A minimalist faith confidently proclaimed


The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, by John Shelby Spong (New York: HarperOne, 2013)

In the Preface to this book, the author notes that he is 82 years old and that this is his twenty-fourth book. He believes more deeply than ever, although he has fewer beliefs. The time may now be upon him when he will no longer depend upon words to communicate the life that he has found in Christ.

Spong offers an autobiographical sketch that portrays his deep involvement in and appreciation for specific churches that have nurtured his life through all of the years. I finish the book (the first of Spong’s volumes that I have read) appreciating his Christian testimony and the character it reveals. As for the book itself, there is much to affirm about Spong’s treatment of the Gospel of John, but also certain aspects that leave me unsatisfied.

Spong acknowledges that he has always found the gospel of John difficult because it presents ideas and attitudes that he believes are barriers to Christian faith for people of our time. Although his earlier books have dealt with these issues, Spong continues to joust with them in this new book.

These barriers, as I perceive them in my reading of The Fourth Gospel, include literal understandings of the Bible; rationalistic approaches to religion, especially if they draw upon Greek philosophy; authoritarianism in religion, especially when it takes the form of required doctrine, rules of behavior, and conformity to institutional patterns; supernaturalism in every form; and atonement theology that, in Spong’s understanding, wraps the other errors into one all-encompassing and destructive religious system. Read more The Fourth Gospel

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