on July 27, 2004
I've read all of Marcus Borg's books and have recently read "The Heart of Christianity". From a conservative evangelical background, I have always strugged with his approach, yet I keep coming back for more. He has helped me grow in my faith, and be open to see things from other angles. Despite his orthodox/unorthodox theology, there is a spirituality in this book, that cuts to my heart. He is all about actually experienceing Christianity in this life, and I find his writing to have a spiritual quality that, for some reason, comes home to me. I may not ever agree with all he writes, but he lifts the faith beyond the factual to the experiential and to its root. I heartily recommend this book to everyone wishing to grow and struggle in faith.
on October 1, 2006
Our church, an evangelical congregation (Vineyard), had a Lenten book study with an Episcopal church in town this past spring. We studied three books: this one, "The Divine Conspiracy" by Dallas Willard, and "A Generous Orthodoxy" by Brian McLaren. Our pastor introduced the books to our congregation in this way: "'The Divine Conspiracy' goes right to the heart of our beliefs at this Vineyard church; 'The Heart Of Christianity' is something that our friends at the Episcopal church would feel at home with, and 'A Generous Orthodoxy' is somewhere inbetween the two."
This is the second book that I can remember reading by a liberal Christian. The first book, which I also read this year and read before this one, was "A New Christianity For A New World" by Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong. I found that book to be heretical, turning Christianity into something completely unrecognizable in light of the Bible. I feared that "The Heart Of Christianity" would get me worked up, too, especially coming from an author of The Jesus Seminar. I was surprised that I found some things in this book that I really liked, and overall, I got more out of this book than McLaren's "A Generous Orthodoxy," even though I was most excited about reading that book.
You know how some CDs you buy have some really great songs and some songs that you find either boring or you can't stand them, so you always skip them? Yet, overall the CD is worth buying because the good songs are so good. Well, that's how I feel about this book. Some chapters I was mesmerized by the incredibly enlightening message; other chapters I found to be way off the mark.
The first chapter that impressed me was chapter 2, "Faith: The Way Of The Heart." The author highlighted four kinds of faith, using Latin terms to help differentiate (kind of like the way we use the four different terms to more carefully define love). The first is assensus, close to the English word assent: "a propositional understanding of faith." The second is fiducia, which he translated in English as trust. The third is fidelitas, like the English word fidelity. He emphasized that it's not fidelity to propositional statements, but to the person of God. The fourth is visio, like vision, "a way of seeing." As Borg described each of these facets of faith, I was driven to a deeper understanding of what faith in God means.
Another chapter I especially liked was chapter 7, "The Kingdom of God: The Heart of Justice." While this interpretation of the Kingdom of God takes a stance commonly associated with liberal churches, I think he supported his views very well, convincing me that the liberals have something here about God's heart that conservatives tend to miss.
One more chapter was especially meaningful to me, chapter 8's "Thin Places: Opening the Heart." In this chapter, "thin places" refers to those places, times, or situations where you sense God right there with you, not as he typically seems to us in daily life, where getting to him requires some clearing out of the daily hustle and bustle, like clearing away weeds and forest to make a path. This chapter was an invitation to open your heart to God.
Some other chapters had some interesting thoughts, but were not as compelling as the three stellar chapters noted above. Then there were some chapters that I found to contain views that I could not adopt. One was his view of religious pluralism (like many liberal Christians, he has real trouble with the idea that Jesus is the only way to salvation), and another was his view of the Bible. It was good for me to read this to get a better understanding of how a liberal Christian might view the Bible, and gave me a respect for their viewpoint, but still it's not something I can agree with. For example, the author appears to not believe the miracles in the Bible really happened, such as Jesus turning the water into wine. He instead reads a metaphorical meaning into it (as do other liberals who cannot accept Biblical miracles as literal). Borg claims that when we read the Bible as a literal document, we miss the metaphorical meaning (the meaning for life). The metaphorical interpretation he gave for the water into wine story was rich in meaning, and I think he has a valid point that we may miss such rich meanings by only reading them as a literal reporting of events, but I don't think it has to be either/or; we can believe the miracles happened as stated, and learn to read the metaphorical meanings from them also.
So, as a theologically conservative Christian (or am I middle of the road?), I cannot agree with some things in this book; nevertheless, I found it to be worthwhile reading. Some things in the book provided great enlightenment and some spiritual growth for me. Other parts helped me gain a better understanding of how a liberal Christian approaches the Bible, Christianity, and faith in God; understanding others who are different from you and disagree with you is always a plus.
on October 8, 2003
I just finished reading Marcus Borg's new book "The Heart of Christianity" and it's the best book on contemporary Christianity that I've read in a long while.
Borg talks about the "earlier paradigm" of Christianity and an "emerging paradigm". He discusses the history of the "earlier paradigm" and provides useful insights such as the rather recent notions of Biblical infallibility (post-Enlightenment) and Papal infallibility (1870) which many may assume have ALWAYS been a big part of the Christian tradition.
Borg makes quite clear early on in the book that the "earlier paradigm" can and does WORK, insofar as bringing people into fuller communion with God and can certainly produce lives which work for compassion and justice. However, for various reasons (institutional, scientific, and cultural - for example), many in the modern Western world find the "earlier paradigm" to be uncompelling and "unbelievable".
Borg attempts to show throughout the book how much more deep and wonderful the Christian tradition is than merely "believing" certain doctrines or defending the literalness of certain events (creation, the flood, the Exodus, walking on water etc...) in order to "prove" the strength of our faith. Did the Exodus really happen? Maybe not. Is it a true story of the human need for liberation from bondage - certainly. Confusing "did it really happen - could I have videotaped it?" with "Is that story true?" is a big issue.
Borg argues that we diminish our faith stories by making them merely literal. He pushes for the "more-than-literal" meanings in the Christian scripture. It is a modern Western mindset which equates "facts and proof" with "truth".
Borg is a deeply spiritual person who has experienced God personally, who claims that Jesus is Lord, and that "the Other"/"the Spirit"/"God" is real. He even more or less agrees with the value of intercessionary prayer (as opposed to Spong) along the same lines as Catholic doctrine.
The Christianity which Borg portrays in the "emerging paradigm" is very compelling for me. It is deeply spiritual, rooted in historical Christian traditions, non-exclusivist, and transformative on the personal and community level. A brilliant easily readable book. Highly recommended.
on May 16, 2004
Evangelicals beware --- this is the same Marcus Borg of the Jesus Seminar, the one who has categorically stated that he does not believe that Christianity is the only path of salvation, that the Bible is the Word of God, that Jesus experienced a bodily resurrection, or that Jesus is, in fact, the Son of God. So why review this book? Why give him any cyber ink at all?
There are any number of reasons why evangelicals need to be aware of what Borg believes and what he has written, not the least of which is his tremendous influence on non-evangelicals, particularly those who have left mainstream denominations but still long for a way to express what faith they have left. Borg offers them a way of returning to the church that does not require them to adhere to a rigid set of beliefs that they have long considered suspect. And he's very good at what he does and how he does it; his books always sell well, and he is constantly in demand as a speaker. He has a knack for welcoming people "home" --- to mainline churches --- in a warm and compassionate way.
In THE HEART OF CHRISTIANITY, Borg lays down a welcome mat that has already proven attractive to those who have been disenchanted with what they perceive as an anti-intellectual faith. His welcome mat encourages people to give Christianity another chance because the times have changed, and from those changes a new, inclusive paradigm has emerged. Christianity, he holds, is no longer about a belief in a set of doctrines but about "loving God and loving what God loves."
That said, Borg never demeans those who do hold to a strong doctrinal stance and a literal interpretation of the Bible, much of which he considers to be metaphorical. But while many evangelicals dismiss him outright, Borg is obviously trying to build a bridge between the conservative and liberal factions in the church. It's hard for evangelicals to understand how someone who denies the deity of Jesus can be so passionate about Christianity, and yet this book shows Borg to be an evangelist for the faith. He loves Christianity, and he wants Christians to find the common ground that has eluded them for so long.
Even if you completely disagree with Borg's fundamental premise, THE HEART OF CHRISTIANITY is worthwhile reading for anyone who is unafraid to examine a perspective on faith that seemingly differs dramatically from their own. You may be surprised at some of his thoughts, like his suggestion that liberals begin using the term "born again" to describe their transformation from an old way to a new way of being Christian, or his emphasis on the importance of having an intimate relationship with God.
There's no question that some who read this book will conclude that Borg has cut the heart right out of Christianity. But likewise, there's no question that many lapsed churchgoers will return to the faith as a result of Borg's enormous influence. For that reason alone, evangelicals would do well to familiarize themselves with the work of this highly gifted thinker and communicator.
on May 4, 2004
I've read several of Prof. Borg's books, and all of them are excellent. In his latest book, The Heart of Christianity, Borg summarizes a lifetime of reflection on the Christian faith.
Borg claims that the "traditional paradigm" is losing it's power over people. Here traditional paradigm refers to a Christianity where God is a being out there with a will and who has all the power in the world and who sent Jesus into the world to die for our sins--literally. Christianity is the only true religion, and if we don't get ourselves to believe in doctrines about God and Jesus (and perhaps eschatology) then we're in big trouble when Jesus returns to earth. While the TP is still nourishing for many in the church, others find it harder and harder to accept; they just can't believe that the Bible is a biography of God, of Jesus, and of the end times. There are several reasons, the biggest one being that contemporary Biblical criticism gives us a different picture of the origin of the Bible; instead of the Bible being God's words about humans, its the words of humans about God. This doesn't mean that the Bible is false and doesn't contain anything divine; it just means that humans had a lot of say about what's in the Bible.
Borg endorses the "emerging paradigm". Here there's no emphasis on giving intellectual assent to a body of doctrines or creeds in order to be saved, that is, go to heaven. For Borg, this isn't the heart of Christianity. Rather, Christian faith deals primarily with *this* life, and it's a life that emphasizes a *relationship* with God, the key elements being trust in God to provide for all our needs, as well as loving what God loves--in other words, compassion and justice. Thus, as we live a life in God, and take seriously what God takes seriously, which we see in the person of Jesus, we are transformed in this life, saved in this life, so that we bring about the Kindom of God on earth. That's what really matters, not believing in a set of propositions so that we can get to heaven.
As I read Prof. Borg's book, I found myself believing in God again. It wasn't the God of the "traditional paradigm", a supernatural being out there who has all the power and knowledge and intervenes and sometimes doesn't intervene; who demands that we accept doctrines and creeds that the mind can't accept--this is just another 'requirement' or 'work'. Also, this God is not the best explanation for the world shown to us by physics and biology, world religions, biblical criticism, and theodicy. I found many of Borg's ideas compatible with process theology (Borg doesn't develop an in depth conception of God, although he says that God is not less than personal.
As someone who's in exile from the church--mostly because the traditional paradigm died for me in undergraduate school and failed to re-convince me in divinity school--I found myself, after reading Borg's book, unwilling give up on God. I had a desire to pray, to go to church, and to keep on wrestling with divine matters. If there is a God, I felt close to God as I read Prof. Borg's book; God seemed real again, and when I walked the streets of downtown Lincoln, the world looked different: I had a love for people and I knew what the compassion I felt was the way Jesus felt when he encountered people--and it wasn't belief in doctrines that brought about this transformation. There is another way of being Christian, a way centered in a radical trust in God, the one in whom we live and move and have our being. And it's about taking seriously what God takes seriously--that is, a life of compassion and justice. And when we live in the spirit, both in our private devotions and in the life of the church, God becomes real to us and empowers us to strive for the Kindom of God, where the way of God rules our world and not the Caesars or powers-that-be.
Also recommended: How to Lose Your Faith in Divinity School
on October 25, 2003
Marcus Borg is opening the world of Christianity to people who have been previously unable to claim it with their whole hearts because of tremendous shortcomings as it is most commonly known. My grandmother, a devout Christian, would have loved his books and recognized in his views that he fully understands the huge difference in the 'religion about Jesus' and the 'religion of Jesus'. This is an understanding of Christianity that Jesus would recognize and I believe he would have loved. Marcus Borg writes with deep spirituality, deep conviction, deep compassion, and the knowledge of history that is needed to truly enter the Christian faith. I, for one, appreciate his writing tremendously. His books are not for 'fundamentalist Christians' unless they are willing to reconsider some of their most strongly held views, but for those who are willing to take a deeper look at this Faith, this book is wonderful.
on June 24, 2004
The Heart of Christianity reads like a "greatest hits" album for its author, Marcus Borg. I don't mean that to sound belittling; the book is wonderful, but it gathers things which Borg has said in his previous books-things about Jesus, and other things entirely about the bible, and God-into a cohesive a reading of Christianity which attempts to answer the question: is there any point in being one? His answer is "yes; if by `Christianity' we mean a certain thing." For Borg, that thing is outlined in "the emerging tradition" which sees historical, metaphorical, and sacramental richness in the practices of Christianity and cares less for its salvific and exclusivistic functions. The book was written primarily for believers, or persons of faith who wouldn't probably feel comfortable using a term like that. Here is the Borg of the infamous "Jesus Seminars," which are decried in fundamentalist circles as meetings of blasphemers. I know him as a lecturer in churches with intellectual congregations and as a friend of Frederich Beuchner's. This book gives a kind of permission to believe again, after one has felt sure that "the faith" couldn't hold him any longer. For that, it is a saviour in its own right and a comforter of sorts. I say it is a life preserver; "in case of emergency, read Borg."
on June 30, 2004
In this book, Marcus Borg condenses the insights he's shared in his books on Jesus and the Bible, and presents a guide to what he sees as the core of Christian living. This is a quick read--as are most of Borg's books--I read it in a few sittings at my campus bookstore. He disusses having Christian faith in a pluralist world, and reinterprets certain scriptural passages that have all to often led to Christian exclusivism.
He re-emphasizes the importance of the Christian metaphor of being "born again" and tries to wrest it from the clutches of fundamentalists. He reminds us that our Christological titles (Son of God, messiah, Light of the World, etc.), in the end, are always metaphors pointing us to the truth of God in Christ. Borg sees the Bible and Jesus as sacraments of God, and reminds us that when we stop communicating with Scripture and struggling with God as disclosed in Jesus, we cease to be Christian.
I enjoyed his use of the Celtic concept of "thin places", but disagreed with his suggestion that the words of our hymns and creeds are unimportant--that we should say and sing them solely to create a "thin place". While I see this as an important part of worship, I think the words are also important, and often find deep meaning in them. I also might contest a few of his "de-literalizations", but as always, he has made me think, and his book is recommended!
on November 16, 2004
One unhappy reviewer asks "if we won't be resurrected, why would we want to be Christians at all?"
A father had two sons. In his old age, the father became sick and lost everything, including his home. He went to the elder son and asked for a place to stay. The elder son said "I did everything you asked of me all my life and now you not only leave me with nothing, you want me to give you a place to stay? Go away." The father then went to the younger son and asked for a place to stay. The younger son simply welcomed him and and took care of him for the rest of his days. Which son truly loved his father?
As Borg's book so eloquently points out, being a Christian is about having a loving relationship with God, not following a set of rules in order to obtain a reward.
on July 3, 2004
With intellectual, ethical, and spiritual integrity, Marcus Borg builds a case for a Christianity oriented to the transformation of this life. I found delight in his willingness to challenge the puffery in my faith tradition that equates devotion with assent to preposterous ideas while it ignores the call to compassion and justice which is rarely as convenient as we would wish. I read this invigorating book in just a few days (on vacation, no less) and it lingers with me now, several weeks later. I look forward to rereading and savoring the discoveries that I am sure await me in a second reading.
While Borg and Bishop John Shelby Spong share largely the same perspective, I consistently find Borg's work more energetic and less disdainful of conventional expressions of Christian faith and often, more deeply steeped in ancient expressions of the faith which are re-emerging in our day.