Spong’s 12 Points for Reform of Christianity

John Shelby Spong was the Bishop of Newark (New Jersey) from 1979-2000. He is a brilliant theologian who has written many intensely-researched books on Christianity. He calls for a new Reformation — a fundamental rethinking of Christian belief — in which many of Christianity’s basic doctrines should be reformulated.

Spong said: Martin Luther ignited the Reformation of the 16th century by nailing to the door of the church in Wittenberg in 1517 the 95 Theses that he wished to debate. My theses are far smaller in number than were those of Martin Luther, but they are far more threatening theologically. The issues to which I now call the Christians of the world to debate are these:

Twelve points for Reform

1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. So most theological God-talk is today meaningless. A new way to speak of God must be found.

2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.

3. The Biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post-Darwinian nonsense.

4. The virgin birth, understood as literal biology, makes Christ’s divinity, as traditionally understood, impossible.

5. The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.

6. The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed.

7. Resurrection is an action of God. Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.

8. The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post-Copernican space age.

9. There is no external, objective, revealed standard written in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern our ethical behavior for all time.

10. Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.

11. The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.

12. All human beings bear God’s image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one’s being, whether based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation, can properly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.

Elaine Pagels interview archive

Elaine Pagels is one of the greatest religious scholars of our time and is Professor of Religion at Princeton University. This is a collection of her interviews from 1995 to 2012.


A discussion with Elaine Pagels
July 4, 1995 – Charlie Rose

The Beatrice Interview
1996 – Beatrice

Heaven’s Gate And Early Christianity
Spring 1997 – Sean Casteel: UFO Journalist

Bill Moyers Interviews Elaine Pagels
May 16, 2003 – PBS: Now

The Politics of Christianity
July 17, 2003 – Edge

Video interview
October 10, 2003 – PBS: Religion and Ethics

Interview with Elaine Pagels
January 2004 – Rodes Fishburne

Revisioning Christianity:
New Perspectives from the Gospel of Thomas
January 26, 2004 – Stanford University Lecture

The Gospel Truth
January/February 2004 – Stanford Magazine

A discussion about Jesus and the impact of Christianity
April 9, 2004 – Charlie Rose

There’s Something about Mary
November 2005 – Minnesota Women’s Press

Video interview
2007 – Barnes & Noble

Early Christianity’s Martyrdom Debate
March 7, 2007 – Time

The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity
March 14, 2007 – NPR (audio)

Gospel according to Judas
April 2, 2007 – Salon

A conversation about the Gospel of Judas
April 6, 2007 – Charlie Rose

The Mysteries of the Gnostic Gospels
October 1, 2009 – Future Primitive

“Gnostic” Is an Open Question: An Interview with Elaine Pagels
May 2, 2011 – Reality Sandwich

Elaine Pagels on the Book of Revelation
February 24, 2012 – PBS: Religion and Ethics

Book of Revelation: ‘Visions, Prophecy and Politics’
March 7, 2012 – National Public Radio

Elaine Pagels on Her New Book “Revelations”
March 13, 2012 – Religion News Service

Elaine Pagels “Revelations”
March 26, 2012 – Eye on Books

Elaine Pagels’ New Book Offers ‘Revelations’ On The Book Of Revelation
March 27, 2012 – Huffington Post

Fight the Power: How to Read, and Re-Read, the Book of Revelation
A conversation with Elaine Pagels
March 27, 2012 – Religion Dispatches

Revisiting Revelation: PW Talks with Elaine Pagels
March 28, 2012 – Publishers Weekly

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Books by Elaine Pagels:


Gnostic Paul: Gnostic Exegesis of the Pauline Letters


The Gnostic Gospels


Adam, Eve, and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity


The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics


Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas


Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity


Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation

John Shelby Spong talks about Jesus for the Non-Religious

“I don’t know of a single biblical theologian of world rank that thinks of the virgin birth as literal history, and I think it’s time we say that to the world at large. Now, you might find one at some of these fundamentalist schools, but they wouldn’t be recognized as scholars in the academies of Christian learning around the world.” – John Shelby Spong

This is a great interview with Bishop John Shelby Spong about Christianity and his book, Jesus for the Non-Religious.

God in the 21st Century

On May 24, 2005, Bishop John Shelby Spong presented a lecture on “Who is the Popular God in Public Life in the 21st Century?” in Columbia Hall at the University of Oregon campus [mp4]. This was around the time of publication of his book, The Sins of Scripture: Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love.

Jung on the Christian Archetype

Quotes by Carl Jung (from various books) on Christianity, Jesus, ego and individuation:

“What happens in the life of Christ happens always and everywhere. In the Christian archetype all lives of this kind are prefigured.” – Psychology and Religion

“We are living in what the Greeks called the kairos–the right moment–for a ‘metamorphosis of the gods,’ of the fundamental principles and symbols. This peculiarity of our time . . . is the expression of the unconscious man within us who is changing.” – Civilization in Transition

“The drama of the archetypal life of Christ describes in symbolic images the events of the conscious life–as well as in the life that transcends consciousness–of a man who has been transformed by his higher destiny.” – Psychology and Religion

“In so far as the archetypal content of the Christian drama was able to give satisfying expression to the uneasy and clamorous unconscious of the many, the consensus omnium raised this drama to a universally binding truth–not of course by an act of judgment, but by the irrational fact of possession, which is far more effective. Thus Jesus became the tutelary image or amulet against the archetypal powers that threatened to possess everyone. The glad tidings announced: ‘It has happened, but it will not happen to you inasmuch as you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God!’ Yet it could and it can and it will happen to everyone in whom the Christian dominant has decayed. For this reason there have always been people who, not satisfied with the dominants of conscious life, set forth–under cover and by devious paths, to their destruction or salvation–to seek direct experience of the eternal roots, and, following the lure of the restless unconscious psyche, find themselves in the wilderness where, like Jesus, they come up against the son of darkness.” – Psychology and Alchemy

“The fundamental idea of the theologians is always this: the earthly fate of the Church as the body of Christ is modeled on the earthly fate of Christ himself. That is to say, the Church, in the course of her history, moves towards a death . . . until the last day when, after fulfilling her earthly task, she becomes ‘unnecessary’ and ‘dies,’ as indicated in Psalm 71:7: ‘until the moon shall fail.’ These ideas were expressed in the symbolism of Luna as the Church. Just as the kenosis of Christ was fulfilled in death . . . even so it is with the parallel kenosis of Ecclesia-Luna (the Church).” – Mysterium Coniunctionis

“[The Holy Ghost descending at Pentecost brings about for the individual] not an ‘imitation of Christ’ but its exact opposite: an assimilation of the Christ-image to his own self. . . . It is no longer an effort, an intentional straining after imitation, but rather an involuntary experience of the reality represented by the sacred legend.” – Mysterium Coniunctionis

“Analysis should release an experience that grips us or falls upon us as from above, an experience that has substance and body such as those things which occurred to the ancients. If I were going to symbolize it I would choose the Annunciation.” – Seminar 1925

“The individual ego is the stable in which the Christ-child is born.” – Collected Works Vol. 11

“When a summit of life is reached, when the bud unfolds and from the lesser the greater emerges, then, as Nietzsche says, ‘One becomes Two,’ and the greater figure, which one always was but which remained invisible, appears to the lesser personality with the force of a revelation . . . –a moment of deadliest peril!” – The Archetypes of the Collective Unconscious

“What is it, in the end, that induces a man to go his own way and to rise out of unconscious identity with the mass. . . ? Is it what is commonly called vocation . . . [which] acts like a law of God from which there is no escape. . . . Anyone with a vocation hears the voice of the inner man: he is called.” – The Development of the Personality

“The story of the Temptation clearly reveals the nature of the psychic power with which Jesus came into collision: it was the power-intoxicated devil of the prevailing Caesarean psychology that led him into dire temptation in the wilderness. This devil was the objective psyche that held all the peoples of the Roman Empire under its sway, and that is why it promised Jesus all the kingdoms of the earth, as if it were trying to make a Caesar of him. Obeying the inner call of his vocation, Jesus voluntarily exposed himself to the assaults of the imperialistic madness that filled everyone, conqueror and conquered alike. In this way he recognized the nature of the objective psyche which had plunged the whole world into misery and had begotten a yearning for salvation that found expression even in the pagan poets. Far from suppressing or allowing himself to be suppressed by this psychic onslaught, he let it act on him consciously, and assimilated it. Thus was world-conquering Caesarism transformed into spiritual kingship, and the Roman Empire into the universal kingdom of God that was not of this world.” – The Development of the Personality

“We all must do what Christ did. We must make our experiment. We must make mistakes. We must live out our own version of life. And there will be error. If you avoid error you do not live.” – Jung Speaking

“Jesus voluntarily exposed himself to the assaults [from within] of the imperialistic madness that filled everyone, conqueror and conquered alike.” – The Development of the Personality

“If the projected conflict is to be healed, it must return into the psyche of the individual, where it had its unconscious beginnings. He must celebrate a Last Supper with himself, and eat his own flesh and drink his own blood; which means that he must recognize and accept the other in himself. . . . Is this perhaps the meaning of Christ’s teaching, that each must bear his own cross? For if you have to endure yourself, how will you be able to rend others also?” – Mysterium Coniunctionis

“Although the Mass itself is a unique phenomenon in the history of comparative religion, its symbolic content would be profoundly alien to man were it not rooted in the human psyche. But if it is so rooted, then we may expect to find similar patterns of symbolism both in the earlier history of mankind and in the world of pagan thought contemporary with it. . . . The liturgy of the Mass contains allusions to the ‘prefigurations’ in the Old Testament, and thus indirectly to ancient sacrificial symbolism in general. It is clear, then, that in Christ’s sacrifice and the Communion one of the deepest chords in the human psyche is struck: human sacrifice and ritual anthropophagy [eating of human flesh]. . . . I must content myself with mentioning the ritual slaying of the king to promote the fertility of the land and the prosperity of his people, the renewal and revivification of the gods through human sacrifice, and the totem meal, the purpose of which was to reunite the participants with the life of their ancestors. These hints will suffice to show how the symbols of the Mass penetrate into the deepest layers of the psyche and its history.” – Psychology and Religion

“The mystery of the Eucharist transforms the soul of the empirical man, who is only a part of himself, into his totality, symbolically expressed by Christ. In this sense, therefore, we can speak of the Mass as the rite of the individuation process.– Psychology and Religion

“The problem of crucifixion is the beginning of individuation; there is the secret meaning of the Christian symbolism, a path of blood and suffering.” – quoted in Aspects of Jung’s Personality and Work by Gerhard Adler

“We discern a crimson line on this earth, a red, blood-spattered line which ascends, struggling, from matter to plants, from plants to animals, from animals to man.” – quoted in The Saviors of God by Nikos Kazantzakis

“The highest and most decisive experience of all . . . is to be alone with . . . [one’s] own self, or whatever else one chooses to call the objectivity of the psyche. The patient must be alone if he is to find out what it is that supports him when he can no longer support himself. Only this experience can give him an indestructible foundation.” – Psychology and Alchemy

“He said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’ But ‘kingdom’ it was, all the same.” – Jung Speaking

“The bigger the crowd the more negligible the individual becomes. But the carrier of consciousness is the individual. . . . Did Christ, perchance, call his disciples to him at a mass meeting? Did the feeding of the five thousand bring him any followers who did not afterwards cry with the rest ‘Crucify him!’ . . . ?” – The Undiscovered Self

“The divine process of change manifests itself to our human understanding . . . as punishment, torment, death, and transfiguration.” – Alchemical Studies

“The experience of the self is always a defeat for the ego.” – Mysterium Coniunctionis

“The reality of evil and its incompatibility with good cleave the opposites asunder and lead inexorably to the crucifixion and suspension of everything that lives. Since ‘the soul is by nature Christian’ this result is bound to come as infallibly as it did in the life of Jesus: we all have to be ‘crucified with Christ,’ i.e., suspended in a moral suffering equivalent to veritable crucifixion.” – Psychology and Alchemy

“Although the attributes of Christ (consubstantiality with the Father, co-eternity, filiation, parthenogenesis, crucifixion, Lamb sacrificed between opposites, One divided into Many, etc.) undoubtedly mark him out as an embodiment of the self, looked at from the psychological angle he corresponds to only one half of the archetype. The other half appears as the Anti-Christ. The latter is just as much a manifestation of the self, except that he consists of its dark aspect. Both are Christian symbols, and they have the same meaning as the image of the Savior crucified between two thieves. This great symbol tells us that the progressive development and differentiation of consciousness leads to an ever more menacing awareness of the conflict and involves nothing less than a crucifixion of the ego, its agonizing suspension between irreconcilable opposites.

“Through the Christ crucified between the two thieves, man gradually attained knowledge of his shadow and its duality. This duality had already been anticipated by the double meaning of the serpent. Just as the serpent stands for the power that heals as well as corrupts, so one of the thieves is destined upwards, the other downwards, and so likewise the shadow is on one side regrettable and reprehensible weakness, on the other side healthy instinctively and the prerequisite for higher consciousness.” – Aion

“The God-image in man was not destroyed by the Fall but was only damaged and corrupted (‘deformed’), and can be restored through God’s grace. The scope of the integration is suggested by the descent of Christ’s soul to hell, its work of redemption embracing even the dead. The psychological equivalent of this is the integration of the collective unconscious which forms an essential part of the individuation process.” – Aion

“I only know–and here I am expressing what countless other people know–that the present is a time of God’s death and disappearance. The myth says he was not to be found where his body was laid. ‘Body’ means the outward, visible form, the erstwhile but ephemeral setting for the highest value. The myth further says that the value rose again in a miraculous manner, transformed. It looks like a miracle, for, when a value disappears, it always seems to be lost irretrievably. So it is quite unexpected that it should come back. The three days’ descent into hell during death describes the sinking of the vanished value into the unconscious, where, by conquering the power of darkness, it establishes a new order, and then rises up to heaven again, that is, attains supreme clarity of consciousness. The fact that only a few people see the Risen One means that no small difficulties stand in the way of finding and recognizing the transformed value.” – Psychology and Religion

“The utter failure came at the Crucifixion in the tragic words, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ If you want to understand the full tragedy of those words you must realize what they meant: Christ saw that his whole life, devoted to the truth according to his best conviction, had been a terrible illusion. He had lived it to the full absolutely sincerely, he had made his honest experiment, but it was nevertheless a compensation. On the cross his mission deserted him. But because he had lived so fully and devotedly he won through to the Resurrection body.– Jung Speaking

“On the level of the Son there is no answer to the question of good and evil; there is only an incurable separation of the opposites. . . . It seems to me to be the Holy Spirit’s task and charge to reconcile and reunite the opposites in the human individual through a special development of the human soul.” – The Symbolic Life

“The continuing, direct operation of the Holy Ghost on those who are called to be God’s children implies, in fact, a broadening process of incarnation. Christ, the son begotten by God, is the first-born who is succeeded by an ever-increasing number of younger brothers and sisters. There are, however, neither begotten by the Holy Ghost nor born of a virgin. . . . Their lowly origin (possibly from the mammals) does not prevent them from entering into a close kinship with God as their father and Christ as their brother.” – Answer to Job

[There is a] . . . continued and progressive divine incarnation. Thus man is received and integrated into the divine drama. He seems destined to play a decisive part in it; that is why he must receive the Holy Spirit. I look upon the receiving of the Holy Spirit as a highly revolutionary fact which cannot take place until the ambivalent nature of the Father is recognized. If God is the summum bonum, the incarnation makes no sense, for a good god could never produce such hate and anger that his only son had to be sacrificed to appease it. A Midrash says that the Shofar is still sounded on the Day of Atonement to remind YHWH (God) of his act of injustice towards Abraham (by compelling him to slay Isaac) and to prevent him from repeating it. A conscientious clarification of the idea of God would have consequences as upsetting as they are necessary. They would be indispensable for an interior development of the trinitarian drama and of the role of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is destined to be incarnate in man or to choose him as a transitory dwelling-place. ‘Non habet nomen proprium,’ says St. Thomas; because he will receive the name of man. That is why he must not be identified with Christ. We cannot receive the Holy Spirit unless we have accepted our own individual life as Christ accepted his. Thus we become the ‘sons of god’ fated to experience the conflict of the divine opposites, represented by the crucifixion.” – The Symbolic Life