Meeting Marcus Borg Again for the First Time

I am pleased to become a Patheos “blogger” (a word none of us knew until recently). I have visited the website frequently for a couple of years and consider it to be the best religious website that I know.

Briefly to introduce myself, I am in today’s terminology a progressive Christian and, except for about a decade in my 30s, I have been deeply involved in the life of the church all of my seventy years.  I grew up as a Scandinavian Lutheran and in my 40s became an Episcopalian, attracted to the Anglican tradition by its liturgy and its broad theological tradition.  For Episcopalians and Anglicans, what unites us is not a uniform theology but a common worship tradition that emphasizes the eucharist, the Bible, and community.

Though Episcopalians are not often thought of as a “Bible church,” we hear more Scripture on Sunday mornings than almost anybody else, including conservative Christians.  Though we do not think the Bible is inerrant and infallible, we are more marinated in the Bible than any other denomination.  Our closest rival would be Lutheran churches with a high liturgy.

I am also, if it is not presumptuous to say so, an intellectual. By that I do not mean that I am extraordinarily bright.  Rather, it is a personality type.  Reading, thinking, figuring things out, education, have been central to my life as long as I can remember.  Not surprisingly, I became an academic: five years in graduate school, then a teacher in college, university, seminary, and church settings, as well as an author of twenty some books about Jesus, the gospels, the Bible, Paul, Christianity, and religion more generally.  Almost all were written with a Christian audience in mind. My vocational passion flows out of my conviction that Christianity is rich, a treasure in earthen vessels.  It is one of the world’s great religions, one of its great wisdom traditions.  At its best, it is about truth, beauty and goodness.

And I have lived my life and vocation in a particular cultural context.  I have been Christian and American all of my life.  Although my adult life has included more than five years overseas, even then I was both Christian and American.

My (and our) cultural context is a deeply divided American Christianity.  To use shorthand labels, the great divide is between “conservative” Christians and “progressive” Christians, with many Christians in between.  Conservative Christianity, often called “the Christian Right” even though not identical with it, is the most publicly visible form, dominating Christian television, radio, and political involvement.

In general, conservative Christians affirm biblical inerrancy, infallibility, and literalism: if the Bible says something happened, it happened; if the Bible says something is wrong, it’s wrong.  They emphasize our sinfulness and that Jesus died to pay for our sins so that we can be forgiven and go to heaven.  Their political passion tends to be individualistic, focusing on issues of personal behavior. And most emphasize that Jesus and Christianity are the only way of salvation.

For many in our time, conservative Christianity is Christianity.  Many who grew up as conservative Christians take it for granted that this is what Christianity is, whether they continue to be Christian or have abandoned it.  And most who don’t know much about Christianity assume that conservative Christianity is Christianity.

I grew up with a “soft” form of conservative Christianity.  I have since learned a very different way of understanding the Bible and the meanings of Christianity.  Indeed, I could not be Christian if today’s conservative Christianity were to be considered genuine or authentic or orthodox Christianity.  My life as a Christian has been marked by a number of conversions, intellectual, political, and religious.  Together, they have led me to the convictions that now shape my life as a progressive Christian.

That is what my blogs will be about. They will include religious-political topics like American Christians and our country’s reliance on overwhelming military power, the Bible’s passion for economic fairness and our severe and growing income inequality, and that Christianity is about more than personal belief and behavior. And there will be religious blogs like sometimes the Bible is wrong (and yet it is Christian sacred scripture), that Jesus did not die to pay for our sins (and yet the cross is central to Christianity), that God is not a supernatural person-like being (and yet our relationship to God is personal), that Christianity is not about an afterlife (and yet it is about salvation).  And more.  I look forward to the conversation.

 

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    Dear Dr. Borg, it’s a great joy that a scholar of your rank and prestige will be blogging from time to time :-)

    I have tried to make a distinction between liberal and progressive Christians

    https://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2013/08/31/on-the-definition-and-meaningfulness-of-progressive-christianity/

    , whereby progressive are open to the possibility of miracles whereas liberals are not.

    But I know other people are going to use other definitions for these words, so this is a subjective matter.

    While I consider the Bible like a collection of normal religious books

    https://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/on-the-inspiration-of-the-bible-and-other-books-von-der-interpretation-der-bibel-und-anderen-buchern/

    But I have a PhD in chemistry and not in theology so that your thoughts are going to be much more sophisticated than mine ;-)

    I don’t agree with many of your conclusions and those of Dr. Crossan about the historicity (and lack thereof) of the various events in the Gospel.
    But I do believe that both of you have brought a tremendous contribution to progressive and liberal Christianity and I am genuinely looking forward to what you are going to post here.

    I know that for you I am only one mortal among millions but I would be very glad if we could interact from time to time.

    Would you basically agree that we, as progressive (in the broad sense) Christians ought to defend our enlightened faith not only against the attacks of conservatives but also against those of atheists who would say that our position is untenable and that if we reject traditional Christianity we ought to reject Jesus?

    Lovely greetings, Marc.

    • John McCauslin

      I am a decidedly progressive Christian but I am also open to the miraculous. I have experienced the miraculous.

      I also have to take issue with your claim that God has to be “perfect” to be God. The notion of perfection is a human abstraction, a mathematical property, a property which is meaningless in the real world. God exists in the real world. And whatever you mean by ‘perfection,’ it cannot describe the God of the real world. God is not an abstraction. God is not complete but is unfolding, just as God’s creation is unfolding. I don’t claim to comprehend much about God, but I am certain that God is responsive and that as time and history move forward, God moves with them, responding and reacting to people and events as they occur, and which God may or may not have anticipated. I don’t know how much power God has to control events, but I sense that in actuality God chooses to influence more than to control, preferring to encourage more than to manipulate, and taking satisfaction in the self-actualized successes of God’s creations more than in pre-determined results.

      • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

        Thanks for your response!

        Do you believe it is possible (in the real world) to be morally superior to God?

        2013/10/5 Disqus

        • John McCauslin

          It’s a definitional conundrum. If we allow that our morals are established by God, and embraced by us in a worshipful response to God, how can we be more moral than God? Yet God is not bound by the rules which God has willed for humans. Also, it seems to me that the arbiter of morality cannot be constrained by the rules he creates. And even if God were subject to human rules of morality, because the constraints which determine how and why God acts or does not act are unknown to humans it is just not possible to evaluate the relative morality of God’s actions or of God’s inaction.

          At the same time I believe humans can act with a level of love, forgiveness and compassion which exceeds anything which God has made known to humanity.

          Nevertheless, without sharing God’s frame of reference there is no way humans can seriously evaluate God’s decision-making or God’s actions.

          • Gene Stecher

            John and Lothar, I’m reminded of the Jesus aphorism, “Who among you would hand a son a stone if its bread he’s asking for? Again, who would hand him a snake when its fish he’s asking for? Of course, no one would.! So if you, shiftless as you are, know how to give your children good gifts, isn’t it much more likely that your Father in the heavens will give good things to those who ask him?” (Matt 7:9-11, Jesus Seminar authenticity vote: Pink, .59)

            Unfortunately this context is entirely masculine, but, even so, this teaching comes down on the side of the moral nature of Reality, in spite of all the evolutionary and experiential evidence to the contrary. We also find a Just God being the main theme in Paul’s teaching, but he ties it to the punishment of sin.

  • Jake Litteral

    Dr. Borg,

    I am currently going through somewhat of a deconversion experience. The things which I believed about Christianity no longer are believable. What advice could you give someone like me, someone who is deconverting from Christianity, about what to replace the spiritual void that Christianity used to fill? I no longer believe in traditional theism, yet I still have this persistent sense of the divine or something greater. I don’t want to take the obvious route and just call myself Atheist and subscribe to the meta-narrative of metaphysical naturalism. Although I believe in being rational and I believe in the methodology of naturalism. I am reluctant to label myself anything at this point, whether it be agnostic, or atheist, or any other sub-category of the two. This experience is disconcerting for me, and I hope you could offer some of your insights and advice.

    -Jake

    • Geoff Glenister

      Jake,
      I hope you don’t mind my butting in. I recently went through a period of deconstruction where many of my old views collapsed around me. I have experienced deep, painful doubt during this time. But in the process I have found faith. Faith unlike I ever had before. I would love to share some of the things I went through with you, and share with you the things I’ve learned if you would like to talk. Feel free to look me up on Facebook and we can message each other if you like.

      - Geoff

  • Pat68

    Glad to have you aboard, Dr. Borg. Just was watching last night a segment you did for Living the Questions. I always enjoy your insights.

  • Ariel1986

    Love your work Dr. Borg!!!

  • TapestryGarden

    Dr Borg you are brilliant as well as enjoyable as a speaker. One bone to pick is that you didn’t mention Catholicism as also focused o Scripture. Not only are ther multiple readings at every Mass but also the Mass itself reflects Scripture in its structure ritual and words. Catholicism has a great intellectual tradition…ever meet a. Jesuit? So please don’t forget about the Church..one holy catholic and apostolic.

    Look forward to you blog posts and best to you and your incredible wife

  • Agni Ashwin

    Resistance is futile.

  • Bob Purdy

    Marcus Borg, you have been beside me through all those 20 books, affirming what I had come to believe, suggesting to me words to preach it, startling me sometime and making me say “Hurrah!” very often. Thank you. I have been an Anglican prirest for 50 yrs, now retired after serving in all kinds and sizes of congregations. And I have just published my own book: “Without Guarantee: in search of a vulnerable God.” I have been wanting to send you a complementary copy as a way of saying thank you, so now I can tell that I am going to do so. I will send it care of your wife at the Cathedral in Portland. My blog right now is more about trying to get my book known, but I will get back to thinking and writing soon. http://www.vulnerablegod.com

  • http://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/ jesuswithoutbaggage

    Mr. Borg, I have read a number of your works, along with others of the Jesus Seminar. I like a lot of what you say , and I look forward to reading our blog.

  • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana

    OMG, Dr. Borg, you joined Patheos! I picked up one of your books this summer at the library. I’m in grad school in philosophy, not theology; otherwise I’d devote more time to read them on. Glad to *see* you around.

  • Gene Stecher

    On the matter of “deconversion experience,” as presented by Jake, I’ve become more comfortable with replacing the word “God” and phrases like “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven” with the word “Reality” or “Life” in contrast to “reality” or “life.” I’ve found it helpful to place the phrase “Reality/Life is like…” in front of the red/pink aphorisms, parables, stories, and actions of Jesus as identified by the Jesus Seminar. One could choose any great figure of history, or a combination thereof, as the compass for one’s behavior and beliefs, of course, but I’ve found Jesus to be the most compelling of those figures, with the examples of heroes such as Gandhi, Bonhoeffer, and MLKJr to help solidify the choice. That compelling nature of Jesus first showed up immaturely at age 11-12 in my life, but I’m about to turn 70 and it’s still there, hopefully more maturely. Would be interested in how others handle the “deconversion experience.” I think that Lloyd Geering’s book “Coming Back to Earth” addresses rather well something that seems to be only partially developed in the Jesus history, and that is the task of humanity to reunite with the “radical interconnectedness” of its Feminine nature.

  • Gene Stecher

    Dr. Borg, with reference to your essay on the resurrection of Jesus: I think it’s fair to say that the earliest believers thought that, rather than one or the other, his resurrection was physical/bodily and spiritual/mystical. Paul rather clearly includes “body” with “spiritual” in 1 Cor 15, and even if the gospel empty tomb narratives are imaginative constructions, they are still a way of saying that “spiritual” includes “body.” Throughout Jewish history, was not the idea of resurrection a way of reaffirming the moral quality and God-fearing of the life-in-body lived. Do you have a different take on the notions of the earliest believers as contrasted with our exposure to post-enlightenment influences?

  • Andrew Dowling

    Welcome Dr. Borg, looking forward to your postings and subsequent discussions

  • http://www.evolvingchristianfaith.net irreverance

    Wow! I’m glad you’re here! :D


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