Summary of Marcus Borg ‘The Heart of Christianity’ part 1
I am giving you the full first talk, which is my attempted summary of what Marcus Borg writes in his book “The Heart of Christianity”.
Marcus Borg’s view of the Heart of Christianity, part 1.
Faith, not a series of stated beliefs is the underlying concept of what Marcus Borg says of Christianity. Faith is like being in a deep ocean but relaxing and trusting so that you stay afloat. Trusting the buoyancy of God or, if you don’t like the word God, then trusting in the sea of life in which we move and have our being.
Christian Faith has 3 essential ingredients as our guide; Bible, God and Jesus.
On this occasion we only had time to try to summarise what he says about the first two of these.
The earth was created in six days and not very long ago (Gen. 1 - 3)
Adam & Eve were real people and “the fall” brought death into the world (Gen. 2 - 3)
God sent a worldwide flood that destroyed all life, except Noah and pairs of animals which were saved in an ark (Gen. 6 - 7)
All people initially spoke the same language and only later were divided into different language groups (Gen. 11)
God ordered the slaughter of the Amalekites, men women and children (1 Sam. 15)
God regulated (and therefore legitimated) slavery (both testaments).
God cares whether we wear garments made of 2 kinds of cloth (Lev. 19).
Unbelieving Jews are children of the devil (John 8).
These are among the statements made on the basis of a literal interpretation of the Bible and very many have left the church because they cannot accept these.
We should read the bible within its historical context, as metaphor and as sacrament.
a) IN ITS HISTORICAL CONTEXT, we see it as a product of 2 ancient communities, Israel and the early Christian movement. It is a human product, not divine, but it shows these people’s response to God. They interpret life through their own culture and views, so the detail does not necessarily give us laws for all time.
“The documents that now make up the Bible were not sacred when written, but over time were declared to be sacred by ancient Israel and early Christianity.”
They are sacred in 3 ways. First, they are the foundation documents on which Christianity as a religion is built. Second, they are the identity documents, shaping who we are and giving us a vision of life in relation to God. Third, they are the wisdom documents, not dictating but guiding our answer to the two questions: what is real? and how shall we live our lives ? They require a constant conversation, because there were not written originally to us as we are today. (I am reminded of St Augustine of Hippo who said they should be interpreted by love, even if the original writer did not intend that; also of Jonathan Sacks who says that Jews do not read the bible, they debate it, struggle with it and examine its original words in order to drag from it the guidance needed for life today.)
b) THE BIBLE AS METAPHOR. Marcus says you can believe what youwant about the literal historical nature of any particular story but the focus must be on its meaning. Metaphorical means more than literal; e.g. the exile of the Jews in Babylon happened, but the story is told in a way that speaks also about anyone’s exile and return to God; the resurrection stories of Jesus may not be literal, but say that the same life that was in Jesus is around today and can be in us. The call to walk with Jesus has meaning and is important for Christians, but a camera cannot show it happening.
c) THE SACRAMENTAL NATURE OF THE BIBLE means it is a human product, whereby God becomes present to us. It is a vehicle or vessel of the sacred, or a door and bridge to the sacred. It is one of the major ways in which God speaks to us and comes to us. In many churches, after a passage in the Bible has been read, it is said ‘This is the word of the Lord’. It would be more accurate to say something like ‘In or through this comes the word of the Lord’. In most churches in New Zealand they say of the Bible reading ‘Hear what the spirit is saying to the church’.
The God question can be put like this:
Is there more to life than just matter and energy ? More than the material ?
Does what you say of God affect your worldview and how you go about your life ?
Throughout history there have been two views of God existing side by side.
1) SUPERNATURAL THEISM. God as a being out there somewhere or above, very personal in nature and frequently intervening in life.
2) PANENTHEISM. God as the encompassing spirit in whom everything is, not separate from all that is, but more than all that is, not intervening but having intention and interaction continuously with life. (It was said in the meeting, that often the use of the word panentheism assumed God is in the world and abandoned the traditional reference to the transcendence of God.)
Marcus Borg favours the second of these. In particular he abandons the idea of intervention and saying God is always present, with love and justice as the overriding nature of God’s interaction with life, though we can give no absolute explanation of that interaction. God is the heart of reality. Language is limited in its ability to describe God; as is traditionally said, God is ineffable.
However, God may be personal. Marcus is not completely happy with that term. It does not mean God is a separate person. It means we can relate to God something like personal human relationships. Importantly, God is transpersonal, more than personal. Yet, the use of personal language for God is more appropriate than impersonal language.
In history, there have been 2 models of the character of God, often but not always existing side by side.
a) MONARCHICAL GOD. God is King and God of Law. We are disobedient and get punishment if we do not change our ways but in any case are dependent on God as judge. People who stress this view often use legal language for our relations with God and refer very much to God as almighty. In its extreme form, this view says God will save some people, but destroy most.
b) GOD OF LOVE AND JUSTICE. This is God of grace, loving us no matter what we believe or do. In this view says Marcus, it is important to put love and justice together, because prolonged injustice has destructive consequences.
Marcus takes the second view and says: “The Christian life is not about believing or doing what we need so that we can be saved. Rather it is about seeing what is true about God loving us already and then beginning to live in this relationship (of love).”
Both of these views of God are found in the Bible, in the Old and New Testaments.
Nigel Jones, Sept’16