Why Christianity Must Change or Die
By John Shelby Spong
I’ve had this book on my shelf for ages, but finally read it after a guest of the church encouraged me to read it. So, after finishing off some of the other books on my “pastor’s pile” I finally got to it.
Spong is an Episcopal Bishop who basically states that we must stop viewing God from a theistic viewpoint (in other words, God is like us). He makes some good claims, such as on pg xix “…that any god who is threatened by new truth from any source is clearly dead already.”
The major thesis of his book appears on page 70: “There is no God external to life. God, rather, is the inescapable depth and center of all that is. God is not a being superior to all other beings. God is the Ground of Being itself.” (pg 70).
Written in 1998, I can see how it is an enlightening book, however, many of the things he discusses were articulated by Alice Walker in her excellent novel “The Color Purple” and have been a major part of United Church of Christ’s (U.C.C.) scholarship for decades.
Spong is right in mentioning that the church is not a place where many people today expect to seek out God (page 21). He states that we must discover if the death of the God we worshipped in the past is the same thing as the death of God (pg 41). He also does a wonderful study on how anger informs many preachers, stating that some people act as if they can not enjoy heaven unless they get to watch those in hell writhe in pain (pp 53-54).
Spong calls us to let go of the image of Jesus as a rescuer and instead as a spirit filled person, “radically, deeply, and fully alive” (page 114) who could be “present, totally present, to another person” (page 126). And because of this Jesus was a “remarkably free man. He was free to forgive, free to endure, free to be, and free to die” (page 127).
Thus, “the primary message of the Christian Church to the emerging adolescent in the Church rites of passage is ‘You share in eternity. You are holy. Your life reveals the presence of God.’” (page 193).
The main complaint I had with the book is that Spong seems to erase away whatever mystery and freedom God can have. In my opinion, by spending so much time disclaiming who and what God is not, Spong seems to create his own God that fits into his own rulebook and expectations, and then Spong wants us to think the same way and worship his definition of God. There is not a lot I disagreed with in his book, but there were many times in which I said “But God is free and God is mystery.”
But here is my bias: I would rather believe in a God who is free and full of mystery then a God who can or can not do what I say and expect.