Saturday, November 26, 2011

Reducing Christian Faith to Contemporary Secular Assumptions

In an article entitled "Shrinking Jesus and Betraying the Faith," the Rt. Rev. C. FitzSimons Allison (retired bishop of South Carolina) takes aim at two biblical scholars whose work finds a welcome home within many "mainline" churches:

Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan are two remarkably popular theologians who teach a version of Christianity that reduces the Christian faith to contemporary secular assumptions. For Crossan, Jesus was an illiterate Jewish cynic. No Incarnation, no Resurrection. The Easter story is “fictional mythology” (p. 161, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography). Borg claims that Jesus was only divine in the sense that Martin Luther King and Gandhi were divine. Borg dismisses the creeds (p.10, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time) Jesus was a “spirit person,” “a mediator of the sacred,” “a shaman,” one of those persons like Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Mohammed, et al. (p. 32)

Recently Borg and Crossan have collaborated on a book, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Final Days in Jerusalem. Their Jesus is a semi-revolutionary leader of peasants and outcasts against the priestly elite and those who accommodate to the dominant system of Roman coercive authority. It was not our sinful condition that demanded his crucifixion but this elite. Borg and Crossan’s Jesus does not come from God to take away sin but arose from among the innocent to teach us how not to be a part of the dominant systems. They fail to understand the depth of sin in all of us at all times, including peasants, as well as the elite. More importantly they lose the assurance of ultimate mercy and forgiveness.

Speaking of elites these two “scholarly authorities” purport to tell us, “What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus.” They pander to an increasingly secular culture and to the human itch to find some undemanding simplicity that now finally explains everything. And they do this while ignoring, and without reference to, the multitude of superior contemporary scholars such as Richard Bauckham, Raymond Brown, Luke Timothy Johnson, N. T. Wright, Richard Hays, Leander Keck, Christopher Bryan, and scores of others whose works reflect the faith of scripture and the creeds.

Citing a blog posting by a clergy colleague in another diocese, I've offered criticism of Borg and Crossan (as well as Elaine Pagels and Bishop Spong) on this blog. And I've added to the mix Fleming Rutledge's recent critical response to Borg, as well.

I cannot agree with everything Bishop Allison says in his article. And sifting wheat from tares in what I've read by each of them, there are helpful nuggets of wisdom to be found in the work of Borg and Crossan, in spite of their affiliation with the Jesus Seminar (I note that Borg's work was an important resource for a sermon I preached on Mark 1:40-45).

Nevertheless, I've always found it odd when folks who find the overall agenda of scholars like Borg and Crossan persuasive also want to worship in churches whose liturgies affirm the very doctrinal content of the Christian faith this scholarship ultimately denies. Embracing paradox is one thing (after all, Christian orthodoxy affirms the paradoxical nature of the Christian faith). But embracing contradiction is something else.

1 comment:

Robert F said...

The reason people can both find Borg and Crossan convincing and continue to worship in churches that affirm traditional doctrines about Jesus is because they believe that truth, including religious truth, is plural. Like Hindus, they believe that one can approach the divine/ultimate through whatever images and practices and metaphors one prefers, so there is no reason to join an ashram or zendo or etc. And in this matter, many both in the clergy and laity share this same viewpoint when they get together to talk outside of the context of Sunday worship. The Bible has a word for this sort of thing: idolatry.