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Jesus A New Vision - Marcus Borg

Critique by John Miles

Date: Monday, October 27, 1997 12:36 PM

Dear Friends,

I have been writing this newsletter for over a year now and I keep adding names. I write this newsletter because I believe we are at a critical time in the life of the United Methodist Church. In the next ten years we will either embrace a renewed vision of Wesleyan Christianity or we will continue our descent into decline, heresy, and schism.

I recently bit the bullet and read Jesus Seminar scholar Marcus Borg's book, "Jesus A New Vision". The book has been widely praised. A Methodist Bishop, our nation paper The United Methodist Reporter and other leading organizations in the church have given it a glowing review. I got the book from a local pastor going to Memphis Theological Seminary. This book has been taught in our Local Course of Study School and in other colleges and seminaries around the country.

In his book, Borg is quite explicit in his rejection of what he calls the popular image of Jesus. He writes, "The popular image is most familiar to Christian and non-Christian alike: the image of Jesus as a divine or semi-divine 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.

Anyone who has been to a mainline seminary has heard these arguments before indeed Borg's new vision sounds exactly like Bultman's old one. Let's use the quadrilateral to investigate Borg's premise.

First and most important, this is not the teachings of the bible or the church. It is heresy. If you take away Jesus who was the Divine Son of God, who taught that he was representing God and was in fact a new way to God, that he died an atoning death on the cross and was raised in history from the dead then you no longer have the faith of scripture and the church. One may believe whatever one likes about Christ but if one rejects that he was the Son of God then one can not claim in any historical sense to be a Christian.

Second, based on experience, this stuff does not work. Borg himself concedes the need for a new image of Jesus because the old classical rejections of Christ emptied the gospel of the Spirit. He tells of a colleague who claimed that modern theology was a "flat-tire" theology- All of the pneuma (spirit) has gone out of it. Borg writes, "Though I still see modern theology as a treasure of great value for both church and culture, I also see that my colleague's statement was (and is) largely correct". pg. 25. In fact Borg's attempt to add Spirit to this tired notion fails as well. Look around, when the gospel as history is rejected the church suffers. The decline of the mainline church is not due to our lack of skill, it is due to our infection with the bad theology exemplified by Borg. I once myself was tainted by so called "modern theories" of Christ. When I preached that nonsense I got no where. When I fully believed and preached Christ and Him crucified I began to have success.

Finally, reason also compels us to reject Borg. In order to reject the foundational teachings of our faith you must give a compelling case why the traditional picture can not be true. Although modern biblical scholars have shown discrepancies and inaccuracies in the gospels they give no compelling reason to reject the basic vision of Christ found there. C.S. Lewis an Oxford classical literature professor once wrote a wonderful article mocking so called, "modern scholarship". Lewis used the analogy of fern seeds and elephants. Modern scholars wander through the jungle of the New Testament claiming to see exactly how it was all put together. Even after 2000 years they know more about this jungle and its tiny fern seeds than those who lived in it or came in the early generations after it . However, these same scholars can not see what is obvious to even the casual reader. The people who had encountered Christ were transformed by him. He is the elephant these so called scholars completely miss.

If we are to renew our church we have got to address this heresy head on. If we continue to teach this nonsense we will never recover. Next week I want to address the curious lack of challenge to Borg from our church leaders. Please e-mail me if you can help me understand why we so willing allow this heresy to flood our church.

Your Brother,

John Miles.

John Miles is:
  • an Elder in the North Arkansas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
  • is currently pastor of Heber Springs United Methodist Church
  • is a graduate of Hendrix College and Perkins School of Theology
  • is on the Board of the Confessing Movement of Arkansas and is active in Walk to Emmaus and Kairos Prison Ministry
  • In 1997 his church won the large church of the year award for the North Arkansas Annual Conference

John Miles also publishes a weekly E-mail newsletter on issues facing the United Methodist Church. If you would like to recieve that E-mail write

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