Book review - Jesus for the Non-Religious

Questioning Church
Belief and Unbelief
The Bible
Image of a man sitting on a sand dune
John Shelby Spong

Book review by Michael Miller

Based on historical and textual evidence, Spong begins, in his first 11 chapters, with a refreshingly trenchant de-bunking of biblical literalism: “Jesus was born in a perfectly normal way in Nazareth. His mother was not the icon of virgin purity. His earthly father, Joseph, was a literary creation. [ ] He did not command nature to obey him. [ ] He did not raise the dead. [ ] There was no stylised Last Supper [ ] There was no betrayal [ ], no mocking crowd, no crown of thorns, no words from the cross, no thieves, no cry of thirst and no darkness at noon. [ ] There was no tomb [ ] no resuscitated body [ ] no ascension into a heaven that exists beyond the sky.” He goes on to show how the Gospel writers invented their narratives using Old Testament (ie Hebrew) models such as stories of Moses, Elijah and Elisha. This was not an attempt at deception, but rather a lack of concern for historical truth coupled with a desire to communicate their Jesus experience; they had to find ways to express the incommunicable.

Spong then goes on to show how the Gospels, especially the first three, are shaped in terms of order and length to provide synagogue readings relevant to Jewish festivals such as Passover, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah.

Proceeding, he explores the Jesus of historical existence, the development of the theistic version of Christianity and why this is no longer relevant in the modern world. He examines the “Sources of Religious Anger” – he has himself received 16 attested death threats from “Christians” who feel threatened by any challenge to their rigidly held protective beliefs, some of them believing God has commanded them to act as they do. He examines how institutional religion has fostered and nourished sexism, racism and homophobia. He concludes with an exposition of the ways in which Jesus broke though many artificial barriers in expressing his full humanity as a model to his followers. I found this a stimulating book and urge all thinking believers to read it.


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