What can I say that hasn’t already been said by countless others? I’ve spent the past few days, like everyone else, in a state of disbelief and grief. I echo the thoughts of so many others that it is because of Marcus Borg that I am still a Christian, still a pastor.
I remember the day that my best friend excitedly told me that I had to read this book called Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. We had been having many conversations about church doctrine. I particularly recall reading the curriculum for an upcoming confirmation camp session on the atonement. She said, “Are we going to use this?” We looked at each other. Then we both said, “Nah!” and tossed the papers on the floor.
So when I reached the part of Borg’s book about the atonement, I was ecstatic. Who knew I could get so excited about atonement theology?! But that was one of his gifts: taking tired old teachings and getting to the heart of what Jesus was really all about.
Another was the the ability to present a different way of looking at a belief in a pastoral way. For example, he could talk about the mythology of the Nativity story without dismissing those who still held to a literal interpretation. I don’t know how many times I’ve quoted his re-telling of the Native American preface: “I don’t know if it happened this way, but I know that it’s true.”
I am so grateful that I was able to attend several seminars with Borg and John Dominic Crossan. At the last one Borg was presenting material from what would be his book, Speaking Christian. What was great was that at the start of every session, he’d have us gather around our tables and talk about our first impressions of words like “righteousness,” “salvation” and “mercy.” We used the book in a Lent series the following year and it was one of the best we’ve ever had. Our own small group conversations about these words and concepts were invaluable. And while I still wrestle with some of the words (I’m ambivalent about “mercy”), I think the struggle itself is worthwhile. Marcus Borg taught me how to do that.
I’ve gone to a lot of seminars and read a lot of books by Jesus Seminar scholars and others who have been deconstructing Christianity. And while I appreciate their efforts and enjoy their scholarship, none has done a better job of reconstructing than Marcus Borg. One of the criticisms of progressive Christianity is that we are better at saying what we don’t believe than at what we do believe. That was not true of Marcus Borg. And his example showed the rest of us how to reclaim “the heart of Christianity” too.
Rest in peace, Marcus. My prayers go out to your family and to all of us who will miss you.