Shrinking Jesus and Betraying the Faith

By the Rt. Rev. C. FitzSimons Allison
www.virtueonline.org

What caused the crisis now being faced not only by the Diocese of South Carolina but by the entire western Christian Church? It’s more than an issue of sexuality. It’s one of pandering to the secular culture, of shrinking Jesus and betraying the faith.

Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan are two remarkably popular theologians who teach a version of Christianity that reduces the Christian faith to contemporary secular assumptions. For Crossan, Jesus was an illiterate Jewish cynic. No Incarnation no Resurrection. The Easter story is “fictional mythology” (p. 161, Jesus a Revolutionary Biography). Borg claims that Jesus was only divine in the sense that Martin Luther King and Gandhi were divine. Borg dismisses the creeds (p.10, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time) Jesus was a “spirit person,” “a mediator of the sacred,” “a shaman,” one of those persons like Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Mohammed, et al. (p. 32)

Recently Borg and Crossan have collaborated on a book, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Final Days in Jerusalem. Their Jesus is a semi-revolutionary leader of peasants and outcasts against the priestly elite and those who accommodate to the dominant system of Roman coercive authority. It was not our sinful condition that demanded his crucifixion but this elite. Borg and Crossan’s Jesus does not come from God to take away sin but arose from among the innocent to teach us how not to be a part of the dominant systems.They fail to understand the depth of sin in all of us at all times, including peasants, as well as the elite. More importantly they lose the assurance of ultimate mercy and forgiveness.

Speaking of elites these two “scholarly authorities” purport to tell us, “What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus.” They pander to an increasingly secular culture and to the human itch to find some undemanding simplicity that now finally explains everything. And they do this while ignoring, and without reference to, the multitude of superior contemporary scholars such as Richard Bauckham, Raymond Brown, Luke Timothy Johnson, N. T. Wright, Richard Hays, Leander Keck, Christopher Bryan, and scores of others whose works reflect the faith of scripture and the creeds.

In addition to the academic arrogance of claiming that everyone has been wrong about Jesus until now, Marcus Borg, who is a member of the Episcopal Church, denies, in his writings, the creeds and doctrine he affirmed at his confirmation and in his present worship. It is the same moral issue as that of Bishop Jack Spong who was asked by one of his clergy, “How can you, as a bishop, ask those you ordain to swear to doctrine that you expressly and personally deny?” Crossan, on the other hand, showed some moral integrity when he resigned his Roman Catholic orders. These are not times when people readily think in terms of doctrine or of honor.

Christian faith, but not secular faith, now effectively banned from schools, colleges, and universities, has been relegated to the private and subjective arena. The result is the growing popularity of any who eliminate from Christian faith all that secular trust finds incompatible: miracles, the radical nature of sin and the consequent radical nature of grace, transcendence, holiness, and our human desperate need for God’s initiative action in Jesus.

The consequence of this secular replacement of Christianity over the years is that otherwise educated people can be bereft of any substantial grasp of scripture. One glaring example is Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori who tells us that Marcus Borg “opened the Bible to me.” (Acknowledgements A Wing and a Prayer). The Christian creed’s affirmation, to which she has repeatedly sworn, (but Borg negates) is that Jesus Christ is: “the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made . . .”

Borg has not opened the scripture for Bishop Jefferts Schori but closed its revelation of Jesus’ divinity.

One must ask how such apostasy has come about in the Episcopal Church. One answer is given by the new bishop of Connecticut, Ian Douglas. He accurately claims,” The Episcopal Church does not readily think in terms of doctrine.” As one thinks carefully about this statement the spiritual pathology of TEC becomes apparent.

Doctrine is “that which is taught, what is held, put forth as true” (Webster). Doctrine is a synonym for teaching. When we “do not readily think in terms of doctrine” we are unaware and ignorant of Christian teaching. This is true of both “liberals” and “conservatives.” We were warned in scripture about losing our grasp on doctrine and the danger of false doctrine; (“. . . so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine by cunning men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles.” Eph. 4:14 (see also Titus 2:;7, I Tim. 1:3, and 4:16, II John 10, II Tim. 3:16, 4:2)

Bishop Douglas’s statement, however, is only true of Christian doctrine. The Episcopal Church does indeed think in terms of doctrine: doctrines of litigation, abortion, divorce, sexual behavior outside of marriage and all kinds of current politically correct doctrines, as well as teachings that Jesus is reduced from the Son of God to a “subversive sage.” (p. 119, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time)

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church personifies this sad reduction, this shrunken Jesus, this betrayal of Christian faith. Her claim that “salvation is attained by many ways – Jesus Christ is a way, and God has many other ways as well. . .”(italics provided) (Interview, Time Magazine, July 10, 2006) is a violation of her ordination and consecration vows regarding the church’s creed (p. 519, Book of Common Prayer.., 1979). It is also sadly bereft of the Good News that salvation is never attained but freely given to those who believe. As to her belief in eternal life, she is unsure it exists and she contends that Jesus was more concerned with heavenly existence in this life. (Arkansas Democratic Gazette, Jan. 7, 2007)

This sad result reduces Christian faith to the secular assumptions of this age while this age is in desperate need of the very faith that has made it great. Dean William Inge’s famous warning has never been more apt than today: “The Church that marries the spirit of the age will find herself a widow in the next.” We thank God that the leadership of this diocese not only thinks in terms of Christian doctrine but is courageously committed to the sworn faith of scripture and creeds.

When Episcopalians do not think in terms of Christian doctrine they consciously and unconsciously conform to speculations of the current age. When the creedal and biblical affirmations of Jesus’ full humanity and divinity are given up we lose the promised assurance of God’s mercy. The sad secular substitute for divine mercy is a culture destroying permissiveness, lowered standards of morality in society, and diminishing honor in human character. Permissiveness is no substitute for mercy.

Let’s be clear – the doctrine of Borg, Crossan, and Jefferts Schori makes nonsense of the Eucharist: Holy and gracious Father: In your infinite love you made us for yourself; and, when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, you, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all.

He stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself, in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world. (p.362 Book of Common Prayer 1979)

The doctrine of “mere man” (like Martin Luther King and Gandhi) is indeed a widespread heresy in modern times but finds no reflection in any of the major heresies. It was so rare that only a specialist is apt to know its name: psilantropism. One of the outstanding contemporary scholars, Timothy George, has this to say about heresy: Heresy is a deliberate perversion, a choice (hairesis in Greek), to break with the primary pattern of Christian truth and to promulgate a doctrine that undermines the gospel and destroys the unity of the Christian Church. A Church that cannot distinguish heresy from truth, or, even worse, a Church that no longer thinks this is worth doing, is a Church which has lost its right to bear witness to the transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ who declared himself to be not only the Way and the Life, but also the Truth.

Rest assured the Bishop and Diocese of South Carolina, in the face of heretical assault on the Church will be faithful to the “one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all.” The challenge for us at this time is the opportunity to recover the neglected duty of “thinking in terms of doctrine” and to show the cruelty of heresy and declare the Gospel good news of Jesus Christ, Lord and Savior.

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