Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Heart of Christianity (Marcus Borg)--Part I--A Study

Dear Stevie (and Your Study Group),

I have started the book. I thought I might throw a little information at you that would be like background. Let's start with the terms Borg gives for two kinds of Christianity, "Earlier" and "Emerging." I think he is trying to get at something here, but those choices, though they do accomplish one thing that he is aiming at, fail at another.

1. I think he is trying to do plain talk. He doesn't use the technical terminology. He is moving away from terms that carry unnecessary baggage with them, i.e. fundamentalism, evangelicalism, liberalism, etc. He succeeds here.

2. However, he chooses terms with their own built-in baggage system and does so inaccurately. For instance, liberalism in it's most prominent current form does predate fundamentalism in its current form and predates evangelicalism by a long shot. Therefore to identify what he defines as earlier with the term earlier, is not intrinsically accurate. Old line liberalism is hardly an "emerging" theology. It has been around since the days of Darwin. (Darwin was not operating in a theological vacuum. I'm not saying that Darwin was primarily speaking of theological things, just that he was not alone in his willingness to question theological suppositions.)

So, I don't like his terms because they mislead us.

Next, let's talk about verbal plenary inspiration. Again, Borg avoids the tech terms. He calls this literal-factual.

"Verbal plenary inerrancy means that one believes all of the Bible is inspired down to the very words of Scripture. The belief in non-verbal plenary inerrancy would mean that one believes all the Bible is inspired, but only as to its concepts—not all the words—meaning that it might contain historical errors."

Conservative Bible scholars would immediately defend "verbal" inspiration, claiming that concepts are built upon words, so you can't give up the God-source for the very words of Scripture. Less conservative folks, me included, would say, yes, but words are, after all, only words. They do not remain stable, meaning slips out from under them.

(Eg What did William Butler Yeats mean when he wrote:

“I have heard that hysterical women say
They are sick of the palette and fiddle-bow.
Of poets that are always gay,”

Not a comment on sexual identity, but. . . )

Words do not have the power to remain verbally inspired even if they want to, even if God wants them to. Not in the world we live in.

At any rate, the whole inspiration discussion is an important one, but not one that you can engage in properly without the whole history. I’m not saying he is doing an unfair thing. Just that you, as a “hunter” need to acknowledge that there is more, much more, to be said on this subject.

It wasn’t until the second century that people started talking about such a thing as verbal, plenary inspiration. Augustine in the fourth century probably tackled the subject more completely, but that was at a time when the content of the Canon of Scripture was still under debate. Augustine included in his Canon a book or two that we don’t include. Groups of church leaders got together to argue vehemently about this stuff, back then. The fact that we are discussing it now should not be hard to believe. However, we should not draw too many conclusions without doing all of our homework.

Borg has done some homework, but his opinions come from a particular perspective. It is a different one from mine. I have done some homework too. You have a perspective. You have done some homework. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn from each other. And it doesn’t mean we don’t have more homework to do.

This is getting long. But, I want to include comments on what we discussed on the phone.

Borg lists 3 things as specific issues that divide the contemporary church.
1. Ordination of women
2. Gays and lesbians
3. Christian exclusivism

The first two are cultural hot buttons. They are important. You know your feminist mother is very active in the cause of the first issue. I am doing my homework in the area of the second. But the third is in a totally different category. Putting the third in the list with the first two and only those two minimizes the qualitative difference of that issue.

I’m not saying that it is out of line to discuss the third.

A realtor friend once said to me, “everything I own is for sale, if the price is right.” For me, everything I believe is up for discussion, if the thinking is clear enough.

However, this list is not clear thinking. It is using hot buttons to introduce a categorically different line of discussion. That is intellectual manipulation. Don’t be fooled by it. Borg should know better. Again, I’m not saying he doesn’t have important things to say.

More later,

I love you.


PS. I meant to give you some background on Borg and Spong, who he refers to. I’ll do that later. But the connection between Borg and the Jesus Seminar is key to understanding him. This is part of the “Quest for the historical Jesus” movement, driven by the idea that you can take the Gospels and figure out which statement Jesus actually made and which he did not make. Of course there is very little historical information about Jesus outside of the scriptural texts. Just a quick reference to him in the works of Josephus. That’s about it. Obviously, the work of the Jesus Seminar is pretty speculative. I think they would like it to be authoritative and Borg’s more popularized books (with their non-technical prose) are an attempt to present the work of the Seminar to the “common folk.”

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