Tuesday, July 1, 2014

No, Marcus. Jesus was God.

Because of Facebook, I was exposed to this blog post by Marcus Borg.  The content is disturbing on more than one level, not the least of which is the heresy of Arianism which he openly preaches.  It is also disturbing because there are many within my denomination who follow Dr. Borg ideologically and embrace his teaching as the doctrine to which the church should preach and teach.

Dr. Borg is an intelligent man.  He is well read and well versed in many things, but he is completely and utterly wrong in making many of his assertions in his attempt to make Christianity relevant (dare I say palatable) to a particular group of people.

Let's simply take the following assertion from his blog post:

1. Was Jesus God? No. Not even the New Testament says that. It speaks of him as the Word of God, the Son of God, the Messiah, and so forth, but never simply identifies him with or equates him with God. As John’s gospel puts it, he is the Word become flesh – that is, he reveals what can be seen of God in a finite human life. To say, “I believe Jesus was God” (as some Christians do, or think they are supposed to) goes beyond what the New Testament affirms and is thus more than biblical. He is the Word incarnate – not the disembodied Word.
Borg would do well to remember Christianity's assertion that Jesus is the God made flesh--God incarnate, but that's not his assertion.  Borg's assertion is that the New Testament does not speak of Jesus as God.  He is absolutely wrong on this point.  Absolutely wrong, and I go beyond the statements in the Gospel of John to state my case.

Let's take look at the book of Matthew as a frame of reference.  Most biblical scholars assert that Matthew was written by a Jewish-Christian for a Jewish-Christian audience.  This is important.  Why?

Oxford scholar Richard Bauckham has argued rather thoroughly and decisively in Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament's Christology of Divine Identity  that there was no middle ground for people of the Jewish faith.  God was God.  People were people.  There were no stages of holiness.  To worship anything or anyone other than God--the I am--was blasphemy and idolatry.  There are no instances, and I mean no instances of the worship of any intermediaries or "god like" people or objects.  Yet, the gospel writer Matthew includes three snippets:

And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’ --Matthew 14:33

Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. --Matthew 28:9

When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. --Matthew 28:17

Remember, Jews absolutely, positively did not worship anyone or anything other than God.  Yet, they were worshiping Jesus.  Conclusion: Jesus is being shown unequivocally by Matthew to be God.

Yet, it doesn't stop there.  Matthew doubles down on the notion that Jesus is God on the Sermon on the Mount.  This is found in Matthew chapters 5 through 7.  There is a repetitive phrase spoken by Jesus over and over and over, "You have heard it said...but I say to you..."

Every time Jesus says, "You have heard it said..." He refers to Old Testament Law.  And who gave the Old Testament Law--according to Jewish tradition?  Don't think Moses.  Moses merely conveyed the Law which was given to Him by...God.  God spoke the Law.  God was the initiator of the Law, and Jesus has the audacity to say "You have heard it said...BUT I say to you..."  Jesus is giving Himself quite the high place, don't you think?  He is daring to place His teachings above God's teachings.  Any Jew would have walked away from Him in a heart beat because He dared to do this--unless that Jew believed Jesus to be God--the God made flesh--the God incarnate. 

It is vitally important to recognize that Jesus was God--and is testified as God throughout the New Testament.  Grace only works if Jesus is God.  For the doctrine of grace states that God reconciled the world unto Himself through the Son.  No human being could reconcile the world unto God--only God could.  

But the reading and listening to Borg that I have done does not center on this act of reconciliation.  Borg is consumed by what Christians are supposed to do.  For Borg, Christianity is not focused on what God has done, but is focused on what we do.  For Borg, it's all about our actions, not about grace.  

It is not surprising considering his particular bias, but what is surprising, at least in my estimation, is how many folks embrace what Borg teaches when it is contrary to the New Testament, to most Christian Scholarship, and to the entire, orthodox tradition of Christianity.  He is even lifted up and advertized in my own denomination as someone cutting edge and well worth reading.  *Sigh.*

How is it possible that a scholar who preaches false doctrine is held in such esteem?  When you figure that one out, please let me know.


John Flanagan said...

It is not surprising that many in the ELCA will accept the views of Borg. This denomination has watered the seeds of heresy for too long, and when churches begin to move away from the word of God, embracing as truth those things we know are misguided, the falling away becomes more pronounced, the fall more perilous, the results devastating. I believe a Christian must be loyal and faithful to God's word, but one needs to be guarded with respect to denominational loyalty, less one compromise in order to stay attached to a church body which has gone astray.

Kathy Suarez said...

Here, from Michael Rinehart's website, is Borg's definition of the forgiveness of sins. With this "new" theology, the leaders of the ELCA can justify homosexual acts, homosexual clergy, and now same-sex marriage. It is not hard to twist the words of Scripture to fit our own agendas and our own theology. This is the very nature of heresy, as you pointed out in your comment about Arianism.


First, what does it mean to “forgive sins”? I suggest that we think a bit broader than just the pardon of individual transgressions. Remember all the great dialogues and encounters in this gospel.

Nicodemus needed to see the “light”
The Samaritan woman needed restoration to community.
A paralyzed man at the pool Bethzatha needed to walk.
The crowds following Jesus needed to be fed.
The woman caught in adultery needed freedom from condemnation.
The man born blind needed his sight.
Lazarus needed to be restored to life.

In short, since the consequences/effects of Sin are multi-faceted, the understanding of forgiveness needs to be multifaceted as well. From Speaking Christian:

“Imagine Christian liturgies and preaching that emphasize that we are Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt and need liberation, that we are exiled in Babylon and need a path to return home, that we are blind and need to see again , that we are sick and wounded and need healing and wholeness. And, yes, that we are sinners who need forgiveness.

Imagine- to become more specific than I wish to be- that a confession of sin and absolution were part of the liturgy one Sunday out of five. Imagine that on the other four Sundays, the confession of sin were replaced by images of our predicament as bondage, exile, blindness, and infirmity.

Imagine the absolution replaced by the proclamation that God wills our liberation from bondage, our return from exile, our seeing again, our healing and wholeness. Sin matters. But when it and the need for forgiveness become the dominant issue in our life with God, it reduces and impoverishes the wisdom and passion of the Bible and the Christian tradition.”

Borg, Marcus J. (2011-04-12). Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power-And How They Can Be Restored (p. 152). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

And all I am saying is that we need to be spiritually cognizant of the complexities. If a person has been raped, a narrow understanding of “forgiveness” is not the immediate existential issue!

Second, and this ties in with the first point, Jesus said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

Well, that’s the way things are. It doesn’t happen magically. And, IMHO, Jesus’ words are not some theory as to who holds the “heavenly purse strings of grace”. His words are simply the truth about where he is and how his Spirit functions. If Jesus’ disciples don’t forgive, Jesus’ forgiveness – freedom, restoration, healing, wholeness – cannot come. If we leave people in their sin, Jesus cannot free them. If we do not grant people the “peace of God”, they cannot know it. If we exclude people, Jesus cannot include them.

The Spirit is not just given to bring us comfort and assurance as we face the doubts and uncertainties of our lives – like Thomas in the upcoming part of the story. The Spirit is given so that, through our lives, the risen Lord might be alive in the world.

“What does this mean?”

Grace and peace,
Pastor Don Carlson