“Jesus” by Marcus Borg: A Book Review (Chapter 1)

Today, we will look at chapter 1 (“Jesus Today”) of Marcus Borg’s book, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary.

Borg begins by explaining that our culture is “Christ-haunted” and “Christ-forgetting.” He, then, points to the observation that Christians are divided over the origin of the universe, over the Iraq war, over gay marriage, and over economic/social policy.

He then moves to the different ways that the “story of Jesus” is told in the United States. However, before getting to the different ways of viewing Jesus in our culture, he first takes some shots at  Sola Scriptura and inerrancy.

He writes,

Christians find the decisive revelation of God and life with God in Jesus, just as the Jews find the decisive revelation of God in the Torah and Muslims find the decisive revelation of God in the Qur’an.

Take note that the correlation made above is intended to be parallel. Just as the Muslims find God’s revelation in the Qur’an, so Christians find the revelation of God in Jesus.

Anticipating my frustration, he continues,

Of course, Christians also speak of the Bible as the revelation of God, indeed the ‘Word of God.’ Yet orthodox Christian theology from ancient times has affirmed that the decisive revelation of God is Jesus. The Bible is ‘the Word’ become words; Jesus is ‘the Word’ become flesh, God’s revelation in a human life. Thus Jesus is more decisive than the Bible.

Honestly, I think he’s both begging the question as well as presenting a false-dichotomy between the revelation of Jesus and the Bible (cf. John 1:14; Luke 1:2; 2 Peter 1:16; 1 John 1).

He continues and actually begins to self-destruct,

Importantly, Jesus is not the revelation of ‘all’ of God, but of what can be seen of God in a human life. Some of God’s traditional attributes or qualities cannot be seen in a human life…a human being cannot be all-powerful and still be human. So also omniscience: what could it mean to say that a human is ‘omniscient’ and that Jesus in particular was? That he would ‘know everything’ – including, for example, the theory of relativity or the capital of Oregon.

So Borg holds that Jesus is the decisive revelation of God (even “more decisive than the Bible”), but yet he admits that a human body cannot display omnipotence or omniscience, characteristics he knows to be true concerning God. Where did he get this conception of God if not from the Jesus? Beyond that, where did he find out that Jesus is a person?  I’ll spell it for you: B-I-B-L-E. It’s the Scriptures that reveal these things so plainly about God; one cannot know the Father or Jesus in any significant way apart from the Bible.

Borg continues with the various ways the “story of Jesus” is told in the United States.

1. The Dying Savior: Jesus Died for Our Sins

2. Jesus as the Divine Human: God in Human Form

Borg writes,

Many of us have been asked by Christians who are quite sure they are orthodox, ‘Do you believe Jesus was God?’ But this view is actually one of the earliest Christian heresies, known as docetism…

So to refer to Jesus as God is docetistic? To refer to Jesus as God somehow implies that He was not human? He continues,

But Christians have commonly seen Jesus as having divine knowledge – that’s why he could speak with God’s authority and know the future – and as having divine power – that’s why he could walk on water, heal the sick, change water into wine, raise the dead, and so forth.

This is where he self-destructs again,

In addition to being docetic, this way of telling Jesus’s story has an additional problem. Namely, if Jesus had superhuman power and knowledge, he cannot be a model for human behavior.

What? Borg needs to read his New Testament more carefully. Being deity does not disqualify the Father from being a “model for human behavior.”

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect. – Matthew 5:48

Why, then, should deity disqualify Jesus from being a model for human behavior? If you read the Bible, it doesn’t.

In the epistles Paul wants the believers to be filled with “all the fullness of God.” Who is the fullness of God? Jesus (cf. Ephesians 3:19; Colossians 2:9). Further, Peter explains that through the great and precious promises, believers may become partakers of the “divine nature.”

3. The Apocalyptic Jesus: The End is Near

Borg sees the Jesus of the Left Behind Series (which he uses to characterize dispensational eschatology in general) as the “killer Jesus.”

4. Jesus as teacher: Guidance for Moral Life

Borg has little time for this view of Jesus. It “minimizes or sets aside the explicitly religious dimension of his life and message.”

After highlighting the ways Jesus is portrayed in America, he moves on to two different paradigms through which people see Jesus.

1. Jesus Within an Earlier Christian Paradigm (the paradigm of which Borg is not a part)

 a. The earlier paradigm sees Jesus through a Christian doctrinal lens.

He writes,

I understand the creeds as later Christian testimony to the significance of Jesus. In their language (language that had developed over a few centuries) these Christians expressed their deepest convictions about Jesus – about who he was (and is) and why he matters. These convictions flowed out of their continuing experience of the presence of Jesus, their worship and devotion, and their thought. But I do not see them as expressing beliefs or understandings that were already there in the first century, already there in the mind of Jesus and his earliest followers.

b. The earlier paradigm sees the gospels and Jesus within the framework of biblical literalism.

The gospel stories of Jesus’s miraculous birth and his spectacular deeds are understood as reporting events that really happened.

c. The earlier paradigm sees Jesus as intrinsically linked to the afterlife.

Thus Jesus – his message and his death – are about the way to heaven. And within this paradigm, he is most commonly seen as the only way of salvation. In a sentence, ‘Believe in Jesus now for the sake of heaven later.’

I would hope that no true Christian would ever abandon the above statement. It is obvious that it does not go far enough; there are obvious present ramifications of the gospel, but the future ones should not be nullified.

d. The earlier paradigm emphasizes believing.

Borg is frustrated with folks like me who insist that there are certain truths that must be believed to validate belief in a person (Jesus). In other words, I can say I believe in Jesus; however, if I don’t believe that He rose again, then I don’t believe in the real Jesus, but rather a creation of my imagination.

He sets up a dichotomy between believing in Jesus and believing truths about Jesus. He insists that Christians must believe in (a person), not necessarily believe that (specific content). Since he also believes that Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God, perhaps we should see what Jesus said about believing. Interestingly in John 5, Jesus says:

For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?

It is evident that there is no true believing in a person without believing content, for people are defined by certain content. The heart of being a Christian is believing in the true Jesus; this Jesus is declared plainly in the New Testament. Borg’s model allows an individual to believe that Jesus is a middle-aged waitress at a diner in Des Moines, Iowa and still consider himself a true Christian all along.  

2. Jesus Within an Emerging Christian Paradigm (the view of which he espouses a modified view)

Borg believes that a proper paradigm is one that involves “a discerning integration of Enlightenment knowledge.” In other words, the Bible should be held as valid; however, what we know from modern sciences should be integrated into our view of Scripture as well.

Most alarming, Borg describes the pardigm like this:

It takes seriously our growing awareness of religious pluralism, which makes it difficult to believe that only one religion is the true religion.

He continues with the view of Scripture from this paradigm:

Within this framework, the Bible and the gospels (like the sacred scriptures of other religions) are human responses to the sacred. They tell us not what God says, but what our spiritual ancestors said.

Wow. There you have it; Borg does not believe the Bible is God’s Word. His views are neo-orthodox through and through. No wonder he cannot hold to the exclusive claims of Jesus to be the only way of salvation for the world.   

One chapter in and not sure I even need to keep reviewing this book.


  1. #1 by Lee Squier on January 9, 2009 - 6:12 pm

    WOW is right! Talk about receiving a strong delusion. It is very sad that such views are taken seriously.

  2. #2 by Ken Silva on January 9, 2009 - 6:17 pm

    Nice job Dave, this is very helpful. By the way check this out

    Marcus Borg from his 1997 book The God We Never Knew: “The next step in my understanding of the Bible took place in seminary. There I let go of the notion that the Bible is a divine product. I learned that it is a human cultural product, the product of two ancient communities, biblical Israel and early Christianity. As such, it contained their understandings and affirmations, not statements coming directly or somewhat directly from God (25).”

    Now Rob Bell from2004: The Bells started questioning their assumptions about the Bible itself – “discovering the Bible as a human product,” as Rob puts it, rather than the product of divine fiat. “The Bible is still in the center for us,” Rob says, “but it’s a different kind of center. We want to embrace mystery, rather than conquer it.” (http://www.brianmclaren.net/archives/000271.html)

    Bell’s heading down the same dead end road I’d say. Borg’s just a bit ahead of him right now.

  3. #3 by clearly on January 9, 2009 - 6:24 pm

    It isn’t shocking that Rob finds Borg’s writings so helpful (having cited them somewhat frequently in Velvet Elvis). It is becoming more and more obvious that they play for the same team.

  4. #4 by Ken Silva on January 9, 2009 - 6:59 pm

    Indeed. I’ve referred to them as peas in a corrupt spiritual pod. 😉

  5. #5 by Teresa Blosser on January 9, 2009 - 7:26 pm

    I quake in my boots when I read Jude and 2 Peter, when it talks about these liars leading people astray and how the darkest chains in hell are reserved for them. Bell has children! Think of what these apostates are teaching their own flesh and blood not to mention yours and mine.

    My four year old knows and believes enough that he puts these grown men to shame with their attack against scripture. I sometimes feel sorry for them. They make a lot of money of this garbage they produce and they are enjoying the fame till their last breath or they are staring at the face of their *new* and wonderful world dictator they will have the same agenda as.

    Poor fools don’t even see it coming; you warn them and they don’t even understand. Jesus really is the One True God in human flesh and all honor will go to him, the Blessed Holy Soirit and the Glorious Father God. May they get much glory!

  6. #6 by Chris on January 9, 2009 - 8:10 pm

    Just give me ye olde simple gospel. Why complicate it?

  7. #7 by Ken Silva on January 10, 2009 - 7:26 am

    Chris: “Just give me ye olde simple gospel. Why complicate it?” Because men like Borg don’t believe it.

    Remember 1 Corinthians 2:14 reminds us that if men like Borg and John Shelby Spong don’t understand tghe Scriptures it’s because they do not have the Spirit of God.

    And if they are not regenerated they remain destined for Hell. I don’t kknow for sure but my guess is Dave is bringing this to light in order that people will pray that Borg et al repent and believe.

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