In Review :: Revolutionary Jesus

cover of Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary by Marcus J. Borg

Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary
by Marcus J. Borg

HarperCollins, 2006, 352 pages, $24.95

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spacer cover of Jesus For the Non Religious by John Shelby Spong

Jesus For the Non Religious
by John Shelby Spong

HarperCollins, 2007, 336 pages, $24.95

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The most important contribution of two current books on Jesus by Bishop John Shelby Spong and Professor Marcus Borg is their relevance.

Spong is especially interested in the Jewishness of Jesus and in combating anti-semitism; he portrays Jesus as a “breaker” of tribal and religious boundaries as well as of prejudices and stereotypes.

Borg goes deeper than Spong: Jesus was and is a religious revolutionary, in Borg's view, and his followers' main task is to oppose all empires, including the American empire today.

Bishop Spong, for all his fury, is still primarily a polite Episcopalian bishop who works hard for electoral reform and supports liberal politics, primarily of the Democratic Party.

Borg's book suggests that Christian discipleship today should lead believers to break with the “natural” allegiances to cradle, creed, and country, especially when one's country acts as the big bully in the global village.

Both men are passionate about and committed to Jesus even as they question the way he is being portrayed by many Christian religious institutions.

The difference in tone stands out from the first page of each book. Spong has been in the middle of ecclesiastical controversy for many years and his book is polemical. In contrast, Borg slowly brings readers to a new understanding of stories that have been precious to many generations and that, when carefully explained, have transformative power for our day.

Rather than merely questioning that there was a star over Bethlehem, or any other “supernatural” metaphors, Borg leads readers to ask, “what do these stories mean?” He does not overstate the fact that they are not “true.” Instead he looks for the “truth” inherent in the intentions of the originators of the stories.


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