According to Marcus Borg, the Christian orthodoxy of two natures: the paradigm that
Jesus is very God and very man,— is actually docetic, though
no one had realized this previously:
"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 (pronounced doh-sit-izm), from a Greek word meaning 'to
seem' or 'to appear.' Jesus seemed, appeared, to be human, but
really wasn't — rather, he was really God." (Marcus J. Borg,
'Jesus, p. 9).
Taken at face value, he is alleging that people who say Jesus is God are saying He is not
really a man; in other words, the two affirmations of orthodoxy are mutually contradictory.
What is Marcus Borg's argument against the deity of Jesus Christ? That people could not be urged to imitate Jesus if He were God,
as they are urged in scripture:
"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. Yet the New Testament often speaks of him as such. The gospels speak of following
Jesus, and Paul speaks of imitating Christ and being transformed
into the likeness of Christ. But if Jesus was really God (and thus
not really human), it makes no sense to speak of mitating him
and becoming like him." (Marcus Borg, 'Jesus,' p. 10).
This argument might carry more weight were it not that scripture instructs us to
imitate God, "For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of
the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I
am holy." (Leviticus 11:45); "But I say unto you, Love your enemies,
bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray
for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may
be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his
sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the
just and on the unjust." (Matthew 5:44-45). Oddly enough Mr. Borg himself realizes
"At the heart of his ethical vision was the imitation of God: 'Be
compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.' (Luke 6:36)"
(Marcus J. Borg, 'Jesus,' p. 109).
"In remarkably few words, theology and ethics are
combined: 'Be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate'
(Luke 6.36). Found in slightly different form in Matthew 5.48, the
passage affirms an ethic known as imitatio dei, 'imitation of God.'
The ethical imperative is to live in accord with God's character."
(Marcus J. Borg, 'Jesus,' p. 175).
"As we have seen, the
central imperative in the teaching of Jesus is to live in accord
with God's character: 'Be compassionate, as God is
compassionate.' As an ethic, an imitatio dei, its associatinos
are rich." (Marcus J. Borg, 'Jesus,' p. 184).
I make note of this because it is not often you find an author
arguing so neatly and completely in a circle. For that, you need the
'Jesus Seminar.' And yes, the perfect circle is completed: "For
John, Jesus is the revelation of God's love, and so the imitatio dei
becomes an imitatio Christi, an imitation of Jesus." (Marcus J.
Borg, 'Jesus,' p. 184). To summarize the argument: Jesus Christ
cannot be God, and why not? Because we are instructed to imitate
Him, an impossible command if He is God. And yet we are commanded to
imitate God. And this oft-repeated command elides into imitating
Jesus as well; we are to imitate Jesus because He is God. Where can you find
logic like that, outside of the 'Jesus studies' field?
"Jesus would not have known what the words 'second
person of the Trinity' meant. And if we had explained it to him, he
perhaps would have been able to understand it—he was very bright. .
.I think he would have been amused. And troubled. I think he would have
said, 'No, no—it's not about me.'" (Marcus J. Borg,
'Jesus,' p. 321).
What is the truth about God's nature?:
Marcus Borg would have us emulate a counterfeit 'Jesus,' a man who, like
us, can modestly reflect he is no more than a mere man, comparable with Honi
the Circle-Drawer, a flea-bitten carnival attraction of the day who made it
rain, but too much, like the Sorcerer's Apprentice. And this is presented as
a breakthrough: it is finally OK, after years of struggle, to present Jesus
as a religious person, because after all it's a matter of common observation
that religious people exist. Grappling with the epistemological issues raised
by the Enlightenment's habit of discarding every historical fact they
happened to dislike, looking around nervously but with the exhilaration of
doing something 'forbidden,' now they assure each other, well, what, after
all, is so bad in affirming the obvious fact that religious people exist?:
"A central feature of my own work on the pre-Easter
Jesus is the claim that he was a 'spirit person.' By this I mean
what Rudolf Otto meant with the earlier non-inclusive term 'holy
man.' Put compactly, my claim is that Jesus was one of those figures
in human history who had vivid and frequent experiences of that
reality which has variously been called 'the numinous,' 'the Hoy,'
'the Sacred,' 'the Spirit,' or simply 'God.' Such figures frequently
become mediators of the Spirit to their community, whether as
healers, inspired prophets, clairvoyants, game-finders, charismatic
warriors, divine lawgivers, movement founders, or enlightened
teachers. When one realizes that there really are people like this
and that the Jewish tradition prior to and contemporary with Jesus
knew such figures, it seems obvious that whatever else one needs to
say about Jesus, he was one of these." (Marcus J. Borg, 'Jesus in
Contemporary Scholarship,' p. 152).
Like this 'Jewish mystic,' we should seek to be 'centered' in God, whatever that means. The
reality of who Jesus is and to what He invites us is an all but infinite
distance beyond this pallid unitarian spirituality. Jesus invites us into the
very fellowship of God Himself. He was with the Father in the beginning: "And
now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had
with thee before the world was." (John 17:5). And He prays for us, "That they
all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may
be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the
glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as
we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one;
and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as
thou hast loved me." (John 17:21-23). That is, that we, too, should enter
into this eternal fellowship of love. What Marcus Borg is offering, even
encompassed round about as it is with mental reservations and equivocal and
ambiguous formulations, is far less than second-rate; it is not even in the
ball-park. Liberal Protestantism, alas, supplies only enough religion to
innoculate people against the real thing.