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John Shelby Spong

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John Shelby Spong (1931–2021) was an American former Episcopalian bishop and liberal Christian author whose writings call for a new interpretation of Christianity relevant for the 21st century.


Perhaps his most critical (and critiqued) book is A New Christianity for a New World : Why Traditional Faith Is Dying and How a New Faith Is Being Born. In it, he outlines twelve points of reform that make him seem downright rational:

  1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.
  2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.
  3. The Biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.
  4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ's divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.
  5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
  6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.
  7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.
  8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.
  9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard written in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.
  10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.
  11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
  12. All human beings bear God's image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one's being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.[1]


Of course, his biggest critics are theologians and apologists. While he never goes so far so as to reject God or the teachings of Jesus altogether, many atheists find him tolerable as his views eschew any notions of condemnation, damnation or Biblical literalism. Richard Dawkins even credits Spong with this observation in The God Delusion:

"Those who wish to base their morality literally on the Bible have either not read it or not understood it".
—John Shelby Spong, The Sins of Scripture


  1. List shamelessly ripped from WikipediaWikipedia.