By Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright | Reviewed by Gordon Enderle
In this book, Borg and Wright (two well-known theologians) make arguments about who Jesus was and who Jesus continues to be. Both men state their belief that Jesus of Nazareth is Lord. After that initial statement, the book is filled with much more disagreement than agreement. The authors debate core Christian tenets such as the virgin birth, the resurrection, the divinity of Jesus and the second coming. These excerpts illustrate the point:
Borg on the divinity of Jesus: If asked whether I believe Jesus was God, my answer is no, and yes. Though the response sounds evasive, what I mean is quite precise. Do I think Jesus thought of himself as divine? No. Do I think he had the mind of God – that is, did he know more than his contemporaries (and anybody who has ever lived) because, in addition to having a human mind, he had a divine mind? No. Do I think he had the power of God? That he could, for example, have called down twelve legions of angels to protect himself, as Matthew 26:53 reports he said? No. But if we make the distinction between the pre-Easter Jesus and the post-Easter Jesus, then my answer would be “Yes, the post-Easter Jesus is a divine reality – is indeed one with God.” And about the pre-Easter Jesus, I would say “He is the embodiment or incarnation of God.”
Wright on the resurrection: Grasping the nettle – proposing, as a historical statement, that the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth was empty because his body had been transformed into a new mode of physicality – will of course evoke howls or protest from those for whom the closed world of Enlightenment theory renders any such thing impossible from the start. … It is no good falling back on “science” as having disproved the possibility of resurrection. Any real scientist will tell you that science observes what normally happens; the Christian case is precisely that what happened to Jesus is not what normally happens. For my part as a historian I prefer the elegant, essentially simple solution rather than the one that fails to include all the data; to say that the early Christians believed that Jesus had been bodily raised from the dead, and to account for this belief by saying that they were telling the truth. Marcus (Borg) asks, would a video camera have recorded the event? Assuming that a camera would pick up what most human eyes would have seen (by no means a safe assumption), my best guess is that cameras would sometimes have seen Jesus and sometimes not. But that, from early Easter day, someone in principle could have photographed the empty tomb where he had lain the previous thirty-six hours, I have no doubt.
The reader should understand that the authors have studied the New Testament and early Christian life for decades and are at the top of their fields. The book can be confusing and seem to wander at times for readers who do not have a strong biblical background or who are not well-versed in Jewish culture around the earthly time of Jesus. Readers may wonder how Borg decides which parts of the New Testament are historical and which parts are metaphorical. He often just states his beliefs without any rationale. Readers may also find it hard to follow Wright’s sometimes rambling, circuitous arguments in the face of Borg’s razor-sharp analysis.
In the end, readers who have a working knowledge of the New Testament and can spend time with the text will be challenged and, perhaps, rewarded with a stronger understanding of who Jesus was and who Jesus is today.