John Shelby Spong was the Episcopal Bishop of Newark for 24 years before his retirement in 2000. In this follow-up to his bestseller Why Christianity Must Change or Die, he presents his vision of a transformed Christianity with revamped understandings of God, Jesus, prayer, worship, evil, and the church. Spong, who has a penchant for the dramatic, writes: "The reformation needed today must, in my opinion, be so total that it will by comparison make the Reformation of the sixteenth century look like a child's tea party. . . . Christianity cannot continue as the irrelevant religious sideshow to which it has been reduced."
The author sees signs of the death of the theistic God in the widespread addiction of our era; the growing hatred and paranoia of racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism; the rampant use of violence to solve problems; and the gap between what people say (faith) and the values by which they live (practice). Spong doesn't believe in the kindly grandfather in the sky but that doesn't mean that God isn't real God is the One who is in the midst of life.
The same goes for Jesus. Spong tosses aside the theistic supernatural overlay on the man from Nazareth. He sees him as a boundary breaker who tears down the walls that separate people. He also is a fear buster who by his magnetic passion convinces individuals to put aside tribal and xenophobic fears. Spong concludes: "Jesus will become the doorway into the Holy for those of us who have been privileged to know his name, but there will be other doorways for other people."
In this revitalized vision of Christianity there is no place for the degrading concept of original sin "that has resulted in a constant denigration of human life as helpless, depraved, sinful, and in need of divine rescue." Spong saves the best for last when he spells out the lineaments of the ecclesia of the future as an inclusive community of loving, caring, truth-seeking, open-minded and hospitable individuals whose primary goal is not goodness but wholeness.
Since his retirement, Spong has taught at Harvard University where he delivered the William Belden Noble lectures as the leading spokesperson for liberal Christianity. He aims this manifesto not at ecclesiastical leaders nor the mainline congregations that he calls "sideline churches." His target audience is spiritual seekers ordinary people possessing a God-consciousness that lies outside the box of orthodox Christianity. Spong states that he has no intention of creating another religion or wasting his energy on fundamentalism, which he views as "the last gasp of the past." Progressive Christians who are re-imagining their faith in the twenty-first century will find this thought-provoking and substantive work right in sync with prior works by Matthew Fox, Andrew Harvey, Wayne Teasdale, and Diarmuid O'Murchu.