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What's the Difference Between "Progressive" and "Conservative" Christianity; or What do Marcus Borg and Joel Osteen Have in Common; or Marcus Borg isn't Wearing Any Clothes

Posted by thethousandmarch on March 30, 2013 at 2:20 PM

The other night I went to a talk given by Marcus Borg. There was much of what he said I found to be true and insightful. I agreed whole heartedly with a large proportion of his critique of modern American “Conservative” Christianity. However, though I agreed with him in regards to some of the problems, I did not agree with a single one of his solutions. There is much I could say about Borg’s theology. I will keep my comments to one simple point. And that is that Borg’s “Progressive” Christianity in practice is little different than much of the American “Conservative” Christianity he so desperately wants to invalidate; both are about personal, social and political transformation – the Kingdom now; a better life now.


Borg says his “Progressive” Christianity is the true original version of Christianity and that today’s “Conservative” “Common” Christianity is the truly new and innovative version. By “Common” Christianity he means those basic beliefs most conservative Christians hold in common – Jesus came to earth and died on the cross so I could be forgiven of my sins and go to heaven when I die. I will give him this – his view of Christianity is very similar to what Christ’s first disciples thought following Jesus was all about.


Most of those in the large crowds following Jesus about the countryside were looking for their lives to be changed now – they wanted healing, feeding, and freedom from the Romans. But when Jesus told them, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world . . . . unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:51, 53), many decided this Jesus following thing wasn’t for them. They wanted the Kingdom now and when “they intended to come and make him king by force, [Jesus] withdrew again to a mountain by himself”; this was not his plan. Even after his death and resurrection, his disciples “asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’” (Acts 1:6). This is what his disciples expected and wanted. Jesus was supposed to come and throw out the Romans, restore Israel to power, and reward his righteous followers. This is why they fought over who was going to be the greatest in that kingdom. Why James and John’s mother asks for Jesus to “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom” (Matt 20:21). And why Peter asks “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (Matt 19:27).


I’m sure Borg would think it unfair that I would lump his form of Christianity in with those with such base motives – these materialist who just want health, wealth and happiness. He wants social justice and happiness. Yet I do not think there is much difference. Borg wants personal transformation, as well as social and political transformation now. And he thinks change now, not in an age to come, is all we should really be concerned about. He wants personal transformation now; I gather he is a moralist who thinks any religion which helps its adherents to live moral lives is pretty much the same as Christianity. But does he think that conservative Christians, or for that matter the religious leaders who rejected Jesus, are not concerned with right living? They may quibble with Borg over who is living “right”, but the focus is moralism. Borg wants social and political transformation now; in other words he wants the Kingdom of God now. Does he think conservative Christians are not equally concerned with the social and political state of the world today? What “Progressive” Christians like Borg and “Conservative” Christians think the Kingdom of God should look like may differ, but both are focused on the here and now.


Borg criticizes the evil done in the name of Christ throughout history, as a result of the wedding of the Church with political power. He is right to do so. The Church cannot spread and grow the Kingdom of God through coercion. We must reject the temptation to use the kingdom of man to attempt the establishment of the Kingdom of God.


The Church at present represents the Kingdom of God on Earth; we act as a sign and foretaste of an age to come. We cannot bring about this age to come through political or social action (even though we have political and social responsibilities in this age). But, Borg wants us to forget about the age to come and try and use social and political coercion to transform the kingdom of man into the Kingdom of God. Why would he think this wedding of power and religion will not have similar disastrous results? For Borg the resurrection story of Jesus (historical or not, it doesn’t matter to him) is God’s rejection of the corrupt powers of this age. So Christianity for him is about we corrupt people changing our world through individual personal transformation, and social and political action so that we can make our world into a place where we are blessed by God with the rewards of his Kingdom. That doesn’t sound much different to me than what most “Conservative” Christians are after.


Being myself what I believe is an “orthodox” Christian, I believe I should love my neighbor as myself which involves social and political action, as well as personal morality. And I believe I should proclaim the goodness of the Kingdom of God – Jesus the Christ has made a way for all people to enter into the Kingdom of God. This is a Kingdom, which is present now, is growing and will one day, when Christ returns, be made complete. I look forward to that day with hope, and in the meantime will do my best to proclaim the good news of God’s plan to redeem his creation. So even though I believe we should strive to obey all that Jesus has commanded, love our neighbor, and strive to make this world a more just and enjoyable place to be, I do not believe this is what being a Christian is all about.


Categories: The Gospel, Basic Christian Belief, Atonement