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on 16 June 2013
This may be the last book written by Bishop Spong. On the other hand he has said that before! But if it is the last, it would be fitting for him to finish on St John's Gospel. He says that for years he avoided it, not least because it could not be squared with the history and content of the Synoptic Gospels. But for the past 5 years, he has overcome his prejudices and faced up to this most remarkable book.

40 years ago St John's Gospel was the special study of our final degree course. We read commentaries by John Marsh, CK Barrett, and of course we dipped into Bultmann. Only years later did I come across the writings of JB Lightfoot and his 3 chapters on John in Biblical Essays. And as with so many of my generation, we were enraptured by the appearance of The Priority Of John by John Robinson. Some of these have been more helpful and convincing than others. John is an enigma and it is little wonder that Bishop Spong avoided it for so long.

Spong helps his readers to face up to the problems. And he does so clearly and well. He is a good writer and that emerges in these pages. He has also done a lot of research. If you do not want to have to face up to awkward questions about this Gospel, then I would advise you not to read it. In any case those who already have all the answers do not need to look at the questions!

What about the answers he offers? Some are worth considering (this man is no fool) though some seem rather far-fetched and fanciful (Mary Magdalene as the wife of Jesus, for examples). But these aside he paints a picture which deserves attention and I have learned much from the book.

However, I can only give it 3 stars because of its flaws. The first is to say that he really has no time or respect for the past. He is totally dismissive of the ways in which Christians in the past have gone about their understanding of who Jesus is. The whole issue of salvation/redemption is just cast aside. Surely if we are to understand something of what John is saying, it must integrate with what the Synoptics are saying. This leads to my 2nd problem and that is the issue of why Jesus at all? Spong's reply seems to be that Jesus came to make us all liberals and to espouse every good politically correct cause. The other great flaw of the book is that it has no conclusion. As with some of his other books it just ends, not quite in the middle of a sentence but almost so. There is something missing, something important.

Bishop Spong has a devoted following across the world. Those people will enjoy the book but should also take care.
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on 1 January 2014
In Bishop Spong's books, he consistently argues for a very non-literal approach to interpreting the Bible, including the Gospels. From my perspective, he often combines powerful insights with a tendency to throw out too much (sometimes far too much for my liking) - for example he seems to have no room whatsoever for the miraculous (or even what might have seemed in the 1st Century to be miraculous) and argues that the Gospel miracle stories are but restatements of Old Testament stories designed to bring out the spiritual meaning of who Jesus was (and is). But if the historical Jesus did not DO things that his followers saw as miraculous, I doubt his words would have been heard as so life-changing. If one can see past that limitation, then this book contains very useful insights about the mystic meaning of John (which most scholars do agree is the least literal of the Gospels). Its argument is very convincing and I believe Bishop Spong has unlocked the most meaningful way of reading John's Gospel. In this interpretation of the gospel, Jesus represents the divine I AM in which we can find infinite life beyond all the ego's survival orientated limits, including the limit of bodily death. In his later work, Bishop Spong seems to have moved in more mystical direction and this book reflects this. Even if one is more conservative theologically than Bishop Spong, this book is well worth reading as an insight into the deeper mystical meaning of this gospel and as an interpretation of Christianity that can be meaningful to the world of the 21st Century and beyond. (Although Bishop Spong does not mention this directly, I found it interesting that his interpretation of the Gospel of John seems consistent with many insights from Advaita and other mystical traditions.)
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on 26 July 2013
I had not read anything by Bishop Spong before so was unprepared for the fireworks. There are so many interesting ideas in this book - for example that this Gospel was not written as history/biography but as an attempt to explain "the Jesus experience" by using fictional people and events. So there was no woman at the well and no wedding in Cana and no "I am" sayings. According to Bishop Spong, the writer of the Fourth Gospel does not believe in the Atonement theory or the Second Coming as usually understood. Spong writes so plausibly that I am almost convinced yet I can`t help noticing some fancy footwork in places.

I highly recommend this book to all with an interest in the Gospel of John. It is written for the common reader without theological training and will certainly make evangelicals sit up and take notice. It is good to have the liberal viewpoint stated so clearly. I learned a great deal from this book. However, if you are looking to prepare this Gospel for a Bible Study group, could I recommend the commentary by Jean Vanier, founder of L`Arche.
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on 4 January 2015
The author doesn't offer set answers as to who wrote the fourth gospel or as to why whoever wrote it wrote what he did or why he had Jesus say and do everything he had Jesus say and do. But, I think that a reading of this book will, for some readers, as it did for me. open a gate on the path of seeking to understand what has been or was, for good and ill, one of the most influential documents in the western world in the Christian era.
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on 28 December 2014
Great bit about the nature of faith, among other things. I am reading this in little bits, and enjoying it. I'm not a super scholar, but it it terrific to read something a bit meaty.
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on 27 July 2013
Scholars and even "ordinary" readers have always known that John is a very different Gospel from the other three. Verbose, discursive, short on context and probably late in its writing. John Shelby Spong brings his radical mind to bear on this elusive Gospel. He makes a strong case for it being the work of a Jewish mystic and places it in the setting of a splinter group within the early church. He takes the view (which I share) that virtually all of the words attributed to Jesus were not in fact spoken by him but reflect understanding within the early Church of who Jesus was. Many years ago Oscar Cullman in a monograph entitled "Early Christian Worship" argued that much of John started out as sermons/reflections on the sacramental life of the church - water into wine, being born again of water and the Spirit, living water, the bread from heaven which you must eat, I am the Vine - all of these have clear sacramental connections. Spong does not accept this theory and in my view could have given it more credit.
But all the usual Spong qualities are here - excellent lucid and clear writing, much to provoke thought and reflection and a very strong case. Worth reading - as all his stuff is.

David A Keddie (Glasgow, Scotland)
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on 21 February 2014
Spong sets the gospel of John against the background of Jewsih mystical thinking and writing. A very intewresting and informative book.
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on 3 July 2016
A very compelling read. My first Spong. Not sure I am convinced by all of his arguments but he has done lots of research and had me discussing this with theologians.
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on 19 November 2014
A first class study which reads so easily
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on 7 May 2014
Spong does not believe a word that Jesus says in John's Gospel The rest is informative but not a revolutionary.read
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