The Last Week: A Lecture by Marcus Borg

This is part of the DR Book Collection.

In honor of the Easter season, I read through The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem by biblical scholars Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan. As I mentioned at Borg’s recent passing, I don’t always share his and Crossan’s interpretations. However, their strong emphasis on the political nature of Jesus’ ministry is a much-needed breath of fresh air in the midst of today’s hyper-individualized, over-spiritualized Christianity. One cannot and should not separate the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus from his life and ministry. Christ’s actions that resulted in his death are what discipleship is all about. And one has to understand the historical and political context of Jesus’ last week to fully understand what discipleship looks like.

However, my friend and co-editor here at Difficult Run Allen Hansen recently captured my thoughts beautifully on Facebook on the need to combine the political nature of Christ’s ministry with the reality of his resurrection:

The late Marcus Borg was a purveyor of a liberal Christian popular theology. By all accounts a generally thoughtful and considerate individual, Borg was oddly and dogmatically insistent upon a dichotomy between things literal and things spiritual/symbolic/meaningful. There was, according to him, no material, bodily resurrection. The tomb was not empty, but remained full. Instead, we should see it as a parable on meaning, Christ living again is as a dynamic experience, ascribing anything beyond that, say, an actual, divine being with a material body who is as alive now as he ever was before his death, is to trivialise the story. Nevermind that any 1st century apocalyptic and pharisaic Jews would have been bewildered by such an incomprehensible sentiment regarding resurrection. We’ll cut Borg some slack for theological rather than historical musings on earliest Christian theology. To my mind, reducing the atonement, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ to a parable on meaning is to trivialise it. I don’t yet have a fully articulated or consistent model for how the atonement worked and I may never have one, but a God willing to let his son suffer and die for us is no trivial god. Likewise a god freely choosing such suffering and humiliation for himself for our sakes. A god who can intervene on our behalf in history and nature, who can shatter the bonds of death and sin keeping us captive. A god who is able to lift us to his level, unlocking our eternal potential, thus making us everything that we should be rather than just another crappy metaphor reminding us of what we are not now, and never will be. The reality and power of the atonement is something that I have personally experienced. Because I have had that spiritual witness is why I am Christian rather than Jewish despite often feeling closer to the latter. To deny the possibility of bodily resurrection is to trivialise the new possibility which is Christ. It is almost a sneer at the hope of millions for a time in which everything that is wrong, unfair, imperfect, and evil is made right. It is affirming that life is nasty, brutish and short, but we can make it a little less depressing by telling stories that are true even though they are not nor ever will be actually, literally true. If you believe in that you are welcome to it, but I cannot agree that holding to a belief in a material, bodily resurrection is a trivial interpretation. Still, Borg got quite a bit right. It is just that what he got right is more powerful when considered as aspects of a bodily resurrection of the son of God.

Despite these criticisms, I highly recommend the book.[ref]My disagreements were largely found in their assessment of the resurrection itself, not the analyses of the days leading up to it.[/ref] You can see Borg lecture on Holy Week below.

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