more or less

I’ve been scrambling since before Christmas, putting out fires and starting some, so my blogging has been spotty. But today is my birthday, so I thought I’d better say something. I spent the morning at Brian Algie’s ordination council (which he passed easily), and at lunch met a pastor whose church is a few blocks down from where I used to live. When I told him about my former home, he said he already knew that, and that the house brings me to mind whenever he passes, and he says a prayer for me. I was deeply moved, and told him that I also used to live in a Speedway and McDonald’s. Now I’m going to get even more prayers!

Last week I finished Apologetics class with a stellar group of students who filled me with hope for the future. We’ve got some fine leaders on the way. During the class we read an essay from Marcus Borg that pulled a trick I’ve seen a lot lately and wanted to warn you about. Some theologians aren’t completely honest, and they use the term “more” when they really mean “less.” Consider these quotes from Borg’s “The Gospels Are Reliable as Memory and Testimony,” in Debating Christian Theism.

“The Gospels as a developing tradition that combine memory and testimony frequently use the language of metaphor. ‘Metaphor’ refers to the more-than-literal, more-than-factual, more-than-historical meaning of words” (p. 436).

But “more-than-factual” turns out to mean “less-than-factual,” for Borg doesn’t believe many of the events in the gospels actually happened. He writes, “Did Jesus heal this particular blind man? Understanding the story as a metaphorical narrative means that this question hardly matters, and perhaps doesn’t matter at all. The affirmation is clear:  Jesus is the light of the world, the light in our darkness, the one who gives sight to the blind. For Christians, the affirmation is true, independent of the historical basis of this story” (p. 437).

Borg turns his “more means less” hermeneutic on the resurrection. “Within this way of seeing the Gospels as a combination of memory and testimony, it does not matter whether Easter involved something spectacular happening to the physical body of Jesus. It does not need to defend the historical factuality of an empty tomb and a physical resurrection” (p. 441).

“Within this way of seeing the Easter stories, their truth does not depend upon whether something spectacular happened to the corpse of Jesus…For Christians, is anything lost by seeing the birth stories and Easter stories and the Gospels as a whole as a combination of memory and testimony? If something is lost, what is it?” (p. 442).

Paul would surely respond, “What is lost? Everything!” (1 Cor. 15:17, 32).

Don’t fall for the more means less head fake. The author may say “more,” but if the context screams “less,” then that is what he means. The resurrection of Jesus is more than a historical fact, but it is not less.

3 Comments

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  1. Happy Birthday!

  2. Happy Birthday, Professor Wittmer! God grant you many years!

    It’s good to see you standing for the truth of the gospels and the Christian faith. I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment that all is lost, if we take Mr. Borg’s view.

    Mr. Borg should know that the Gospels were not a developing tradition. [ “The Gospels as a developing tradition that combine memory and testimony frequently use the language of metaphor. ‘Metaphor’ refers to the more-than-literal, more-than-factual, more-than-historical meaning of words” (p. 436).] The Christian faith is “…the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” (Jude 1:3b NASB) It did not develop. It was received complete, in totality from Christ by the apostles, who were filled with the Holy Spirit. All this happened according to the will of the Father.

    As for memory and testimony, what is their value if neither is true? Jesus Christ is Truth. The apostolic Church is His body and it is this body which teaches, traditions (hands down) and preserves the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Christ is born! Glorify Him!
    Christ is Risen! Truly he is Risen!

  3. The witness of St. Ignatius in his epistle to the Magnesians chapter 11:
    “These things [I address to you], my beloved, not that I know any of you to be in such a state; but, as less than any of you, I desire to guard you beforehand, that ye fall not upon the hooks of vain doctrine, but that ye attain to full assurance in regard to the birth, and passion, and resurrection which took place in the time of the government of Pontius Pilate, being truly and certainly accomplished by Jesus Christ, who is our hope, from which may no one of you ever be turned aside. (source:http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.v.iii.xi.html) This epistle was written no later than 107 A.D. St. Ignatius was a student of the Apostle John. Thus we see the witness of the apostolic Church testifying to the truth of these events which took place in time. To depart from these truths is to depart from the Christian faith. From Mr. Borg’s book and from countless others, we can see that while many people can agree as to what the sacred texts say, they cannot agree as to what they mean.

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