Fact Fundamentalism

Another old one:

Marcus Borg suggests that there are 4 different possibilites with regard to Jesus’ own self-awareness and whether he was the messiah: 1) Jesus thought he was the messiah and he was right, 2) Jesus thought he was the messiah and he was wrong, 3) Jesus did not think he was the messiah and therefore he was not, 4) Jesus may or may not have thought he was the messiah and he is.

Borg says that the third possibility “sounds like common sense but is actually ‘fact fundamentalism’ or ‘fact literalism’ … [that is,] if something isn’t factually and literally true, it isn’t true.” (p. 55, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions)

Now, I am sure I am betraying my naivete and lack of sophistication when I say this, but this still seems like a very odd thing for one who claims to be a diligent historian to say. What does it mean for Borg to assert that something is historically true? Why does he spend so much time distinguishing between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of tradition? Can’t he just make blanket assertions of truth about the Jesus of history without regard to facts? Doesn’t he presuppose that the difference between the Jesus of history and the Jesus of tradition is that one is the factual Jesus and the other is the metaphorical Jesus? Isn’t this an irrelevant distinction if all truth is metaphorical anyway? And what does it mean to assert the truth of anything? When Borg says something is true, doesn’t he really mean just that he gets a warm, fuzzy feeling when he makes the assertion?

I’m just grateful that the mechanic at the Granby Garage is a fact fundamentalist. When he works on our broken down cars and asserts that they now run, they actually do run. I’m not sure how we could operate in a world where a mechanic’s assertions are dismissed not as common sense, but fact fundamentalism, and therefore ought to be disregarded. If a mechanic tells me my car runs like a charm but it doesn’t run at all, do I still have to pay him?

To me, Borg is playing an astonishing word game — a game that seems fundamentally dishonest. Some of the old religious existentialists asserted that Christianity was historically false yet we could affirm meaning in spite of it. Because existential meaning trumps all other concerns, historicity is irrelevant. Christian history is false; but who cares! Borg, on the other hand, still asserts that existential meaning trumps all other concerns, but also claims the history is true. It’s just that he’s redefined “true” to mean “gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling.” I’m not sure what he gains by asserting “truth” when he clearly does not mean “truth” as anyone could apply it. It seems this is simply a more effective guerilla strategy to undermine Christian faith.

At least Robert Funk, the founder of the Jesus Seminar is more upfront on his agenda, (quoted from markdroberts.com)

Robert Funk’s opening remarks at the first meeting of the Jesus Seminar in 1985:

What we need is a new fiction that takes as its starting point the central event in the Judeo-Christian drama [Jesus] and reconciles that middle with a new story that reaches beyond old beginnings and endings [creation and eschatology]. In sum, we need a new narrative of Jesus, a new gospel, if you will, that places Jesus differently in the grand scheme, the epic story.

Not any fiction will do. . . . The fiction of Revelation keeps many common folk in bondage to ignorance and fear. We require a new, liberating fiction, one that squares with the best knowledge we can now accumulate and one that transcends self-serving ideologies.


This doesn’t exactly sound like the beginning of an objective quest for the historical Jesus, does it? In fact in that same lecture Funk said this about what his Seminar fellows would experience:


What we are about takes courage, as I said. We are probing what is most sacred to millions, and hence we will constantly border on blasphemy. We must be prepared to forebear the hostility we shall provoke.”

Redefining “truth” is a ploy to appease “common folk” — the “ignorant” and “fearful” superstitious — while surreptitiously substituting blasphemous new ideas for the old gospel.

ld one.


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