Book review: Jesus for the Non-Religious

by John Shelby Spong


The phrase “spiritual but not religious” has become such a common description that an acronym has developed: SBNR. Are you an SBNR? 

I’m not. As much as I want to belong, it doesn’t really describe me. I’m more of a JBNR guy (Jesus but not religious). Jesus’ dream of a kingdom of heaven on earth, and his humanitarian solution for inaugurating that kingdom, is my inspiration. I love church buildings, I love music, and I especially love church music, but when it comes to the real Jesus, he’s hardly limited to four stone walls, no matter how pretty the stained glass.

When Spong’s book hit the shelves five years ago, I snapped it up. Yes, he repeats a lot of his Jesus scholarship from earlier books, but reading Spong has become for me a comfort as much as a learning experience. It’s like coming home, digging down to the real Jesus, and lifting the weight off my shoulders of having to “believe” stuff. I’m not real good at believing, and religion seems to promote acceptance of the incredulous as some sort of Godly virtue, leaving me out in the cold.

Spong’s Jesus wasn’t born under a star, didn’t walk on water, and never literally raised the dead. He points out that the first followers of Jesus were not called Christians, as if knowing Christ was their goal; rather, they called themselves “the followers of the way,” as if Jesus was himself but part of the journey. Yet Spong’s admiration for Jesus shines, and he embraces the “original images” of Jesus with their symbolism and honor. He just doesn’t get hung up on literalism. Two hundred pages into the book, after discarding our unnecessary beliefs, Spong is ready to reintroduce Jesus for the non-religious, and he does so systematically:

Jesus really lived, and Jesus loved God. Jesus’ dream of a God-controlled world turned him into a breaker of tribal boundaries, prejudices, stereotypes, even religious boundaries. Jesus embraced God’s desire to heal the world. The cross became a human portrait of the love of God.

God, says Spong at the close of his book, is encountered in the “profoundly human Jesus.”


  1. Sounds good. I’ve put it on my list. Though I do fear that a “profoundly human Jesus” will leave a misanthrope like me feeling left out in the cold.

  2. misanthrope’s are human, too :)

  3. Yes, they are. I’m just saying that to my ears, “profoundly human” sounds more like an insult than a selling point 😉

  4. This is certainly one I should read.

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