The Journey with Jesus: Book Notes
Reviews By Dan Clendenin
Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity; Rediscovering a Life of Faith (San Francisco: Harper, 2003)
Is it possible to speak of the core or essence of Christianity, its sine qua non? That question begs another, which is how two major ways of construing the basics of the faith have emerged. In a number of important books Borg has argued that the traditional, conservative way of understanding the faith has become less and less believable to many people. In a fascinating footnote, for example, he says that when he asks his unchurched university students to write a short essay about their impressions of Christianity, “they consistently use five adjectives: Christians are literalistic, anti-intellectual, self-righteous, judgmental, and bigoted” (p. 21).
Borg wants to change this, and so he offers a liberal or progressive alternative. His entire book is an apologetic for this “emergent” paradigm of faith. Although he is careful not to say either version is entirely right or wrong—he insists that we need the diversity and that we should hew to what helps us most in loving God and neighbor---there is no doubt about where he stands.
In successive chapters, Part One explores how the new paradigm Borg prescribes understands four key theological matters: faith, the Bible, God and Jesus. In Part Two, six chapters describe the life of Christian discipleship, covering themes such as what it means to be born again, the kingdom of God, the realities of sin and salvation, spiritual disciplines, and so forth.
Borg is one of a very few prominent New Testament scholars who writes for the everyday Christian, who is unashamed to declare his passion for a life of faith, who shares examples from his own life, who is both unapologetic but irenic in presenting his views, and on top of it all is an excellent writer. Although I have my disagreements with him at any number of places, I have previously enjoyed his other popular books, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (1994), and Reading the Bible Again for the First Time (2001). The heart of the matter, wherever we stand, is as Borg says evangelistic: to love God and be loved by Him so that we can help our neighbor enter that same love.