John Shelby Spong

American bishop

John Shelby "Jack" Spong (June 16, 1931September 12, 2021) was an American bishop of the Episcopal Church. From 1979 to 2000 he was Bishop of Newark (based in Newark, New Jersey). He was a liberal Christian theologian, religion commentator and author. He called for a fundamental rethinking of Christian belief away from theism and traditional doctrines.

What the mind cannot believe, the heart can finally never adore.


  • In [the story of Jesus] I found ... a center for my being. Behind the supernatural framework of the first century, behind the language of myth, magic, and superstition, I discovered a life I wanted to know; a life that possessed a power I wanted to possess; a freedom, a wholeness for which I had yearned for years.
    • This Hebrew Lord (1974), p. 13
  • All religion seems to need to prove that it's the only truth.
    • Interview with Deborah Caldwell for (May 2005)
  • True religion is not about possessing the truth. No religion does that. It is rather an invitation into a journey that leads one toward the mystery of God. Idolatry is religion pretending that it has all the answers.
    • "Q&A on The Parliament of the World's Religions," weekly mailing, 2007-SEP-05, as reported on Religious
  • Christianity is, I believe, about expanded life, heightened consciousness and achieving a new humanity. It is not about closed minds, supernatural interventions, a fallen creation, guilt, original sin or divine rescue.
  • The Christian story did not drop from heaven fully written. It grew and developed year by year over a period of forty-two to seventy years. That is not what most Christians have been taught to think, but it is factual. Christianity has always been an evolving story. It was never, even in the New Testament, a finished story.
    • Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy (2016)

Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism (1991)

  • There are passages in the Gospels that portray Jesus of Nazareth as narrow-minded, vindictive, and even hypocritical. Jesus exhorted people to love their enemies and to pray for their persecutors (Matt. 5:44) and never to call others by demeaning or hurtful names (Matt. 5:22), yet he called his enemies a "brood of snakes" (Matt. 12:34), "sons of vipers" (Matt. 23:33), "blind fools" (Matt. 23:17). ... How divine is the message that says for your finite failings you will be cast into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 25:30)?
    • p. 21
  • What the mind cannot believe the heart can finally never adore.
    • p. 24
  • Jesus could not have imagined such an idea as Albert Einstein's theory of relativity.
    • p. 25
  • The question must also be raised as to whether we have the actual words of Jesus in any Gospel.
    • p. 78

Resurrection: Myth or Reality? (1994)

  • Above all, words must be recognized as symbolic pointers to truth, not objective containers of truth.
    • p. 37
  • Integrity and honesty, not objectivity and certainty, are the highest virtues to which the theological enterprise can aspire. From this perspective, all human claims to possess objectivity, certainty, or infallibility are revealed as nothing but the weak and pitiable pleas of frantically insecure people who seek to live in an illusion because reality has proved to be too difficult.
    • p. 99
  • If the resurrection of Jesus cannot be believed except by assenting to the fantastic descriptions included in the Gospels, then Christianity is doomed. For that view of resurrection is not believable, and if that is all there is, then Christianity, which depends upon the truth and authenticity of Jesus' resurrection, also is not believable.
    • p. 238
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