Showing posts with label Christianity and Government. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christianity and Government. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The First Paul – a review


Authors: Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan

Reviewed by Geoffrey W. Sutton


Borg, M.J. & Crossan, J.D. (2009). The first Paul: Reclaiming the radical visionary behind the church’s conservative icon. HarperCollins e-books.


Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan introduce us to the apostle Paul by providing historical contexts for his life and teachings. Early on they explain why only a small collection of documents were actually written by the apostle who wrote the first “books” in the New Testament.

Scholars affirm seven letters (aka books) were actually written by Paul: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, 1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians, and Philemon.

Scholars believe the pastoral epistles were written later by other authors. These are 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. Finally, scholars disagree about the authorship of Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians; however, according to Borg and Crossan, most believe these were not written by Paul.

The different teachings in the three groups of letters named above challenge readers because they offer different views on such matters as the equality of women and men as well as slavery.

In their brief biography of Paul, the authors remind us that like Jesus, Paul was a lifelong Jew. And we learn about the Roman Imperial religion that offers an important context for Paul’s writing about Jesus as Lord (instead of Caesar) and the special terms used to refer to Caesar and to Jesus. Terms like God, Son of God, and the one who brings peace to the world are applied to Roman Emperors and to Jesus.

The biography also reveals some differences between the Paul presented by the writer of Acts and by Paul in his own letters. Readers of the New Testament know Paul called himself an apostle. Borg and Crossan explore the meaning of apostle by considering who sent Paul and to whom Paul was sent.

Chapter two is particularly useful as it helps readers learn how to read one of Paul’s letters. The focus is on the short letter of Philemon and the topic is Paul’s view of slavery. After reviewing the text, the authors show how Paul’s view in Philemon differs from the views presented by the letters Paul did not write. Next, the authors provide a similar analysis on the subject of the head of the household and equality for women and men.

In chapter three, the authors look at the contents of Acts and Paul’s letters to discover areas of agreement or disagreement. In chapter four, we see how Paul contrasts Roman and early Christian theology. The focus is especially on Rome’s pursuit of peace through violence and Christ’s approach to peace through the nonviolent pursuit of justice.

Why was Christ crucified? That’s the message of chapter five. The authors see the crucifixion, a Roman method of execution, as part of Paul’s anti-imperial stance. Thus, Paul doesn’t just preach Jesus died but emphasizes Christ crucified. The authors also take on the theology of substitutionary atonement and the understanding of Jesus sacrificial death. They suggest understanding Jesus’ sacrifice as being for the sake of those he loved like a parent who might sacrifice their life so their child might live. In this view, “The death of Jesus as God’s Son is a parable of God’s love for us (p, 54).”

Chapter six deals with justification by grace through faith. The authors emphasize Paul’s focus on transformation in this life rather than a focus on the afterlife. And they do not pit faith against works. Instead, they contrast faith-without-works to works-without-faith. And they clarify that faith refers to commitment rather than an affirmation of belief statements as seems common in some branches of Christianity.

The final chapter is about Life Together “In Christ.” The authors note that the phrase “In Christ” appears more than a hundred times and it usually refers to living in community.


I recommend The First Paul to readers interested in a scholarly examination of traditional teachings attributed to the apostle Paul. How Christians interpret Paul’s theology has had a significant impact on the lives of billions.

First, there are practical matters that have made a difference in how the church has historically viewed slavery, women, and people who experience same-sex attraction. Those Christian views largely come from the teachings of Paul or texts attributed to Paul. 

Second, there are theological matters. Many in the church have focused on the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection in a different way than do these authors who challenge the doctrine of atonement.

Borg and Crossan do not hesitate to consider areas of disagreement in the relevant texts. This lack of hesitation is a contrast to the resistance found in evangelical circles where clergy often take a fundamentalist approach to the texts as if the letters were dictated by God rather than produced by first century Jewish men like Paul.

One matter the authors did not address is that even letters written by Paul may have a personal bias and be subject to the limitations of human memory. Given other works by these authors, I do not think they would overlook these cognitive factors but they did not explicitly identify them when dealing with historical events such as those in Acts.

I think some evangelical women have missed out on a sound biblical argument favoring the equality of women and men when they do not distinguish between the letters written by Paul and those he probably did not write. There's a difference in Paul's affirmation of equality in those were he wrote compared to those that sound more like a taming of Paul to fit the male hierarchy in the culture.

The First Paul available on AMAZON

Please check out my website

   and see my books on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

Also, consider connecting with me on    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton    

   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge:

  Academia   Geoff W Sutton     ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 


Saturday, January 1, 2022

Jesus-Life, teachings, revolutionary -a book review



Uncovering the Life,

Teachings, and Relevance of     

a Religious Revolutionary


   Marcus Borg

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W.Sutton


Jesus” is a scholarly review of Jesus’ life and times. Marcus Borg carefully examines the gospels and the small amount of extrabiblical sources to help us understand Jesus' mission in the context of his life as a Jew from a small town under Roman domination. Borg acknowledges that all historical studies involve a degree of subjectivity, which he tempers by providing cogent reasons for his perspective thus allowing readers to form their judgment about his interpretation of the gospels and other available records.

It is no secret that Christians are “A House Divided” about many matters. This is notably evident in the United States. And this is the author’s context. Borg begins by providing us with a perspective on divided Christianity. Instead of focusing on denominations, he refers to two broad views or paradigms. His terms (in parentheses) are different from the more familiar conservative (an earlier Christian paradigm) and progressive (an emerging Christian paradigm). He further identifies the conservatives as fundamentalists, evangelicals, and Pentecostals and links them to the political right. In contrast, he presents the emerging paradigm as the “emergent church” and “neotraditional Christianity.”

The current presentation of Jesus’ life varies with the perspective of people writing from one of the two aforementioned major Christian paradigms. On the one hand, the earlier paradigm focuses on Jesus’ saving death on the cross, his divinity, and his moral teaching. When teaching about his life, these earlier paradigm Christians interpret the texts in a literal or near literal way.

Emerging Christians hold a view Borg calls “historical-metaphorical.” His short summary is: 

“...the pre-Easter Jesus was a Jewish mystic, healer, wisdom teacher, and prophet of the kingdom of God; he proclaimed the immediacy of access to God and the kingdom of God; he challenged the domination system, was executed by the authorities, and then vindicated by God.” 

Borg does not deny the importance of appreciating the “post-Easter Jesus” but Borg does want us to understand Jesus as a first century Jewish man who revealed God’s passion for the world as distinct from the way his followers wrote about Jesus as Son of God, Messiah, and Lord long after the resurrection.

Early in the book we see the two divisions when it comes to beliefs about Jesus life as described in the gospels. Early Christians developed a set of creeds or statements of faith. Modern conservatives expect Christians to affirm these beliefs, which are indicative of what it means to be a Christian. These beliefs include Jesus as the Son of God, born of a virgin, and eternally existent as God. Borg refers to this understanding of belief as “belief that,” which means belief in Jesus is a matter of believing statements about him. 

In contrast, Borg’s view is that an older understanding of the word belief is more accurate. That is, the word belief meant a focus on a person in the sense of being faithful and loyal to the person you follow. In this view, to believe in Jesus is to follow his way in contrast to affirming characteristics about Jesus.

Borg presents Jesus as if you were taking a class by a master teacher who offers us a grand overview providing the context of Jewish life at a time when Romans ruled the Jews' homeland. He then explains his historical method of examining the scriptures, considers human memory, and how to treat testimonies of historical events. Next he explains how we should understand metaphorical language in the gospels—we should consider the language as “more-than-literal.”

Having explained the scholarly methods, Borg tells Jesus’ story from birth to death and the resurrection appearances. We learn about Jewish life and the meaning of phrases like “kingdom of heaven” and “eternal life.” We gain an appreciation of Jewish perspectives on wisdom and the wisdom Jesus presented in parables and short sayings. Wisdom also includes an understanding of the way to live life—the familiar two ways of broad or narrow. The broad way means the way most of us live our lives.  Borg unpacks the narrow way in a series of contrasts to the broad way by exploring such common pursuits as wealth and honor.

As the Jesus' story nears an end, we learn more about Jesus’ confrontation of the Roman domination system and the symbolic language of the gospels in telling the story of the crucifixion. Finally, Borg interprets the texts telling of Jesus resurrection appearances beginning with the first comments on the event written by the apostle Paul before the first gospels were written.


Jesus is worth reading by Christians who want to learn more about the life of Jesus from a scholar who understands the gospels in their historical context and takes a humble stance when presenting the reasons for his views.

Jesus is also worth reading by atheists, agnostics, and people of other religions who wish to understand Christianity and how Christians can be divided over matters of faith and practice.

What's missing is a full appreciating of Jesus' character. Jesus appears to be a somber and witty character. There is evidence of compassion. What we don't see is a man who enjoys family, loves to laugh and joke with friends, and feels the exhilaration of romantic love. That's not the fault of the author who avoids speculating about matters not included in the gospels. 

Perhaps of additional importance is an understanding of how Jesus and the first Christians mixed faith and politics. As Borg writes, the Christian story is not just personal; it is also political. Jesus and his followers presented a way of life that was different from the Jewish establishment and perceived as a threat to the domination system enforced by the Roman rulers in Judea. When Jesus' life is seen this way, it is no surprise that the earthly rulers attempted to silence him. Clearly they failed. As people continue to experience Jesus as a healer, teacher, exorcist, savior, and Lord.

Jesus is a contemporary figure in American history. Europeans brought their story of Jesus to the Americas. Although the story is fading from an active role in American culture, a substantial percentage of Americans continue to embrace one or the other of the two paradigms, which affects how Americans love, work, fight, vote, and of course, worship.

A related book: A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures

Buy on AMAZON    or  GOOGLE  and elsewhere


Cite this review

Sutton, G. W. (2022, January 1). Jesus-Life, teachings, revolutionary -a review. Sutton Reviews. Retrieved from


Borg, M.J. (2006). Jesus: Uncovering the life, teachings, and relevance of a religious revolutionary. New York: HarperCollins. [AMAZON]   [GOOGLE]



Other books presenting Progressive Christianity

About the author: Marcus Borg on GOOGLE     AMAZON

Please check out my website

   and see my books on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

Also, consider connecting with me on    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton    

   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge:

  Academia   Geoff W Sutton     ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 



Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sacred Causes --of war - A Book Review

Can a look back help predict the future of religious influence?


The Clash of Religion and Politics 
from the Great War to the
War on Terror

By Michael Burleigh

Reviewed by
Geoffrey W. Sutton


News of the recent church-state skirmishes rippling across the Southern Christian U.S. States reminded me of Burleigh’s work, which I reviewed a few years ago. Additionally, the brutality of the identified Islamic state ripping heads from bodies, destroying women and children, exploding ancient sites, and pushing vulnerable noncombatants into the Mediterranean makes the author’s analysis even more worthy of a second look.

What I find useful to the present church and state issues is Burleigh’s consideration of the role of the church in the various conflicts beginning with World War I and extending into the 21st Century. During the past hundred years, the primary European church was of course the Church of Rome—still claiming the largest percentage of the world’s largest religion. Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant branches of Christianity fared unevenly under communist and fascist regimes. Clearly, limitations on religious freedom curbed influence. But there was some influence.

It’s how the church might influence state politics under restrictions of religious freedom that seems relevant today. On the one hand, the western democracies struggle to deal with aggressive tribes who link their violence to Islam—mostly in the Middle East and Europe. Because the Islamist warriors target Christians along with secularists, semi-Christianized nations are in a quasi-religious war. Western states are coping unevenly with warriors committed to a religiously informed purpose-driven death.

On the other hand, secular forces within the western democracies are pushing back against the influence of the church on religiously-informed laws and regulations. Not only are secular forces removing Christian faith-linked laws governing marriage and constraints on ending pregnancies but new laws and court decisions compel Christians to violate their religiously informed conscience. Exemptions have been granted as evident in the "Hobby Lobby" case of 2015 and the special considerations for religious groups objecting to provisions of the Affordable Care Act (though aspects of the ACA are still contentious).

For those interested in the link between religious belief and behavior as well as the shifting balance of influence between churches and states, Burleigh offers an interesting perspective.

A free copy of my academic review can be found at Academia and ResearchGate.

Cite this blog post

Sutton, G. W. (2016, April 24. Sacred causes of war. [Web log post]. Retrieved from 

The book

Burleigh, M. (2007). Sacred causes: The clash of religion and politics, from the great war to the war on terror. New York: Harper Collins


Twitter  @GeoffWSutton 

For a related but different focus on morality and Christian cultures see A House Divided.

Also, A House Divided Website

For additional free book reviews and articles