly as one related to that divine reality.

I call Jesus my Lord. I believe that he has mediated God in a powerful and unique way to human history and to me.

I believe that my particular life has been dramatically and decisively impacted not only by the life of this Jesus, but also by his death and indeed by the Easter experience that Christians know as the resurrection.

Part of my life's vocation has been spent seeking a way to articulate this impact and to invite others into what I can only call the "Christ-experience." I believe that in this Christ I discover a basis for meaning, for ethics, for prayer, for worship, and even for the hope of life beyond the boundaries of my mortality. I want my readers to know who it is who writes these words. I do not want to be guilty of violating any truth-in-packaging act. I define myself first and foremost as a Christian believer.

Yet I do not define God as a supernatural being. I do not believe in a deity who can help a nation win a war, intervene to cure a loved one's sickness, allow a particular athletic team to defeat its opponent, or affect the weather for anyone's benefit. I do not think it is appropriate for me to pretend that those things are possible when everything I know about the natural order of the world I inhabit proclaims that they are not.

Since I do not see God as a being, I cannot interpret Jesus as the earthly incarnation of this supernatural deity, nor can I with credibility assume that he possessed sufficient Godlike power to do such miraculous things as stilling the storm, banishing demons, walking on water, or expanding five loaves to provide sufficient bread to feed five thousand men, plus women and children. If I am to make a claim for the divine nature of this Jesus, it must be on Some other basis than this. Nature miracles, I am now convinced, say volumes about the power that people attributed to Jesus, but they say nothing about literal occurrences.

I do not believe that this Jesus could or did in any literal way raise the dead, overcome a medically diagnosed paralysis, or restore sight to a person born blind or to one in whom the ability to see had been physiologically destroyed. Nor do I believe he enabled one who was mute and profoundly deaf since birth to hear. Healing stories can be looked at in a number of ways. To view them as supernatural, miraculous events is, in my opinion, the least credible of those possibilities.

I do not believe that Jesus entered this world by the miracle of a virgin birth or that virgin births occur anywhere except in mythology. I do not believe that a literal star guided literal wise men to bring Jesus gifts or that literal angels sang to hillside shepherds to announce his birth. I do not believe that Jesus was born in Bethlehem or that he fled into Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod. I regard these as legends that later became historicized as the tradition grew and developed and as people sought to understand the meaning and the power of the Christ-life.

A New Christianity for a New World. Copyright � by John Shelby Spong. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Robert W. Funk
“Bishop Spong’s new book is filled with trenchant insights, searing honesty, and boundless hope.”

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