Borg & Crossan’s Understanding of Truth

I’ve been reading Marcus J. Borg & John Dominic Crossan’s book Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem. For those of you who know me, you may find this very surprising considering the things I’ve had to say about these two over the years. In some ways, I’ve been pleasantly surprised. Their description of Mark’s gospel and Jesus’s confrontation with the domination system of Rome is excellent and well worth reading. However, as I entered the final chapter on Easter, I was very intrigued by their understanding of history and truth.

So one should not think of history as “true” and parable as “fiction” (and therefore not nearly as important). Only since the Enlightenment of the seventeenth century have many people thought this way, for in the Enlightenment Western culture began to identify truth with “factuality.” Indeed, this identification is one of the central characteristics of modern Western culture.

…but parable, independently of historical factuality can be profoundly true. Indeed, it may be that the most important truths can be expressed only in parable (p. 194).

These statements come in the description of Jesus’ resurrection as a parable. They hesitate to say whether or not the event of Jesus’ resurrection is historically factual, but from other statements I would highly doubt they would hold to this.

Now, I understand a relational account of epistemology and truth. As a former scientist of sorts, I can appreciate the idea that knowledge and truth are more than cold hard facts isolated in a test tube. In fact, I even feel that I operate in a fairly postmodern paradigm in this regard.

However, I still have enough modern rationalist left inside to hold the questions I asked in an earlier post on truth. So again I ask, would you go to a physician who held the same view of truth as Borg and Crossan? “I’m sorry ma’am, but frankly, truth is more than connection with factuality, and I don’t ‘feel’ like you have cancer in spite of what the tests show. You’re free to go home!” Am I saying you can verify the resurrection scientifically? No, but I really don’t believe you can dismiss its historical reality and still believe it’s “true.”

Addendum: OK, I think I know one of the things that bothers me about Borg and Crossan.  It seems that they have been influenced by the notion that certain things outside the realm of our modern rational understanding cannot occur in a literal sense (i.e. resurrection).  So they start out of modernity, then shift into a postmodern conception of truth in order to somehow cling to the Christian doctrine of resurrection.  Modern skepticism leading to postmodern acceptance on other grounds.  It seems that if they were operating more consistently out of a postmodern paradigm, they would not deny the resurrection in the first place.  They want to speak relevantly, it seems, to a modern world that cannot accept things like miracles, resurrection, etc., yet use a postmodern paradigm to speak to that world about the “reality” of resurrection.  It seems like they want to have their epistemological cake and eat it too.

2 thoughts on “Borg & Crossan’s Understanding of Truth

  1. Thanks for the interesting post.

    I go to a doctor for the same reason I go to a plubmer. To keep the machine running.

    The science underlying their respective crafts, however, has little to say with what I should do with the machine in the first place.

    I care about Easter not because I want to know for certain what happened in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. I care about Easter because I want to know Jesus today.

    My problem with the “parable” language is that it says Jesus died and is no longer available to me except as a great model of what life could or should be. He is no different than Gandhi or St. Francis.

    I need a Jesus who is alive today. That is why I care about whether he is risen.

  2. Hi John. I appreciate your comments. I think the philosophical positions underlying the physician’s craft does matter, especially as it relates to the way reality is structured. Does that make any sense?

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