105 of 109 people found the following review helpful
on April 28, 2010
Having read almost everything that Marcus Borg has ever written I didn't know what to think about his foray into fiction. I have really enjoyed Borg's writing style and have it to be very understandable for a wide audience, so I wondered if I would really care about the story or if I would simply want to glean the theological nuggets and not much else.
It didn't take long for me to not only appreciate the theology, but also to look forward to seeing what happened next in the lives of his main characters who grapple with issues facing how to live as a Christian in twenty-first century North America as well as how to understand where we are through a theological lense. Borg did a nice job of developing the characters while balancing non-theological plot development along the way.
I only gave this four stars, even though I could hardly put it down over the last few days, because I would have loved to see some sort of epilogue so that I could know what happened to the main characters of the story. Granted, Borg may have done that on purpose, in order to make us wonder if there will be a sequel. Then again, he may have ended it the way he chose to so that upon reading it again with a group readers might remember that the purpose of this book is to both engage the reader with a well told story while at the same time introducing some important theological concepts.
One of my favorite quotes from the book was one of Borg's characters quoting Yeats: "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." I you are someone who has an open or curious theology or are wrestling with what it means to be a Christian in the twenty-first century then consider this book.
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I have read at least a half dozen of Murcus Borg's nonfiction books. In particular I was impressed by "Meeting Jesus for the First Time" and "Reading the Bible for the First Time". He comes closest to my theological perspective. I was pleased to see that he has attempted to describe his understanding of Jesus and the Bible in fiction form. I'm not sure that some one who is not a Borg enthusiast will respond to the lectures by Professor Kate Riley in this novel. As a college professor,
I found her approach very clever and effective.
If you you are convinced that the Bible should be read as literally true. Save yourself a lot of grief. Do not bother reading this novel. If you are looking for a way to read the Bible in such a way that the message may not be factually true but that the underlying concept is true, by all means read it.
I was let down that the novel ended when it did. I can only hope that this means there will be a sequel.
On a negative side, I found the Kindle price inappropriate. It certainly is based on Borg's popularity. It seems to violate Amazon's Kindle committment. I can only assume that Borg's publishers are responsible. This is not the way to get this important book to the largest possible audience. It may be the way to maximize profit.
In spite of my disapproval of the marketing campaign, I highly recommend this book.
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on May 10, 2010
I have read a good half-dozen books by Marcus Borg, and have found them all intellectually challenging and theologically stimulating. And all with an ease of understanding that is evident in all good writing. The same holds true for this first foray into fiction. The author was able to draw me into the lives of the characters by making me care about the problems they faced and the issues they grapple with. And the theological issues and philosophical ideas were presented in such a natural format (classroom discussions, primarily) that I never found them intrusive, stilted, or forced. They became a natural and driving force for the story.
As to the fact that the story is a bit open-ended, I can only hope that this signals a sequel. By the end of the book, I had grown so fond of the characters that I would really like to see how they get on with their lives.
If you are able to think about religions issues without dropping immediately into a defensive posture, then I would recommend this book.
36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2011
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Marcus Borg, one of my favorite writers on Christian themes, aspires to join the ranks of other serious thinkers who believe that a really accessible way to present their ideas to a lay audience is through fiction. Thus "Putting Away Childish Things," about the only quote that does NOT appear in the story, joins the ranks of Camus' "La Peste," Skinner's "Walden II," Rand's "Atlas Shrugged," and Sartre's "No Exit," to name a few.
The book will be jettisoned soon enough from those ranks because, as a novel, it is truly awful. Descriptions flow randomly, awkwardly, and without a discernible point except to remind the author that he is writing a story. Characters are poorly drawn, and their dialogue never delineates them. Not a single literary sentence mars the unbearably prosaic narrative whose main interest is clearly the elucidation of a series of connected scholarly memes.
The idea is to follow the journey of undergrad Erin, a fundamentalist born-again Christian, from her literalist view of the bible and her spiritualized view of Jesus to her gradual awakening as a liberal, progressive Christian who understands that faith is not assent to certain assertions but a complete trust and confidence in God, a "centering in" God, as it were. After a book's worth of agonizing, she finally gets it, due to an astute explication of the three Latin words for faith.
That's how everybody learns everything in this novel. Kate, the protagonist, is a religious studies professor at a small liberal arts college. She has a penchant for lengthy quotes by obscure theologians and more obscure poets, quotes that always outrank experience, crisis, or character in rendering profound insight or propelling profound life choices.
Kate's character, where Borg attempts to develop it at all, is self-absorbed to the point that she actually thinks Jesus' admonition to consider the lilies of the field and place all trust in God applies to a decision whether to pursue the security of a tenure track at her college or accept a cushy one-year chair at an elite progressive seminary.
This dilemma -- which highly privileged choice should 40-year-old Kate make? -- is the theme of the whole book. A few gay folks and an African American appear in cameos, but make no mistake, this novel is about white upper class Episcopalians enjoying the complexity of red wine and the simplicity of occasional, very occasional, causal sex. Beyond that, it's quotes, quotes, and more quotes.
Martin is the third of the main characters. He is a somewhat famous 58 year old professor at the seminary at which Kate may choose to spend a year. He also had a dalliance with Kate when she was a student twentysome years ago. He divorced his wife after Kate moved on and seems to have had sex every five years or so thereafter.
Martin, I think, is meant to be a fairly dashing and appealing older man. At Borg's hands he becomes one more totally self centered, stuffy, a bit creepy, even a little predatory intellectual who cooks and serves lunch for Kate in his apartment and notices that she has lost the "slouch" and discomfort with her body with which she was afflicted when he was illicitly bedding her as a student. Borg did not follow this with a resounding "eeeeew!" so I guess it was meant to be a complimentary observation. Earlier, in first class on a plane from Europe, where Martin absconds to a little hideaway every year, he meets a woman whom he disparages because she always flies first class while Martin does so only when he is upgraded. These Christian paragons suffer in ways we cannot imagine!
By the way, Martin too is utterly suffused with his own wants, needs, and desires and views every issue through this filter. He seems to view sex as a source of mild pleasure for himself to be indulged in rather infrequently. I found him to be one of the least likable characters ever presented by an author as someone I was supposed to like.
Then there is the unremitting and oddly pugnacious defense of smoking. Kate even has the gall to smoke in her bedroom within the seminary where she is interviewing for the chair. She suspects it is prohibited, so she smokes near the window. Martin smokes a pipe with just as much "I'll smoke if I want to" bravado. They even quote Barth that a person who doesn't smoke cannot be a theologian. Perhaps Borg has tried and failed to kick the habit, so he has decided instead to defend this cancer-causing addiction.
Underneath this mediocrity and amateurish lack of literary style is a sincere attempt to guide the reader to an appreciation of progressive scholarship on Jesus. That part is deftly done: if you follow Erin's quest, you do get a nice step by step introduction to Borg's thinking.
He was sensitive enough to wedge in some diversity in the persons of a black lesbian professor, a Hispanic department chair, and a gay buddy for Kate. I wish, however, he at least alluded to the poor and disenfranchised among us. Perhaps he could not find any in the warm and cozy realms of elite liberal arts colleges and seminaries, but one does have the feeling that the Jesus Borg is so eager to illuminate for us would have made them visible.
They might even have enabled the characters to take the focus off their own problems for a moment or two.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 10, 2010
This is Marcus Borg's first novel, a work of fiction, but, something he calls " didactic " novel. I love the subtitle, " A TALE OF MODERN FAITH ", because I think it captures the essence of the book. The story, it's caricatures are fictional, yet Borg weaves reference material through out its pages.
My sincere hope is that many people will not dismiss this book because of Marcus Borgs controversial background. We was a fellow of the mid-eighties " Jesus Seminar ", and still one of the most influential voices in " Progressive Christianity ", which characterized by willingness to question tradition, acceptance of human diversity with a strong emphasis on social justice or care for the poor and the oppressed and environmental stewardship of the Earth. Progressive Christians have a deep belief in the centrality of the instruction to " love one another" (John 15:17) within the teaching of Jesus . This leads to a focus on compassion, promoting justice and mercy, tolerance, and working towards solving the societal problems of poverty, discrimination, and environmental issues.
So it is important to understand that this novel flows out of Marcus Borg's life engaged in that contest of living out his faith. This book is extremely important because Christianity is becoming more polarized between the voices of conservatism, liberalism and left and right. As numbers, and churches decline in North America a survival mode mentality becomes the driving forcee where fundamentalism focuses in on belief more than faithful living.
It will take a special voice, and a different way of writing to engage a polarized faith, to provide a space where we can talk. It will take a story teller. This is a story in which I believe we can all see ourselves, and also the sacred cows that we are unwilling to let roam free.
The story's main character Kate Riley is a popular religious studies professor in a small mid-western liberal arts college. Through the story, and its caricatures Marcus Borg weaves in the important issues that are dividing and polarizing the Christian faith today. The reader becomes engaged in the deep questions of what does the Bible really teach? Who is Jesus, the historical pre-easter version, and the post-easter Christ version? And, what is the nature of faith today?
One of the dominant strands that weaves its way through the story is " truth ", the postmodern view as truth being relative, shifting sand rubbing against the conservative literal view etched in granite. It is the polarization of truth...factuality is the evidence, verifying something as " true." Or, if evidence can not be excavated like an archaeologist, then truth becomes belief...something different than faith.
In a radio interview Kate is questioned around the gospel stories of Jesus birth, where she claims truth and factuality are not the same thing.
The host spoke again. " So, with these differences --- and some sounding like contradictions---are you saying that these stories aren't historically factual? I think most Christians believe they are---that these things did happen. But if they didn't happen this way, why should people take them seriously?"
" Well," Kate answered, " that depends upon how we see these stories. If we see their purpose as historical reporting, to tell us what happened, then the matter of factuality matters a great deal. People often get fixated on factuality: either things happened this way, or these stories aren't true. ( page 25 )
Through Kate, Borg introduces many of the gospel stories are overtures or parables. Like an overture to a symphony typically introduces the central themes of the symphony as a whole, the birth stories in the gospels are an overture to the grand themes of the good news and Kingdom that follow.
" Parables are about meaning, not factuality. And the truth of a parable is its meaning. Parables can be truthful, truth-filled, even while not being historically factual. And I apply this to the birth stories: we best understand them when we see them as parables and overtures, and when we don't argue about whether they're factual." ( page 26 )
Borg through the voice of Kate offers us a middle way, between the the fortified walls of liberalism and conservatism...where profound divine truth might be found between the arguing, and fighting voices for literalism, and that of a pious fable. Where truth is found in meaning, that place where the Psalmist says deep calls to deep...or to Jesus saying the Kingdom can be found in faith as small as a mustard seed.
In Marcus Borg's book he engages us in the current conversation of religion and politics. Kate believes the separation of religion and politics is un biblical. Reading the gospel stories one can not miss the clash of Roman Empire theology, and that of Jesus Kingdom. This is the reality that made the Jesus so subversive. The Kingdom was a threat to the empire. Jesus death was political as much as it was spiritual. The book draws into the conversation where we must honestly face politics and faith together not as separate entities. The faith of Jesus confronted the politics of the day..." Putting Away Childish things " reminds us, we need do the same.
As I found myself coming to the closing pages of the book, something profound percolated to surface of my mind...what makes a Christian. In our current landscape, it is all over the map...everyone fighting for territory. Stake our claim, and then fight to try and dominate and expand our borders.
In the closing chapters is a seminary in a quandary, about to receive a generous endowment for a chair in evangelical thought. The faculty meets but before they can pursue potential applicants there is great discussion on how the label is applied.
"It seems to me that there isn't a general sense of agreement about what makes an evangelical... Would it be enough if those under consideration identify themselves as evangelicals? Or does it mean that they have to meet certain standards, such as professing a belief in the inerrancy of Scripture, confessing Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation, having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, or counting the Bible as the ultimate basis for their beliefs rather than experience or tradition?" (149)
Some may be mystified by Marcus Borg's change of direction to a fictional novel. But, sometimes you need a story teller to help you see a new way. I highly recommend this book. It is my hope it will draw us all to a place of humble hospitality where grace abounds. To a place where there is always an open table an empty chair to accommodate everyone. We need more than ever to rediscover the faith that Jesus lived and spoke, Putting Away Childish Things brings us to place to talk about what that is.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 26, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I think I have read each of Marcus Borg's books, and I always look forward to a new one-- the challenge and stretch to my brain and beliefs, the feeling of satisfaction as he touches on something I have believed or felt but had yet to see explained in print, the new ideas and the thoroughness of his explanations. I do, however, have friends who have had a hard time reading and understanding his books.
This is a book for all of us! I don't want to tell much about the book because I don't want to ruin any of it for someone about to read it. Just let me say that Kate, a University Professor of New Testament has a chance to spend a year as a Seminary Professor of New Testament. This book is about her class at her University, the students and their developing understandings, and her own Christian faith and decisions about applying for the seminary job.
Throughout this novel, Borg explains many of his New Testament beliefs and concepts in an easy to understand way as Kate and her students deal with the changing church and its meaning today. As do the earlier reviewers, I hope that this is just the first book in a series.
This is a book in which the characters were so real that I hated to see it end. I want to know more about those lives!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 25, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
In the prologue to Putting Away Childish Things, Marcus Borg says that his intent was to create a didactic novel--a novel that would teach some of the things he has been teaching students at the University of Oregon for many years, and what he has been teaching the clergy and interested laity in his numerous books. I believe he has succeeded at what he set out to do. The difference between Christian theologies and approaches to the Bible are explored, the way in which modern Bible scholarship takes the world view of the Enlightement into account is explained, the suspicion of the secular world for the religious world is portrayed, the foundations of faith (trust) in God are related. These and other topics that create the controversies in U.S. religion are made accessible to unscholarly believers and non-believers alike. You know where Borg is coming from by knowing who his heroes are in this book, but he is extremely fair to those who do not share his views. If your own pilgrimage on this earth has raised questions about the Bible and Christianity, this book is for you--and it is a great and relatively easy read.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This was a well written novel that reflects many of Marcus Borg's views in an entertaining manner. Borg does a splendid job of creating interesting characters and presenting key Christian topics/issues facing the church and its followers today. If you enjoyed other books by Marcus Borg like "The Heart of Christiantiy", you will love this book. Also, this novel would make an excellent book discussion for church groups. Similar to others that have commented, my only regret was that the book wasn't longer and that we knew how the relationships and issues between the main characters in the story ended. I guess those questions leave room for a much anticipated sequel.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
I am fond of this work, Marcus Borg's first fling at fiction. You'll enjoy it too!
The story line was pleasant. The character development was exquisite. The dialog flows flawlessly. The real-life context is uncharacteristically authentic. The story is superb.
This is a story that a wide audience can relate too. No complicated, theological background required to fully appreciate the story Marcus is spinning here. Yet, as a quote from Frederick Buechner illuminates a thesis near the end of the book that might be overlooked: "Listen to your life. Listen to what happens to you because it is through what happens to you that God speaks....It's in the language that's not always easy to decipher, but it's there, powerfully, memorably, unforgettably." (p. 335).
Based upon the public life of Marcus Borg, one cannot help but surmise that this quote is as pertinent to the author's life experience, as it is to the story line he crafts in this work. The philosophy, epistemological underpinnings and practice of Christianity have been the life of Marcus Borg. Formerly professor emeritus in the Philosophy Department at Oregon State University where he held the chair in Religion and Culture, this story was, in this sense, somewhat predictable. Marcus seems to be allowing his "life to speak" through this story (not that Borg could ever be characterized as one who has exercised undue restraint when the opportunity to arose to speak his mind).
"Fiction?" Maybe. Well, not hardly. The story line encounters a number of mainstream `faith & culture' issues on personal, group and organizational levels. All the tensions that Borg weaves into this novel are very much alive and well today. The story provokes ample opportunity for dialog on a personal, and a group level. A wonderful novel that can be used to explore these issues further - together, in a myriad of forums.
We need more fine fiction story-telling in the faith & culture literary genre. Perhaps, Borg's "Putting Away Childish Things - A Tale of Modern Faith" will provide the essential encouragement to others to do the same.
The nature of this style of writing is magnetic --- a book you look forward to returning to digest more of this splendidly crafted tale. Yet, this novel is powerful, memorable and one that you can confidently recommend to others....as I now recommend it to you.
Something tells me this may be the first in a series of novels from Marcus Borg. I certainly hope so.
I'm wondering what Kate Riley is going to encounter at Scudder? You'll have to read this novel to understand my question.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 12, 2010
I am totally biased in this review. Among my books are four (only two left) of Borg's Book, THE HEART OF CHRISTIANITY. They are to be given to each of my grandchildren when they graduate from high school. There are two still in my library. The inscription on all four
is the same: Dear.......
"If you were to ask me "What is the most helpful book on the Christian Faith you've read": this would be it. I want you to have your own copy. Your cousins all have one.
When I"m gone, and you wonder what I thought about these things. This is the one single book. May it b e helpful to you.
Always with Love, Grandpa
I am a retired United Methodist Clergy, who would identify himself among the progressive community of the Christian faith community.
Now Marcus Borg has written an utterly delightful novel in which his issues and ideas take on flesh and blood. There are so many characters in the book I would like to sit down with over a cup of coffee. And a very very few I have already met that I could do without.
Spending an evening with this book is a delightful experience, and you will learn a bit about progressive Christianity in the process.
At least one copy of each of his books are in my Library. For me, a good investment without any doubt.