John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal bishop from Newark, N.J., talks about why Christianity must change its view of hell. Spong is one of the leading spokepersons for liberal Christianity.
He is a liberal Christian theologian, religion commentator and author. He calls for a fundamental rethinking of Christian belief away from theism and traditional doctrines.
Spong's writings rely on Biblical and non-Biblical sources and are influenced by modern critical analysis of these sources. He is representative of a stream of thought with roots in the medieval universalism of Peter Abelard and the existentialism of Paul Tillich, whom he has called his favorite theologian.
A prominent theme in Spong's writing is that the popular and literal interpretations of Christian scripture are not sustainable and do not speak honestly to the situation of modern Christian communities. He believes in a more nuanced approach to scripture, informed by scholarship and compassion, which can be consistent with both Christian tradition and contemporary understandings of the universe. He believes that theism has lost credibility as a valid conception of God's nature. He states that he is a Christian because he believes that Jesus Christ fully expressed the presence of a God of compassion and selfless love and that this is the meaning of the early Christian proclamation, "Jesus is Lord" (Spong, 1994 and Spong, 1991). Elaborating on this last idea he affirms that Jesus was adopted by God as his son, (Born of a Woman 1992), and he says that this would be the way God was fully incarnated in Jesus Christ. He rejects the historical truth claims of some Christian doctrines, such as the Virgin Birth (Spong, 1992) and the bodily resurrection of Jesus (Spong, 1994). In 2000, Spong was a critic of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of the Roman Catholic Church's declaration Dominus Iesus, because it reaffirmed the Catholic doctrine that the Roman Catholic Church is the one true Church and, perhaps even more importantly, that Jesus Christ is the one and only savior for humanity.
Spong has also been a strong proponent of the church reflecting the changes in society at large. Towards these ends, he calls for a new Reformation, in which many of Christianity's basic doctrines should be reformulated.
His views on the future of Christianity are, "...that we have to start where we are. As I look at the history of religion, I observe that new religious insights always and only emerge out of the old traditions as they begin to die. It is not by pitching the old insights out but by journeying deeply through them into new visions that we are able to change religion’s direction. The creeds were 3rd and 4th century love songs that people composed to sing to their understanding of God. We do not have to literalize their words to perceive their meaning or their intention to join in the singing of their creedal song. I think religion in general and Christianity in particular must always be evolving. Forcing the evolution is the dialogue between yesterday’s words and today’s knowledge. The sin of Christianity is that any of us ever claimed that we had somehow captured eternal truth in the forms we had created."
Spong has debated Christian philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig on the resurrection of Jesus.