Highlights from Marcus Borg and Diana Butler Bass Lectures (Part 1 of 7)

Highlights from Marcus Borg and Diana Butler Bass Lectures (Part 1 of 7) November 21, 2011

On Friday and Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture series on “Speaking Christian–Why Christian words have lost their meaning and power and how they can be restored” with Diana Butler Bass and Marcus Borg at First Presbyterian Church in Annapolis, Maryland.

Bass is an author, speaker, and independent scholar specializing in American religion and culture; and Borg is an internationally known academic, biblical and Jesus Scholar, and a Canon Theologian at  Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon.

This post is the first of seven entries I will post on my blog in the coming days of highlights from this excellent lecture series.

As an overview, the following are the topics of the six lectures from which I will be blogging the highlights:


  1. Reclaiming Christian Language (Borg)
  2. Experiencing Christianity (Bass)
  3. Experiencing Belief, Behavior, and Belonging (Bass)
  4. Reclaiming Salvation, Saved, and Savior (Borg)
  5. Experiencing Awakening (Bass)
  6. Reclaiming Compassion, Justice and Sacrifice (Borg)

In the spirit of full disclosure, because I was leading worship for my own congregation on Sunday, I was unable to hear Bass’ sermon on “Reclaiming and Experiencing the Kingdom” or attend Borg’s adult education class on “Open Hearts and Thin Places.” If anyone has notes from these events, please let me know in the comments section, or contact me on Facebook or Twitter (see below).

I appreciated the format of the series. Borg and Bass would speak for thirty minutes each, then there was thirty minutes fordiscussion, following by an extended break. In between each of these thirty-minute segments, Borg invited the crowd to stand silently in order to stretch as well as to allow a brief time and space to process all that we had heard before plunging into the next lecture. This minor addition helped bring a more thoughtful and contemplative pace to the event.

During the “Question and Response” period, I also appreciated that there was an intentional alternation between men and women to help maintain a gender-balance.

Finally, they ended each segment in worship with a congregational hymn, the most impressive of which was Heidi Wyllis Blythe’sGod’s Truth Still Marches On,” which includes powerful new lyrics to the tune of Julia Ward Howe’s “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

I should also add that Bass, who is known for her books Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith (2006) and A Peoples History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story (2009), drew her lecture material from her forthcoming book Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening (February 14, 2012).

Borg has written many books among which my favorite is The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith. He was also promoting his novel Putting Away Childish Things: A Tale of Modern Faith (2010). His lecture was principally drawn from his latest book Why Christian Words Have Lost their Meaning and Power and How They Can Be Restored (2011).

If this series of blog posts intrigues you, consider reading one or more of these books (or encouraging a congregational study at your church or in a small group or book club). As Borg likes to say, “The church is in desperate need of Adult Theological Re-education.”

The Rev. Carl Gregg is a trained spiritual director, a D.Min. candidate, and the pastor of Broadview Church in Chesapeake Beach, Maryland. Follow him on Facebook (facebook.com/carlgregg) and Twitter (@carlgregg).

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