Sunday, April 5, 2015

What does Easter mean to modern Christians?

 
What does the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection mean to Christians today, as more and more believers move away from a literal interpretation of the New Testament? Rachael Kohn looks back on her conversations with Progressive Christian theologian Marcus Borg.


Christians are more polarised than they have ever been, according to a recent representative poll commissioned by the Centre for Public Christianity (CPX).

While the survey found strong evidence of ‘enduring Christian belief’ such that 23 per cent believed the Bible to be the word of God, it also found that 35 per cent found the Bible to be nothing more than myths.

While 52 per cent of Australians believe in the classical creator God, 48 per cent have never believed in such a god.  The central Easter event of Jesus’ resurrection garnered 21 per cent of believers, while 13 per cent said he never lived at all.
The tomb couldn’t hold him. He’s still around, he’s still loose in the world.
Marcus Borg, scholar and theologian
Christian faith is not easily captured by the literal meanings typical of survey questions. In fact, such surveys do more harm than good if they convey the impression that Christian belief rests on the acceptance of ‘factual’ definitions, for example, where ‘the word of God,’ is taken to mean that God spoke the Bible into existence.

Hardly any contemporary Christians believe that to be the case. From bishops to laypeople, they know that every book in the Bible was written by a named author or witness to events. These books differ, and each bears a stamp of originality, time and place.

Yet this does not mean they don't represent ‘the word of God’, only that this is understood to be a mediated sacred truth, experienced and interpreted by the writers of antiquity.

The Bible is often portrayed by its secular critics, such as AC Grayling, as a fairytale for immature minds, a myth that has as much credibility as Alice in Wonderland.

Related: Jews, Christians and Easer

Yet, as Marcus Borg, one of the most influential New Testament scholars of modern times, argued, this is a misreading of the Bible.

‘One of the effects of the scholarship of the last 200 years is a recognition that much of the language of the Bible is metaphorical or, if you wish, poetic, rather than literal and factual,’ said Borg.

‘The stories of Jesus’ birth—including his miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit, the Star of Bethlehem that led the wise men to where he was found, angels singing in the night sky—we now generally understand those as symbolic narratives or metaphorical narratives.’

Hearing these words from Borg, a person running a poll about contemporary belief might put him down as an unbeliever.  This is precisely where the contemporary secular world’s conception of truth misunderstands the nature and depth of Christian faith.

‘When I use the word metaphor, I want to underline that, for me, the word metaphor points to the more than literal, more than factual meaning of language,’ said Borg.

‘I emphasise that because, for many people in the modern world, metaphor is sometimes seen as inferior to the language of factuality: “You mean it’s only a metaphor?”

‘I would say metaphorical language is actually more important than literal language, because metaphor is about meaning. Pretty much every story is in the Bible because our ancestors found meaning in them.’

Borg, who died this year, was a leading light of what is known as Progressive Christianity, a movement that has taken root in Australia and New Zealand among a broad spectrum of theologians and across denominations. 

Among the most famed liberal theologians Borg was the most prolific, with many of his 28 books becoming bestsellers, including Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (2006), The God We Never Knew (1997) and The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith (2003).

When he visited Australia as the keynote speaker at Common Dreams, a Progressive Christianity conference in Canberra, in September 2013, I asked Borg whether the progressive movement was itself vulnerable to a literalist reading of the Bible, which might cause it to jettison the passages that were ‘unbelievable’, including the resurrection of Jesus after his death.  
 
Borg agreed that this was already happening, but he thought it was a mistake to concentrate solely on Jesus’ life and teachings.

‘I think his death does matter,’ he told me. ‘Not because it was payment [for humanity’s sins], but because it was the result of his passionate desire to transform the world.

‘Jesus as a prophet and wisdom teacher was passionate about a world of justice, meaning economic fairness, in which everyone had enough, in which there was bread for the day.

'He was an advocate of peace in a world that was filled with violence. Both of those commitments challenged the religious and political authorities of the day and so they killed him.'

For Borg, Jesus’ example as a compassionate world healer is the enduring message of his life and death. In this, he made comparisons with the teachings of the Buddha, which resulted in the book, Jesus and Buddha: the Parallel Sayings (1997).

So where does that leave the resurrection, the most challenging of Christian beliefs?

‘The tomb couldn’t hold him. He’s still around, he’s still loose in the world, he’s still recruiting for the Kingdom of God.

‘Easter also means that Jesus continues to be a figure of the present, who is known in the lives of many Christians.’

Borg was certainly one of them.

abc.net.au 2 April 2015

So essentially what people died (got MURDERED) for in the 'good' ol' days was for "..symbolic narratives or metaphorical narratives."
 

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