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    

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Friday, October 8, 2021

The Violence Project - book review


The Violence Project

How to Stop A

Mass Shooting Epidemic     


Jillian Peterson

& James Densley

Reviewed by

Geoffrey W. Sutton

Now that Covid-19 isolation is over, mass shootings have resumed. Most of the time, mass shootings command the top spot on the evening news. By now the sequence of covering the crime scene is familiar—too familiar.

Jillian Peterson and James Densley have studied mass shootings for several years. They’ve built a data base and interviewed killers, survivors, and family members of victims and killers. The Violence Project tells the story of mass murder and offers ideas and resources that might help some of us prevent the next major event. In fact, they also tell stories of avoided shootings and some that could have been avoided if policies or laws were closely followed. Although the authors mention some shootings outside the US, their focus is on America where 85% of the US killers were born and raised.

Before suggesting ideas that may help avert future disasters and helpful resources, the authors introduce us to a mass of data to help us understand the characteristics that some killers have in common. They also explain the significant roles of life events in the lives of many mass shooters. Trauma is one such event. Almost 70% of the mass shooters in schools had a history of childhood trauma and they killed more people than shooters who did not have trauma.

Crisis is another key concept—80% of the mass shooters in their database were in a state of crisis close in time to the lethal event. For one example, 50% of all their mass shooters had an employment problem (e.g., reprimand, suspension, fired) close in time to their shooting. And about 25% experienced the end of a relationship before their shooting. Awareness of the murder-suicide connection is important. Recognizing and helping or obtaining help for people in a suicidal crisis can be relevant to preventing shootings. See page 56 for a useful table of signs of a crisis.

In the relationship chapter, the authors present evidence of leakage—the concept of leakage means people reveal their plans before they act. Among the young shooters (age 20 and below), 86% had leaked their plans before the shooting. Overall, almost half of all shooters told someone they were thinking of violence before they committed their crimes.

Social proof is a factor in shooters deciding to act. Robert Cialdini referred to social proof in his book on Influence. Social proof refers to the process of looking at the beliefs and actions of others as guidance in what to believe and how to act. A number of shooters had studied the Columbine High School massacre. In this context, the authors comment on the active shooter drills experienced by American students and staff. Because many school shooters are or were students at the schools where they committed their atrocities, the authors suggest the drills helped the shooters learn how the school would respond—they were “rehearsing for the act.”

The hate factor is illustrated by crimes against religious and racial or ethnic minorities. Other acts of hatred appear as responses to rejection. In this context, the authors discuss the backfire effect, which describes the relative ineffectiveness of efforts to correct misperceptions.

In the opportunity chapter, the authors present a somewhat familiar set of data about the availability of guns and gun violence. It’s not a simplistic set of statistics that would make eyes glaze. Instead, they offer examples of the various ways killers got their weapons and suggest how small interventions may have prevented lost lives.

The authors appropriately close their book with a summary and concrete efforts readers can take to help with the “mass shooting epidemic.” These are grouped in four categories with ideas for individuals, institutions, and society. Basic skills will help identify and take action when encountering people who have suffered trauma or appear to be in crisis. Monitoring efforts to seek social proof is a third action. And limiting opportunity by safe storage of firearms and speaking out when learning about potential shootings is a fourth category of prevention.

In the afterword, readers will find a list of resources such as websites and hotlines addressing the topics in the book.

Some Thoughts

It’s hard to know how much of a difference The Violence Project might make in saving lives. The effectiveness of prevention efforts are notoriously difficult to document compared to treatment. Nevertheless, the authors have provided a reasonable set of evidence to support their ideas. In addition, they have an online website with additional resources. Given the history of mass shootings, the book will remain timely for years to come.


The Violence Project

 Lifeline / National Suicide Prevention Lifeline  1-800-273-8255

Book Reference

Peterson, J. & Densley, J. (2021). The violence project: How to stop a mass shooting epidemic. New York: Abrams Press.


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