18 May 2015: Marcus Borg’s latest book ‘Convictions’ Chapt 7 – led by Ian

Last modified date

This chapter focuses on and questions the substitutionary understanding of Jesus’s death. His death was a ‘payment’ to God for the sins of humankind. We noted that ‘confession’ was and still is a significant part in Christian rites and rituals. The substitutionary understanding was part of the ~1905 Fundamentals. The originator was Anselm in 1098 based on how a feudal lord treated his subjects. Wrongdoing couldn’t be tolerated, so some payments had to be made. Interestingly, the split with the East Orthodox Church took place ~1054 ie before Anselm, and so it doesn’t have this payment understanding. We recognise that the concept of being ‘forgiven’ can be very powerful and liberating in people in difficult circumstances. However ‘sin’ blocking entry to heaven is not espoused in the Bible.

We found Borg’s 4 theological arguments against the substitutionary understanding compelling. Could God not think up a better plan? Why not let Jesus live a little longer? Borg compares a headline ‘Father dies trying to save his son’ with the payment view of ‘Father requires death of his son’ that very neatly sums up Anselm’s theology. Jesus’s death was political (hence the use of the cross), aided and abetted by the Roman appointed Priests and rulers, who had to continually demonstrate allegiance to the Roman authorities/power. Jesus’s claim that the kingdom of God is coming was a political statement and a challenge to the Romans and their local stooges. Imagine how history would be different if Jesus had died of the plague while helping others; much of the power of his death on the cross is lost and the message of The (different) Way neutered.

For Borg ‘Salvation’ is ‘Transformation’. It is for us too.

Ian Harris