Highlights from Marcus Borg and Diana Butler Bass Lectures (Part 5 of 7)

The introductory post to this blog series is available here.
The highlights from Bass’ first two lectures are available here and here.
Borg’s first lecture is here.
My musings on the lectures are in brackets.

Borg’s second lecture was titled, “Case Study: Salvation (and its siblings: ‘Saved’ and ‘Savior’).”

  • Many people have a primarily negative association with the word  “salvation.” For many people “salvation” connotes less good news, hope, and joy and more the anxiety, fear, and threat of hell.
  • In the Bible, however, salvation is often not about the afterlife. For example, the concern of the Hebrew slaves was not needing their sins forgiven, not about the afterlife. The salvation a slave needs is liberation from slavery to the powers that be, and “liberation” is precisely the meaning of salvation in the Exodus story: liberation right here, right now, and in this world -- not forgiveness or assurance of an afterlife.
  • Similarly, when in the Jewish people were exiled in Babylon, the salvation an exile needs is homecoming right here, right now, and in this world – not forgiveness or assurance of an afterlife.
  • Salvation is about transformation in this life: the transformation of ourselves and the world, both personal and political, individuals and society — see the Jewish conception of tikkun olam (“to heal, repair, and transform the world”).
  • “Salvation” is about moving from sickness and woundedness to healing and wholeness” (root: salve). In the spirit of Henri Nouwen, being saved is about the transformation from being a “wounded wounder” to being a “Wounded Healer.”
  • Salvation is about moving from blindness to seeing, which is less about literal restoration of sight, and more a metaphor for enlightenment.
  • Salvation is about a reorientation from narcissistic self-preoccupation to becoming fully present and compassionate to all (including yourself).
  • Matthew’s phrase ‘kingdom of heaven’ is merely a reverential circumlocution for the more common phrase ‘kingdom of God’ to avoid saying the word “God” — as, for example, many Jews write the word God as G-d out of respect for the holiness and mystery of God’s name.
  • In Mark 1:15 (the earliest canonical Gospel), the “Kingdom of God” is not about Jesus’ death. Jesus didn’t come to die. Instead, Jesus was was killed because of how he lived (similar to why and how figures such as Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and Yitzhak Rabin were martyred in the twentieth-century). The consensus of New Testament scholars for decades has been that the kingdom of God (or “dream of God”) is central to Jesus’ life and teaching. And God’s dream is for this world to be characterized by justice and peace, just as the Hebrew prophets desired. [For more, see Walter Wink's book The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium.] On the “kingdom of God” as “God’s dream,” see Verna J. Dozier’s 1991 book The Dream of God: A Call to Return. More recently, Archbishop Desmond Tutu has write an adult book (God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time) and a children’s book (God’s Dream) on these themes.

For more details about each of these bullet points (and to judge for yourself in regard to these arguments), see Borg’s latest book Why Christian Words Have Lost their Meaning and Power and How They Can Be Restored (2011):

Stay tuned for the next installment on the highlights of Bass’ third and final lecture in the series.

The Rev. Carl Gregg is a trained spiritual director, a D.Min. candidate, and the pastor of Broadview Church in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. Follow him on Facebook (facebook.com/carlgregg) and Twitter (@carlgregg).

About Carl Gregg
  • Theophile

    I don’t think we can compare figures such as Oscar Romero, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, and Yitzhak Rabin, to Jesus because of “how they lived”. Think about it, Jesus purposely avoided political status, and “rendering unto Caeser what is Caeser’s” doesn’t have the same liberating “salvation right here and now” ring to it, as lets say the “civil rights movement”, Rather He condemned the religious leadership, and perceptions.
    For becoming familiar with “Christian terminology” in a more rooted “pure form” maybe we should look for a historical context where the words were first coined, as in: Foxes book of Martyrs
    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/22400/22400-h/22400-h.htm
    instead of looking to modern smooth sounding, politically correct, seeker friendly and of course tolerant redefinitions.

    • jcarlgregg

      I disagree. “How they lived” is a great reason compare people to Jesus. Fox’ Book of the Martyrs is great, but we need to look closer (and in!) our own day as well for those radically following the way of Jesus and helping incarnate the Beloved Community today. To quote theologian John Mabry (http://amzn.to/saZtPc), “Rosa Parks is an imitator of Christ, not because she suffered for taking her stand (or keeping her seat, in her case), but because she had the courage to believe in her own dignity and fought for it in spite of the conflict that resulted. Nelson Mandela is an imitator of Christ, not because he suffered in prison, but because he held out for peace and justice, and led a nation to resurrection. In each case it is not the suffering that is redemptive, but the courage to pursue justice in the face of pain and evil” (129). You’re also offering a weak misreading of Jesus’ “render unto Caesar.” Jesus is saying both that this coin has no real value (except what we impute onto it), and that EVERYTHING is really God’s not Caesar. Hence, the subversive significance of calling Jesus “Lord,” which implies that Caesar (the alleged emperor and god) was NOT Lord. There’s so much to say here, but I’ll punt for now to Shane Claiborne’s “Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals” (http://amzn.to/sm9IJZ). Or see the burgeoning scholarly field of empire-critical studies (see, for example the following post: http://bit.ly/rMDz8P).


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