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A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith is Dying & How a New Faith is Being Born

A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith is Dying & How a New Faith is Being Born

4.2 13
by John Shelby Spong

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In his bestselling book Why Christianity Must Change or Die, Bishop John Shelby Spong described the toxins that are poisoning the Church. Now he offers the antidote, calling Christians everywhere into a new and radical reformation for a new age. Spong looks beyond traditional boundaries to open new avenues and a new vocabulary into the Holy, proposing a


In his bestselling book Why Christianity Must Change or Die, Bishop John Shelby Spong described the toxins that are poisoning the Church. Now he offers the antidote, calling Christians everywhere into a new and radical reformation for a new age. Spong looks beyond traditional boundaries to open new avenues and a new vocabulary into the Holy, proposing a Christianity premised upon justice, love, and the rise of a new humanity -- a vision of the power that might be.

Editorial Reviews

The message trumpeted in the subtitle is radical: Why Traditional Faith Is Dying & How a New Faith Is Being Born. John Shelby Spong, the liberal activist Episcopal Bishop of Newark, continues to champion positions he advocated in Why Christianity Must Change or Die.
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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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.

Meet the Author

John Shelby Spong, the Episcopal Bishop of Newark before his retirement in 2000, has been a visiting lecturer at Harvard and at more than 500 other universities all over the world. His books, which have sold well over a million copies, include Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy; The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic; Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World; Eternal Life: A New Vision; Jesus for the Non-Religious, The Sins of Scripture, Resurrection: Myth or Reality?; Why Christianity Must Change or Die; and his autobiography, Here I Stand. He writes a weekly column on the web that reaches thousands of people all over the world. To join his online audience, go to www.JohnShelbySpong.com. He lives with his wife, Christine, in New Jersey.

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New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith Is Dying and how a New Faith Is Being Born 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A NEW CHRISTIANITY FOR A NEW WORLD represents the latest stage in the author's rapidly evolving vision of the future of Christianity. Spong begins by stating that theism is dead. God is not a supernatural being who can or does periodically intervene in the world. Our modern view of the natural order suggests that this is not possible. Spong explains that theism was born in the beginning of civilization when people first experienced feeling unsafe and alone. Theism developed as a coping mechanism against trauma. The author asserts that the theistic interpretation of Jesus was only added in the later Christian writings. Spong does not believe in much of the traditional Christian story. He does not believe in the virgin birth of Jesus or the idea that Jesus founded either a church or its sacraments. He says he does not have a problem with the faith - only with the literal way it is interpreted and described by some others. Spong sees a need for a new faith that is not subject to the death of theism. God is real even though theism is dead. Can Christianity still live after the death of theism? It will, according to the author, if we are willing to move beyond our traditional ideas of Jesus. Spong sees God as the source of all life, love and being. He views the church of the future as a place where worshipers will still seek the Holy and the Realm of God. They will search for an environment which allows them to increase their capabilities to love and embrace life to the fullest. God is real and Jesus is the doorway into this reality. Spong still considers himself to be a Christian and he remains optimistic about the future. He is not sure where his new reformation will ultimately lead us but he is convinced we have to take the first step. If we do nothing, Spong believes that Christianity will surely die anyway.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Spong's book gives us a chance to revisit the original intent of Jesus' teachings. He urges us to always focus on the love and compassion that are the root of Christianity. Many layers have been placed on top of original ideas and while they may have been helpful at the time need to be examined for what they are - human, not Divine, additions for the sake of institutionalization and organization of the church. Spong is a radical follower of a radical leader - Jesus. A great read for every person seeking the essence of Christ's message.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading A New Christianity for a New World, I find that I have new criteria for choosing hymns and other music for our church. Bishop Spong has eloquently stated many of the thoughts that I have had about the necessity for change in our Christian vocabulary and practices.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wrangler74 More than 1 year ago
John Shelby Spong is without a doubt a good writer. He Claims the Bible is mostly myth. Some of his points I can agree with, others are way out in space. I read three of his books. Much of his writing is rehash of his last book. None of his theories can be proven any more than the bible can be proven. Everyone must live by the faith they believe in. A book for study of a different view of Christianity, however, not a book for fundamentalists.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Spong combines intellectual genius with impeccable scholarly research. A courageous work with a fresh and universal pespective !
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In his book "A New Christianity for a New World," Bishop Spong attempts to reformulate the Christian notions of God, Jesus, original sin, the atonement and the church. This book will be alarming to more traditional Christians and a sigh of relief to those in "spiritual exile"--those men and women who have left the church because they find the creeds of the church too unbelievable. To those persons who'd like to once again believe in God, Jesus and the Christian life, this book will be a help along the way.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bishop Spong has provided an approach for updating the reality needed in Christianity.His book prompted me to think about its significance with respect to how the outdated aspects of the major world religions have contributed to the growth of terrorism and how very difficult it will be to overcome such deep-seated problems. Bishop Spong presents problems with current Christianity and how they evolved. He integrates and further develops the contents of his previous books in a very personal and straightforward way. He seems to reveal, and give, all of himself to the world. I strongly recommend this book. Furthermore, I believe John Shelby Spong fulfills the intended purpose for award of the 'Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.'
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bishop Spong says in his book, A New Christianity for a New World, 2001, 'The old myth of theism has lost its power and its appeal. A new myth to which we can once again be committed is not yet in place. Before the new myth can be developed, we need to understand how the old one was born, how its power was kept intact for so long, and how it has died. Perhaps then we will have a clue where to begin in our struggle to kindle once more a faith, a way of life, even a God who is not subject to the death of theism. At least that is our next step.' (p. 35) This is very old liberal theology, in its newest form coming out of post-World War II America. Beginning in 1945 at the University of Iowa, Flannery O¿Connor was investigating this tendency. Since the late 1960¿s, when I began studying O¿Connor, major universities having developed O¿Connor Studies, such as Harvard, Yale, etc.. Such studies have now recognized her as a modern American prophet (see Karl Martin¿s doctoral dissertation, ¿The Ethical Implications of Flannery O¿Connor¿s `Prophetic Imagination,¿ ¿ 1991, University of Minnesota). In her book reviews of the 1950¿s, Flannery O¿Connor noted the errors of liberal theology that now apply to the liberal theology of today. For example, in her review of: Order and History, Volume I, Israel and Revelation, Eric Voegelin, Louisiana State University Press, 1956. ¿In the Hellenic world man was seeking God, in the Hebrew world God was seeking man. Real history begins when man accepts the God Who is, Who seeks him.¿ And, ¿'Without Israel there would be no history, but only the eternal recurrence of societies in cosmological form.'¿ In reviewing The Christ of Faith, Karl Adam, Pantheon, 1957, O¿Connor notes: ¿It is particularly valuable in its criticism of the errors of liberal theology, pointing out that the textual critic assumes that Christianity is something finished and inflexible and has poured all its vitality into its literature and foundations and become fossilized in them.¿
Guest More than 1 year ago
Bishop Spong says in his book, 'The old myth of theism has lost its power and its appeal. A new myth to which we can once again be committed is not yet in place. Before the new myth can be developed, we need to understand how the old one was born, how its power was kept intact for so long, and how it has died. Perhaps then we will have a clue where to begin in our struggle to kindle once more a faith, a way of life, even a God who is not subject to the death of theism. At least that is our next step.' (p. 35) Hazel Motes, in Flannery O'Connor's novel, Wise Blood, 1952, starts his Church Without Christ. He preaches, ¿What you need is something to take the place of Jesus, something that would speak plain. The Church Without Christ don't have a Jesus but it needs one! It needs a new jesus!¿ (Wise Blood, Collected Works, Flannery O¿Connor, The Library of America, 1988, p. 80) Hazel asks his audience to give him such a jesus, someone ¿that don¿t look like any other man,¿ so they will see ¿how far the Church Without Christ can go!¿ (p. 80) Enoch Emery hears Haze's speech, and says he knows where to find the new jesus. He goes to a museum and takes out a shrunken mummy and sends it to Haze. But, Haze smashes the mummy against the wall. Enoch goes on to bury his clothes, dress up in an ape costume, and become an 'it' instead of a 'him' to O'Connor as he becomes totally bestial. Onnie Jay Holy (or Hoover Shoats) is a former radio preacher who wants to learn from Haze more about his concept of the new jesus so he can start commercializing on it. Haze rejects him so Shoats finds a consumptive man, Solace Layfield, who can barely work at anything to take Haze¿s place. He begins preaching, ¿The unredeemed are redeeming theirselves and the new jesus is at hand! Watch for this miracle! Help yourself to salvation in the Holy Church of Christ Without Christ.¿ (p. 94) The myth that is not yet in place is the new jesus that Enoch Emery finds for Haze, and the next step is to help ourselves to this salvation for ¿the unredeemed are redeeming theirselves.¿