Monday, November 02, 2009

Marcus Borg on Christianity

Here are excerpts from The Heart of Christianity: Re-discovering A Life of Faith (2003). He is discussing three affirmations that are central to Christian faith, those being "the reality of God, the centralty of Jesus, and the centrality of the Bible."

--"God is real. There is a 'More,' to use language I will also use in Chapter 4. . . ."

--"Christian faith means affirming . . . Jesus as the decisive disclosure of God and of what a life full of God looks like. It means affirming Jesus as the Word of God, the wisdom of God, the light of the world, the way, and more, all known in a person. . . . Affirming the centrality of Jesus for Christians need not lead to Christian exclusivism."

--Just as Jesus is for us the Word of God disclosed in a person, so the Bible is the Word of God disclosed in a book. Being Christian means a commitment to the Bible as our foundational document and identity document. The Bible is our story. It is to shape our vision of life---our vision of God, of ourselves, and of God's dream for the earth" (pp. 37-38).

Borg goes into depth on these three foundational aspects of Christianity. The following is under the sub-heading "Metaphor as Bridge":

A Metaphorical approach to the Bible has the potential to be a bridge between the earlier and emerging paradigms. In Christian history, the more-than-literal meaning of biblical texts has always been most important. Only in the last few centuries has their literal factuality been emphasized as crucial.

Moreover, much of conservative Christian preaching today emphasizes the more-then-literal, the more-than-historical meaning of biblical texts. From my recent experience, I provide two brief examples.

The first was in a Pentecostal church. The preacher's text was the story of Jesus healing a paralyzed man in the second chapter of Mark's gospel. The "punch line" of the text and his sermon was, "Jesus said to the paralytic, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk.'" The preacher told several brief and moving stories of people paralyzed, immobilized in their lives, by addictions of various kinds, by long-term unemployment and giving up on ever finding a job, by abuse the prevented intimate relationships, and so forth. And after each story, he paused dramatically and then said emphatically, "And to that person Jesus says, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk!'" It occurred to me that he was preaching the text as metaphor; that is, he was preaching the more-than-literal, the more-than-historical meaning of the text.

The second was an Easter sermon in a conservative Baptist church. The pastor's sermon repeated one sentence over and over again, with great emphasis on the last four words: "They went to the tomb, but the tomb was empty!" In between the repetitions, he told stories of people who had encountered what felt like the "end" of their lives and hopes bitter disappointments, devastating griefs, tragic betrayals, children killed in accidents or imprisoned, financial catastrophes--the whole terrain of human trouble. And after each, often with his eyes getting big, his voice lowering to a hushed but loud whisper filled with amazement, he said, "And they went to the tomb---but the tomb was empty." His point was clear: what they had feared was the place of endings and death was the place of beginnings and new life. It was enormously effective (pp. 56-57).