Academic Programs 

The Future of Christianity: The Need for Radical Reformation (TH-695) 
Summer 2004

Under the guidance of Bishop John Shelby Spong, students will be challenged to “think the unthinkable.” We live in a world vastly different from the one that gave birth to our creeds: Christianity will not survive if we simply repeat the slogans of the past.  Christianity needs to come to terms with the challenge of science, the discoveries of feminism, and the critical reading of the Bible.  This is a course for all those who are outside, on the edge, tempted to leave or struggling to change from within the Church of the 21st Century.  At the end of the course students will be invited to think imaginatively about faith and their role in the future of Christianity.

Meeting Day, Time and Dates:
Monday, June 7 – Friday, June 11, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

John Shelby Spong
Adjunct Professor of Theology and Ecclesiology and retired Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New Jersey

Contact Information:
(860) 509-9500


Course Syllabus

Teaching Assistant: Dr. Chris Scharen 


  • To encourage students to think about the challenges facing the church in the modern period
  • To reflect on how in particular students cope with beliefs and ethics in the modern period
  • To encourage those on the edge or outside of the church to feel full members

Student Outcomes

At the end of the courses, students will

  • Understand why Christians must rethink their understanding of faith in each new age
  • Have enjoyed in thoughtful reflection upon the challenges posed to belief and ethics
  • And appreciate the importance of reaching those in exile from the Church


Course Breakdown

Day 1: Introduction

Session 1: Then and Now: the Big Picture

Group discussion.

Session 2: Beyond theism.

Group discussion.

Day 2: Christology and Doctrine

Session 1:  Finding Jesus important

Group discussion.

Session 2:  What do we do with the creeds?

Group discussion.

Day 3: Reading the Bible

Session 1. Reclaiming the Bible from the Fundamentalists

Group discussion.

Session 2.  Understanding the Bible as a Jewish Book

Group discussion.

Day 4. A modern Ethic.

Session 1. Hot button issues: Gays and Lesbians

Group discussion.

Session 2. Living in sin.

Group discussion.

Day 5.  Still belonging to the Church

Session 1.  The Church and other religions.

Group discussion.

Session 2.  Why one should still belong despite the patriarchy, homophobia and intolerance of the Church?

Group discussion


One six page (double spaced) book review of Why Christianity Must Change or Die by John Shelby Spong.

A fifteen page research paper on a title linked to one of the themes in the course and agreed with the Teaching Assistant.



Required book for purchase:

John Shelby Spong, Why Christianity Must Change or Die

Other recommended books:

John Shelby Spong, Living in Sin?
John Shelby Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism
John Shelby Spong, Born of a Woman
John Shelby Spong, Resurrection: Myth or Reality
John Shelby Spong, A New Christianity for a New World
Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity Rediscovering the Life of Faith
Marcus Borg, The God we never knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a more contemporary faith.
Lloyd Geering, The world to come
Lloyd Geering, A Christianity without God.
John D. Crossan, Jesus A Revolutionary Biography.

Robert Walter Funk,
A Credible Jesus. Fragments of a vision

Hartford Seminary  77 Sherman Street  Hartford, CT  06105   860-509-9500