David F. Watson

Frederick Schmidt Critiques Marcus Borg

Marcus Borg has made inroads into popular mainline Protestantism in a way that few other writers have in recent decades. I remember when Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time came out. I was fascinated by this book. It was actually an important book in my spiritual development, not because of the conclusions that Borg draws, but because of the way in which it made me wrestle with my own ideas about the person and work of Jesus. At the end of the day, I disagree with Borg almost from top to bottom, but I certainly appreciate his irenic manner of debate and his remarkable ability to communicate complex ideas in ways that are accessible to non-specialists.

Part of why I disagree with Borg so thoroughly is that his theological and epistemological framework is essentially modernist, as are the assumptions of most “historical Jesus” scholars. According to Borg, the Christ of creed, the one whom the Church has confessed throughout the centuries, is not the historical Jesus who lived in Galilee in the first century. Rather, the creedal affirmations of the church are “exalted metaphors” that followers of Jesus attached to him after they came to believe that he was raised from the dead (also a metaphor). They tell us about the significance that Christians have attached to Jesus, but they tell us nothing about Jesus himself, except that he was the kind of person whom others would wish to exalt.

I find this view exceedingly problematic on multiple levels. I am thankful, then, that my friend Fred Schmidt has written a very helpful critique of Borg in the Journal of Preachers. Dr. Schmidt is an Episcopal priest who holds the Reuben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. I strongly commend this article to you. Schmidt and Borg are friends, and they even studied under the same professor at Oxford, the outstanding biblical scholar G. B. Caird. Schmidt’s critique of Borg’s work is honest, penetrating, and straightforward, but it is delivered with courtesy and without malice. It is a fine example of the way in which Christians should engage one another in debate.