Two very different visions of the Meaning of Jesus

Published September 1, 2000

ON THE jacket of this book, Bishop John Shelby Spong describes it as “a magnificent song of faith” sung by a “traditional” (Wright) and “visionary” (Borg) Christian.

While The Meaning of Jesus is indeed magnificent, it is more aptly described as two separate songs, sung antiphonally to determine their potential for dissonance and harmony.

Spong’s description of the two authors requires honing. Wright, indeed, speaks from within the living tradition of the church, but also brings to the table significant subtlety and analytical ability as an established scholar representing the “third quest” for the historical Jesus.

Borg marries, in an unusual manner, a concern for a personal experience of Christ (a legacy of his Lutheran background?) and the methods made public by the renowned Jesus Seminar.

Here is a ready answer to the non-specialist who wants to understand the contemporary debate surrounding the “quest for the historical Jesus”: indeed, the present reviewer has recommended it to undergraduates and non-academics alike.

Both authors are cogent communicators in the academy and the Church, both are convinced that conversations about Jesus – of utter importance to the world as well as the Church – should take place publicly.

[pullquote] Readers will find, alongside a common insistence upon Jesus’ ministry and message in his first century Jewish context, perceptive debate concerning the divinity of Jesus, the virginal conception, the meaning of the crucifixion, the meaning and mode of the resurrection, and the second coming of Christ.

A purple passage is their candid discussion of the resurrection, closely argued through analyses of Paul and the gospels, showing what happens when we stress either the unity or the separateness of the pre and post-Easter Jesus. Intriguing also is the final section, where we see how each projected vision is connected with Christian living.

In the end, readers must move beyond a decision as to which of the two visions is more beautiful – Borg’s authentic spirituality understood “through the lens of Jesus,” or Wright’s Christian spirituality “focused on Jesus, the Messiah of Israel.”

Through this compelling debate, they will find themselves questing for words which have “the ring of truth.” Dr. Edith Humphrey teaches at Carleton University and Augustine College, Ottawa.


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