Marcus Borg at St. Mary's Kerrisdale

Marcus Borg's lecture at St. Mary's Kerrisdale (reported in September's TOPIC, page 5) about emerging liberal Protestantism—a more accurate term than `emerging Christianity'—warrants some comment.

Of course conservative/liberal tensions are not a new thing. In fact, the Judaism that Jesus lived and breathed was itself a stew of contending theological viewpoints. The Sadducees were urbane, worldly and dismissive of revelation and the supernatural. They regarded the Pharisees (and other parties) with contempt. The Pharisees were similarly learned but conventionally religious and trusted revelation. They regarded the Sadducees with contempt.

Randy Stark, a pre-eminent Sociologist of religion, writing in his recent book, To the Glory of God, names modern liberal Anglicanism as the closest contemporary parallel of the Sadducees. Conservative minded Christians could stand in for the Pharisees. Jesus belonged to neither, or any other, party. In his ministry he seemed to have negligible contact with Sadducees—later he would; they controlled the council that condemned him—but when they are scripturally mentioned, his main criticism of them relates to a lack of faith. Jesus had quite a lot of contact with the Pharisees, who also worked a lot amongst ordinary people. Jesus' main criticism of the Pharisees relates to nit picking legal interpretations that placed judgment before mercy.


The late John A.T. Robinson, Bishop of Woolwich, New Testament scholar and author of the controversial book Honest to God, gives added perspective. Writing in Can We Trust the New Testament? he cautions against both of what he calls the `skepticism of the wise' and the `fundamentalism of the fearful'. Though liberal-minded himself, he reserves his sharper criticism for the intellectual dishonesty of liberals just trying to reshape Christianity into an image more agreeable to their own sensibilities (a very illiberal project). Bishop Robinson concluded that the New Testament does give a faithful portrait of Jesus; the Church had got most things about him about right. At the same time, the church should try to share the gospel in contemporary terms too, keeping scientific insights in mind. For himself, he concluded that if he were to find he could not intellectually believe the essential things of the Christian faith, (he could) he would be honest about it and seek other paths.

For me, admittedly influenced by an anglo-catholic way of thinking about faith (and consequently skeptical of intellectual trends and doctrines derived from social constructs such as `post modernism'), the most striking aspect of the `emerging Christianity' described by Mr. Borg is its spiritual impoverishment and dullness. Consider and compare the emerging understanding (mentioned by him) of God as a sort of creator spirit, neither supernatural nor personal. Yet a moment's contemplation of the Holy Trinity and its unbounded spiritual treasures shows that the emerging minimalist God described by Mr. Borg is already an aspect, if a small one, of the Holy Trinity. And are we to ignore Jesus' own words and example, especially where he points to a heavenly father so close and caring, that he addresses him as Abba, (Dad)?

Overall, liberal thought in our church has been constructive. But when its emerging beliefs head off in a direction so entirely opposite from the community of faith it emerged from—where the dead, not just those who happen to be walking around at the moment, also have a say in things—to become indistinguishable from, say, Unitarianism, then perhaps the time has come for some liberals to ask of themselves the honest questions Bishop John A.T. Robinson suggested.

Neill Brown

Parishioner, St. James, Vancouver

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