Book Review: The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions by Marcus J. Borg and N. T. Wright

“Was Jesus born of a virgin? Did he know he was the Messiah? Was he bodily resurrected from the dead? Did he intentionally die to redeem humankind? Was Jesus God? In The Meaning of Jesus two leading Jesus scholars with widely divergent views go right to the heart of these questions and others, presenting the opposing visions of Jesus that shape our faith today. Candid, spirited, and thoughtfully debated, this compelling discourse will stimulate fresh ideas and intense dialogue among anyone concerned with what it means to be a Christian today.” –

This book was lent to me by my priest — I mentioned an interest in learning more about modern theological debates (since the most recent theologian I’d read was C. S. Lewis), and he literally chased me down to give me a copy the next Sunday. Having finished the book, I am very thankful to Father John for bringing it to my attention. I have found both arguments presented in The Meaning of Jesus extremely enlightening, and I can honestly say that this book changed the way I think about Jesus.

The Meaning of Jesus was written by two friends and peers with very different ideas about “the historical Jesus,” i.e. who Jesus Christ really was and what he really did. N. T. Wright would probably not be considered conservative in any other context, but here he argues for an interpretation of the New Testament as historical fact, so that his answers to the book’s Big Questions tend to be more or less in-line with what the gospels say/imply. Marcus Borg, on the other hand, argues for a critical distinction between “history remembered” and “history metaphorized” and argues that much of the religious symbolism in the gospels may have been the product of the writers projecting the rituals and beliefs of early Christians back onto Jesus’s life. As you can imagine, the conclusions these two scholars reach on different aspects of Jesus’s ministry and legacy are often vastly different — and yet, their ideas about what it means to be a true follower of the historical Christ are shockingly similar.

I think that The Meaning of Jesus is not only an interesting snapshot of the historical Jesus debate, but is a wonderful example of how Christians can have very different interpretations of biblical narrative and still come together as people who see something in Jesus worth following. Both authors have complex opinions backed up with lots of textual and historical evidence, and both of them raise important points. I found both Wright’s and Borg’s chapters equally enlightening. This isn’t a book about who is right and who is wrong, but a dialogue between two opposing viewpoints that both have rich substance to them.

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Do I Recommend This Book? Absolutely. I don’t think you necessarily have to identify as a Christian to benefit from it, either. This is a fantastic read for anyone who is interested in theology and history, as well as anyone interested in developing a more fleshed-out image of Jesus. If anything I’ve said in this post has grabbed your attention, do yourself a favor and read it now.

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