Wheels vs. Motor: A comment on Marcus Borg's "The Character of God"...
This excellent response to Marcus Borg was written by Pastor Dan Reuter, a dear friend who serves Brown County Presbyterian Fellowship in Nashville, Indiana.
Our British cousins commonly speak of automobiles as "motors." We, at least colloquially, tend to call them "wheels," as in "I got wheels, man." Which of us is correct?
It's a ridiculous question, but hardly more ridiculous than Dr. Marcus Borg's sermon on the character of God. Wheels are useless without motive power and the motor is no vehicle without wheels. But Dr. Borg tells us that there are two metaphors for God which are so far divorced that "they virtually produce two different religions."
One metaphor-the bad one, according to Borg-is of God as monarch, lawgiver, and judge. This is the God of the Ten Commandments, the God who demands obedience, the God who demands, at the very least, faith. And this is the God before whom we never measure up. He is the God who, ultimately, will "get" us because of our failure to do what he tells us. The last word of this God is, according to a colleague whom Borg quotes with approval, "divine ethnic cleansing." The words which Borg associates with the God of this monarchial metaphor are "requirements," "in-group," and "vengeance." Borg's language as much as his argument-actually, there isn't much argument-makes it clear that this God, if he exists, is bad. No right-thinking person today would admit to worshiping a God who has anything to do with vengeance or exclusion, much less ethnic cleansing. And even requirements seem to be a rather dated notion in an era of noncompetitive "sports" with no losers and no winners.
The other metaphor is the one which pictures God primarily as a lover. The bad, lawgiving God "also loves us," Borg admits, but his love is conditional and therefore not to be reckoned on the same exalted plane as the love of the divine Lover who is only that. God, says Borg, "is in love with us." In fact, he quotes another colleague who says that God is "besotted with us." And With this God there are also other words associated: "compassion," "liberation," "justice." Once more the language says it all. Who nowadays admits to being against compassion or liberation or justice?
Borg finds both of these metaphors in the Bible. But he quotes Jesus only in support of the Lover idea. Like so many contemporary scholars, his Bible has no unity of its own, so he is free to pick and choose and finally decide what it is all about. It is about, he says, God as Lover.
All this is on all fours with a vehicle which is all wheels and no motor, or vice-versa. Unlike the ball player who is all stick and no glove, this vehicle never existed, nor ever could. Neither did Borg's gods (lower-case to distinguish his deities from the real One).
It is a mark of how hypnotized so many of us have become by the fashionable words-liberation, compassion, etc.-that a church actually put this sermon on the worldwide web. Consider: Borg says requiring faith is a quality of the bad monarch-god. Pure love is the good god's thing, as described in the New Testament in "its best-known verse, John 3:16, which, as you all know, begins 'For God so loved the world." And that's all he quotes! Of course, because the rest of the verse describes (horrors!) a requirement: "that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" [emphasis supplied, of course]. The fact is that there is not one book in the Bible, there is not one "source document" among those which scholars such as Borg think they have discovered behind the Bible, which speaks of a God who only loves and makes no requirements. Borg celebrates liberation as the work of his lover god. He cites the Exodus. Does anyone suppose Pharaoh would have recognized that as the work of a god who only loves and imposes no requirements? Was it that even for the Hebrews? Does a father, does a mother love children with no requirements, with no penalties, with no consequences, with no disappointment when they do not "measure up"? Such love is either wispy sentiment or entirely imaginary.
Borg concludes his sermon with a poem by George Herbert, the 17th century Anglican poet. He tells us that Herbert uses "Love" as his "word for God." And even this poem can't support Borg's absurd notion. It's all about God (or Love) welcoming the poet who knows his own unworthiness. And what is Love's final argument as to why the poet is welcome nevertheless? "'And know you not,' says Love, 'who bore the blame?'" Herbert's Love requires an atonement! Borg is so "besotted" with his metaphors that he doesn't even register what he reads and quotes what refutes him.
There is no love in the Bible which makes no requirements. There is no love in the Bible which holds no one to account. And the requirements and accountability which fill the Bible from first to last are themselves expressions of the divine love. That is why Jesus said, "Come to me, you who are overloaded," meaning overloaded by the demands of the law, and also insisted, "Don't think I came to abolish the law and the prophets," and "Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven." Requirements and love are two sides of a single coin. Borg's vehicle has neither motor nor wheels, which is why it won't go anywhere, at least nowhere good.
by Pastor Dan Reuter
Brown County Presbyterian Fellowship