Monday, 4 May 2015

A Note on Theologian Marcus Borg (Died January 21, 2015)

One theologian who has influenced me a lot is Marcus Borg, who died earlier this year. He is radical without being confrontational, and helped many others to rethink their faith. ARP.
Marcus J. Borg (1995), Meeting Jesus AGAIN for the First Time. This ‘gentle radical’, presents one of the most appealing portraits of Jesus in modern literature. The soft style disguises the rigorous scholarship. He does his portrait without divinising Jesus. Indeed he plainly was impeded in early life by the divinity of the Christ of orthodoxy. But once he began to ask "How is it that when people were with Jesus they felt themselves to be in the transforming presence of God?" his scholarly imagination came to life. Jesus was not God but the God-presence became real in a relationship with Jesus.

Marcus Borg the Professor of New Testament distinguishes two images of Jesus: the fideistic image of the divine saviour and the moralistic image of the teacher. He rejects both these as sufficient bases for a modern picture of Jesus, on grounds that they are inaccurate as images of the historical Jesus and that they lead to incomplete images of the Christian life. His major claim is that the Christian life is "about a relationship with God that involves us in a journey of transformation." (1995, p3)

Borg’s interpretative leap is captured by an heuristic: the pre-Easter Jesus, the one the disciples knew, ie Jesus before his death; and the post-Easter Jesus, ie the Jesus of Christian experience and tradition. Jesus from Easter onward was experienced as still present. Thus he became the ‘Risen Lord’, a living Christ. Borg’s contribution to this familiar position is to say that Jesus moved ‘beyond belief’ to relationship. This continuity of presence they understood as ‘a relationship to the Spirit of God’. In it the follower found transformation.

In making the pre-Easter:post-Easter distinction Borg opens up the possibility of life-changing appreciation of the historical Jesus. He was able to see Jesus as spirit-person, teacher of wisdom, social prophet, and movement founder. Jesus as spirit-person moved the focus from believing in Jesus to "being in relationship with the same spirit that Jesus knew." This relationship is above all an experience of God as compassionate. Borg goes straight to the point, saying this defines politics as seen in Jesus. It placed Jesus in the midst of the world of everyday. He enacted the politics of compassion. The Christian life is therefore an embodiment of compassion.

The pre-Easter/post-Easter concept sheds brilliant light on the manner by which Jesus communicated. He subverted conventional wisdom, presenting for those able to hear, a new Kingdom, the rules of which are those of the compassionate spirit.  The kingdom was declared as real and present and known by the nobodies of the world.  Jesus is, in Borg’s view, a thorough monotheist who knows the life of the Spirit and inspires transformation. But he denies that the use of expressions like "Son of  God" and "Wisdom of God" denotes divinity, seeing these as metaphors by which people referred to the transformative effect of meeting Jesus in the post-Easter testimony. (It is one thing to say Jesus reflected the way of God; it is quite another to say this makes him God. If that were so, there would be a million Christian Gods.)

Jesus and his followers were rooted in Judaism. Similarly, post-Easter people are supported by the story character of Scripture. That story is of Exodus from slavery; exile and return; and being restored to righteousness – the priestly story. To the traditional credal mind, the meaning of the priestly story is that of being accepted because God’s conditions were met by sacrifice. To Borg, the priestly story is an invitation to passivity and to a preoccupation with the afterlife. Yet used metaphorically the stories can restore the images of humanity and of God and thus provide hope for a new beginning.

Finally, Borg sees the gospel as an invitation to post-Easter people to be in the same relationship to Jesus as his pre-Easter followers were. Borg thus ends with what he calls a "transformative understanding of the Christian life" (p136). This means the life of companionship with God. To believe in Jesus ought not to mean literally to make him the object of worship – a fealty reserved for God. To believe in Jesus must mean to "give one’s heart to him". In short, the outcome is the transformed Christian life. The story is not that of believing in certain creedal propositions about Jesus but facing one’s deepest self toward the God-presence Jesus knew. 

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