Readers will remember that this was one of four books that I added to an impressive reading list. I have yet to finish, or even start, the other three, though I did renew them. Hope springs eternal, I guess.
The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions is a point/counterpoint book compiled of essays from Borg and Wright addressing Jesus' view of himself, his birth, his death and resurrection, the Second Coming and what it means to live a Christian life.
They mostly disagree, except when they don't. ;-)
I should end the review thusly.
Except, I won't because although the point/counterpoint did get a little tedious and bogged down sometimes, the book provoked several reactions in me.
I will admit that I am generally sympathetic to Borg's views and I anticipated that I would read his thoughts and find what I was looking for, a way to keep Jesus even as more and more of what I used to think of as literal truth seems to be slipping through my fingers. For the most part, I liked what he had to say, though there were times when even I couldn't take the vague, wishy-washy stances that would pop up. Even as I drift toward Progressive(?) or Liberal(?) Christianity, I still get irritated at the lack of conviction and certainty that I encounter. It's part of my make-up. I want to know what THE TRUTH is and plant my flag there. However, everyone has a different map and idea about where that location is, so I just wander around hoping that I am at least in the general vicinity.
It bugs me to no end.
I had previously tried to read N.T Wright's Surprised by Hope, but could never get past the first few chapters. He simply couldn't hold my interest in that book. I think that was partly due to the fact that I was very busy during the time that I was trying to read it. One other reason was that I couldn't read Wright without hearing C.S. Lewis. I've already read much of Lewis' work, so the unmistakeable voice echoing in Wright was quite familiar. The points about "chronological snobbery", the criticism of Enlightenment thinking, the reliance on Lewis' apologetic moves, they all seemed to be Lewis simply refitted and fine-tuned. I guess that's fine, but if I wanted to hear Lewis' point of view, I would read Lewis.
Curious if I was spot-on in my estimation of Wright, I decided to see if I could find out more about whether Wright credits Lewis as an influence and came across this article in which Wright both praises and criticizes Lewis. (I'm always surprised when I am right about something that I guessed intuitively.)
After finishing the book, I pondered an idea that has occurred to me before but I have had difficulty formulating into words.
Wright works mightily to put Jesus in a historical, literal, very Jewish context. He attempts to situate Jesus as a faithful Jew going against a corrupted form of Israel and Jewish religion. His interpretation is that Israel's desire for a national redemption, not unlike previous ones they had experienced through exile and return, was the wrong desire. Then, he claims that Jesus' teachings about the Kingdom of God were meant to portray a new way for Israel to "be Israel".
As Wright goes through his argument, I feel this version of Jesus who is concerned about "Israel" and who is trying to get Israel to become the light of the world by supplanting the current Temple and its administration with subversive truths, to be lacking appeal and cohesion for me, personally.
A Jesus who is trying to get Israel to "be Israel" in a new way, or what I think Wright implies, in the real way it was always intended to "be Israel", is a Jesus who ultimately failed. After the first wave of Jewish conversions, Judaism and Christianity split apart and Israel, as a historical, physical people, does not decide to take Jesus up on his offer.
Wright's literal, historical, mostly orthodox view of Jesus completely undermines any sense that Jesus accomplished what he wanted to accomplish.
In addressing the divinity of Jesus, Wright writes:
I do not think Jesus "knew he was God" in the same sense that one knows one is tired or happy, male or female. He did not sit back and say to himself,"Well, I never! I'm the second person of the Trinity!" Rather, as part of his human vocation, grasped in faith, sustained in prayer, tested in confrontation, agonized over in further prayer and doubt, and implemented in action, he believed he had to do and be, for Israel and the world, that which according to scripture only YHWH himself could do and be.
This ties in with my previous thought. Does presenting a Jesus who doesn't "know" that he is God help or hurt Wright's orthodoxy? I mean, he's presenting a Jesus who seems to be interested in getting Israel to behave and act in a certain "true" way, one which is quite different than the way Israel had seen itself throughout Scripture and history, and yet he seems to not "know" that he is God in the trinitarian sense with which many orthodox Christians are familiar.
Borg, on the other hand, presents Jesus as a Jewish mystic who was more connected with God than the average person, while simultaneously denying the literal resurrection, as it is normally understood and presented. Borg's Jesus seems bigger than Wright's Jesus even though Wright represents traditional Christian doctrine far more closely than Borg.
It has a strange effect upon me, this idea that tying Jesus into a very specific, historical mode, complete with a representative, 1st century mindset, somehow makes him less "real" to me than Borg's ethereal, metaphorical understanding of Jesus.
I'll post more on this later because I'm not quite done thinking it through.