Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Marcus Borg's Palliative Care Plan for the "Common Christians," or Why I Want Marcus Borg to Come to My Funeral

Because I want at least one person to be happy, or maybe because then, and only then, will I allow myself to be assimilated into the collective.

From the Washington Post:
"Q.1 What should pastors do if they no longer hold the defining beliefs of their denomination?"
This may not apply to the Episcopal church as it is hard to define the beliefs of the denomination.
"Q.2 Do clergy have a moral obligation not to challenge the sincere faith of their parishioners?"
I am trying to understand this question. I guess the problem the question is trying to address is where the clergy's notion of sincere faith is at variance with the parishioner's notions of sincere faith. For example, (which shall become clear later) if an enlightened theologian, bishop, priest, or deacon, say someone like retired Episcopal Bishop Spong, develops a sincere faith that Jesus married Mary Magdalene, and that Jesus was not resurrected in a physical sense, does someone like Bishop Spong have a moral obligation to withhold these heretical ideas from simple believing pewsitters? All I can say is that if simple parishioners have a sincere faith, their clergy should remember Matthew 18:6,
"But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea."
That sounds like a moral warning which a pastor should have an obligation to obey.

The converse situation can be imagined as an orthodox preacher facing parishioners who are getting caught up in the latest unorthodox wave. Is there some sort of moral obligation to remain silent on the issues? I think not.
"Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables." (2 Timothy 4:2-4 (King James Version))
Next question, please.
Q.3 "If this requires them to dissemble from the pulpit, doesn't this create systematic hypocrisy at the center of religion?"
We don't need any more systemic hypocrisy, but I think the questioner is leading the respondent to imagine a preacher who believes he has a superior grasp on things that those ignorant pew people could never understand and might cause alarm or flight if he preached the new thing from the pulpit. If the preacher hides his new knowledge, wouldn't he be giving his sermon with his fingers crossed behind his back? What about crossing his fingers while saying the creed? Should he cross them in the open or hidden so none of his congregants can see? The poor unorthodox pastor cannot maintain that charade and remain in good health. What is he to do?

My hypothetical orthodox preacher, on the other hand, when faced with doubts might turn to scripture and his spiritual advisor, but would not use the pulpit as either a vehicle to espouse radical new ideas or as a means to work the problem out.
Q.4 "What would you want your pastor to do with his or her personal doubts or loss of faith?"
Easy, don't preach about it until he has recovered, undergo counseling with an orthodox clergyman, recant those false doctrines, pray for understanding and forgiveness from the Lord, immerse themselves in Bible study and prayer, and continue to be mentored by an orthodox clergyman. Failing that, consider another line of work.

Now, I want you to come up with your own answers, and then read Marcus Borg's responses:

Borg: "If a pastor/priest loses his/her faith in the sense of agreeing with 'the new atheism' as expressed in the recent bestselling books by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, then I think it would be hypocritical for them to continue in their professional role. Or they might give themselves a brief period of time to see if this is their settled opinion."

I think it would be beyond hypocritical, and might be better categorized as sinful for a new atheist to continue as a pastor/priest.
Borg: "But I don't think this is the issue that many clergy face. Rather, the issue is what they learned in divinity school versus what they think that many in their congregations think. Contemporary seminary education -mainline Protestant and Catholic - leads to a different understanding of what it means to be Christian than what much of 'common Christianity' affirms."

I get the distinct impression that what they are teaching in seminaries is superior to what "common Christianity" affirms. I am also afraid that Borg is creating a straw man named "Joe Common Christian" which he will proceed to define in the next few sentences.
Borg: "By 'common Christianity,' I mean what most Christians took-for-granted until a generation or two ago - and perhaps about half (or more) of American Christians still assume to be the heart of Christianity. This 'common understanding' sees the afterlife as the central issue that Christianity addresses. Our problem is that we are sinners and deserve to punished, indeed condemned. This is where Jesus comes in: his death was the payment for our sins, and those who believe this will be forgiven and thus go to heaven."

It probably would not make a difference to Marcus Borg because it is not out of the mouth of his historical Jesus, but 2 Corinthians 4:13-18 came up in the lectionary cycle as I was typing this post.
"But just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture—‘I believed, and so I spoke’—we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal."

Common Christians just don't get it, but seminarians have been re-educated and enlightened.
Borg: "In most mainline Protestant and Catholic seminaries, with varying degrees of intensity and clarity, this understanding is undermined by what candidates for ordination learn about the Bible and the Christian tradition. Christianity is not primarily about the afterlife, despite the emphasis placed upon life after death by much of common Christianity. It is about transformation this side of death - the transformation of ourselves and of the world."

Transformation on this side of death is a visible sign of the power of, among other things, the resurrection and the promise of life beyond death. No cross, no crown. Transformation of the world comes about through the actions of these transformed, redeemed, and what common Christians would call "saved" souls. Transformation of our sinful world cannot be completed by creatures such as us by ourselves because, even though baptized, we are always falling into sin. We just can't get it right. We still have to pray, "Thy kingdom come," and not, "Thanks Lord for the baptism and all that, but we can take care of things from here."
Borg: "When clergy sense a difference between this understanding and what their congregation thinks, I encourage them to be discerning."

Please don't give any advice on how to be discerning...uh oh here it comes anyway,
Borg: "If their congregation is mostly elderly and unlikely to survive beyond the death of its members, and if their elderly flock is not using 'common Christianity' to judge and beat up on other people, then there may be no need to try to change them. Clergy in situations like this might see themselves as chaplains in an old folks home."

Great advice, "Humor the poor demented creatures." Or, "That generation will die and then we can be free of "common Christianity." That is what made me think that Borg might be happy at my passing. Why not just go ahead and euthanize the common Christians. Or maybe they are slowly poisoning us. I have a term for that, and I call it "Episcopathanasia."
Borg: "But if clergy are in intergenerational churches with a potential future, then I encourage a different approach. Seek to bring your understanding of Christianity into your congregation. This can be done in sermons, but especially in adult theological re-education."

Hey, we have heard some of those sermons right here in little ole Rock Hill! I call it "beating people up with uncommon Christianity." Spread the new thang! Open the re-education camps!
Borg: "It is a crucial need in our time, and there are resources: reading groups; video series groups, especially videos produced by 'Living the Questions.' Clergy can lead these, though they need not. Laity can also do so."
Oh yeah, "Living the Questions2" a $295 "resource" for the progressive church featuring guess who as a contributor? Marcus Borg of course. Way to work in a free plug Marcus. I am sure there are plenty of gullible lay people who will fall for Borg's uncommon Christianity and shell out the bucks for his books and DVDs, but common Christians should be able to find plenty of Bibles and resources provided for them free of charge by other common Christians.
Borg: "My impression: the timidity - apprehension, fearfulness - of some mainline Protestant and Catholic clergy to convey their richer understandings of the Bible and Christianity has contributed to the decline of Christianity in our time."

These so called "richer" understandings are the cause of the decline and fall of the Episcopal church. How much of those richer understandings came from Borg himself? Just look at the books he has published. Does anyone else see the intellectual snobbery showing? He goes on to isolate himself and his new Christianity further,
Borg: "There are millions of people who cannot accept the beliefs of 'common Christianity.' Let conservative Christianity have a monopoly on 'common Christianity.' But those of us who care about Christianity and its future should not imitate that." By Marcus Borg | March 16, 2010; 3:16 PM ET

I came away from reading Borg's words with the notion that, in his eyes, the church would be better off ridding itself of "common Christians" so that the enlightened Christians could get on with changing the world. I felt the presence of an intellectual snobbishness that was quite disturbing coming from someone whom the church has elevated to such an important position as Canon Theolgian. I for one am glad to be counted as someone who Borg would look down his nose upon. I am looking forward to being placed in the palliative care wing of his church. I sincerely want him to be happy at my passing. In fact, I would predict from his statements that when I go, he would have the biggest smile of anyone attending my funeral. I always wanted people to be happy at my send off, so I really need to invite Marcus Borg so he can help cheer people up.

I will pray for Marcus Borg, that he might come to love the common Christian and their understanding of the faith delivered to us by the witness of the Apostles. Since he is unlikely to listen to a lowly pewster, I will include the following quotation with his invitation to my funeral,
"There is nothing we cannot be made to believe or disbelieve. If we wish to be rational, not now and then, but constantly, we must pray for the gift of Faith, for the power to go on believing not in the teeth of reason but in the teeth of lust and terror and jealousy and boredom and indifference that which reason, authority, or experience, or all three, have once delivered to us for truth."

C.S. Lewis, Christian Reflections (Grand Rapids, MI, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), p. 43.

Post Script:

I ran this post past a common Christian last week, and I asked him what he thought. He responded simply and frankly, "I think he (Borg) must have fallen on his head."

For those of you who are unfamiliar with him, Marcus J. Borg is Canon Theologian at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, OR. Here is a commentary on Marcus Borg from

"Borg makes two negative claims about the historical Jesus: he was nonmessianic, which means that he didn't claim to be the Messiah or have a message focused on his own identity, and he was noneschatological, which means that he did not expect "the supernatural coming of the Kingdom of God as a world-ending event in his own generation" (Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, p. 29). Borg summarizes his view of the historical Jesus in these words: "he was a spirit person, subversive sage, social prophet, and movement founder who invited his followers and hearers into a transforming relationship with the same Spirit that he himself knew, and into a community whose social vision was shaped by the core value of compassion" (op. cit., p. 119). By "spirit person," Borg means that Jesus was a "mediator of the sacred" for whom the Spirit or God was a reality that was experienced. Based on his experience of the sacred, for the historical Jesus compassion "was the central quality of God and the central moral quality of a life centered in God" (op. cit., p. 46). Jesus spoke against the purity system in sayings like "blessed are the pure in heart" and in parables like that of the Good Samaritan. The historical Jesus challenged the purity boundaries in touching lepers as well as hemorrhaging women, in driving the money changers out of the temple, and in table fellowship even with outcasts. Jesus replaced an emphasis on purity with an emphasis on compassion. The historical Jesus spoke an alternative wisdom in aphorisms and parables that controverted the conventional wisdom based upon rewards and punishments. The earliest Christology of the Christian movement viewed Jesus as the voice of the Sophia. The images of Jesus as the Son of God and the Wisdom of God are metaphorical, just as much as the images of Jesus as the Lamb of God and the Word of God.


  1. What's interesting is that such a discussion proceeds from a starting point, the truth of which remains to be proven. That is, Christianity is either about our eternity or transforming the world and making the world a better place.

    Really? Is it not both? The difference between the two concerns whether humans can be completely successful at the latter, as you point out.

    Christ said, "I came that you might have life and have it more abundantly." Life in Christ is an eternal continuum starting at conception and moving ever forward into eternity. Abundant Life implies transformation here and now as well as post death, which is noting more than a change of state.

    As for the role of seminaries in this shift, one wonders how much of it is based upon newer "understandings" of the actual Gospel as opposed to the infiltration of socialist, humanist philosophy.


  2. Anonymous12:05 AM

    I think Borg has been overtaken by the borg. He is not my kind of Christian in any sense. And in spite of his diplomas, he seems to have lost his senses.

  3. Thanks Anon and Randall,

    Yesterday, someone related their experience in our "School for Ministry" in Upper SC where the O.T. instructor was teaching that the ten commandments were made by the Hebrews, for the Hebrews, and just for that particular era. This was just one of a long list of complaints against that instructor, who continues to deconstruct in this diocese.

  4. Angelica W.1:48 PM

    The problem with Borg is that he is attempting to salvage something from the Jesus myth instead of debunking it completely. Aside from the single, disputed sentence in Josephus, there is not a shred of evidence outside the bible that an historical Jesus existed. Anyone who has participated in sociological experiments about rumors, or who knows the rules of evidence knows that the bible is a self-serving hearsay document. Without relying on oral traditions which weren't reduced to writing until decades after the time period, and which were filtered through the complexities and intrigues of the early church and the temporally expedient needs of the Roman empire, there is no Jesus.
    Get over it, people!

  5. Angelica,

    Was there a Jesus at all? It would also be interesting to hear your thoughts about God.

  6. A good analysis of Borg as false teacher can be found at Tim Challies site,

  7. Borg died this week, may he rest in peace, but may his works be fought as long as it takes.