Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Return of the Borg

Wednesday night (3/7) the OSU Socratic Club held debate/discussion between OSU professor Dr. Marcus Borg and Dr. Brad Harper of Multnomah Biblical Seminary. The topic discussed was “How different views of Jesus affect the church’s engagement of culture.” Harper holds an orthodox view of Jesus, whereas Borg has a more progressive view, as outlined by the Jesus Seminar. The debate was quite good and sometimes began to go over my head as they delved deep into a number of theological issues. This debate would have been very much at home with a room full of seminary students. However, if I had to distill their arguments into a few essential points, it would be that Borg believes that the traditional view of Jesus is too temporal and consequently results in his followers neglecting this world in favor of the next. In contrast, Harper, while acknowledging this point, found Borg’s more material view too lacking in its capacity to offer hope and redemption. The debate was far more substantive than I can justly communicate, but I believe this was the essence of the discussion.

Borg invoked images from the Left Behind novels to illustrate his point about traditional views of Jesus and the culture, citing “almost pornographic images of violence.” Borg describes this viewpoint as “warlike.” Essentially he is saying that if this world doesn’t matter, then why bother caring about the environment? Why try to end suffering? Why seek justice for the oppressed? He believes that the “Kingdom of God” was intended to be here on Earth rather than in Heaven. Harper admitted that the church has sometimes been neglectful in its zeal to save souls while ignoring their material needs, but that Borg’s view Jesus is too focused in the present (and in the material), not taking a long term view toward Jesus and that the consequences of this were important. As one might expect, they disagreed on the role of scripture in this subject; Borg favoring a looser interpretation, Harper a more literal interpretation.

There were two key points during the debate that offered good discussion. The first occurred as Harper was articulating the idea of God and Man in one person. Harper characterized this as “a mystery,” and that as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, it is not the “how” that matters, but the “who.” Borg responded to this with kind of a low blow, saying that he was biased against “unintelligible” views of Jesus. Harper countered by pointing out that the traditional view of Jesus was no more “unintelligible” than Borg’s view that Jesus is not God, but a fully human “spirit person,” in whom we see the incarnation of God.

The other good moment came toward the end of the debate when Borg tried to make Harper squirm by pressing him to acknowledge that evangelicals see Jesus as the only way to salvation. This is an unpopular view in the world today because it is seen as exclusionary and simple. Borg believes that there are many paths to God and/or salvation among what he calls the “enduring religions,” whether it be Jesus, Buddha, or Mohammed. Harper handled Borg’s advance with class and conviction, not shying away from traditional Christian doctrine, but also acknowledging God’s sovereignty over our world and its people.

Despite Borg’s simplistic, generalized view of evangelicals, it seems to me that Harper represents a growing number of evangelicals, who acknowledge the good and bad of the church’s past, who do not demand a certain type of government or political point of view, and profess that living the gospel is as important as preaching the gospel


Anonymous said...

Glad to see you blogging again. Jason told me about the discussion yesterday, and although we had Summit, I would have thoroughly loved the conversation.

As I read your recap, it struck me that although I don't think the Jesus Seminar has approached scripture and the person of Jesus taking in the full breadth of historical evidence, I can appreciate his concern that too many followers of Christ have focused on "other world" spirituality to the exclusion of our present world. Not sure how much Borg or Harper spoke to "realized eschatology" but I imagine that there is something to be heard there as the Kingdom is "already" and "not yet."

About Harper's representation of Evangelicalism...from what you've said, yes, it certainly appears that he represents a very thoughtful man who is trying to be honest with scripture and mission. A few years ago, Abilene Christian University's Lexctureship held a Unity Forum highlighting Churches of Christ and Evangelicals. Very good discussion, and I think a lot of pepole came away appreciating the people who represented such a huge category of Christ-followers.

Thanks for giving a blog-byte.

everyday.wonder said...

Excellent post! I would have loved to have been there. My experience in the past is that Borg has a bit of an ironic viewpoint. His view of Jesus is so reductionist (ah, isn't he such a nice person...) that it cuts off any chance of changing a person's life in the here and now. This in turn further distances the possibility for faith to make any a difference in the here and now.

Looking forward to the next one!

Studyhound said...

After reading your review of the debate I find myself firmly planted in the middle of the two men, I can say that I agree with both and disagree with both. Wish I could hear it for myself but, I do look forward to checking out one of the debates in the future.