The cover of Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary displaying a statue of Christ enclosed in a scaffold makes a great deal of sense as you work your way through Borg’s writing.
For Borg, the Jesus we know is constructed. Borg is quite confronting as he tackles important questions concerning the construction of Jesus as he attempts to take readers back to an understanding of the "pre Easter Jesus."
There is little doubt that much of Borg’s scholarship is excellent as he engages in historical and contextual issues relating to Jesus’ identity and teaching.
His conceptualisation of the "pre Easter Jesus" may seem helpful, in particular, his critique of the development of a kind superman view of Jesus. On the other hand there is a lack of coherence between the pre and post Easter Jesus.
Despite his scholarly approach there is a ‘reader beware’ to add.
Borg is clear in his assertion that he does not see the pre Easter Jesus as God, nor that Jesus understood himself to be God.
This is inconsistent with the accepted Christian understanding.
Whilst questions about how Jesus understood his identity may be important, the conclusion Borg reaches embroils him in the Christological debates of the first four centuries of the church.
Borg’s tendency to lump Christians into two groups, conservative ‘Biblical literalist’ and ’emerging more than literal’, is too simplistic.
His classification seems to deny a tradition of interpretation that has long seen the scriptures as far more than literal whilst maintaining key doctrinal positions. Many readers may find it difficult to identify with either group he describes.
Overall I found this book interesting, especially in terms of his exegesis. Borg’s language is not overly intellectual and thus is accessible to a wider audience.
Ultimately Borg plots a course away from rigid literalism without totally undermining the Scriptures as unique, prophetic and apostolic.
Whilst some of his claims are difficult to agree with he challenges us with how to be Christian and how to read the Scriptures without blinkered eyes.
Reviewed by Peter Lockhart, minister with Clayfield / Hamilton Uniting Church