U.S. Bishop (John Spong) Still Stirs Pot of Controversy: Christians Miss Gospel's Original Meaning-Spong

By Dench, Brian; Edwards, Susan | Anglican Journal, February 1997 | Go to article overview

U.S. Bishop (John Spong) Still Stirs Pot of Controversy: Christians Miss Gospel's Original Meaning-Spong


Dench, Brian, Edwards, Susan, Anglican Journal


American Episcopal bishop John Spong was in Toronto recently promoting his new book, Liberating the Gospels: Reading the Bible with Jewish Eyes. As with his previous books such as Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, Born of a Woman, and Resurrection: Myth or Reality, his latest is scholarly in its research, controversial in its conclusions, and urgent in tone.

The urgency comes from Bishop Spong's deep-seated belief that Christianity is at a critical time in its life. His writing is born out of concern for the future of the church and its ability to speak with meaning to people in the late 20th century. "The church has one generation left if it doesn't do something about itself," he said.

Bishop Spong, who will retire this year as Bishop of Newark, New Jersey, said when he was a young priest, people thought teenagers who left the church after confirmation would return after they married, had children and got a mortgage. "But I think they stopped coming back about 20 years ago. They have nothing to come back to."

The liberal side is empty and vapid; the right wing is hysterical and uninformed, he said. "I don't think either one can save the church. We've got to get back to our heritage ... and separate the essence of Christianity from its trappings."

Recovering the original intentions and mind-set of the Gospels is one of the goals of Bishop Spong's recent writings. In Liberating the Gospels, for example, he argues that Christians have not understood the stories of the Gospels as originally intended.

These were Jewish books written for a Jewish audience which would have understood the symbols, he said. "When Matthew said in his birth narrative that Herod ordered the slaughter of all boys under two years old, every Jewish person who heard that would have known it was a Moses story.

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