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A global and pioneering leader of progressive Christianity and the bestselling author of Why Christianity Must Change or Die and Eternal Life explains why a literal reading of the Gospels is actually heretical, and how this mistaken notion only entered the church once Gentiles had pushed out all the Jewish followers of Jesus.
A man who has consciously and deliberately walked the path of Christ, John Shelby Spong has lived his entire life inside the Christian Church. In this profound and considered work, he offers a radical new way to look at the gospels today as he shows just how deeply Jewish the Christian Gospels are and how much they reflect the Jewish scriptures, history, and patterns of worship. Pulling back the layers of a long-standing Gentile ignorance, he reveals how the church’s literal reading of the Bible is so far removed from these original Jewish authors’ intent that it is an act of heresy.
Using the Gospel of Matthew as a guide, Spong explores the Bible’s literary and liturgical roots—its grounding in Jewish culture, symbols, icons, and storytelling tradition—to explain how the events of Jesus’ life, including the virgin birth, the miracles, the details of the passion story, and the resurrection and ascension, would have been understood by both the Jewish authors of the various gospels and by the Jewish audiences for which they were originally written. Spong makes clear that it was only after the church became fully Gentile that readers of the Gospels took these stories to be factual, distorting their original meaning.
In Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy, Spong illuminates the gospels as never before and provides a better blueprint for the future than where the church’s leaden and heretical reading of the story of Jesus has led us—one that allows the faithful to live inside the Christian story in the modern world.
In his previous two books Spong (The Fourth Gospel), retired Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of Newark, instructed that to understand the gospels readers must follow directions to their Jewish origins. In this latest book of scriptural analysis he concentrates specifically on the Book of Matthew to explain his reasoning. Spong ascribes purposeful patterns to Matthew, wrapping the gospel "in an interpretative envelope" that reflects Jewish liturgy, scriptures, and calendar. Repeatedly, Spong proclaims that understanding the words literally only results in spiritual atrophy across the Christian community, weakening the church's appeal in the face of modern science and secular culture. Spong fastidiously leads readers beyond controversial assertions Jesus did not preach the Sermon on the Mount, nor did he write the Lord's Prayer to an overarching, syncretic sermon at the book's end. This final thesis strikes a universal tone: "There are no outcasts from the love of God." In possibly his final book, Spong perfects the clear, digestible Christian hermeneutic he has spent a career developing. Passionate and learned, he mentors gently but radically. These are essential lessons for devout Christians and casual readers alike.