Chapter 4, “Meeting Marcus Borg Again for the First Time” pp. 79-110.
Long opens this fourth chapter with a suggestion that the chief danger to faith is thinking that God can be adequately known (Long 2009, 79). Especially in the more individually mediated religious groups we find people looking for the real free soul within (Long 2009, 79). On the contrary, the New Testament regularly relates the inward life to the external work of God’s redemption Long 2009, 80). Long adapts the ideas of Cyril O’Regan to consider conditions that make the ideological shift possible. His seven conditions can be summarized by saying that Christianity is perceived as being a valuable but failed project in need of revision to make it more deeply spiritual (Long 2009, 82).
To search out these conditions in liberal Christianity Long visits the work of scholar Marcus Borg (Long 2009, 83). “If we can understand Borg, the way he thinks and why his approach to the Christian faith is so compelling to many people, then we can better understand the hungers, questions, and yearnings of these bright and motivated Christians who have the nasty suspicion that the church has not been telling them the whole truth and that the gospel we have been preaching is shallow and unsatisfying” (Long 2009, 85). Borg meets all the conditions leading to the gnostic views. Long considers that the controversy is more complicated, as there are actually elements of liberalism, gnosticism, and orthodoxy in play (Long 2009, 88). Borg may well be found playing on each field (Long 2009, 89). To identify Borg’s place, Long evaluates him through four themes of gnostic tendencies, detailed in chapter three (Long 2009, 90).
The first theme says knowledge is the savior (Long 2009, 90). Borg, with many others, has reconstructed Jesus as a wise teacher who instructs us in our relationship with God (Log 2009, 94). The second theme is a focus on the inner self (Long 2009, 94). Borg would regard the Fall as a loss of divine consciousness rather than an entrance into sin (Long 2009, 94). Third, there is a devaluing of embodiment (Long 2009, 94). Borg places a spiritual reality above physical reality (Long 2009, 95). Long describes this concept in some detail. Finally, there is an emphasis on the present, not hope for the final consummation of history (Long 2009, 103). Borg finds a Jesus who does not view himself as the Messiah or at all related in the end of the world (Long 2009, 103). Long points out in this context that reconstruction of “the historical Jesus has almost inevitably led to self-projection” (Long 2009, 105).
Long finally pulls the chapter back to the topic of preaching to the neo-gnostics in the pews (Long 2009, 106). It is important that we remember that a search for wisdom is good. However, the biblical faith is built on God’s acts outside of us (Long 2009, 107).