Highlands Ranch High School - Mr. Sedivy
- Advanced Placement European
Theories on Jesus and Christianity: Borg
"I am the light of the world," "I am the bread of life," "I am the way, the truth, and the life." Though Jesus likely never spoke these words, John's gospel has for centuries summed up many Christians views of Jesus. John Hick and Marcus Borg have developed theories on Jesus and Christianity which aid the contemporary Christian in creating a new, more compatible image of Christ. It would be presumptuous of to say that every Christian is struggling with their image of, and relationship with Jesus and the dimensions of Christianity. However, I believe that one's faith should be a progressive state of learning and growing and should fit like a good pair of shoes. One should never stop asking questions. My spiritual growth has been strongly influenced by both Hick and Borg and I would like to expound upon their feelings about Jesus and how they have aided me in achieving a comfortable relationship with my faith.
John Hick is one of the most widely read and discussed philosophers of religion in the contemporary world. He is a professor of the Philosophy of Religion, an author of numerous books, and a Christian. Marcus Borg is a professor of Religion and Culture, an author, and a Christian.
Hick and Borg both have extensive knowledge of the historical Jesus and many Christians see this form of scholarship as the enemy of faith. I have found that learning about the historical Jesus and being able to discount much of the image of what I thought I was supposed to picture of Jesus has lead me to a stronger faith in Christ.
Borg explains that, images of Jesus matter. There is a strong connection between images of Jesus and images of Christian life, between how we think of Jesus and how we think of Christian life. Our image of Jesus affects our perception of the Christian life in two ways: it gives shape to the Christian life; and it can make Christianity credible or incredible. New Testament scholarship has shown how fragmentary and ambiguous are the data available to us [in relation to the historical Jesus], and at the same time how large and how variable is the contribution of the imagination to our 'pictures' of Jesus. Jesus was a real man who really lived in first-century Palestine, but the mental images of him upon which Christian devotion has been focused in different ages and in different parts of the church are so widely various that they must in part reflect the variety of temperaments and ideals, and above all the varying spiritual needs, within the world of believers.
The Popular Image of Jesus is what Borg describes as the package image of Jesus that is formed in Christian's minds by the age of twelve. This is a kind of lowest common denominator understanding of Jesus that many adults never get beyond. It has three primary elements in it - answers to three central questions. The questions of: 1) Jesus' identity; 2) His purpose; 3) His message. According to the popular image, his identity was that he was the divinely begotten son of God. His purpose was to die for the sins of the world. His message was primarily about himself; about his purpose for dying for the sins of the world and about the importance of believing in him. That childhood image came as part of a larger package.
A package understanding of Christianity as consisting of a set of doctrinal beliefs, a code of behavior, and an understanding of the bible as God's word telling us what to believe and how to live. Tied to that was the understanding of believing that Christianity and Jesus were the only way of salvation. It is this image, I believe that has caused many Christians to struggle with or even turn away from their faith. Hick states that this Nicene definition of God-the-Son is only one way of conceptualizing the lordship of Jesus, and that in the new age of world ecumenism which we are entering it is proper for Christians to become conscious of both the optional and mythological character of this traditional language.
The popular image of Jesus is not historical, which is to say that almost certainly, Jesus did not think of himself as the son of God, that his own purpose was not to die for the sins of the world, and that his message was not about himself or the importance of believing in him. The gospels represent the developing traditions of the early Christian movement. The first gospel wasn't even written until 35-45 years after Christ's death and the stories were told by the disciples, not authored by them. All that we know of the adult Jesus is from two and a half years of his life.
Much happened in the thirty five to seventy years when the gospel material circulated in oral form to change the traditions about Jesus. The early Christian movement's beliefs about Jesus grew during those decades and they increasingly spoke of Jesus as divine and as having the qualities of God, a development that within a few centuries was to result in the doctrine of the Trinity. According to Hick, the exaltation of Jesus led the developing tradition of Christianity to speak of him in terms which he himself did not use, and to understand him by means of a complex of beliefs which was only gradually formed by later generations of his followers.
Both Hick and Borg agree that we cannot attribute Jesus to the famous 'I am...' sayings of John but we do nevertheless receive an impression of a real person with a real message lying behind the often conflicting indications preserved in the traditions. Hick suggests that by offering his own impression, he is doing what everyone else does who depicts the Jesus whom he calls Lord: one finds amidst the New Testament evidences indications of one who answers one's own spiritual needs.
Hick states: I see the Nazarene, then, as intensely and overwhelmingly conscious of the reality of God, and addressing God as abba, father. His spirit was open to God and his life a continuous response to the divine love as both utterly gracious and utterly demanding. He was so powerfully God-concious that his life vibrated, as it were, to the divine life; and as a result his hands could heal the sick, and the 'poor in spirit' were kindled to knew life in his presence. If you or I had met him in first century Palestine we would - we may hope - have felt deeply disturbed and challenged by his presence. We would have felt the absolute claim of God confronting us, summoning us to give ourselves wholly to him and to be born again as his children and as agents of his purposes on earth.
Borg supports Hicks impression of the Jesus of first-century Palestine. Borg believes that God (or "the Spirit," to say the same thing) was central in Jesus' own life. He sees Jesus as one whose spirituality - his experiential awareness of the Spirit - was foundational for his life. This perception became the vantage point for what Borg has come to understand as the key truth about Jesus: that in addition to being deeply involved in the social world of everyday, he was also grounded in the world of the Spirit. That Jesus' relationship to the Spirit was the source of everything that he was. Jesus knew God. Borg stated in lecture that, "Jesus challenged the conventional wisdom of his own day and taught in his own way that the unexamined life is not worth living. He had an enlightenment experience and taught the way of compassion. He was a healer who challenged a sharply stratified social system. He must have been a remarkable figure."
In the past, Christians have generally accepted the established language about Jesus as part of their devotional practice without raising the question of its logical character. Christology is the branch of Christian theology that deals with the nature of Christ. Compact and broadly, Christology focuses on the relationship between Jesus and God. Its subject matter includes the Christological images of the New Testament, the humanity and divinity of Jesus and how the two are related to each other.
I am most interested in showing Hick and Borg's similar views to the most familiar Christology to people, that of the image of Jesus' relationship to God as Son of the Father. The Son of God Christology is the core of the popular image of Jesus.
The understanding of Jesus as God the Son Incarnate, the Second Person of the Trinity, 'true God of true God', etc. Is far from anything, according to Hick, that the historical Jesus can reasonably be supposed to have thought or taught. However, in Jesus' presence, we should have felt that we were in the presence of God - not in the sense that the man Jesus literally is God, but in the sense that he was so totally conscious of God that we could catch something of that consciousness by spiritual contagion. Jesus was so overwhelmingly conscious of the heavenly Father that he could speak about him with authority, could summon men and women to live as his children, could declare his judgement and his forgiveness, and could heal the sick by his power.
Jesus must thus have been conscious of a unique position among his contemporaries, which may have been expressed by accepting the title of Messsiah or, alternatively by applying to himself the image of the heavenly Son of Man - two categories each connoting a human being called to be God's special servant and agent on earth. Hick believes that the doctrine of the incarnation cannot be understood as a factual hypothesis. That Jesus was God the Son Incarnate is not literally true. The language of the incarnation should be understood as poetic, metaphorical or 'mythological'; expressive of the commitment felt by the Christians' Jesus as the one through whom they have found themselves in God's presence, and discovered God's purpose for their lives.
Hick believes that to see the work of Jesus in this way is not a denial, but an affirmation, of the real significance of the historical figure. For, without the barriers set up by Christian doctrine round his person, people of other faiths can more easily draw inspiration from his life and teaching. The real historical Jesus may be released from the stained-glass windows of Christian piety and may once more become a source of inspiration and example to the world.
Borg explains that Christological language cannot be taken literally as it is metaphorical. Thus it is not the case that Jesus is literally "the Son of God," but metaphorically is one whose relationship to God is so intimate and deep that he could be spoken of as the son of Abba. We do not know whether this way of speaking began while Jesus was still alive, or whether these images were present in his own consciousness. Recognizing that this early language was metaphorical subverts the common impression that Christian faith involves believing that Jesus was literally "the Son of God." Agreeing with Hick, Borg feels that this is a helpful subversion. When "Son of God" is seen instead as one metaphor among several, it opens up the possibility of a much richer understanding of the significance of Jesus as experienced and expressed in the early Christian movement.
It is obvious that both Hick and Borg feel that Jesus, the man, was an amazingly influential man and one who was very important to his time. I would like to, at this point, explore Hick and Borg's current perception of the Jesus they have both come to know.
When Borg wrote Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, he found himself reevaluating his view of Jesus and how he perceived his relationship with Him. He was already a devoted Christian but nonetheless, found himself on a journey of transformation. Borg, throughout most of his adult life believed that Christian life was about believing. He no longer sees it that way. As Borg states, Rather, the Christian life is about entering into a relationship with that to which the Christian tradition points, which may be spoken of as God, the risen living Christ, or the Spirit. And a Christian is one who lives out his or her relationship to God within the framework of the Christian tradition. Borg continues, My own journey has led beyond belief (and beyond doubt and disbelief) to an understanding of the Christian life as a relationship to the Spirit of God - a relationship that involves one in a journey of transformation.
John Hick sees Jesus as one of the greatest teachers humanity has ever had. Hick continues to say, To His believers, He was God's only begotten Son. Could the fact that I do or do not accept this belief make Jesus have any more or less influence in my life? Is all the grandeur of His teaching and of His doctrine to be forbidden to me? I cannot believe so. To me it implies a spiritual birth. My interpretation, in other words, is that Jesus' own life is the key to His nearness to God; that He expressed, as no other could, the spirit and will of God. It is in this sense that I see Him and recognize Him as the son of God.
Though Borg does not state it specifically, I believe that he, along with Hick, is a pluralist. Certainly both have shed the absolutist and exclusivist assumptions of Christianity. It is the acceptance of the movement toward world ecumenism and the authors' urges to learn from the visions, experiences and thoughts of the other great religious traditions that has aided me in developing my sense of faith to a higher level of comfort and understanding. As a Christian who believes in pluralism, Hick and Borg have given me answers to questions that previously served as stumbling blocks to what I thought I should believe as a Christian. I have learned that believing in Jesus does not mean that I must believe doctrines about him or live in fear of my doubts. Rather, I can trust my own intelligence and strive to keep building a strong relationship with my image of the spirit of Jesus.
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