The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith

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Topics: Theology & Religious Education. Ages: Adult. Resource Types: Books.

Review & Commentary

2 thoughts on “The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith

  1. Review

    Marcus Borg has long been admired by members of TCPC who have read his books or heard him lecture. He has been instrumental in helping many people to see another way of being Christian. In fact, it is this “another way” that is at the heart of his latest book, The Heart of Christianity. Borg states that in North American Christianity there are two different paradigms; two different ways of seeing the “whole” of Christianity. The difference between these two ways of “seeing” goes to the core or heart of Christianity.

    Borg calls these two paradigms an “earlier way” of seeing Christianity and an “emerging way”. It is important to recognize that Borg is intentionally and self-consciously a “bridge builder.” He is not interested in trashing, or refuting the earlier way. He points out “there is no single right way of understanding Christianity and no single right way of being Christian.” He emphasizes this by insisting “It’s not that one of these paradigms is right and the other wrong. Both are ways of seeing Christianity.” Some of my more “liberal” friends may gulp at this, but I believe it is a thought worth pondering. Borg is not interested in waging war. He is content to see the “earlier” way as just that – a way of being Christian; not a heretical view that needs to be refuted.

    Borg is passionate about the emerging paradigm. His concern is primarily for the “millions of others” for whom “the earlier paradigm no longer works.” He asserts that “In the last half century, probably more Christians have left the church because of the Bible than for any other single reason.” Their problem, of course, is biblical literalism. He insists that for those millions “the emerging paradigm provides a way of taking Christianity and the Christian life seriously.”

    Whereas the earlier paradigm uses a literal-factual way of interpreting the Bible, the “emerging paradigm employs a historical-metaphorical interpretation….” Both of these terms Borg treats in his previous book Reading the Bible Again for the First Time . Here he summarizes and emphasizes that “The emerging paradigm for seeing the Bible – a historical, metaphorical, and sacramental approach – leads to a vision of the Christian life quite different from that of the earlier paradigm.” In the earlier paradigm the Christian life is fundamentally about believing – believing things to be true. But in the emerging paradigm the Christian life is about “a relationship with the one to whom the Bible points.”

    The Christian life is a life of transformation. As such it is not a life of requirements and rewards. It is about grace. There is little room in the “earlier” paradigm for grace. Somehow, someway we have to do something (something that others don’t do) to be right with God.

    Borg insists that Christianity is non-exclusive. “There is a specifically Christian reason for rejecting… exclusiveness: the classic… emphasis on grace. If one must be a Christian to be in right relationship with God, then there is a requirement, and we are no longer talking about grace, even though we might use the language of grace.

    If you know someone who seems open, who is asking the right questions, who seems desirous of becoming “progressive"; introduce him/her to this book.

  2. Review

    Over the past one hundred years, in the context of the modern and postmodern world, a new vision of Christianity has been emerging. During the past several decades, Marcus Borg has written five books developing and communicating this vision. This lucid, passionate and compelling book is a culmination of his work. He is Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University.

    The premise of the book it that there are two quite different visions of Christianity offered in the churches of America. One vision, which he designates as the “earlier” vision, is promoted by fundamentalist, evangelical and some mainline churches. In contrast, there is an “emerging” vision of Christianity which is found in many mainline churches. These contrasting visions are a source of conflict within and between the churches. He believes, however, that there are “potential ways of bridging the gap” which will involve an “unending conversation.”

    In Part One, entitled “Seeing the Christian Tradition Again,” we are led to look at faith, the Bible, God and Jesus. In seeing the Christian tradition from the perspective of the emerging vision, the author uses the earlier vision as contrast. He points to the common understanding of faith by the earlier tradition as meaning assent, thus confusing faith with belief. Acknowledging the common understanding of faith as trust and faithfulness, he stresses that the essential meaning of faith is vision, “a way of seeing the whole that shapes our relationship to ‘what is,’ that is to God.” Turning to the Bible, the earlier vision sees the Bible as a “divine product with divine authority” which must be interpreted literally.. In contrast, the emerging vision sees the Bible as “human in origin, sacred in status and function” to be understood as metaphor, “ way of seeing God and our life with God,” and as sacrament, “a way that God speaks to us and comes to us.”

    There is a contrast between the earlier and emerging images of God. In the earlier vision, called supernatural theism, God is a “personlike being,” “up there” or “out there.” In the emerging vision, called panentheism, God is “the encompassing Spirit in whom everything that is, is.” There is also a contrast between the two visions of the character of God. The earlier vision sees God as a God of “requirements and rewards,” while the emerging vision see God as a “God of love and justice.” The contrast continues between the two images of Jesus. In the earlier vision the identity of Jesus as the Son of God is emphasized and his death is the purpose of his life. In the emerging vision, what Jesus said and did is emphasized and his execution is seen as a rejection of “the way” he taught and lived.

    Part Two, “Seeing the Christian Life Again,” focuses on seeing the emerging vision of the Christian life as “relational and transformational.” The familiar metaphor of being ‘born again’ is used to describe the first transformation. The earlier vision of being born again usually means accepting certain beliefs, such as Jesus is your personal savior. Tracing the use of the ‘born again’ metaphor in the New Testament, the author sees a broader meaning for the emerging vision. Being ‘born again’ involves “dying to an old way of being and being born again into a new way of being in our life with God.” He then stresses that the emerging vision involves not only the “individual-spiritual-personal” but the “communal-social-political. He writes, “If we emphasize only one, we miss half of the Biblical message, half of the gospel.” So he turns our attention to the other transformation at the center of the emerging vision of our life with God, our “social and political transformation.” He traces the theme of God’s passion for systemic justice in the Hebrew Bible and in the New Testament, which, if taken seriously, would mean “advocacy of God’s justice” in the economic, political and social systems of society.

    Keeping the focus on the emerging “relational and transformational vision” of the Christian life, our concern is turned to the “purpose and practice of the Christian life for us as individuals and together as church.” Using “heart” as a metaphor for the self, he stresses that “the opening of the heart is the purpose of spirituality of both our collective and individual practices.” In a chapter on Sin and Salvation, he is emphatic that salvation is both individual and social. This emphasis leads to a description of what is necessary in “the practice” of living the Christian way. Practice is paying attention to our relationship to God and “the formation of Christian identity and character, nourishment, compassion and justice and living ‘the way.’”

    The concluding chapter is about “being Christian in an Age of Pluralism.”As an alternative to either an absolutist (my religion is the only truth) or a reductionist (religion is only a human invention) understanding of religion, he seen religions as “sacraments of the sacred.” This means seeing religions as “human creations,” as “human constructions in response to experiences of the sacred,” as “cultural-linguistic traditions,” as wisdom traditions,” as “aesthetic traditions,” as “communities of practice,” and as “communities of transformation.” He ends this chapter with a section entitled “Why Be Christian?” and concludes with this statement, “At the heart of Christianity is the heart of God – a passion for our transformation and the transformation of the world. At the heart of Christianity is participating in the passion of God.”

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