Now I'm getting the chance to read books I didn't have time for before. Think of me whenever you see the slogan "So many books, so little time!" Now I've got the time.  Cheers, Fred.

This Hebrew Lord: A Bishop’s Search for the Authentic Jesus

Book Number: 
Date Fred Read: 
June 2018
Fred's Rating: 
John Shelby Spong
Total Pages: 
Harper One

This is Spong’s 1993 update of his second book of 1973. John Shelby Spong was the Episcopal bishop of Newark for 24 years before his retirement in 2000. He is one of the leading spokepersons for liberal Christianity. (For his books I’ve read, click on his name.)

I bought the paperback but I give here Amazon’s website for the Kindle since it has fewer omissions:

[None of the ISBN-10, ISBN-13, or ASIN numbers on Amazon’s websites for the three editions (Kindle, hardcover, or paperback) are recognized by Amazon, thus the ‘no image Circle' appears. I think this new change by Amazon is not good. However, you can see the images of this book's covers at the website above.]

The home page has a brief summary (click on ‘Read more.') Among the home page’s Top Customer reviews, I recommend reading the review by Edward J. Barton (click on ‘Read more’). Use Amazon’s ‘Look inside’ option and scroll down to the Contents page. The Kindle edition ends part way into Ch. 1 – A Necessary Personal Word. I recommend reading the 2-pp Original Preface and his 1-p poem Christpower of 1973 before reading his 4-pp Preface to the 1993 New Edition. The first 3-pp of Ch.1 are also worth reading. For those who like brevity, the Back Cover of the paperback edition provides two edited paragraphs.

I have suggested above so much pro-book reading that in closing this review, I provide next all of his last chapter, Ch. 16: My Christ – A Concluding Word. I tried to exclude parts of it, but I simply couldn’t do so once I got started. As I see it now, Spong has already condensed his concluding words.

“Nearly two thousand years ago a man was born in an obscure village in a conquered, downtrodden country of the Roman Empire. He grew to maturity without ever leaving the land of his birth, a nation about the size of Massachusetts. He was not learned by our standards; he spoke none of the great languages of the day, only Aramaic. He earned his living as a carpenter. His close associates were social outcasts, prostitutes, tax collectors, fishermen. He established a reputation as a teacher. Stories of strange power grew up around him. Finally he involved himself in tense conflict with the religious hierarchy. They had him arrested, tried, sentenced, tortured, and executed. They thought they had finished with him.

“But from that life there emanated power, love, and life such as the world has never known. In this life many people found community, hope, the overwhelming need to give and to share, the freedom and the courage to be. The influence stemming from this life has repeatedly leaped out of the formal tradition to fuel reform movements to which the institutional church was insensitive. His presence can be found in the fight to end slavery, the march for civil rights, the quest for peace, and the struggle for justice for women and the gay/lesbian population. Whenever the world begins to think his power is disappearing, his influence breaks forth again in strange new forms.

“Around this life legends grew, superstition accrued. Men and women, groping for the power to express what they found in him, discovered the inadequacy of language, and so they lapsed into myth and poetry. All of these things together produced the Christian story that this volume has investigated.

“There is nothing sacred about the words I have used. My concepts are no more eternal than those of anyone in a previous generation. The next generation will have to repeat the process for its own time.

“It has been my purpose to lay before you, my reader, a Christ, Jesus of Nazareth, and let your feel his power, gaze at his being, hear his words, and experience his gift of life. In the process it has been my hope that you might first see yourself as you are and then see yourself as you are in him, thus forcing your decision as to who it is you want to be. I hope that you have been compelled to a serious decision – to respond to a real Christ or to give up the stereotyped religious façade. To respond to this Christ is costly, for it means being open to the new person you are in him. For, to me, Christ and life are inseparable categories and together they make worship an inescapable, glorious pleasure.

”The worship of this Christ does not turn me into a pious or religious person, and I trust it will not so turn you. I cannot worship the Christ who fulfilled every human aspiration without also embracing the world gladly, as he did; or without walking into the future beyond every conventional frontier, as he walked. I cannot stand in awe of the freedom and wholeness in this Christ and not seek to break every tie that binds me or any other human being into anything less than full humanity. My worship demands that I be willing to contend against prejudice, bigotry, fear, or whatever else warps and denies another’s personhood. Worship of this Christ is thus for me a call to life, to love, to compassion, to sensitivity, and to the quest for justice. It is a call to the risks of involvement and confrontation with every other human being. To worship this Christ is to celebrate the present life and to hope for fulfillment that must lie beyond this life.

“Here I stand. This is what Christ means to me. This Christ I discover in Jesus of Nazareth. Here I find my vocation, my lifestyle, my passions, and the deepest meaning of my ordination. For in both my priesthood and my Episcopacy I discover simply the focused aspects of the Christian ministry to which all believers are called and in which all believers share.

“There will be those who will find this description of Jesus the Christ ever so inadequate; some, bound by the rigidities of the past, may even call it heresy. That does not disturb me, for this understanding enables me to live and to love, to worship and to pray as an honest man in the twentieth century. What I affirm about life I know because I have dared this Christ enough to run the risk of living and loving, of being open and honest. The power that frees me to be is the power that I see in Jesus, so he is for me Lord, Savior, Christ – a Christ who said to his disciples: ‘I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly;’ a Christ who said: ‘By this shall people know that you are my disciples; not that you pass the test of traditional orthodoxy, but that you love; and in loving bear witness that you can give of the life that you have received.’

“I share this Christ with you in the hope that Christ might draw you into worship and into life as he has drawn me.

“I close by wishing my readers ‘Shalom.’ This is about the only Hebrew word still used in our language. It is a profound word that we have debased by equating it simplistically with the Latin phrase ‘pax vobiscum,’ Peace go with you.’ It does mean peace, but in a very deep sense. Literally it should be translated ‘May you be whole;’ that is, ‘May you be one with yourself, with your neighbor, and with your God,’ for this is the essence of peace to the Hebrews.

“Shalom to you through the one I call the Christ.”

The final chapter in this very insightful, thought-provoking, and excellent book – the ‘second book’ by John Shelby Spong – was very well received. It made many people aware of a new voice for liberal or progressive Christians. As he taught it to his congregation, very many people from other congregations, as well as those of ‘lapsed’ attendance, came to hear him, for many people had recognized the value of attending his classes. As for me, I rate it at five stars, but add my emphatic comment: “Think six stars!”