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Of the many recent books on the historical Jesus, none has explored what the latest biblical scholarship means for personal faith. Now, in Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, Marcus Borg addresses the yearnings of those who want a fully contemporary faith that welcomes rather than oppresses our critical intelligence and openness to the best of historical scholarship. Borg shows how a rigorous examination of historical findings can lead to a new faith in Christ, one that is critical and, at the same time, sustaining.
"Believing in Jesus does not mean believing doctrines about him," Borg writes. "Rather, it means to give one's heart, one's self at its deepest level, to . . . the living Lord."
Drawing on his own journey from a naive, unquestioning belief in Christ through collegiate skepticism to a mature and contemporary Christian faith, Borg illustrates how an understanding of the historical Jesus can actually lead to a more authentic Christian life—one not rooted in creeds or dogma, but in a life of spiritual challenge, compassion, and community.
In straightforward, accessible prose, Borg looks at the major findings of modern Jesus scholarship from the perspective of faith, bringing alive the many levels of Jesus' character: spirit person, teacher of alternative wisdom, social prophet, and movement founder. He also reexamines the major stories of the Old Testament vital to an authentic understanding of Jesus, showing how an enriched understanding of these stories can uncover new truths and new pathways to faith.
For questioning believers, doubters, and reluctant unbelievers alike, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time frees our understanding of Jesus' life and message from popular misconceptions and outlines the way to a sound and contemporary faith: "For ultimately, Jesus is not simply a figure of the past, but a figure of the present. Meeting that Jesus—the living one who comes to us even now—will be like meeting Jesus again for the first time."
|Meeting Jesus Again||p. 1|
|What Manner of Man? The Pre-Easter Jesus||p. 20|
|Jesus, Compassion, and Politics||p. 46|
|Jesus and Wisdom: Teacher of Alternative Wisdom||p. 69|
|Jesus, the Wisdom of God: Sophia Become Flesh||p. 96|
|Images of Jesus and Images of the Christian Life||p. 119|
|Table of Contents provided by Blackwell. All Rights Reserved.|
Meeting Jesus Again
We have all met Jesus before. Most of us first met him when we were children. This is most obviously true for those of us raised in the church, but also for anybody who grew up in Western culture. We all received some impression of Jesus, some image of him, however vague or specific.
For many, the childhood image of Jesus remains intact into adulthood. For some, that image is held with deep conviction, sometimes linked with warm personal devotion and sometimes tied to rigid doctrinal positions. For others, both within and outside of the church, the childhood image of Jesus can become a problem, producing perplexity and doubt, often leading to indifference toward or rejection of the religion of their childhood.
Indeed, for many Christians, especially in mainline churches, there came a time when their childhood image of Jesus no longer made a great deal of sense. And for many of them, no persuasive alternative has replaced it. It is for these people especially that this book is written. For them, meeting Jesus again will be—as it has been for me—like meeting him for the first time. It will involve a new image of Jesus.
Images of Jesus
and Images of the Christian Life
Images of Jesus matter. The foundational claim of this book is that there is a strong connection between images of Jesus and images of the Christian life, between how we think of Jesus and how we think of the Christian life. Our image of Jesus affects our perception of the Christian life in two ways: it gives shape to the Christian life; and (as we shall see later in this chapter) it can make Christianity credible or incredible.
The way images of Jesus give shape to the Christian life is illustrated by two widespread images and their effects on images of the Christian life. The most common image of Jesus—what I call the "popular image"—sees him as the divine savior. Put most compactly, this image is a constellation of answers to the three classic questions about Jesus. Who was he? The divinely begotten Son of God. What was his mission or purpose? To die for the sins of the world. What was his message? Most centrally, it was about himself: his own identity as the Son of God, the saving purpose of his death, and the importance of believing in him.
The image of the Christian life to which this image of Jesus leads is clear: it consists primarily of believing—that Jesus was who he said he was and that he died for our sins. We may call this a fideistic image of the Christian life, one whose primary dynamic is faith, understood as believing certain things about Jesus to be true. Though belief may (and ideally does) lead to much else, it is the primary quality of this image of the Christian life.
Only slightly less common is an image of Jesus as teacher. A de-dogmatized image of Jesus, it is held by those who are not sure what to make of the doctrinal claims made about Jesus by the Christian tradition. When these are set aside, what remains is Jesus as a great teacher. His moral teaching may be understood in quite general terms (the Great Commandment of love of God and love of neighbor, or the Golden Rule of doing to others as you would have them do to you), or in quite specific terms as a fairly narrow code of righteousness. But in either case, the image of the Christian life that flows out of this image of Jesus consists of "being good," of seeking to live as Jesus said we should.
Just as the first image of Jesus leads to a fideistic image of the Christian life, so this image leads to a moralistic image of the Christian life. Both images, it seems to me, are inadequate. Not only are they inaccurate as images of the historical Jesus, as we shall see, but they lead to incomplete images of the Christian life. That life is ultimately not about believing or about being good.
Rather, as I shall claim, it is about a relationship with God that involves us in a journey of transformation.
The understanding of the Christian life as a journey of transformation is grounded in the alternative image of Jesus that I develop in this book. This image flows out of contemporary biblical and historical scholarship. Though it may seem fresh and initially unfamiliar, it is very old, going back to the first century of the early Christian movement. Meeting this Jesus will, for many of us, be like meeting Jesus again for the first time.
Meeting Jesus Again:
My Own Story
To recall the ways in which we have met Jesus before is illuminating. The occasion for my first doing so came unexpectedly. About two years ago I was invited to speak to an Episcopal men's group that had been meeting weekly for over ten years. Because of the nature of the group, whose times together were marked by personal sharing, their instructions to me were twofold: "Talk to us about Jesus, and make it personal."
Nobody had ever asked me to do that before. I had givenhundreds of lectures about Jesus, but nobody had ever said,"Make it personal." It was a challenge. Not being sure how toproceed, I wrote the words Me and Jesus on a piece of paper,began to think about them, and was led into memories and reflections about Jesus in my own life. It was a rich and illuminating experience, and I encourage you to try this yourself sometime. Simply begin, as I did, with your earliest childhood memories of Jesus, track them through adolescence and into adulthood, and then see what has happened to your image ofJesus over the years.Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time
Excerpted from Meeting Jesus Again First: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith by Marcus J. Borg, Borg
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