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"Both and..."

by John Miles


Dear Friends,

Last week I commented on a phrase Bishop Dan Solomon used at a meeting of Elders of the Arkansas area. He suggested that United Methodists take a "both and" approach to Christian theology and ethics. I wish I had more time to discuss individually with Bishop Solomon what exactly he meant by that phrase. I know that some United Methodist lay people and pastors use this "both and" approach to justify beliefs that are simply not Christian.

As an example, this week I read that Perkins School of Theology, my graduate school, has asked Marcus Borg to be the Keynote speaker at this year's Ministers Week. Marcus Borg is the most prominent member of the Jesus Seminar, a group of liberal scholars who vote on the portions of the Gospels that they believe are authentic to Jesus.

Many clergy in our denomination would suggest that Borg represents a liberal understanding of what it means to be a United Methodist Christian and someone like me represents the more conservative wing of our church. Here then is the "both and" principle. Our church encompasses both liberal and conservative views. Those of us in the conservative camp find this notion intolerable. Marcus Borg clearly rejects many of the most basic doctrines of our Christian faith.

I have written about Marcus Borg many times. Here is a brief review of his book "Jesus A New Vision"

He writes, "The popular image is most familiar to Christian and non-Christian alike: the image of Jesus as a divine or semidivine figure, whose purpose was to die for the sins of the world, and whose life and death open up the possibility of eternal life. Its answers to the three questions of identity, purpose, and message are clear. As the only begotten Son of God, he was sent into the world for the purpose of dying on the cross as a means of reconciliation between God and humankind, and his message consisted primarily of inviting his hearers to believe that what he said about himself and his role in salvation was true." Pg. 2

Of this popular image he writes, "In short, the image of the historical Jesus as a divine or semi-divine being, who saw himself as the divine savior whose purpose was to die for the sins of the world, and whose message consisted of proclaiming that, is simply not true."Pg. 6

Jesus according to Borg is not the 'only son of God, "If 'beloved Son' is taken to mean 'unique' Son of God in the sense in which the church uses that term, then the phrase must be viewed as historically suspect." Pg. 41

Further, Borg states that Jesus did not view himself as the Son of God, "If 'Son of God' is used in the special Christian sense which emerges in the rest of the New Testament (by the time of Paul and John, preexistent with God from before creation; by the time of Matthew and Luke, conceived by the Spirit and born of a virgin), then almost certainly Jesus did not think of himself as the Son of God." Pg.49

Jesus did not die because he wanted to atone for the sins of the world rather, "He was killed because he sought, in the name and power of the Spirit, the transformation of his own culture. He issued a call for a relationship with God that would lead to a new ethos and thus a new politics. For that goal he gave his life, even though his death was not his primary intention." Pg.184

He goes on to reject the resurrection as an objective historical event, "Though the story of the historical Jesus ends with his death on a Friday in A.D. 30, the story of Jesus does not end there" pg.184

Borg rejects the Christian claim that Jesus is the Son of God, Rather he is one, presumably among many icons of God. He writes, "As such, he was an 'image' of God, an 'icon' of God, revealing and mediating the divine reality".Pg 191

For Borg the picture of Jesus found in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds are simply wrong pg. 3. Jesus is not THE image of God but rather AN image of God. According to Borg Jesus did not go to the cross as an act of atonement for sin. Indeed sin is never mentioned in Borg's, new vision.

Why would Perkins School of Theology invite someone who is in clear disagreement with much of our stated doctrine in the Discipline of our church? The answer is, I believe, that the doctrine of our church has been replaced, in many parts of the church, by "both and" tolerance. For some, the only heresy is to suggest that one could be a heretic in the first place. Only tolerance is left as the guiding principle of our church.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ this is not the vision of the holy catholic church. It cannot sustain our people and it cannot hold us together. If we truly allow a "both and" notion of tolerance to replace our love for the historical Christ found in the gospels and worshiped in the church, then we will cease to be a Christian movement and we will wither away.

Your Brother,

John Miles

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