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The Heart of Christianity

Author(s): Marcus J. Borg

ISBN13: 9780060730680

ISBN10: 0060730684


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  • World-renowned Jesus scholar Marcus J. Borg shows how we can live passionately as Christians in todays world by practicing the vital elements of Christian faith.

    For the millions of people who have turned away from many traditional beliefs about God, Jesus, and the Bible, but still long for a relevant, nourishing faith, Borg shows why the Christian life can remain a transforming relationship with God. Emphasizing the critical role of daily practice in living the Christian life, he explores how prayer, worship, Sabbath, pilgrimage, and more can be experienced as authentically life-giving practices.

    Borg reclaims terms and ideas once thought to be the sole province of evangelicals and fundamentalists: he shows that terms such as "born again" have real meaning for all Christians; that the "Kingdom of God" is not a bulwark against secularism but is a means of transforming society into a world that values justice and love; and that the Christian life is essentially about opening ones heart to God and to others.

  • Marcus J. Borg

    Marcus J. Borg was Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University until his retirement in 2007. He is now Canon Theologian at Trinity Cathedral in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of eighteen books, including Meeting Jesus in Mark (2011) and three written with John Dominic Crossan: The Last Week (2006), The First Christmas (2007), and The First Paul (2009).

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    Borg follows up two of his previous releases about the Bible and Jesus with a volume that could easily have played on those titles, because this highly readable book is essentially about looking at Christianity again for the first time. In that respect, it provides a valuable glimpse into the essence of Christianity for those who have left the faith because they no longer believe its doctrines and those who are trying to remain in the faith while questioning its doctrines. With those people in mind, Borg emphasizes the transformational aspect of Christianity by examining the "emerging paradigm" that is gradually replacing the belief-centered paradigm of the last several hundred years. The new paradigm, Borg writes, is about loving God and loving what God loves, rather than rigidly adhering to a specific set of beliefs. In exploring this new way of "being Christian," Borg offers a middle ground for conservative and liberal Christiansthough its unlikely conservatives will conclude, as he does, that Jesus was not really the Son of God, nor are liberals likely to begin using the term "born again," as he advocates. Still, theres much here that both sides can agree on, possibly helping to bring them a step closer to the unity that has eluded them for centuries. As always, Borg writes with clarity and precision, which should also help the ongoing conversation. (Oct.) Forecast: Borg, whose popularizations of biblical scholarship have earned him quite a following, will do a nine-city author tour to promote this title, which has a 40,000-copy first printing.

    - Publishers Weekly

  • Chapter One -The Heart of Christianity in a Time of Change

    What is the "heart" of Christianity? What is most central to Christianity and to being Christian?

    The question arises in each new period of Christian history. It is especially important in our time. A new way of seeing Christianity and what it means to be Christian is emerging in the church in North America. Because this vision of Christianity is quite different from the dominant way of seeing Christianity over the past few hundred years, our time is also a time of con flict. In our context of change and con flict, what is Christianitys "heart"?

    Like all good metaphors, heart has more than one nuance of meaning. To begin with, it suggests what is most central. What is the core of Christianity, the "heart of the matter"? What is the essence of Christianity and the Christian life?

    If "core" and "essence" suggest something too abstract,too lifeless, heart is also an organic metaphor, suggesting something alive, pulsating, the source of life. What is the heart, the animating source or driving force, of Christianity without which it would cease to live?

    Furthermore, as in the phrase "head and heart," heart suggests something deeper than the intellect and the world of ideas. What is it about Christianity that is deeper than any particular set of Christian ideas and beliefs? And what is it about Christianity that reaches us at our "heart" level at a level of ourselves deeper than the intellect? The heart, this deeper level of the self, is the "place" of transformation. What is it about Christianity that gives it power to transform people at the "heart" level?

    A Time of Change and Conflict

    Christians in North America today are deeply divided about the heart of Christianity. We live in a time of major conflict in the church. Millions of Christians are embracing an emerging way of seeing Christianitys heart. Millions of other Christians continue to embrace an earlier vision of Christianity, often insistently defending it as "traditional" Christianity and as the only legitimate way of being Christian.

    I have struggled with what to call these two ways of being Christian and have settled on the "earlier" and "emerging" ways of being Christian. What I mean by these terms will become clear in this chapter.

    The familiar labels of "conservative" and "liberal" do not work very well, because both are imprecise. "Conservative" covers a spectrum ranging from Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to C.S. Lewis to (perhaps) Karl Barth. The latter two would find the first two to be strange bedfellows. "Liberal" can be applied to a range of Christians from those with a strong sense of the reality of God and a deep commitment to the Christian tradition to advocates of a nontheistic Christianity for whom "tradition" is a negative term. Thus "conservative" and "liberal" dont tell us very much.

    Moreover, there is much about the emerging way of being Christian that is conservative and traditional:it conserves the tradition by recovering it and envisioning it afresh. And there is much about the earlier way of being Christian that is innovative: its most distinctive features are largely the product of the last few hundred years. Indeed, both are modern products, as we shall see later in this chapter. Neither can claim to be the Christian tradition. Both are ways of seeing the tradition.

    The differences between the earlier and emerging ways of seeing Christianity and being Christian involve specific conflicts as well as more foundational issues. These include how to see the Bible, God, Jesus, faith, and the Christian life.

    To begin with, examples of specific issues that divide the contemporary church:

    Ordination of women: The earlier way of being Christian did not ordain women, and in many circles still does not. The emerging way does. Within mainline Protestant churches, the number of women clergy (including bishops) is rapidly increasing. Indeed, in many mainline seminaries, half or more of the students are women.

    Gays and lesbians:The earlier form of Christianity continues to regard homosexual behavior as sinful. Within it, the only options for homosexual Christians are celibacy or conversion to heterosexuality. For the emerging form of Christianity, the question of whether sexually active gays and lesbians can be Christians is mostly settled. The debate now is whether gays and lesbians in committed relationships can be married (or the equivalent) and whether they can be ordained as clergy, a debate virtually unimaginable a few decades ago.

    Christian exclusivism: Is there only one true religion, one path to salvation? Or are there several true religions, several paths to salvation? The earlier way of being Christian was (and is) confident that Christianity is the "only way." Now that is beginning to change. In a poll taken in 2002 in the United States, only 17 percent of the respondents af firmed the statement, "My religion is the only true religion." Most of these are in churches that af firm the earlier way of being Christian. But 78 percent did not, and this is typical of the emerging form of Christianity.

    Beneath these specific differences is conflict about more foundational matters, including especially how to see the Bible and its authority. For the earlier way of being Christian, the Bible is seen as the revealed will of God, as "Gods truth," and thus as absolute and unchangeable. The changes listed above challenge passages in the Bible that (1)teach the subordination of women and forbid them to have authority over men, (2)declare homosexual behavior to be sinful, and (3)proclaim Jesus as the only way to salvation. To regard these passages as not expressing Gods will for all time implies a very different understanding of the Bibles authority and interpretation.

    Here too there is statistical evidence of significant change ...


The Heart of Christianity