Review of Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World

Meet the Author

John Shelby Spong was bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark for 24 years before his retirement in 2000. Since that time he has taught at Harvard University, the University of the Pacific, and Drew University.  Additionally, he delivers more than 200 public lectures each year as a visiting lecturer at churches and universities.  Bishop Spong’s books have sold over one million copies, including Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World (2011), Eternal Life: A New Vision: Beyond Religion, Beyond Theism, Beyond Heaven and Hell (2009), and Jesus for the Non-Religious (2007).  He has appeared on numerous television shows, including 60 MinutesGood Morning America, and Larry King Live.

Book Basics

According to Gallup’s latest research, only 3 out of every 10 Americans interpret the Bible literally (more information here).  Spong’s Re-Claiming the Bible is an introductory survey text for the 70% who acknowledge the Bible is something far richer, more complex, and more human.  If you are a mainline Christian who will never attend seminary and have never participated in an extended parish based course designed to explore the 66 books of the Bible in-depth, then you simply must read this book (and, ideally, gather together with others to discuss it as well).

Spong introduces modern biblical scholarship to a general audience as he explores the creation and content of the books that are now included in the Christian canon.  His explanations are written in plain English, avoiding unnecessarily complex theological vocabulary unfamiliar to the uninitiated.  Further, he is careful to construct his own view (e.g. dating specific books) only after sharing the historic perspective and that of modern scholarship.  In short, Re-Claiming the Bible provides a helpful, practical, and engaging look at what the Bible really is and includes.

So What?

The Bible is central to those who follow the way of Jesus.

At one interpretive extreme are the literalists who hold Scripture in such high regard as the actual Word of God as to move, at least functionally, from Trinitarianism to Quadritarianism (by adding the Bible).  This small and shrinking group (down by 25% over the last 30 years) receives considerable attention, disproportional to its size, from the media.

The other end of the interpretive spectrum includes progressive types within and beyond the Christian family who welcome the best of modern scholarship and view the Bible as a compilation of human words involving hundreds of Biblical authors and editors.  This growing group welcomes diversity and therefore necessarily lacks the type of leadership that regularly draws media attention.

Questions to Ponder:

  • What is my view of the Bible?
  • How did my view develop?  What sources contributed most heavily and in which seasons of my life?
  • Is my view complete and permanently fixed or am I open to it being enriched and possibly changed by further study?


John Shelby Spong.  Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World (HarperOne, 2011). ISBN: 978062011282.

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