Wednesday, September 29, 2010

BORG: Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, Response, Part 1

This is the sixth post of a series on Reading the Bible for the First Time, by Marcus Borg.  The other posts can be found here:

Now that I have presented Borg’s sphere of thinking in this book, I’ll respond to his thoughts.  First, given that Borg has been gracious and forthright in giving his perspective, I should start by giving my own perspective.  Per his categories, he would consider me conservative evangelical.  I would mostly consider myself conservative evangelical though would not quite consent to the backdrop he has painted as there is considerably more diversity among those who would call themselves conservative evangelical.  His caricatures of evangelicalism range from fairly representative of a majority to being representative only of the considerably small range of experience during “childhood” (pre-college as he explains).  So while I would place myself squarely within the camp he criticizes.  I would also, in many critical places, put myself in a whole other category than what he acknowledges.  Namely, I would be part of the considerable number (and growing) of evangelicals who would not be comfortable being placed in the “literalistic” camp that he sets up.  Reading the bible is not just a matter of reading literally what it says (while acknowledging some proper metaphor when it comes along).  Literal vs. metaphorical just aren’t sufficient terms – this will be further explained later.  Though I’ve already started the criticism, it is necessary for showing roughly what my perspective is and to show roughly what “lenses” I’m wearing.  Given this, it should be obvious the direction this response will take.

It is important, however, to first point out the strengths of the book.  I would quickly affirm that the church at times has been too quick to hide behind the bible to answer all of life’s questions with a quick “literal” reading of the bible without being sensitive to its historical and cultural contexts (though I wouldn’t criticize the often-times good motives behind doing so).  The bible can often in the evangelical/fundamentalist camp, to use his categories, be merely a “handbook to life” when in fact it claims no such role.  It is not sufficient for all of life’s questions, though it is absolutely sufficient and foundational for all of life’s important questions, at least as God sees it.  So I would in some sense agree with what Borg seeks to find - a fresh reading of the bible - though I think he has fallen severely short.

Following on the heels of this is the fact that Borg seeks at many times to raise a cultural-historical awareness of the text.  Too often do Christians merely reflect on what the bible means to “me” without considering that in fact the bible wasn’t written to them (though Borg isn’t blameless in this matter either).  The bible was written to peoples within a culture, geography, and historical setting vastly different from our own.  If this is not accounted for, one’s reading of the bible is necessarily skewed to a considerable degree.  ** I should hasten to add here that this does not mean the main issues of the bible are completely unknowable without knowing the history behind it.  It is first and foremost true that there is a common plight to humanity and it is an amazing thing that peoples all over the world at every place and times have had in essence the same problems plaguing them from life to death.  Once this is to some degree grasped, the bible can be known in the way it was intended to be – though, never known absolutely. **

He also does a fairly good job at raising awareness of some of the categories and issues that need to be dealt with these days when looking at the bible from a fresh perspective.  It is always worthwhile noting where we are at culturally within religious pluralism, modernism, postmodernism, etc.  This is necessary to create an awareness of the “lenses” one is wearing allowing one to keep them in check to enable a less biased (and I daresay an almost objective) reading.
Despite the good features of the book, I feel that his understanding misses the mark considerably.  In the next number of posts, I will mention specific criticisms and then start to develop a different framework of understanding which acts as a criticism of his general framework.  Lastly, I will consider his chapter on rereading the gospels.

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