Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Biblical Literalism, Biblical Lifestyles

I haven't updated too regularly this month. I had midterms, then Nanowrimo, then a bunch of other real life stuff. But I've recently been reading Marcus Borg's The Heart of Christianity for my religion class, and I really wanted to write about it.

He speaks a lot of the "Earlier Paradigm" vs. the "Emerging Paradigm." Basically, the earlier paradigm characterizes traditional Christianity, biblical literalism, emphasis on the afterlife. The main difference, Borg seems to think, is the function, origin, and interpretation of the Bible. The emerging paradigm sees the biblical as more metaphorical, a human response to God, and they emphasis transformation in this life.

I grew up in a traditional Christian home. My parents were Salvation Army Officers, and our first doctrine is, "We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God, and that they only constitute the Divine rule of Christian faith and practice." My dad is like a biblical guru. Go to him if you want to know something about the Bible. He quotes of verses like it's nothing, and from a very young age, I read and treasured this book.

These days, my family and I aren't your typical traditional evangelical Christians--no, we also take into account the laws of Torah, including keeping kosher, biblical feasts, Sabbath, etc. We don't see the Old Testament as old or the "former" covenant, and we embrace the "New" Testament. Our rule? "Scripture interprets scripture."

So, reading Borg's book has been a little difficult for me because he's questioning what I see as the very foundation of Judaism and Christianity. At first, I felt like by questioning it, he could hardly be considered a Christian at all. He views the most basic tenets of Christianity such as the virgin birth, crucifixion, and the resurrection as metaphors. But I kept reading, and I think I've become more forgiving of his views as he goes on.

One of my favorite chapters of this book has been a chapter on the Kingdom of God. Borg asks, 'What does the kingdom of God look like? How are we as Christians trying to implement these ideals and bring these changes into our world today?' The specific examples he uses are health care (taking care of the sick), the environment (taking care of God's creation), economic justice (being fair and just with our money), the use of imperial power (being compassionate and helping instead of violent and proud). I thought, 'Wow, how much does this relate to the Occupy movement that is going on right now?'

Then I started to consider if I look at my bible, the one I profess to believe every word of, what does it have to say about belief? Paul does say that we will be saved by our belief (Romans 10:9), Jesus says those who believe without seeing are blessed (John 20:29), but there is much more of an emphasis on a lifestyle dedicated to God rather than a belief that God created the world in six days, cursed the tower of Babel, then killed everyone with a flood a few hundred years later, etc.

Will Jesus be separating the sheep and goats based on what they believed, or on how they treated the poor? (Matthew 25:31-46) Actually, earlier on in Matthew (7:21-23) Jesus says there were be people who say to him, "Lord, Lord" but he won't even know them.

Did God smite cities such as Sodom, Gomorrah, Tyre, and Jerusalem because of what they believed, or because of the injustice in their societies? (Ezekiel 16:49-50, Jeremiah 21:11-14)

Does he promise blessings on the Israelites because they believed there was one God, or because they lived their lives as though there was? (Deuteronomy 30:1-10)

Did Jesus say we would know them by their beliefs, or by their fruits? (Matthew 7:15-20)

I will admit there are some serious things I disagree with Borg about. I do believe that he is underestimating God when he views the resurrection of the dead as a metaphor. I do believe that my God can do all things, even--no, especially--the impossible. But am I going to judge Borg, or other Christians who view the Bible as metaphorical, if they worship the same God and uphold the same tenets of love, justice, mercy, and holiness? I don't think I should.

I also don't want this to come off as a "as long as other religions are doing good things, they're okay" post. The Bible speaks about idolatry and following after other gods nearly as much as being unjust and cruel, so I can't ignore that aspect if I'm going to listen to another.

One last note: Jesus and his crucifixion and resurrection. Borg tends to think of God as a metaphor and sacrament of God, not God himself. At first, I'm inclined to be harsh on this mindset, but then I have to think of how I view observant Jews. They believe in the same monotheistic God, they align their lives to his laws, and they dedicate all to him. If they don't recognize Jesus as the Messiah because of how we have presented him, is that their fault or ours? It varies from case to case, I'm sure, but I think I want to give extremely liberal Christians the same grace.

I do believe Borg and other biblical metaphoricalists (I just made it a word, okay?) are shortchanging God a bit. Do they really believe he couldn't do those miracles if he wanted to? I feel like they're missing out. Jesus' resurrections points to his triumph over death. It points to the fact that God is willing to do anything to be close to us. It means we were separated from God by our sin and we have a chance to be reconciled to him. What's neat, though, is I've gathered that even if Borg doesn't think these things actually happened, he still sees the messages. And those messages are important because they shape the way we view God and how he factors into our lives.

Perhaps this has rambled a bit, but I felt like there was so much to talk about and get into one blog post! I haven't finished the book yet, but I will soon.

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