“Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger,” (James 1:19)  is not only good advice but essential in discerning and evaluating truth claims.

Last fall, I came across the following statements by N.T. Wright in The Australian:

“[N.T. Wright] An eminent theologian, an expert on the historical and biblical Jesus and a staunch believer in the resurrection, he baulks at denouncing those who are not.  

“‘I have friends who I am quite sure are Christians who do not believe in the bodily resurrection,’ he says carefully, citing another eminent scholar, American theologian Marcus Borg…

“‘Marcus Borg really does not believe Jesus Christ was bodily raised from the dead. But I know Marcus well: he loves Jesus and believes in him passionately. The philosophical and cultural world he has lived in has made it very, very difficult for him to believe in the bodily resurrection. ‘” (Article by Jill Rowbotham, Apr 13, 2006 Not all Christians believe in the resurrection)

I saw some bloggers immediately condemn Wright and I started to lean in that direction.  Then I started to ask questions.  What if Borg does believe in the resurrection in a spiritual sense and affirms most everything else about Jesus?  Would he be excluded as he tried passionately to follow the Jesus his philosophical and cultural worldview would not allow?  Be slow to speak…

Wright defends the historical Jesus and especially the resurrection voluminously, eloquently, and passionately.  He also reaches out to and engages his academic brothers of the liberal persuasion.  He challenges the liberal world to consider his Jesus.

But his statements are provocative.  They were the more so coming near Easter last year from a scholar who has spent decades on the first century period and historical Jesus.  And being provoked, I picked up one of Marcus Borg’s most recent books, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary.  It was an uncomfortable process leading me to evaluate the skeletal system of the faith.

Here are several observations about the Jesus that Borg knows:

  • Not the second person of the Trinity[1]
  • Fully man, Not God before Easter
  • Not the Son of God[2]
  • Not raised to life from the dead[3]
  • Not born of the Virgin Mary[4]
  • Not sinless[5]
  • A wisdom teacher on level with Buddha and Lao Tzu[6]
  • One among many ways to God[7]
  • Not necessary to be believed in
  • Jesus did not die FOR the sins of the world[8]
  • Jesus’ crucifixion was NOT necessary[9]
  • Jesus died for political reasons[10]
  • Didn’t perform miracles like changing water to wine, walking on water, etc.

In contrast to Borg’s Jesus, the testimony borne in the Scripture of Jesus is contradictory on almost every point:

  • Always was, begotten NOT created (Col 1:15-19, John 1:1-5)
  • Rose from the dead (I Cor 15, Mark 16, Matthew 28, Luke 24, and John 20-21)
  • Born of the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:26-38, 2:6-7)
  • Died for the sins of the world (John 3:16) as a Substitutionary Atonement- God’s sacrifice to God for sin- Lamb of God (John 1:29, 3:14)
  • Lived sinless (Heb 4:15)
  • The One way to God (John 14:6)
  • Necessary to be believed in (Rom 10:9)

What is obvious is that these are two radically different pictures of Jesus and by Wright saying he has friends who don’t believe in the resurrection but he is quite sure are Christians, and then identifying Borg as one, is profoundly troubling.  There is no doubt, from his construction of Jesus and his denial of the testimony that led to the death of many of the apostles that Borg is preaching another gospel (the severity of which is highlighted in Gal 1:8). 

At best, this demonstrates fuzziness as far as Wright’s understanding of the gospel.  Borg’s own autobiographical sketch identifies growing up in a traditional Lutheran community and fails to liberate him from having a cultural or philosophical worldview from which he can deny the bodily resurrection.  Wright is quite wrong about the standing of his friend.

Practically, it is one thing to say Wright should not waffle on the eternal standing of his liberal friends.   It is quite another for us to do the same, being ready to have friends and family who drive us out and hate us for the name of Christ because we ourselves have a better hope (Matt 10:34-39, Luke 6:22, Heb 10:34-36). 

[1]Borg 136 “Was Jesus- the pre-Easter Jesus- God?  No.”  also Pg 321.

[2] Ibid 135-136

[3] Ibid 274-276

[4] Ibid 60-63.

[5] Ibid 120 tells us Jesus “decided to undergo, “John’s baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” and on pg 173 Borg entertains as an interesting possibility the notion that Jesus was the prodigal spoken of in Luke 15.

[6] Ibid 166

[7] Ibid 328

[8] Ibid 274 “According to the gospels, Jesus did not die for the sins of the world.  The language of sacrificial substitution is absent from their stories.  But in an important sense he was killed because of the sins of the world.”

[9] Ibid 274 “Did Good Friday have to happen?  As divine necessity?  No.  As human inevitability?  Virtually.”

[10] Ibid 274