Originally published 9 September, 2014
I just completed a book by Bishop John Shelby Spong, Why Christianity Must Change or Die and found I'm a “believer in exile.” I had known that for some decades, but I wasn't aware of the term. Here's a short review I posted at Amazon.com.
To paraphrase Tony Curtis’ character in “Some Like it Hot,” John Shelby Spong is a genius—his opinions exactly coincide with mine. For years, decades in fact, I have been a “believer in exile,” but didn’t know it until reading Why Christianity Must Change or Die. This book is a godsend (possibly literally) for people who have grown up in the Christian tradition and desperately believe in the holiness of the spirit and person of Jesus, but have found it impossible to reconcile contemporary rationality with a confusing and myth-filled explanation of thoughts, feelings, and beliefs of a group of believers of two-thousand years ago.
Bishop Spong lays out the difficulties with the Christian religion in the modern era, the sources of conflict and confusion, and suggests ways in which we believers can reconcile ourselves with the original intention of Jesus and still call ourselves Christians. Finally, we can know we are still following the faith even though we recognize mythology and allegory in the foundational writing and traditions of the faith.
So far, I have only read one other book by Bishop Spong, Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes; Freeing Jesus from 2,000 years of Misunderstanding, and I highly recommend it also to help the “believer in exile” understand the beliefs and traditions of the authors of the Bible. Only by understanding the society and worldview of the authors can one understand the intention behind their words.
Both books are written with the knowledge of a scholar and the craftsmanship of an artist of the English language. They are compelling, to the point, and beautifully written. Ideas are presented clearly, logically, and explained in a way that flows naturally and organically from one to the next.
If you’re a fundamentalist, one who needs to understand the Bible literally, you will not find comfort in Bishop Spong’s ideas. But anyone else, whether “believer in exile,” Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or any other faith, even atheist, will find these two books compelling and eye opening.