Jesus: A New Vision: Spirit, Culture, and the Life of Discipleship

Jesus: A New Vision: Spirit, Culture, and the Life of Discipleship

by Marcus J. Borg

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061763540
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/13/2009
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 1,161,379
File size: 462 KB

About the Author

Marcus J. Borg (1942–2015) was a pioneering author and teacher whom the New York Times described as "a leading figure in his generation of Jesus scholars." He was the Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University and canon theologian at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, and he appeared on NBC's The Today Show and Dateline, ABC's World News, and NPR's Fresh Air. His books have sold over a million copies, including the bestselling Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, Jesus, The Heart of Christianity, Evolution of the Word, Speaking Christian, and Convictions.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


Clearing the Ground: Two Images of Jesus

The historical Jesus is of interest for many reasons. Not least of these is his towering cultural significance in the nearly two thousand years since his death. No other figure in the history of the West has ever been accorded such extraordinary status. Within a few decades of his death, stories were told about his miraculous birth. By the end of the first century, he was extolled with the most exalted titles known within the religious tradition out of which he came: Son of God, one with the Father, the Word become flesh, the bread of life, the light of the world, the one who would come again as cosmic judge and Lord. Within a few centuries he had become Lord of the empire which had crucified him.

For over a thousand years thereafter, he dominated the culture of the West: its religion and devotion, its art, music, and architecture, its intellectual thought and ethical norms, even its politics. Our calendar affirms his life as a dividing point in world history. On historical grounds alone, with no convictions of faith shaping the verdict, Jesus is the most important figure in Western (and perhaps human) history. Thus, simply as a matter of intellectual or historical curiosity, it is interesting to ask, "What was this towering cultural figure like as a historical person before his death?"

For Christians, the question is significant for an additional reason. Jesus is not simply a historical person, but the founder and centralfigure of their religion. Millions of Christians confess him each Sunday to be both Lord and Christ. Moreover, within the church, Christians talk about "following Jesus," about "the life of discipleship" (which means to follow after Jesus), and about "imitating Christ," as the apostle Paul and other Christian saints put it. Thus what Jesus was like as a historical figure would seem to be not only interesting but important, for what he was like provides the content of what following him means. Though Jesus is ultimately more than a model for the life of discipleship in the Christian tradition, he is not less. As we shall see, what he was like is a potent challenge and invitation to both our culture and the church.

Yet, despite the fact that "Jesus" is a household word, and despite his importance for the Christian life, what he was like as a historical figure before his death is not widely known, either in our culture or within the church itself. Instead, what he was like is seriously obscured by two dominant images of Jesus: the first dominates the popular imagination within both the church and culture, the second has dominated much of New Testament scholarship in this century. Each of these images provides its answers to the three central questions about the historical Jesus: his identity (who was he?), his message (what was central to his proclamation or teaching?), and his mission (what was his purpose, what did he himself hope to accomplish?). But the answers provided by the popular and dominant scholarly images hide rather than reveal what Jesus was like. In order to be able to see Jesus afresh, we need to become aware of the images that obscure our vision.

The Popular Image of Jesus

The popular image is most familiar to Christian and non-Christian alike: the image of Jesus as a divine or semidivine figure, whose purpose was to die for the sins of the world, and whose life and death open up the possibility of eternal life. Its answers to the three questions of identity, purpose, and message are clear. As the divinely begotten Son of God, he was sent into the world for the purpose of dying on the cross as a means of reconciliation between God and humankind, and his message consisted primarily of inviting his hearers to believe that what he said about himself and his role in salvation was true.

The image is widespread, with degrees of sophistication and elaboration. Billboards and evangelists proclaim, "Jesus died for your sins," suggesting that this was his purpose in a nutshell. Much of Christian preaching takes the popular image for granted. The celebration of the major Christian festivals in our culture reinforces the image. Christmas, with wise men and shepherds and angels, a manger and a star and a virgin, tells the story of his wondrous birth and thus calls attention to his divine identity; Easter focuses on his triumph over death.

The popular image has its roots deep in the past, indeed in the language of the New Testament itself. Among the gospels, its primary source is John, probably the most loved and familiar gospel. There Jesus speaks of his identity in the most exalted terms known in his culture, especially in the magnificent series of "I am" statements: "I am the light of the world," "I am the bread of life," "I am the resurrection and the life," "I am the way, the truth, and the life," "Before Abraham was, I am." The self-proclamation of his own identity in the "I am" statements is buttressed by other passages in John: "The Father is in me and I am in the Father," "He who has seen me has seen the Father," "I and the Father are one." In a single verse, the fourth gospel sums up Jesus' identity, purpose, message, and the proper response to him: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life."

The roots of the popular image also lie in the development of Christian theological thought and piety in the centuries following the composition of the New Testament. The creeds of the church express that development. The Apostles' Creed proclaims that Jesus was "God's only son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; on the..."

Jesus: A New Vision. Copyright © by Marcus J. Borg. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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Jesus: A New Vision: Spirit, Culture, and the Life of Discipleship 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
One of the more interesting chapters in this book attempts to describe the social world of Jesus. Borg theorizes that Jesus was deeply involved with the sociopolitical life of his own people as the founder of a revitalization movement. The Jesus movement is depicted as seeking to transform Jewish society by creating an alternative community based on inclusiveness, acceptance, love and peace. The Jewish social world in contrast is dominated by the politics of holiness which emphasizes separation as typified by clean and unclean, purity and defilement, sacred and profane, Jew and Gentile, righteous and sinner. Further complicating the situation is the Roman annexation of Palestine in 63 B.C. which creates an onerous system of double taxation with disastrous consequences for the agrarian society into which Jesus is born. The Jesus movement has competition from other Jewish renewal movements in Palestine such as the Essenes, Pharisees and Zealots. Borg manages to explain this complicated web using a very readable style. Overall I recommend the book highly as long as you do not insist on the inerrancy of the Bible. Otherwise you will definitely find it unsettling.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Borg paints a picture of Jesus which is different in many important respects from the image presented in the gospels and in particular in the Gospel of John. In Borg's view Jesus has at the center of His life a relationship to the Spirit of God and He is concerned with creating a community grounded in the Spirit. Jesus is a charasmatic, a sage, a renewal movement founder and a prophet. Although Borg doubts the authenticity of the exalted identity and purpose of Jesus described in John, he still sees Jesus as a model for the Christian life as well as a model for one's own personal discipleship.
Guest More than 1 year ago
One of the few things I applaud about this book is Borg's emphasis on the power of the Spirit and the new life it can create. I am too firmly indoctrinated, however, in the popular image of the Jesus of the gospels to enjoy reading much about modern biblical scholarship's attempts to discover the historical Jesus.