|Marcus Borg: A Critique|
I began reading Marcus Borg's The God We Never Knew so that I could get a better grasp on what the "Jesus Seminar" people were trying to say. Sound bite comments by Borg from the grossly inaccurate and misleading ABC special called "The Search for Jesus," hosted by Peter Jennings (usually a responsible journalist), made me more curious about what these people believe and why. So off I went and found Borg's book. Since the content of the ABC special is still fresh in the minds of many, I would like to begin this series by first giving some general background on Mr. Borg, followed by a brief beginning analysis of the "theology" behind the "Jesus" of the ABC (Abnormally Bashing Christ) show, which was the "Jesus" of the "Jesus Seminar" and their fervent imaginations and speculations, not the historical Jesus of the Gospels.
The Wisdom and Ignorance of Childlike Faith
By his own admission, Marcus Borg began his "journey" by being a "Christian" who took for granted the truths of the Bible. He was raised Lutheran in North Dakota (p. 13). In all his musings about his "Christian" experience, it is interesting that we hear much about externals; what the church was like, how he visualized God being like his pastor, some things he was taught and so forth (pp. 13-19), but we do not hear one word about the importance of an internal relationship with God through a born again experience (John 3:3-7). Ah, an alert signal from the beginning, I said to myself. Why? Because as I've studied a trend of how people tend to go from "Christian" to deist to agnostic to atheist and back to "Christian" (as Borg mentions, pp. 22,23), I have found that, for the most part, they never had true internal faith according to the Bible. Thus, what seems to create skepticism and atheism in some people seems to be false faith, a kind of dormant skepticism and atheism in Christian clothing. It appears, however, that some just attempt to put the clothing back on and claim to be Christians while denying every fundamental teaching of the historic Christian faith. Sad to say, at least when he was a child he had a more biblical faith (with some distortions one would expect a child to develop) than he does now.
The Trend Exposed: From Here to Absurdity
Here is our first verse for consideration, 1 Corinthians 2:7-8 -
Instead of allowing the apparent childhood Christian truths to move him from here to eternity, the prevailing trend of modern skepticism led Borg to go from here to absurdity. How did he get there? As he tells it, and mind you this is representative of how it usually happens, he was first a "believer" raised in church. Then, he began to question what he was taught, in his case how God could be "out there" up in heaven and omnipresent at the same time (p. 16). Next, he developed his own false theology by simply resolving that the teaching of his church was wrong, and that God wasn't omnipresent. He went through various mistaken notions concerning omnipresence, but remained in his mind true to what he now calls the God of "supernatural theism" (p. 17). So right away we can see how uncorrected error leads to further error.
But wait, there's more. We are also told that his image of God in childhood was one of "supernatural theism" about a God "out there." Now this is despite the fact that Christian theology proper has always taught that God is also "here" due to His omnipresence and His ability to "manifest" as He pleases, especially as God incarnate (Jesus). But I guess these points were forgotten or dismissed. Anyway, this God was also a "finger-shaker" (like his pastor), and was a God of requirements. In his own words, "I thought of God as 'somewhere else' (not here), salvation as 'sometime else' (not now), and that there was something one had to do in order to be saved (that is, go to heaven)" (p. 19).
Apparently, his lack of understanding the truths of Christianity, the omnipresence of God, the words of biblical texts like 1 John 3:1,2 (Beloved, NOW we are the children of God...), and the wise counsel of Ephesians 2:8,9 (By grace you HAVE BEEN saved....not of works...), contributed to his descent toward absurdity. So once you start out with external Christianity aided by distorted and unbiblical beliefs, what's the next step in the trend?
You guessed it (I hope): the "modern worldview" and its emphasis on the so-called scientific truths which "disprove" biblical revelation (pp. 22,23). Now it must be said here that of course people in the past have misinterpreted the Bible to say the earth is flat or that it is the scientific, positional "center" of this universe. But it must be noted that these were indeed misinterpretations (bad hermeneutics), not a case where the Bible ever made clear statements on the matter. These examples, however, cannot be used today to argue against biblical revelation as being unscientific and thus false. But Borg ignored that fact as well.
His next typical step was that he entered seminary. It is a matter of fact that there are actually some atheists who are teaching in seminaries, who initially may have gone there for ministry. No wonder that it is almost a standard, cultural joke to word-play the word "seminary" with "cemetery," since what you may learn (depending on which one you attend) may lead you away from God, not to a deeper relationship in preparation for service to God. Yet here was another strange admission from Borg: he went to seminary, not because he felt called to ministry, but because he was "motivated by intellectual fascination" (p. 23). Ah, I said, another alert signal that something is indeed rotten in Denmark.
Traditionally, (and I know because I'm a seminary student....Fuller Seminary in da house!! [Arthur has since transferred to another seminary -- JPH]) you go to seminary because you either are called by God or feel you have His calling to serve in the church as an ordained minister. But once again we have a problem. We have a man going into cemetery (oops, seminary) without (it seems) true regenerative faith with distorted theology, a misguided "modern worldview" and "intellectual" fascination. Once there, he admits that the writings of Paul Tillich (the heretic) and John Robinson (the liberal) were "very appealing." Hmmm.....I smell more theological stench developing here. This will always be a recipe for spiritual and theological disaster, and history has shown this to be the case time and again.
The final step taken is again typical of those who find themselves on this "journey" into the theological land of fantasy and make-believe. There comes a point where the Bible is no longer viewed as the word of God but as the purely human (and fatally flawed) word of man locked within cultural ideas of the past. As Borg tells it, "The next step in my understanding of the Bible took place in seminary. There I let go of the notion that the Bible is a divine product. I learned that it is a human cultural product...As such, it contained their understandings and affirmations, not statements coming directly or somewhat directly from God" (p. 25).
Naturally flowing from what the late Dr. Walter Martin called a "corrupt bibliology" (doctrine of the Bible) in his devastating critique of "The Cult of Liberalism" is a corrupt Christology, or doctrine of Christ.
Thus Borg can easily remark, "Seminary also introduced me to the historical study of Jesus and Christian origins. I learned from my professors and the readings they assigned that Jesus almost certainly was not born of a virgin, did not think of himself as the Son of God, and did not see his purpose as dying for the sins of the world" (p. 25).
I would like to take a moment to parody Borg's words so you can get an idea about what really went on in his cemetery (oops, I mean seminary):
"Seminary also introduced me to the a-historical, atheistic study of Jesus and Christian origins (ignoring and distorting the Gospels and ancient history). I learned (and blindly accepted) from my professors and the mistaken readings they assigned (and that I blindly followed) that Jesus almost certainly was not born of a virgin, did not think of himself as the Son of God, and not see his purpose as dying for the sins of the world." That parody is essentially how he, and all of his "Jesus scholar" kind, have studied the "historical" Jesus. This I will prove beyond reasonable doubt in future installments to any honest person willing to hear the facts that the Borgs, Crossans, and Funks ignore and refuse to deal with.
In the next section I will go into more detail to show exactly what's wrong with this god of Borg and the "Jesus" of the so-called Jesus Seminar and its "scholars." I will demonstrate the real reason why these people abandon the God of Christian theism for a happy-go-lucky, easy-to-believe-in, universalist god of their own invention, and how that naturally leads to acceptance of a fictitious Jesus made after their own hearts. Once again the assessment of Albert Schweitzer long ago (The Quest for the Historical Jesus, 1960), that people tend to remake Jesus in their own image in "historical" studies, will be shown to haunt those who choose to believe their own hype against a mountain of evidence. Don't be assimilated by the Borg.....Resistance is not futile (Sorry, just couldn't resist this Star Trek: Next Generation reference). Until next time, live long and prosper with the real God and Jesus of the Bible.
Suggestions for further study:
The overall subject heading of this section (part 2) could be called "From Christianity to Atheianity." My reasoning should become apparent by the time you finish reading this essay.
Ok. You say what in the heck is "atheianity"? Well, my friends, it is what Marcus Borg and his "Jesus Seminar" fellows want Christianity to become in the new millennium: a distorted mixture of atheistic reasoning and Christian teaching. Hence the term I have coined, "atheianity," or atheism dressed and packaged in Christian clothing.
As pointed out in part 1, the "god" proposed in Marcus Borg's The God We Never Knew is ironically titled appropriately, since indeed this strange panentheistic god of Borg was never known by Adam, Eve, Abraham, Moses, the Prophets, Jesus, or the apostles and their disciples. The God they knew, indeed the only God in existence, is the God of what Borg called "supernatural theism," or more accurately Christian theism. Let's have a more detailed look at this strange deity and see what the problem is.
Sticks and Stones May Break Our Bones, But Straw Will Never Hurt Us...
Borg does an excellent job of using the straw man fallacy in logic to buttress his argument for believing in the god of panentheism instead of the supernatural God of the Bible. What is "panentheism"? Although it sounds like pantheism, the two are indeed different. As Borg explains, "Panentheism as a way of thinking about God affirms both the transcendence of God and the immanence of God" (p. 32). That is all fine and dandy, since even he himself admitted that Christianity has historically taught that God is "beyond" and thus transcendent, and yet "near" and immanent, according to his words here: "The Christian tradition, on the other hand, has throughout its history consistently affirmed that God is both transcendent and immanent..." (p. 26). So if that is indeed the case, then why make up another god who is "panentheistic" if He already is both transcendent and immanent and has, for the most part, always been taught to be that way?
To understand this weird state of affairs more clearly, it is important to understand the straw man Borg set up to get to his god. Essentially, what he did was take the misunderstandings of the God of his childhood (the God of supernatural theism) and juxtaposed Him against his panentheistic god. As a child, he thought of God as "out there" and "distant," despite the fact that his Lutheran tradition also taught the nearness of God. Thus Borg sets up this straw man, arguing that, "Supernatural theism emphasizes only God's transcendence and essentially denies the immanence of God" (p. 26). Is that so? Well, excuse me, but didn't you just say that the "Christian tradition...throughout its history has consistently affirmed that God is both transcendent and immanent"? Make up your confused and contradictory mind, Mr. Borg. You can't have it both ways. But such is the nature of those who build a straw man (false point that your opponent never held) and proceed then to knock that false argument down. In order to have a valid argument you must knock down the real "man," Mr. Borg.
An Autopsy on the god of Panentheism: More Straw, Anyone?
Extending his straw man argument, Borg says that the God of "supernatural theism" was one of requirements for salvation, "Two closely related ideas were associated with this postdeath understanding of salvation. One was the notion of requirements. There was something we needed to do or believe in order to go to heaven" (p. 156). Borg also tells us that, "What God wants from us (in return for which we get salvation) is faith. Here faith becomes a 'work,' something we do that makes us right with God" (p. 169).
Now in the context Borg is speaking, he is explaining what he THOUGHT was meant by salvation by grace through faith. Now I emphasized the word "thought" because what he thought was not orthodox Christian teaching based on the Bible. The funny thing is, in the midst of trying to explain that very point, he set up another straw man to make his panentheistic god (who has no requirements for "salvation") look better than the supernatural theistic God he used to believe in. All he did was make up another false argument based on his youthful misunderstanding of how salvation is attained.
In Romans 6:23 we read, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." The word for "gift" in the text can also be translated "free gift." The last time I checked, free gifts have no requirements; that is why they can be called "free." As some of my teenage friends would say, "A Duh!" Moreover, if that wasn't enough to expose Borg's misunderstanding of how salvation was acquired, we also have the witness of Ephesians 2:8, 9, as Paul tells some Christians how they were saved: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast."
Once again, it seems Borg paid little attention to a biblically-based understanding of salvation and simply used his former misunderstandings to create this false panentheistic, gracious god none of us could ever know. It would have been nice for him to have interacted in his book with some evangelical scholarship on the subject (or looked more closely at historic Christian tradition) before he constructed this straw deity; but then again I guess he would never have created it had he did so. But his god is indeed made of straw and not much else, ready to be burned away by the fires of an accurate understanding of biblical truth.
Now we do have a part to play in this whole salvation thing, since God does not force it on us as if we were robots. As with all relationships, there must be mutual action between the Lover and the beloved. However, it is a mistake to misconstrue this as something we must "do" to earn salvation. It is, as the Bible says, a free gift acquired by Jesus' death and resurrection. With all of the talk in his book about the priority of a "relationship" with God, it appears that this little point of truth was missed by Borg. But I guess the process of creating your own god makes it hard to see the God who is a consuming fire for the straw god you've put in front of Him (Hebrews 12:29). Like bishop Spong's "Christianity," Borg's god is dead on arrival, and really is just a revised version of old arguments from A.N. Whitehead and others (see "Christian Apologetics" by Norman Geisler, pp. 193-207, Baker Books, 1976). No funeral parlor needed here, since this god will vanish away into the nonexistence from which it came.
It Will All Pan Out?
Another problem with Borg's god is that it appears to be one of pantheistic pluralism, or simply the idea that no religion can claim superiority or exclusivity of truth over another. All are "in" God and God "in" them. All religions (or roads) lead to the same "sacred" God of all (pan), even false faiths. But to correct such a fallacious idea we not only have centuries of biblical testimony of how Israel struggled against "false" gods and their religious trappings, we also can appeal to the wise words (out of very few) of an atheistic skeptic by the name of Bertrand Russell: "It is evident as a matter of logic that, since they [various religions] disagree, not more than one of them can be true" (taken from "Why I Am Not a Christian" preface p. v). In many parts of his book, Borg demonstrates his belief that all religious traditions are somehow equally valid and true and reveal what he calls "the sacred" (pp. 4, 5, 7, 48, 84, 85, 128). But I find it strangely ironic and humorous that the words of an atheistic skeptic like old Berty actually make more sense than a man who claims to be "a Christian of the nonliteralistic and nonexclusivistic kind...an Episcopalian" (preface p. viii). In Isaiah we read, "Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel...Besides Me there is no God...Is there a God besides Me? Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one" (44:6, 8). Will it all "pan" out? Well, not if you trust both the Bible and logic. Anything else is simply unbiblical and illogical.
No One on the Main Line, Tell It What You Want...
A great gospel song goes, "Jesus on the mainline, tell Him what you want." It speaks of a relationship with God in which we can ask Him as dear children and receive according to His will (Matthew 7:7-11; John 14:13,14). But strangely enough, Borg's god wants a relationship too but apparently doesn't intervene like the God of "supernatural theism." Yet Borg says he prays and makes "requests" of God, even though he doesn't "think of God as an interventionist" (p. 124). Ah, excuse me but I have a question. Why pray to and make requests of a "god" that you essentially believe cannot do anything to intervene in a given situation? This is either "doublespeak," nonsense, or the ravings of a very confused person. For me, the jury is still out laughing and eating honey-glazed doughnuts over that one.
Oh No, Not the Argument from Outrage Again
Now we get to the real backbone (if you will) of this atheism pretending to be Christianity. It is what brother Holding (I believe) called the "argument from outrage." It's a new logical fallacy whereby if God does or allows something we emotionally object to or refuse to understand, we simply become outraged and use that to argue against the God of the Bible. A perfect example of this is supplied to us by this quote from Borg, as he explains his "reasoning" for not believing God to be an interventionist: "I cannot believe that God could have stopped the Holocaust but chose not to, just as I cannot believe that God responds to some prayers for healing and protection and not others...It is difficult to believe in such a God" (pp. 124, 29).
But what is this but the fallacious argument from outrage which ignores tons of Scripture and even basic common sense. There is much I could say here, but suffice it to say these two things, one from my own book ("If God Heals Your Eyes, Don't Cut Off Your Head") and one from the One who allowed the Holocaust partially so we could see how far our sinful nature can go.
First, I point out very simply in my chapter entitled "Rescuing the Bible from the Error of Religious Atheism" that it would be more wise and rational to have a real God that was difficult to believe in, than to have a god of my own imagination (fake) that was easy to believe in (p. 143). Reality is far more important than my imagination. And finally, God Himself, through the agency of Paul, can easily answer thusly: "But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, 'Why have you made me like this?'" (Rom. 9:20). We as finite human beings are simply in no place to sit in judgment against God, and to do so is arrogant presumption at best, and self-deification at worst. Thus, since making yourself "god" is not much of a sensible option, it seems that some people are content to make up their own "god" after their own likes and dislikes, who is ultimately so impotent that of course we can't blame it for allowing the Holocaust, since it is a finite god who couldn't intervene anyway. Sounds like an easy out for those who prefer fluffy fairy-tales over biblical reality.
Can I Have One Layer Cake, Politically Correct, liberal Democrat Jesus to go, Please?
Now that we have seen the corpse of the pathetic and impotent god of Mr. Borg and those of the "Jesus Seminar" who hold his views, we now begin to take a look at the kind of "historical Jesus" they seek to peddle on an unsuspecting and gullible public. According to Borg, a distinction must be made between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith, what he calls the pre-Easter and the post-Easter Jesus (p. 85). As Borg has put it, "The pre-Easter Jesus is the historical Jesus...The post-Easter Jesus is what Jesus became after his death. More specifically, the post-Easter Jesus is the Jesus of Christian tradition and experience..." (pp. 85, 86).
Now according to the Bible and thus orthodox Christian teaching, Jesus is not only God's only unique "Son," but He is also God or "divine" (John 1:1, 14; 8:58,59, 20:28; Mark 2:5-10). But according to Borg, we must separate the "layers" of early and late tradition in the Gospels so that we can slice and dice Jesus up and confidently proclaim, "Was the pre-Easter Jesus divine? NO...Is the post-Easter Jesus divine? Yes--the post-Easter Jesus of Christian experience and fully developed Christian doctrine is divine" (pp. 91,92). What he is essentially saying is that the real Jesus of history was not God, but that the early church "community" simply projected its perceptions on Jesus and "made" Him divine in the Gospels (funny how atheists have no problem "believing" that too).
Of course there are many assumptions and speculations which go with this type of reasoning, and we will get into some details in part 3 and expose this nonsense for what it is. And believe me, the one thing it cannot be called is "modern biblical scholarship," the comments and beliefs of some who call themselves "Jesus scholars" notwithstanding. Their "Jesus," I will show, is no more than a politically correct, liberal democrat, just like those who created him. Ok, boys and girls, in Mr. Daniels Neighborhood can we say "Schweitzer was right"?
It's a funny thing how people seem to not learn lessons from the past. Albert Schweitzer long ago pointed out (rightly so) that those who went on a "search" for the "historical" Jesus prior to the publication of his book had simply projected their own prejudices onto Jesus. Well, well, wonder of wonders that we can practically discern the political positions of people like Marcus Borg by looking at the "Jesus" he finds in his search. Without even knowing Mr. Borg I can confidently tell you that he is a politically correct, liberal Democrat who accepts homosexuality as an "alternate" and legitimate lifestyle and that its adherents deserve "rights"("The God We Never Knew" p. 148; also see Borg's "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, p. 59). Why? Simply because this is the "compassionate" Jesus he believes in. This is a case where a man has taken his personal ideology to the extreme of re-making Jesus into the image he prefers, instead of letting the Jesus of the text reshape his thinking and guide his political and theological views. I will not argue that Jesus prefers any particular political party, but the one thing I do know and can demonstrate is that He definitely was and is no politically correct, liberal democrat.
All Gods Lead to Heaven?
Continuing our investigation of Borg's "The God We Never Knew," focusing on his chapter called "Imaging God: Jesus and God," we find some curious things, as mentioned in part 2. Borg seems to believe, contrary to reason, that "manifestations of the sacred are also known in other religions in addition to Judaism and Christianity" (pp. 84,85). As much as I hate to admit it, I must agree with Bertrand Russell on this one, since even he argued that not more than one religion can be true because they disagree. Now of course Christianity has its roots in Judaism, so in a sense they are "one." The Yahweh of Moses is the same G-d worshipped by Christians. So right away Mr. Borg and those today who agree with him on this have a problem of reason to deal with, in addition to any biblical misinterpretations they may have come up with. If there are no "false prophets" (inside and outside the Church), then why are we warned to discern and avoid them (Matthew 7:15; 1 John 4:1)? So if people want to believe against both reason and the Bible that we all are of God and everyone is right, then so be it. I for one will not fall for the banana in the tail pipe (a reference to a trick done in Eddie Murphy's movie "Beverly Hills Cop").
What's Wrong with this Layer Cake: Can Someone say Circular Reasoning?
For Mr. Borg, the Jesus of the "surface level" of the Gospels is the "post-Easter" Jesus who claimed to be God. The Christian community, and the creeds from Nicea (325) onward, simply reinvented Jesus into a grand figure and deified Him. So according to Borg and the results of "modern Jesus scholarship," we are told that, "Jesus did not speak of himself (and apparently did not think of himself) as divine. So was the pre-Easter Jesus God? Was he divine? Apparently not in any sense in which he and his followers were aware" (p. 88).
Ok. That's a nice little unproved statement, but how does it hold up to scrutiny? How does he arrive at his conclusions? With careful and rational biblical scholarship? I don't think so; not if you can call circular reasoning, ignoring the text, and subverting the text careful, rational and scholarly. Take, for example, the idea that the Gospels have "early layers" of tradition behind them as well as "later layers." Ok, fine. But where this becomes problematic is when faulty methods are used to distinguish between those layers. It seems that the criteria is both circular and thus very suspect. Why? Well, what would you think if I said I have some land in Florida to sell you, and the sole reason why you should give me your money is because I say I have the land? It could be true or false, but would it not be wise to check with Florida county official records before giving me any money?
If so, then it would also be wise to check the validity of claims made by people who claim to be "Jesus scholars." Borg says that statements in the Gospels where Jesus affirms an exalted status for Himself are not found in the earliest layers (p. 88). And how, pray tell, can you tell that the exalted statements are late? By the mere fact that He makes an exalted claim? Well, then, I have some land in Florida to sell you, Mr. Borg, and you should just give me 1 million dollars and take my word for it.
Yet, if we are to swallow that notion, what about the other exalted claims, like in Mark's Gospel (recognized as the earliest written by many), where Jesus claims a power only God has, i.e., to be able to forgive sins (2:5-10). Ooops, that's an "early" layer, even according to Borg's own standards, unless you're going to argue either that this is a late addition to an early Gospel, or that what Jesus said meant something other than that He was implying His deity. And what about the other instances where Jesus is actually worshipped, and NEVER once corrected anyone for doing it (Matthew 9:18; 14:33)? This, of course, implies He felt worthy of it. Yet only God is worthy of worship. Ooops....I think Mr. Borg needs to pay more close attention to the results of his own methodology, for even his own methods convict him of unreasonably twisting and distorting the clear evidence for the Godhood of Jesus all over the Gospels, which is both explicit and implicit.
Just to give you an idea of how truly arbitrary this picking and choosing of which statements are "early" and "late" really is, it is interesting to note how Borg treats a passage where Jesus seemingly claims not to be God:
"As already noted, he did not speak of himself with exalted titles that later layers of the tradition use. Moreover, there is reason to think he would have been shocked at the suggestion that he was divine. On one occassion, he even objected to being called 'good': Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone."
Here it is interesting that Borg uses a passage (Mark 10:17,18 taken out of context) which most cults like the Jehovah's Witnesses enjoy misreading. Jesus did not say He was not good. He ASKED the man why he was calling Him good. There is a difference, you know. Jesus was asking for motive. Did he think Jesus was just a "good" man? Did he think Jesus was truly God, since only God is good? Or, was he perhaps trying to flatter Jesus, and thus Jesus was cutting him to the quick by asking why he was calling Him "good"?
Regardless as to the answer to these questions, please notice with me how Borg used this one passage which seems to go against orthodox Christian teaching about the deity of Jesus to suggest to us that Jesus would have been "shocked" at the idea that He was divine. Why couldn't this passage be "late" as opposed to "early"? What is his reasoning except his personal opinion, which of course we cannot take at face value since Jesus in the Gospels accepts worship, claims deity over and over, and is called God outright by Thomas in John 20:28. Oh yes, of course John is the latest written of all and reflects a "high Christology." That is the argument. But even that is not as certain as some would have us believe (see Dr. Robinson's "Redating the New Testament," as John probably is pre-AD 70). And yet all of this layer cake nonsense fails to answer a few pertinent questions.
First, why would the monotheistic, Jewish followers of Jesus call Him God if there is only one God? Why confuse the issue further by calling a "Father" God (Philippians 2:11), Jesus God (John 20:28) and, ultimately, the Holy Spirit God (Acts 5:3,4)? Now all of this happened long before the Nicean Council, which some erroneaously teach was the origin of the deity of Christ and the Trinity doctrine.
Second, why would the followers of Jesus, who were taught the value of "truth," argue and write that Jesus is God when they knew He never claimed that historically? Why would they falsify the character of Jesus? The idea that they put false words on Jesus' mouth simply does not and cannot answer these questions. No first century Jew or otherwise God-fearing person would have misrepresented God in this way.
All this is, is people using personal bias to place unreasonable doubt on the the evidence. This tactic is not new, but it is the only way out for those who know that the evidence is against them. If Jesus clearly says He's God in human form (which is not docetism, as Borg alleges in his straw man argument, p. 87), then put up the smoke-screen argument that the early church, being primarily Jewish and monotheistic, just threw Judaism out the window and projected deity on a historical Jesus who never claimed that for Himself. Now of course neither he nor his "Seminar" buddies ever PROVE this beyond reasonable doubt; all they do is use circular reasoning and shakey "evidence" to simply assert a claim.
This is no different than how the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society ("Jehovah's Witnesses") intentionally mistranslate John 8:58, so that Jesus doesn't claim to be God by saying He is the great "I AM" of Exodus 3:14 fame. The supposedly more accurate translation has Jesus saying "I have been," despite the fact that not one credible Greek scholar on the planet would agree with that "translation." The Greek words "ego eimi" in John 8:58 are properly translated "I am, " and they always will be properly translated this way. So ultimately, Mr. Borg and his colleagues are no better than the cults in what they do. If they don't like something for whatever reason, they re-invent or re-translate or re-interpret. No, Mr. Borg, it is actually Jesus who would be shocked at how you and your kind have misrepresented Him as a mere human who was only a Jewish "spirit person," sage, wisdom teacher, social prophet, mystic, and healer (pp. 89, 90). This does Jesus a great disservice and dishonor.
Actually, all of this from Borg is truly funny and laughable, especially when we consider that it's pushed off to people in media circus style as "modern scholarship." Please. This man and the "Jesus Seminar" people wouldn't know true Biblical scholarship if it jumped up and bit them on the behind and then hit them over the head with a sledgehammer and said, "I'm true Biblical scholarship!" I mean, what's even more disturbing to me is that after saying all this crapola about the "pre-Easter" historical Jesus never claiming deity for Himself in the so-called early layers of Gospel tradition, Mr. Borg can turn around and then say this about the supposed "later layers" of the Gospel tradition that do reveal His deity: "This does not make them wrong..." (p. 88).
What? This is just more double-talk nonsense. If the real "historical" Jesus never ever made exalted claims of Himself but His followers later claimed this for Him after Easter, then they are, no matter how you want to rationalize it, false witnesses plain and simple. The early apostles and disciples of Christ, despite false claims from the critics, were not so stupid and dense that they couldn't tell the difference between truth and falsehood. They did not play semantical games with words like "literally true" and "really true," like our friend Mr. Borg does (p. 101).
As an example of what I'm talking about, I will close part 3 with the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:14,15: "And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is vain and your faith is also vain. Yes, and we are found FALSE WITNESSES of God, because we have testified that of God that He raised up Christ , whom He did not raise up--if in fact the dead do not rise" (emphasis added, of course).
In other words, Paul and his first century Jewish/Gentile Christian audience knew that if they said something happened but it really didn't, then they were liars and "false witnesses." There is simply no rational excuse for doubting the credibility of the Gospel and N.T. writers to the extreme degree that unprove assertions must outweigh the evidence in the very documents you claim to be investigating using modern tools of scholarship. As Schweitzer realized, these ideas about Jesus are neither new nor scholarly. The "Jesus" of Borg was made up in his own mind while disregarding every passage which militates against his position. How convenient...and sad.
In my final installment on Borg's attempt to assimilate Christianity into the atheistic, unthinking, speculative collective of "Christian atheists," I will conclude with some final thoughts on the "Jesus" he created and critically examine (i.e., take apart and demolish with biblical truth and reason) a few scattered views in his book. There is so much garbage to be sifted through in it that it would probably take another book to properly deal with it all. Hopefully, in the near future I will take a look at his other book, "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time," and demolish (ahh, I mean critically review for theological content) the false notions he came up with about our Savior.
What's wrong with the layer cake Jesus of Borg and the Jesus Seminar? It's stale, laced with poison and yet looks good enough to eat. This is why that "Jesus" is both harmful and dangerous and ultimately too impotent to be worthy of our worship and praise. No thanks....I'll take the Jesus I can take everything in prayer to...and have my prayers answered. I'll take Him and a side salad with Italian dressing to go, please. Oh taste and see that both of these are good, one for the stomach, the Other for the soul.
As we have seen in parts 1 to 3, the god of Marcus Borg is largely the construct of his own mind and prejudices draped in the smoke-screen of biblical scholarship, which just happen to go against the grain of orthodox Christian teaching based on the Bible and biblical tradition. The god he creates (practically ex nihilo) is a happy-go-lucky kind of being who would never hurt a fly or allow such evils as the Holocaust or even stop a criminal from committing a crime, since ultimately his feeble god does not intervene in our affairs. Yet, for some unknown and irrational reason, Borg prays to this god and apparently asks for intervention.
Moreover, along with the many biblical and logical fallacies Borg commits in his book The God We Never Knew, he also creates more straw men by arguing in his chapter called "Imaging God: Why and How It Matters" that if the God of the Bible is seen (metaphorically) as a warrior, male, father, lord, and king, that this leads to a "performance model" of the Christian life he calls the "monarchical model" (p. 61). He also tries to point out that there are female images of God in the Bible. This, of course, is true. However, this does not mean we must abandon the rule for the exception and claim, with very weak evidence, that the majority of male images is due to a "patriarchal society" and competition with other religions with male and female deities.
As Scripture teaches, God became "male" in Jesus, and no arguments about patriarchal societal pressures can discredit this. Although God in His essential being is neither male nor female, we must take into account the fact that He chose to become male in time and space (when He could have made another choice), and that it seems He prefers (for lack of a better word) to be addressed using masculine nouns and pronouns. But Borg seems to ignore these facts for weak arguments mostly pushed by feminist theologians who traffic in questionable hermeneutics and ignore the implications of their own arguments they try to base on the Bible (i.e., men are portrayed much worse than women in most cases, which makes the "patriarchal" bias argument fall rather flat).
Borg assumes that viewing the God of biblical revelation as king necessarily implies "distance," according to his straw man "monarchical model" (p. 64). So you mean to tell me that, despite the external trappings of kingship, people cannot or have not had close, personal and loving relationships with kings? Nonsense. Besides, the Bible viewed in its proper context never paints God as a distance king with human flaws, as Borg seems to suggest.
Borg rambles on about how the traditional model of God (as he distorts it) leads to a "male" God (despite what the Bible clearly teaches about God being Spirit and genderless, John 4:23,24), a creation that is "nothing special," a "domination system" marked by economic exploitation and political oppression, and finally, in his own words: "Patriarchal politics, patriarchal religion, and the patriarchal family are all connected to the monarchical model of God. God as a male monarch legitimates the domination of men over women. As Mary Daly put it over two decades ago, when God is male, the male is God" (pp. 64-69). To all of this I simply say: Nonsense. If you read the Bible in context and with an honest heart (with no hidden agendas or axes to grind), you will find that the God of the Bible (and the male images of God therein) no more "legitimates" the domination of men over women than the female images of God in the Bible legitimate the domination of women over men. But let's be good little PC (politically correct) robots and fall in line with current, hermeneutically unsound, theological trends and not seriously consider the implications of what's being taught. Yeah, that's much easier.
A "Spirit" Model without the Spirit
After setting up and demolishing his straw man "monarchical model" of God, Borg attempted to provide us with a strong case for his "Spirit" model. In this model of viewing God, we find some strange and interesting things: 1) Using Spirit invokes both transcendence and nearness 2) God is viewed in nonanthropomorphic metaphors 3) God is viewed as "Mother" 4) God is viewed as intimate Father (abba), 5) God is viewed as wisdom (feminine, Sophia), 6) God is viewed as Lover and 7) God is seen as a Journey Companion (pp. 72-75).
Here is where the strange and interesting part comes in. Every one of Borg's points are within the traditional Christian system of belief, but he makes that hard to see because of the straw man "monarchical model" he throws up and knocks down. The Bible has always taught that God is both near and yet "beyond" or transcendent (Isaiah 43:1-4; 55:8,9). The Bible has always contained both anthropomorphic and nonanthropomorphic metaphors for God. The Bible has always given us "mother" and female imagery. The Bible has always shown God to be an intimate Father, as well as loving Lawgiver and Judge. The Bible has always shown God to be wise and full of wisdom (sophia). The Bible has always provided us with an image of God as Lover of mankind, a Husband of Israel and the Church (Song of Solomon 1-8; Hosea 1:2; Rev. 19:7). And finally, the Bible clearly shows that God is indeed our Companion on this life journey (Isaiah 43:1-4; Matthew 28:19,20; John 14:16-18). Once we get past all the straw, we can see clearly enough to determine that Borg's "Spirit" model should be "spirit" model, since most of it derives from his own mind devoid of the Holy Spirit and, ultimately, solid biblical scholarship.
The Root of the Problem: Trying to Make God "Fit" Atheism and Skepticism
But what's most disturbing to me are Borg's words here, which I would like to address in the order I now quote them:
"But I now see this as one of the virtues of panentheism: it does genuinely resolve much of the intellectual difficulty posed by supernatural theism. For the most part, modern skepticism and atheism are a rejection of supernatural theism, but if God is not thought of as a supernatural being separate from the universe, the persuasive force of much of modern atheism vanishes." (p. 33)
"I have realized that one may be an atheist regarding the God of supernatural theism and yet be a believer in God conceptualized another way, namely in the way offered by panentheism. This is the God I never knew. And this way of thinking about God - and the image of the Christian life that goes with it - are what the rest of this book is about." (p. 29)
Such nonsense above is the essence of bad apologetics going from bad to worst. To address the first quote, Borg is fooling himself if he thinks re-working theism and the idea of God so that it seems to resolve some intellectual difficulties will seriously remove the persuasive force of modern atheism so that it "vanishes." The impotent god of panentheism actually makes things more difficult; it is almost like some deistic god who has the ability to create a world, but somehow cannot manipulate it at will. That's like being able to make a car but not know how to drive, or being able to make a cup of coffee but not be able to drink.
Moreover, and most importantly, the god of Marcus Borg not only has apparently put us in a hopeless situation, but it also cannot do much if anything to help alleviate the suffering and pain we desire to see vanish. At least the God of supernatural theism CAN do something about our plight, regardless as to whether or not we agree with exactly how and when He plans to deal with evil and its effects. The fact is, if you do the homework on the issue thoroughly enough, you will find that there is no real "persuasive force" to modern atheistic and skeptical arguments. For the most part, these arguments are merely sophism, i.e., faulty arguments that only APPEAR valid and persuasive. Woe on those who cannot discern and see this fact, a fact that Ray Charles with sun glasses on at midnight locked in a dark room should be able to see.
Thus Borg has committed himself to making up a god he thinks will be more palatable to the modern skeptical mind, not realizing the fact that no deity of any worth will ever be good enough for some people, no matter how rational, scientific, or biblical your evidence and arguments might be. That is simply the nature of game, since sinners can always find ways to deny anything--even the obvious. When will people learn that atheism (and atheistic reasoning) and Christianity are mutually exclusive, and that any attempt to "marry" them will always result in self-defeating, self-contradictory nonsense? "Christian atheists" and "invisible pink unicorns" are both logical absurdities. But I guess being logically absurd has never stopped people before either, even those who would claim to be logical. As Spock (from Stark Trek) would say, "Fascinating."
Addressing Borg's second quote, it is easy to see that the term I coined, "atheianity," truly does apply to the theories and ideas of people like Borg, Crossan, Funk, Spong, and the rest of the "Jesus Seminar" crowd. Apparently he is an "atheist" regarding the God of the Bible who is indeed one of "supernatural theism," and yet wants to keep the label "Christian." Interesting....interestingly oxymoronic (a contradiction in terms). But we have already seen how this false god is not even necessary. The God of "supernatural theism" is both transcendent and near, and everything else and more that Borg seems to desire so much. Although often misrepresented otherwise (by Borg himself and others), the God of the Bible is indeed the only God who can satisfy the longing we all have inside for true and everlasting love and relationship (Jeremiah 31:3; John 17:23-26). But if Borg and others prefer to believe in a fairy-tale, make-believe god, then they can have at it. I prefer the real One, with all the real and mostly imagined problems associated with Him.
The Heart of Borg's View of Jesus: Assuming Your Assumptions Are True
As we take a final look at some of Borg's misconceptions of Jesus, it should not be surprising to anyone that the basic premise behind his beliefs stem from the idea that the canonical Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) are not reliable historical documents relating a true portrait of the historical Jesus. The assumption is, and it is indeed an assumption, that the Jesus of the Gospels represents the "Christian community" imposing on the merely human Jesus titles leading to making Him God when He Himself "really" didn't ascribe those things to Himself. Such an assumption disregards many facts, the main one being that the monotheistic, mostly Jewish and God-fearing "community" would not have made Jesus out to be deity if He never claimed it Himself. With Jesus' words still ringing in their ears "The TRUTH will make you free..." it is highly unlikely that they would have, in essence, concocted a lie or "myth" to explain their post-Easter experience. That simply does not make much sense, especially in a monotheistic, Jewish context. But I guess not making sense never stopped Borg or anyone else before.
In his own words, Borg writes, "As such, myths can be both true and powerful, even though they are symbolic narratives and not straightforward historical reports. Though not literally true, they can be really true; though not factually true, they can be actually true. The stories of Jesus' birth are myths in this sense. Along with most mainline scholars, I do not think these stories report what happened. The virginal conception, the star, the wise men, the birth in Bethlehem where there was no room in the inn, and so forth are not facts of history. But I think these stories are powerfully true...The stories of Jesus' death and resurrection contain a mixture of historical memory and mythical narration." (pp. 101,102).
To read this, you would think first that Borg is either out of his mind or seriously confused, or that he is lost and needs help finding his way to Amherst, New York where he can commune with others at Prometheus Books (a small press run by atheists/humanists) who believe as he does (like Randel Helms who wrote "Gospel Fictions"). Both Helms and Borg assume much and prove little, and ultimately show their lack of true scholarship and knowledge, not only in accurate biblical and historical knowledge, but most importantly in the knowledge of God in personal relationship.
Since the book "Jesus Under Fire" and my own work "If God Heals Your Eyes, Don't Cut Off Your Head" sufficiently explain in detail how fallacious the methods of Borg and his "Jesus Seminar," atheistic kind are, I will not go further than to suggest these for further reading. What you will find is that Borg and his kind can't hide behind the "most mainline scholars" argument, since it is a logical fallacy to argue that truth is determined by numbers or opinion polls. Not so by a long shot. You cannot prove anything with such methods. You have to honestly produce solid evidence, and ignoring evidence or subverting it with speculative theories and inconsistent criteria is primarily all Borg and his "Jesus Seminar" colleagues do. Truth is determined by the God of truth, who bids us all to come and taste to see that the Lord is good - to come and reason together and be made new (Ps. 34:8; Isaiah 1:18). If Borg and others can do this, perhaps they will truly discover the God they never really knew.
My next projects for Tekton Apologetics will be to show just how dishonest Robert Funk was to Jesus in his book "Honest to Jesus," and how you will get more enjoyment and spiritual fulfillment from eating croissants than blindly accepting the theology of Crossan in any of his books (so much error and bad scholarship there that I don't know which book to begin with). Until then, know the truth, and the truth will make you free (John 8:32).
Suggestions for Further Reading
"Jesus Under Fire" edited by Michael Wilkins and J.P. Moreland
"If God Heals Your Eyes, Don't Cut Off Your Head" by Arthur Daniels, Jr. (another shameless plug)
"The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? " by F. F. Bruce