St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary
Session Five: The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions
By Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright
Sunday, February 8, 2004
Mike Kreutzer led off discussion of the fifth session, “Was Jesus God,” by asking everyone present what they thought about the comparison by the two authors. He pointed out the section in which a group of college students told Wright that they didn’t believe in God. His response was, “Which God don’t you believe in!” The general consensus of the group was that this was undoubtedly the hardest section to comprehend so far. Borg deals with the Incarnation and Jesus as God in a couple of different ways. The first, referred to as “supernatural theism” implies that God exists outside the world and then comes into it through Christ. The second is “pantheism” or “dialectical theism” where God is already part of everything we have or know about. This latter concept was more in keeping with the Hebrew scriptures. Another deistic belief was that once God created the world he was finished with it completely. Borg highlighted that the world is inside of God rather than being outside and coming in.
Another area in which there has been much controversy, is that of the understanding the various creeds, such as the Nicene Creed. If that creed were taken literally from the current English translation, it would not convey the same meanings as the original Greek. For example, the three persons of the Trinity does not mean three individual people, rather refers to three personas or masks of a single individual. The creed written in Nicea was actually demanded by the emperor Constantine to keep the Christians from fighting among themselves, as it was disrupting the everyday business of running an empire. The concept was to put down in writing everything the Christians could agree upon. One key area that was debated had to do with the Holy Eucharist and the idea of transubstantiation, which meant that the real substance lied within, and those things we could see or touch were just the properties or “accidents” of the thing in question. The thought patterns of the peoples in those days were different than our own. To really understand the creed, one must study the Biblical sources. For example, what would a first century Jew mean by the term “son of God?”
What is truth and what is real? This can be very difficult subject matter to understand and discern. Borg’s way of thinking may be more scientific in nature. He refers to Christ as a “mediation” agent between God and man similar to how scientists refer to some sub-atomic forces as mediation agents. Other philosophers also have looked at Christ as a mediation agent. There has also been a special mediation power instilled in some religious icons in which people can derive special insights into God. The Jewish people during the time of Christ were looking for their own personal messiah. Jesus went well beyond that as his kingdom was for everyone. Jesus did what they expected God to do, which is return to earth as God had originally promised.
It was noted that John Dominic Crossan attempted to describe the Trinity for all persons as “The Holy.” He used metaphoriscity for the Father, locality for the Son, and particularity for the Holy Spirit. Early Christians struggled with this concept and defining this relationship when there is only “one true God.” Wright gives more credence to what Jesus knew where he probably never thought of himself as “the second part of the Trinity.” Jesus was the new beginning meant to unite Israel with God. However, it was pointed out, as witnessed by events since then, Jesus’ coming into the world has not brought about world peace. More recently, there has been given more thought by leading theologians about the universal will of God being brought to all peoples, including the non-Christian world. God will still save all mankind even the Jews and other groups who have rejected Christ. It was also certain that the life and teachings of Christ managed to attract many early followers and continues to this day.