Borg and Wright – Final Thoughts

I finished The Meaning of Jesus. I’m glad I read it. Even if, as I mentioned before, it was to point out that a lot of these arguments aren’t going to have an impact on my faith. If I learn that the virgin birth was a metaphor – it’s not going to shake me. If the bones of Jesus really were left in the tomb – maybe his resurrection was different than we think of it.

To be clear, I still believe in the virgin birth and the bodily / physical resurrection. But reading Marcus Borg’s arguments, I can see that a Christian could still be a Christian if our understandings of these changed.

The arguments aside, there were some really good things in the book – and they really ended up bering areas where Marcus Borg agreed with N.T. Wright.

Part of this is the process of discussion, of argument. I think I remember Rob Bell referring to it as “wrestling with the text”. Part of the point is to talk about the Word, discuss it, think about, agree and disagree about it. Towards the beginning of the book Wright talks about how in the real world, things:

…meet, merge, fuse, question each other, uncouple again, swirl around each other, undergird and undermine each other, examine each others’ foundations and set about demolishing or reconstructing them, appearing at one moment inseparable and at the next in an embarrassingly public family squabble.

I think this is part of the whole process we miss when we try to force everyone to agree with us.

But both authors also have some really good things to say about how we should live our lives.

I love how Wright talks about the Kingdom of God,

Jesus challenged his contemporaries to abandon the attitudes and practices toward one another which went with the xenophobic nationalism, especially the oppression of the poor by the rich (a constant strand in much of his teaching)…He was welcoming of sinners into fellowship with himself precisely as part of his kingdom announcement; he was declaring that his welcome constituted them as members of the kingdom…Jesus was offering forgiveness to all and sundry, out there on the street, without requiring that they go through the normal channels. That was his real offense.

Jesus welcomed everyone – you didn’t need to be perfect and white and clean to enter into His (God’s) Kingdom.

While I had major issues with Borg’s treatment of the birth stories, he does use it as a wonderful metaphor that I really liked. (His issues range from bad to worse in this area. He claims that Luke shows the genealogy of Jesus going through the prophet Nathan; which is only true if you believe that David’s son Nathan and the prophet Nathan were the same man – but I can’t find anything in the text to support that. And then, completely forgetting about Okham’s Razor, he writes, “How does one account for the common emphasis upon Bethlehem? One possibility, of course is that Jesus was really born in Bethlehem…What then is left historically from these stories? …He was probably born in Nazareth, not Bethlehem.” Wait…what?)

But back to the metaphor – Borg ends his section on the birth stories of Jesus with this, referring to the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart:

Eckhart spoke of the virgin birth as something that happens within us. That is, the story of the virgin birth is the story of Christ being born within us through the union of the Spirit of God with our flesh. Ultimately, the story of Jesus’ birth is not just about the past but about the internal birth in the present.

That’s just beautiful.

And Borg finishes up the book bringing the Kingdom of God full circle:

A vision of the Christian life that takes Jesus seriously awakens not only compassion but also a passion for justice. Like those who stood in the Jewish prophetic tradition before him, Jesus knew that the desperation of peasant life flowed from systematic injustice. Destitution and degradation, in his world and ours, are neither natural nor inevitable but are the product of domination systems created and maintained by the rich and powerful to serve their own interests. Such structures are neither ordained by God nor mandated by scarcity.

That’s worth talking about.

(Well – not just talking about…doing something about…you know what I mean.)

Borg vs. Wright (The Meaning of Jesus)

I’m about halfway through this book, and I admit, I’m a bit disappointed.

But maybe just in an intellectual sense. I think it’s having a positive effect on my faith.

From the copy of the book I have, this is what the title states on the front:

The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions: The Leading Liberal and Conservative Jesus Scholars Present the Heart of the Historical Jesus Debate

Yeah; it’s a bit long. N.T. Wright presents a more conservative viewpoint of the historical Jesus; Marcus J. Borg’s view is a bit more liberal.

At first, I got into the debate. But then it started to get pointless. Even when they disagree, they seem to agree. So often it seems like semantics. And there seem to be so many logical problems, it starts to get annoying.

Borg has his share. He’s constantly referring to a “majority of mainline scholars” who agree with what he says, but never gives any evidence. He suggests that Mark was written first, containing the most accurate stories of Jesus, but then reverses himself and uses some passages in Mark to prove that other passages in Mark aren’t true. And he suggests that Jesus was a healer, states that this was some sort of paranormal ability, but that His healings weren’t miracles. Huh?

But Wright has his problems, too. One that stands out is the idea that the eyewitness testimonies of Jesus after his resurrection contradicting each offer some sort of proof that the eyewitnesses were real. (The fact that they don’t match proves that they are true?)

It seems like some of the arguments are so bad that even when I agree with the conclusions, I want to throw out the assertions.

Plus they continually refer to their own work – it’s as if they can’t explain their points without going back to their entire body of work. But doesn’t that make them poor scholars if they can’t?

Everything Borg argues seems to be dependent on the fact that Jesus was basically two different people before and after he died (a pre- and post-Easter Jesus). Before he died, he didn’t know he was the Messiah; but became the Messiah at His death.

According to Wright, Jesus knew he was God and the Messiah while he lived.

So far, pretty much all of their arguments rest on these assertions. (Maybe that’s an oversimplification, but for the purposes of a blog post, I think it’s fair.)

And I’ve gotten to the point in this debate where I’ve said, “Who cares?”

And maybe this is good. Before reading this book, if someone suggested that there could still be a body in the tomb of Jesus and still keep their faith, I wouldn’t have thought it made sense. (Borg suggests this stating that he thinks that the resurrection was different from a bodily resurrection.) But now – I’m almost done with a lot of this discussion. Whether Jesus knew he was the Messiah when he was on earth or the exact nature of the resurrection of Jesus – I don’t really care because it doesn’t impact my faith.

But maybe the discussion is good – because I think it’s helping me see clearer the meaning of Jesus…even if (or especially if) all this arguing over semantics is pointless.

Turning Away from God

I suppose I could have titled this Mea Culpa.

Why are people leaving the church? Why do we not have a presence in this world? Why aren’t we changing things in this world?

Why am I writing this? I don’t know. The part of me that likes to justify what I do suggests it’s because we have an epidemic. The one thing that shakes my faith in an all-knowing all-powerful loving God is when I look around and see who He’s chosen to represent Himself. And I know that’s arrogant and pretentious. But I look around and see how we hurt people and how we forget the real message of Jesus. We need to make a change.

The more honest part of me says I’m writing this because I’m hurt, because I’m frustrated, and I feel like I need to explain the things I’ve done. Maybe I could title this The Top 10 Reasons I Left the Church.

If we are going to show people that there’s a better way, then we need to show them that there’s a better way. The Good News is NOT that God hates you for what you’ve done and will condemn you to eternal fire if you don’t change today (some people really think that’s Good News). The Good News is that God loves you, he cares for you, and there’s a community of people that want to support you and love you and share God’s love with you. But this is not what we’re showing people.

I almost didn’t write this because of this blog post. We need to start repairing and not just tearing down. I recognize my own part of this conspiracy, but I really have to get this out.

I’ve recently had to make an agonizing decision. It’s been agonizing for myself, and for my family. I know that people are saying that I’m taking the easy way out, that I’m taking the broad road, but this has been hard. So this is my apology. Yes, in one sense, I scream “mea culpa”, but but that’s not what I mean by apology. Apologetics is about the why and so this is my why. Why I’ve left the church of Christ.

And to my surprise it’s not the legalism. Well in a sense it is – but not the doctrine of worship and the exclusiveness and that you have to get it right – in other words the fundamentalism. It wasn’t that drove me away. It’s really surprising that it wasn’t things like crazy notions like instrumental music in worship service is a sin, or women cannot be allowed to pass communion because it means they’re trying to take over from the man.

It was the fact that I couldn’t be part of such a small minded “faith” community that listed among it’s most horrible most unforgivable sins as (I think that this is even in the right order starting with the worst):

1. Saying that you are gay (particularly if you suggest that you cannot be “cured”). I’m sure I’ll be talking about this more here in the future. But regardless of the way we read the scriptures, we have to be treating everyone with love – without exception.

2. Swearing. Yes, I think this is #2. (I know people that will tell dirty jokes all day long, but if you drop F-bombs around them they look at you like their ears started bleeding.)

3. Getting a divorce without having a good reason. (Footnote: the only good reason is that your spouse had sex with another person (and you didn’t). If you’re divorced I know people that will actually come up to you and ask you if you had an affair or your spouse had an affair to ensure that the divorce was “Biblical”.)

4. Drinking a beer (I remember feeling stupid in health class in ninth grade when the teacher asked about a group of people that might be teetotalers and I said “clergy” and everybody laughed at me).

5. Missing a church service without a good reason; like having to work, being sick, or being out of town at an Alabama football game. Don’t get me wrong, I completely believe in the importance of having a faith community and attending it regularly. I love what David said about rejoicing when asked to go to the House of the Lord. But this is some kind of weird fanatical thing. You miss a midweek Bible study (Wednesday is the scriptural night) just because you wanted to spend it with your family, and people will act like you committed one of these seven deadly Sins. Or they’ll just assume that’s probably what you were doing that night anyway.

6. I was just going to do five but so this one will be a bonus. And that’s going to rated R movies. But there are a lot of different thoughts about this. Some will say that all rated R movies are bad. But lots of people like movies, so we try to finesse this sometimes. These get a bit confusing to me. I know people that will go to a film with a million swear words, but as soon as they walk out of it, if you say a four letter word they’re completely offended. I guess if it’s pretend – like a movie – it’s okay. And then there’s the argument that it’s okay to see violent rated R movies because we’re not likely to be tempted with violence, but it’s bad to see movies with sex (or crude jokes) because we can be tempted to Lust. (Which always makes me want to ask a question, if my temptation is violence, but not lust, then it must be okay for me to watch porn?)

But this is only the tip of the iceberg. It’s not only that these are the most despicable things that a Christian can commit, as well as the most likely things that will keep them out of heaven. It’s the following things that seem to be okay, and even often sanctioned by church leadership.

1. Completely ignoring the greatest commands of Jesus. Maybe because we like to quantify and qualify things, and this is hard to define. I can define whether or not you’re drinking beer – if you have a beer in your hand. But it’s hard to define treating somebody unkindly or even ugly because you don’t like something about them. There are lots of ways to finesse around this and justify it. Often we say we do these things out of love.

2. Gossip. We’re allowed to talk about people all day long, as long as we say things like “I’m just trying to help them.” We can even have a whole meetings and talk about them without their knowledge, if we’re doing it for the “good of everyone involved.”

3. Hate. I’ve seen people’s lives all but ruined by the horrible way they’re treated by church people. I’ve seen people (figuratively) run screaming from church, never to be a part of an organization like that again, because of the ugly things that people say and do. And I’ve rarely seen leadership do anything about things like this. And we love to justify our hate. How many gay teens are homeless or have committed suicide because of the way we treat them? Political pseudo-Christian groups like Focus on the Family create PSA’s that are actually for anti-gay bullying (or at least pretend it doesn’t exist). This is quite literally the opposite of the love that Jesus showed the least of these.

4. Ignoring social justice. I know this is something that Glenn Beck says churches aren’t supposed to do. But how can we read Matthew 25 with Jesus saying that the way he’s going to separate followers of Jesus from those that don’t is whether not we helped and cared for other people? We get all wrapped up in our American capitalist values and say that people are poor because they choose to be, and ignore tragedies like the epidemic of generational poverty. We spend more time finding excuses not to help people than we do trying to find ways to try to help them.

I know that there is both good and bad in every church. But some of these things seem to symptoms of fundamentalism.

Maybe it sounds like I’m complaining. And maybe I am. And maybe it sounds like I’m airing dirty laundry. Or talking about the hidden secrets in churches. But I’ve got news for you. The problem is that people see this.This is what is driving people away from the love of God in droves. And we have to make a change.

Great, now I’ve got Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” in my head.

But I have to agree. I’ve got to be making changes. I need to be living out the life that Jesus showed us. As hard and as messy as that is. I only hope He gives me the strength.