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John Shelby Spong's Last Book "Unbelievable" Is a Dud

John Shelby Spong's Last Book "Unbelievable" Is a Dud

By Caliban
Special to Virtueonline
January 24, 2019

We haven't heard much from former Bishop of Newark John Shelby Spong in a long time. He is 87 years old and questions linger about his health since he had a stroke in September 2016.

So I decided to see what I could find out about him.

Here's a story about his stroke while in Marquette, Michigan where he was hospitalized. 'See here: https://www.nj.com/essex/index.ssf/2016/09/former_newark_episcopal_bishop_suffers_stroke.html

At the time, it was reported in the press that he was 80% finished with a new book (his last), called Unbelievable: Why Neither Ancient Creeds Nor the Reformation Can Produce a Living Faith Today.

Press reports stated that Spong was unable hold a pen for long periods of time, but completed the book with the help of his wife over a period stretching more than a year. It was published in February 2018. See story here: https://www.insights.uca.org.au/news/controversial-author-releases-final-book

In December 2018 ProgressiveChristianity.org released a "series" lessons with the title The Origins of the Bible: The Old and New Testaments. See here: https://progressivechristianity.org/resources/the-origins-of-the-bible-the-old-testament/ These are most likely based on Unbelievable.

Early this month (January 2019), Spong released the paperback edition of Unbelievable. The publisher claims the book contains 12 theses for revitalizing Christianity.

The release of the paperback edition has been about as big a non-event as it can be. The book is ranked 446,501 on Amazon.

It would appear Spong's brand of far left universalist Christianity is the brand of religion that is not going to survive. (He wrote a book in 1998 titled Why Christianity Must Change or Die.)

Irony abounds. It looks like the judgement of time is going to leave Spong's 12 theses in the dustbin of history.

Some of the critical Amazon reviews of Spong's book Unbelievable are quite instructive.

Here's a recent one star Amazon review of the paperback penned by Meg Howes:

January 20, 2019

Spong is a universalist humanist

Spong is a universalist humanist and attempts to rewrite the Old and New Testament accounts to fit his world view. In so doing he makes enormous leaps of faith, mistates facts, applies poor logic and ignores evidence that counters his world view. Here are just a few examples. Regarding God, Spong states because mankind's knowledge of the universe is so much more comprehensive than it was in the first century, "how then could one still portray God as dwelling above the sky? Would that mean God is somewhere between the earth and the sun, somewhere in the milky way ? Outside the whole universe? A diety who cannot be located somewhere is located nowhere".

Because Charles Darwin once and for all put to rest the idea that God created man and God cannot exist as the Bible teaches, ie there is no theist God, then conceiving of Jesus as the incarnation of a theistic deity has also become a bankrupt concept. Spong states that Paul's letter to the Philippians was Paul's last authentic letter and that the later epistles including first and second Timothy (probably written around 67 AD) were compiled by Paul's followers. This is totally without basis and contradicts mainstream biblical scholarly thought.

Spong dates Mark, Matthew and Luke's gospels in the late 80s to 90s AD to explain that by then the writers had thoroughly exaggerated the stories of Jesus and had turned him from an interesting teacher who died into a reincarnated deity and that Paul in his much earlier letters had never stated that Jesus had physically risen from the dead. But of course, this is nonsense.

Paul addresses Jesus' physical resurrection on numerous occasions including 1 Corinthians 15:16 when he states that Jesus appeared to over 500 people most of whom are still alive. Most scholars date Mark's gospel as written in the early 60s AD and further it ignores the fact that Peter (the most likely source of the gospel of Mark) and Matthew were martyred before 67 AD. If anyone wants to enter into a serious discussion about the accuracy of the old and new testaments they should consider reading the excellent Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell.

An earlier and longer one-star review of Unbelievable (the hardcover edition) was written by Mac in April 6, 2018.


1.0 out of 5 stars This Book is Unbelievable
April 6, 2018
Format: Hardcover

The title of Spong's newest book, UNBELIEVABLE, is apropos. That he discounts and does not accept the basic resurrection story, is just that, UNBELIEVABLE!

He harps on minor inconsistencies, clearly determined to ignore the basic truth.

Even if the resurrection accounts cannot be perfectly harmonized, that does not make them untrustworthy. Seldom do eyewitnesses to the same event, relate identical stories, yet by any reasonable evaluation, the resurrection accounts from the four Gospels are superbly consistent eyewitness testimonies.

The central truths - that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and that the resurrected Jesus appeared to many people - are clearly taught in each of the four Gospels.

Peter, James, and John, were eyewitnesses, so were the other disciples, Mary Magdalene and James and Paul. Paul's encounter with Jesus came just two or three years after Christ's death and Resurrection, but he was a witness.

5 related these events, but James and the other disciples bore witness, advancing Christianity and there is no suggestion that any contradicted the Gospel accounts. They acted.

Another crucial factor that debunks the idea all these disciples were trying to sell a false Resurrection to the world: the fact that they proclaimed it was females who found the empty tomb and let the male disciples know Jesus was missing. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John - all recount Jesus' earliest women followers finding the empty tomb. In the first century, where a woman's testimony would have been about the level just above a slave, that would not be your best foot forward. You'd never make up a story that way.

So if the disciples were lying about the resurrection, they made their story all the harder to accept by putting women at the forefront.

It is one thing when there are contrary versions of the key facts. There were not, which with the backdrop of a Temple which feared and hated Jesus and all that he stood for, is significant.

Without any evidence to the contrary to discount and not accept the teachings of 4 of the Gospel writers, Paul and to ignore the actions and lives of at least 7 more disciples, plus friends and relatives, who, after witnessing or learning about one of the cruelest death possible, torture and crucifixion of their leader, designed to deter similar acts, were hiding from the authorities:
1. Were suddenly and forever transformed from a frightened, intimidated group of insignificant people to a bunch of radical missionaries;
2. Publicly proclaimed and bore witness to the same, literally Unbelievable, story;
3. As they were instructed, parted ways and journeyed to strange new lands with no material support, to spread a new world faith;
4. Knew many would reject and condemn them;
5. Would be risking horrible executions for such heresy, which happened to all but one, and,
6. Did so without one ever retracting or denying this story;
is to say, ALL were LIARS, every single one. This is wholly without merit, baseless and unreasonable.

The earliest disciples would have known - not just believed, but would have known - that either Jesus was who He claimed to be and was actually raised from the dead or they were making this thing up. And yet history tells us that we have good reason to think they all went to their death with the exception of one for that core belief: that Jesus was raised from the dead. They didn't recant that.

You'd have to say, here were these many men who not only died for a lie, but they knew it was a lie. I challenge you to find others in history for whom that's true.

Conspiracies break down under pressure. And this story cost them their lives.

No reasonable person would conclude that they were LIARS. It would be hard to imagine more credible witnesses.

His position is founded entirely on baseless doubt.

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