Thursday, January 22, 2015

R.I.P. Marcus Borg -- thanks for reintroducing me to an old friend

March 11, 1942 – January 21, 2015

The New Testament scholar and prophet of progressive Christianity, Marcus J. Borg, died yesterday at the age of 72.  I never met him, yet I wouldn't be who I am today without him.  And I know that I am not alone in having been deeply and profoundly touched by Marcus Borg's keen mind and compassionate heart without ever having any kind of direct, personal encounter.  His spirit flowed through his words, and his words reached millions.
These are just a few of the nearly two dozen books Borg wrote over the years, and through them and his prolific public speaking, he became one of the leading voices in progressive Christianity.  This is the kind of Christianity that encourages intelligent questioning, is unafraid to challenge long-standing traditions and teachings, and focuses on love and justice more than creeds and catechisms. 

As I've written in my own book -- Teacher, Guide, Companion:  rediscovering Jesus in a secular world -- after my mother died I had a "crisis of faith."  By this I mean that I suddenly found myself entertaining thoughts and having experiences that I thought I'd long left behind me.  I was rediscovering a feeling of faith, and it was a "crisis" because I had thought I'd "not only thrown out the baby with the bathwater, but [had] tossed out the tub, shut off the lights, and walked out of the house, locking the door behind [me]."  So I didn't know what to do with the experiences I was having.

Marcus Borg was one of the people who helped me to see a way to bring together my, if you will, post-Christian understanding of the world with my deeply rooted Christian identity.  He offered me, indeed, a "new vision."  And his invitation to "meet Jesus again for the first time" was incredibly exciting -- I had, of course, previous "met" Jesus in the Presbyterian and Methodist churches of my youth, but this would be the "first time" I did so with my more mature perspectives.  I had by this time studied Buddhism on and off for a couple of decades, had gone to divinity school where I focused on cross-cultural studies of spirituality, had been ordained to the Unitarian Universalist ministry, and had started serving a congregation.  I was not the same person who'd encountered Jesus before and, as Borg showed me, neither was Jesus.

I have since continued to renew my acquaintance with Jesus, who I once described in an Easter sermon as "an old friend I seem intent on forgetting."  And I have found other guides: John Spong, Dominic Crossan, Brian McLaren, Diana Butler Bass, Karen Armstrong, and Anne Lamott, to name just a few.  Still, it was Marcus Borg who opened my eyes in such a gentle yet powerful way.  I would not be who I am today if it weren't for him.

Pax tecum,


PS:  If you're interested in learning more about progressive Christianity, I would encourage you to pick up a copy of any one of Marcus Borg's books.  You could, of course, always get a copy of my own Teacher, Guide, Companion, or the truly wonderful Christian Voices in Unitarian Universalism.  You might also want to visit or the website of the Unitarian Universalist Christian Fellowship.

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Adam Gonnerman said...

I was saddened to hear of his passing. About a decade ago I tried reading "The Heart of Christianity" but, as a conservative Christian, found it lacking. No empty tomb in literal space-time was (and is) a dealbreaker for me. Now as a Humanist I think I might get more out of his books, strangely enough.

RevWik said...

Funny how that works, Adam. I've known more than a few Humanists who have found Borg's work to open doorways that they'd thought were long closed.