Marcus Borg, The Q Gospel, Evangelical Nation and Disconnect

December 4, 2008


I’ve been reading a lot about the historical Jesus, and I’ve plowed through classical and traditional views by eminent and overwhelmingly intelligent scholars like N.T. Wright as well as liberal and revisionist Christian thinkers like Marcus Borg. I’ve read overviews by non-religious philosophy and history professors who’ve attempted evaluate without bias what can be known historically in regards to Jesus. I’ve got a long way to go but right now what is sticking out for me and resonating in ways that such things haven’t in years is that Jesus was a social prophet (as Borg excellently writes in one of his chapters in his and Wright’s co-authored “Jesus: Two Visions”). He was in fact a revolutionary, in the highest and most honorable sense of the word. He spoke out against oppressive government and corrupt hierarchy. The wealthiest in the city controlled the economy and the law not to mention the church. Jesus condemned any practice that took advantage of the poor within the Roman empire as well as all practices of military expansion that wrought havoc on those outside of the Roman empire. His act of over-turning the money changing tables in the temple likely put him on watch by the Roman authorities and his teachings like those just mentioned led to his execution.

This is what I feel much of my church history left me out on, this respect for and awe of the life of Jesus. So much emphasis is paid on his death, his crucifixion, the “passion play.” Jesus’ short life and even shorter public ministry is what reverberates today…his message was what “sin and the grave” could not hold. His teachings were “resurrected,” they lived on and will live on regardless of what churches and societies may do intentionally or unintentionally to miss out on the truth and impact of their message. Much of my study into the historical Jesus made mention of the “Q” source, an author and his scrolls labeled “Q” which many intelligent scholars and historians believe to be the earliest and most accurate teachings, parables, sayings and words of Jesus. The writers of the earliest gospels were believed to have had “Q” scrolls as a primary source to base their work on. I found a copy of “The Lost Gospel Q” by Marcus Borg in my local library and in it he gives a brief overview of the long history of the Q documents and then reprints the words of Jesus, directly translated from Aramaic into English. So we’re able to read the sayings of Christ, before they were filtered through Hebrew and Greek into Old English and before they were incorporated into Gospel writers who likely lived many decades after Christ died. So hopefully, these words are as close to what Jesus actually taught that we today can see. It’s astounding, and it’s evident that the teachings centered primarily on looking out for the poor, hungry and downtrodden. These were calls to social justice, a rally cry for helping those that society overlooks. Of course the most “revolutionary” stance Jesus took and instructed others to follow suit in is that of complete and total forgiveness. To always forgive those that trespass against us. To settle things peacefully between our brothers and sisters and ourselves without resorting to war, courts or rulers. To give what we have to those that have not, to love unconditionally and to strive to make this world better than it is. I think such simply stated yet often difficult to follow instructions are far too often “lost in translation” when many pastors speak, many Christians act and many people pray.

See, I keep thinking about the disconnect. I’ve also been reading a book a religion journalist wrote, “The Fall of the Evangelical Nation.” The author, Christine Whicker, speaks of the large gap between what the public thinks evangelical Christians believe and what they actually believe. The same gap appears between what many of their leaders say the groups believe and what the actual members of the group believe. The gap is also often present between what members of the congregation say (or sometimes even think) they believe and what they actually believe (and do). Whicker has spent a career covering religious issues for many papers and grew up in the Evangelical church. Her grandfather was a southern Baptist preacher, and she seeks to point out the good and kind-hearted nature of the types of evangelicals she grew up around, the type of aspects that get overlooked in the media perceptions of evangelicals. As such, it’s a fair and even handed book. Much of it deals with her prediction of the coming “collapse” of the conservative mega churches as well as explorations of what it really means to be an evangelical. Anyway, the points I want to bring up here from that book are the times that “gap” becomes present in the subjects she interviews. The fundamentalist Christian women in abortion clinics awaiting their own procedure who subscribe to the beliefs of and attend a church that wishes to repeal the right to choose that they are currently taking advantage of. The traveling evangelical pastor who is caught having sex with another man while representing a church body that accuses all homosexuals as partaking of a “lifestyle of sin.” I recently read an article about the California Prop 8 debacle and it was mentioned that the San Francisco Catholic Bishop that helped craft PR ads accusing gay marriage of being “dangerous to children” was the same Bishop who initially called reports of sexual abuse in one of his congregations “mere horseplay.” Many have made the point that the large-funding by the Mormons that wanted so desperately to define marriage as being “between one man and one woman” belonged to a church founded by a man with dozens of wives. This disconnect is infuriating to me. So many “Christians” lose sight of the real important messages. So many “Christians” seek to alienate, disparage and judge others and that is the very opposite of Christ’s teachings. I saw on the news this morning of a woman who’s young infant son almost died from “water intoxication” because she was watering down her baby formula to stretch it until WIC would allow her to get more of it. (Apparently infants under 1 can only have so much water in their diets or it can kill them, unknown to me as a childless twenty something). The recession hit’s the health of children the hardest, one expert mentioned in regards to this story. So once again, as mentioned in my “A New Definition for Pro-Life” article, I ask: are those that are “pro-life” interested in supporting policies that seek to usher in universal health care or at least expanded programs to help the less fortunate? WIC was cut back drastically during the Bush administration, did those that are pro-life wince?

I have a confession to make. It’s obvious that the most important and revolutionary concept of Christ’s teaching is still far out of my reach. I rant at pro life and homophobic people but if I were really like Christ I would be out doing too much and loving those I disagreed with too much to waste my space here condemning them. Such is the paradox I can’t best at this point in my life I suppose. The disconnect I speak of is present everywhere, and I often see it in myself as well. As a liberal and an embracer of progressive politics I believe in equality and helping all others, but after close to a decade of working in jobs dealing with the public sector from the service side (retail, restaurant, etc.) I’m the first to admit people are hard to like and hard to love with alarming frequency.

That’s all for now, I apologize for the very disjointed and wandering article….more on target with more focus next time, I assure you.


One Response to “Marcus Borg, The Q Gospel, Evangelical Nation and Disconnect”

  1. I agree with much of what you have said. I am working on a book on the topic. Check out my blog on this topic…

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