A while back I lamented that moderate-to-progressive Christians were in danger of creating their own theological ghetto by creating an “approved” reading list of people like Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. I wrote that “Borg and Crossan, for example, though they both have some good insights, seem to want to replace 2,000 years of Christian reflection on the person of Christ with a historical reconstruction of their own devising.”
Recently, though, our Sunday school class has been using a series of videos that feature various theological talking heads, Borg among them, and I found myself more impressed with him than I remembered being when I first encountered his work. So on a lark, I picked up his Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time from the library. I have to say, while I by no means agreed with everything in it, it offers a much more robust version of Christian faith than I expected. He has a particularly good chapter on Christology that draws on the “Wisdom” Christologies that have been developed by Elizabeth Johnson, among others, which I found pretty congenial (if not entirely satisfactory). Moreover, Borg writes in a warm, pastoral, and intelligible style; when so much theology is written in the impenetrable jargon of the academic guild, it’s no wonder he appeals to a lot of lay Christians.
I stand by my point that moderate, progressive, and mainline Christians could do a much better job engaging the tradition, but I think Borg deserves more credit than I gave him for working outside of a narrow, historical paradigm.
Borg offers a clear contrast between the older model of faith and the new paradigm he advocates–a paradigm marked by the terms “metaphorical” and “sacramental.” He assures the reader that many of the claims in the old model of faith are caricatures that do not need to be honored. Borg’s contrast between old and new paradigm is instructive and helpful. With generosity of spirit, he acknowledges that over time women and men of faith have been helped by both models, though at points the argument takes a somewhat Manicheistic tone whereby all the good claims are grouped in the new and all the bad claims are grouped in the old. Borg does not entertain the possibility that many people of faith “mix and match” across his paradigms in quite workable ways. He consistently draws a sharp and clean contrast.
In such a reading the Bible is either a human document or the divine word. God is either a demanding giver of requirements or a generous giver of transformative energy. Jesus must be seen either as a metaphor and sacrament of God or we are stuck with irrelevant formulae cast in impenetrable rhetoric. Such a simple sorting out of either/or (which Borg does with generosity toward claims that he rejects) seems to this reader not only unnecessary but misleading.