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.)

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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.