In part 2, I will do a quick book review.
It is hard to find someone who has studied the Bible for many years and still loves it, but also is willing to look at it critically. David Wolpe, Terry Eagleton and John Shelby Spong are a few exceptions. My first Spong book was “Jesus for the Non-Religious”. I thought, here’s a nice book that will help me talk about Christ to my non-religious friends. It took me years to get comfortable even saying Christ, let alone talking about it in mixed (believer and non-believer) company. I figured it would have some of the usual glowing language about how great God is and I would have to work around that, but I hoped it would have some advice I would use too.
I could not have been more wrong. He went through all of the major stories, one by one, and broke down what is historically and contextually wrong with each. About a third of the way through, I started Googling Unitarianism and Buddhism. I was rehearsing what I would say to my pastor when I told him I was no longer going to be attending. Spong kept making references to how he still loved Christianity, so I kept expecting for him to somehow build the stories back up again, but he never did. Very near the end of the book he says choosing how you view or relate to God is ultimately a personal decision.
This is definitely not a book that tries to lure you in and do a sneak attack conversion. The title says it is for the non-religious, and I expect anyone who started out that way will remain so. For the religious, it has some excellent discussion about how the church came to the state it is in today and some suggestions for what needs to be done about it. Chief among them is to stop trying to get people to belief in things that most likely didn’t happen. These are good stories, and Spong gives good guidance on why they were written and why they are still relevant. But he doesn’t need to believe that anyone was actually raised from the dead for that to be true.
If you have questions like, why is there so much effort put in to claiming that Jesus was the Messiah of the Jews, or why are their differences between the four gospels, or why is the gospel of John so unique, this book is a good one for you. If you are interested in how a classically trained theologian can come to understand modern views of war, spirituality and even sexuality, John Shelby Spong is your man. I highly recommend Googling him.