Thursday, February 01, 2007

Borg on Jesus

Marcus Borg has a new book out on Jesus. One of his earliest books, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, was quite popular and is still the most accessible introduction into modern biblical scholarship, the work of the Jesus Seminar, and progressive thinking about Jesus. His newest book, entitled simply Jesus, is a summation of an additional 20 years of research and thinking.

Who was Jesus? In his newest book, Jesus, Marcus Borg summarizes the popular conceptions about Jesus and the vision of the Christian life they inspire. For some people Jesus is the dying savior, the Jesus of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. "Jesus died for your sins" is perhaps the most common one-sentence description of this Jesus. In this conception of Jesus the Christian life is centered on sin, guilt, and forgiveness.

Another popular conception of Jesus is of God in human form. "Do you believe Jesus was God?" is the question inspired by this vision. Borg comments that this conception - that Jesus appeared to be human but really had god-like powers that allowed him to walk on water, raise the dead, etc. is actually a form of an ancient Christian heresy called Docetism, from the Greek word that means "to seem" or "to appear." Borg says that most Christians would deny being docetic and heretical but really believe in their heart of hearts that Jesus wasn't human like you and me. This conception of Jesus leads to vision of the Christian life that stresses believing: that Jesus was God's son, the he was born of a virgin, that he had miraculous powers, etc.

And then there is the popular conception of Jesus as depicted in books like the Left Behind series: the apocalyptic Jesus. Jesus is coming soon and we better be ready. In this version of the story of Jesus violence abounds because conflict between good and evil leads to death and destruction on the earth. This is the "killer Jesus" according to Borg. Being Christian involves being saved and ready.

Many Christians combine these stories, but stress one of them more in their own understanding of Jesus. But all of them, according to Borg, fall within an overarching "earlier" paradigm of Christianity that stresses adherence to doctrine, the literal reading of scripture passages, a concern with what happens to us in the afterlife, and an emphasis on the importance of belief.

It is Borg's contention that over the last couple of decades a new paradigm of Christianity has emerged that is way-centered rather than belief-centered. It takes its cue from the simple command of Jesus to his followers: "follow me." In this understanding Jesus himself undertook a journey of transformation as he lived with the marginalized, brought healing to the sick, confronted his own inner doubts about the purpose of his life, learned to trust in the goodness of God, and confronted the "powers" who ultimately put him to death. And those who followed Jesus then, and who do so now were, and are, similarly transformed. This Christian vision isn't focused on right belief, but on undertaking a journey of transformation. It reads the scriptures not literally but metaphorically. It sees Jesus as fully human, flesh and blood and fallible like the rest of us. But also extraordinary. He was one of those transformational figures who saw more deeply and lived more authentically. But we too can see more deeply and live more authentically if we follow in this path.

This is "my" Jesus.

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