In Honor of Marcus Borg

In Honor of Marcus Borg January 23, 2015

TPC_MarcusBorg_bioWhat a pleasure to have known Marcus Borg. What a kind and beautiful human being. What a loss to us all.

I originally heard of Marcus through his association with the Jesus Seminar, which, in the Evangelical circles I hail from, was not a good thing. My first direct encounter with his writing came through a dialogue book he did with N. T. Wright. Again, my background predisposed me to disagree with him and dislike him, but he made it hard to do either, especially the latter. Hardly the hard-bitten “liberal theologian” out to eviscerate Christianity of any actual faith, he impressed me as a fellow Christian seeking an honest, thoughtful, and vital faith, ready to dialogue respectfully with people who see things differently.

We were featured speakers together on several occasions, and from our first contact to our most recent email exchange a few months ago, Marcus was a gracious gentleman, a Christian brother, and a genuinely friendly colleague. He never asked to what degree I agreed or disagreed with him; he made it clear that his acceptance of me was not dependent on agreement and that his heart and hand were equally open in similarity and difference.

Some friends of mine wrote about Marcus somewhat uncharitably on a few occasions. I remember a dinner where he asked me many questions about them, utterly non-defensive, sincerely trying to understand where they were coming from and how he could still seek common ground with them, something I wish his critics had done more earnestly with him.

Once several years ago, Marcus, Diana Butler Bass, and I spoke together for a few days at Harvard. Two memories stand out.

First, on one Q & A panel, nearly all the questions about theology and Christology were directed to Marcus, the questions about church history and trends went to Diana, and the questions about pastoral work and spirituality went to me. Near the end of the panel, a question on prayer was directed – predictably – to me. After I responded, Marcus spoke up. “I pray too!” he interjected, and shared some tender and meaningful reflections on his own prayer practice. I was deeply touched that Marcus didn’t want to stay in the zone of theory, as important as that is, but wanted to talk spiritual practice as well.

Immediately after that panel, lines formed with people asking Diana, Marcus, and me to sign their books. My line, being the least popular, left me standing there somewhat awkwardly for long periods, but it also gave me the chance to eavesdrop on what people were saying to Marcus. Person after person said almost the same words, “If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be a Christian today … I dropped out of church but came back after I read one of your books … I’m still a Christian because of you … I became a Christian because of your books.”

Their effusive comments brought me back to the Evangelical revival meetings of my childhood where people “testify” to how they were “saved,” how they once were blind but now see, how they saw the light and were born again. I remember thinking to myself, “Well, it turns out that Marcus Borg is an evangelist too, just in another way and to another community of people.”

In a recent email, understanding the severity of his illness, Marcus wrote, “I have always known that we are all on death row. Never would have gotten that wrong on a true-false test. But it’s different to know it.” Still, he said, “in the midst of all this … I am unreasonably happy. Not all the time. But more than I might have expected.”

My prayers and thoughts go out to all Marcus’ family and to his wide circle of friends. May those of us who remain carry on his good work of helping people seek an honest, thoughtful, and vital Christian faith.

Marcus Borg did justice, loved kindness, and walked humbly with God. I miss him deeply, honor him warmly, and will always remember him with great respect and gratitude.

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  • ChuckQueen101

    Brian, I appreciate all you have done and continue to do to move Christian people to a better place. In some ways I am engaged in that kind of work on a more limited scale in my community (I pastor a small progressive Baptist congregation in a Bible Belt town) and through the blogs I write for the UC and Faith Forward Blogs here at Patheos. I was at a January Adventure conference where you shared the stage with Marcus, and I enjoyed both of you. I read Marcus’ book “Meeting Jesus for the First Time” at a crossroads point in my faith journey and what a difference it made. His writings have had a deep impact and influence in my life. For me, it was getting back to a Jewish Jesus that was the turn around. Appreciate your kind and gracious words here on behalf of a very gracious man.

  • Josh Magda
  • Andrew A

    I’m sorry to hear about the passing of Mr.Borg.I am just now becoming acquainted with his writings and just finished his book Reading the Bible Again for the First Time-taking the bible seriously without taking it literally.
    I am a former fundamentalist and from the outset of my Christian conversion I had a hard time with the so called literal interpretation of the bible.
    I wish I would’ve discovered Marcus Borg years ago.I greatly enjoyed his book that I just read;and it did reveal that he was indeed a very spiritual man.
    I actually found his name while reading an article on Christian agnostics.I checked my local library and found there are several of his books there.
    He was truly an asset on the conversation of Christianity and I plan to read more of his works.
    May he rest in peace and I pray many confused Christians discover him.

  • Brian, this is an excellent series of comments! Your introductory comments reflect my sentiments exactly, as I write (many moons ago) a paper about The Jesus Seminar in seminary. But I fairly recently became aware of his deep and abiding friendship with NT Wright–a terrific friendship of love and respect, irrespective of differing positions or frameworks or what have you. I so appreciated your thoughtfulness with this piece. Many thanks!

  • frharry

    This is a very generous commentary on a very generous soul whom we lost all too soon. Thank you. I particularly appreciate this comment: “Well, it turns out that Marcus Borg is an evangelist too, just in another way and to another community of people.” That’s particularly important to remember. We who would follow Jesus are not all cut from the same bolt of cloth. That makes our calling no less sincere or important. Thanks, again.