Yesterday I posted a letter from a reader of this blog and promised that today I’d finish my answer to him. So I begin with an excerpt of his letter and then a response. It’s a tough one we need to think about.
I am also wondering why some of the above mentioned scholars still consider themselves Christians when they have abandoned so much of what seems to be the essence of Christianity. I mean Borg and Crossan do not really see anything unique about the Christian faith in comparison to other religions from what I can tell, they deny the physical resurrection of Jesus instead seeing it as metaphorical, and don’t even necessarily believe in an afterlife. Where is the hope and power of Christianity in such a view? If we are responsible for creating our own paradise as Crossan seems to think (one in which we won’t even participate since we will die before we could ever make the world perfect) and if there is no resurrection from the dead and if God’s people ultimately won’t serve God in a perfect world for eternity what is left to hold on to? Why follow Jesus and be despised by the world if God’s love and justice will not win out?
I am just quite confused by claiming to be a follower of Jesus while rejecting most of what the Bible says and was wondering how you view these two scholars in particular.
Good, good question, and what you ask is asked by many — in fact by more than are willing to say it aloud.
Let me remind ourselves of something: we are not the Judge. Some think they are and toss on final judgments as if they had no idea how serious of stuff this is; and others are so afraid to hold a line with firmness that they avoid any suggestions. Here’s what we need: a humility about our firmness, a humility about our conviction and confidence in Jesus Christ and what he has done for us. But, still, we don’t judge.
A couple of minor points:
1. “What seems to be the essence of Christianity…” I know both Borg and Crossan, and I think it would be fair to say that both of them think they believe and practice (try to practice) the essence of Christianity. Of course, they’ve reshaped it.
2. “See anything unique …” I think they do some things as unique — Jesus for instance is unlike anyone in history in some ways. I think you mean — and I’m guessing — “they don’t think Christianity is unique or the Christian faith is the unique and only way of salvation.” If that is what you mean, you are right. They don’t.
3. On hope … I’m not completely sure, but I think both have hope in God that justice will be finally established. From what I can tell both believe in an afterlife. I don’t know that either believes in a hell.
4. Their hope then seems to be on living in this life the best you can and see what happens, in the hope and faith that justice will win in the end. From what I can see — and I hear lots of this among emergents — they see the task to be this-worldly rather than other-worldly.
But, you’ve asked a “Biggie.”
What is a Christian? What are the necessary and sufficient conditions — to use the common formula of philosophers — to turn a person from a non-Christian to a Christian? What must I do, then, to be saved?
I propose then we see what happens if we use the standard categories.
1. If a Christian is someone who affirms historic orthodoxy, then neither Borg nor Crossan are Christians. Can there be dissent from the Nicene Creed? If so, how much? Are, are we only tied to the clear, plain teaching of the New Testament?
2. If it is someone who personally trusts in Jesus Christ’s “work” to rescue them from their “sin,” then again I don’t think either of them is a Christian. I don’t think either of them, in fact, thinks Jesus died and was (physically) raised from the grave for our forgiveness and justification and that only those who trust that life, death, and resurrection are Christians. How much does one have to believe to be a Christian?
3. If it is someone who “believes” in Jesus by trusting him and and following him, then I would say they are Christians. Both Borg and Crossan have dedicated their lives not only to the academic study of Jesus and the Gospels and the Bible, but they are personally committed to living according to what they think that Jesus and those Gospels and that Bible really teaches. That Jesus is not the orthodox Jesus or even the Jesus of the plain meaning of the NT, but it is Jesus as reconstructed through historical teachings — and they both tend to see the early Christian “renderings” of Jesus as the way those Christians expressed their faith but in a way that many no longer do.
4. If it is someone who “follows Jesus,” then we have to ask what it means to “follow Jesus”. Like #3, both Borg and Crossan “follow the Jesus they think really lived.” Of course, this is not the Jesus of orthodoxy or the Jesus of the Church or the Jesus of the Reformation, but it is the Jesus of progressive and liberal thinking, of pluralistic religions, and the like. They both believe — and practice in my opinion — mercy and justice and love.
What do you think? Are they or are they not?