Millions of Americans love Marcus Borg.
His books on the Bible, Christmas, Easter, the life of Jesus and the Apostle Paul are used in congregations around the world.
In an earlier era, when Borg’s Bible scholarship seemed more like an in-your-face confrontation with traditional Christians, some Americans flat-out hated his work. Borg’s earlier books especially infuriated Christians raised on a literal understanding of the Bible. It’s easy to see why he was annoying. Here was a brilliant, inquiring mind, steeped in decades of university life, fearlessly raising hard questions about the history of the Bible and its meaning for today.
At the core of his work, though, Borg cares deeply about Christianity. His Bible study, “The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith,” reveals his passion for the faith and has brought many exiled men and women back to church.
As his career has evolved in recent years and as his voice has echoed through national television and radio networks, Borg’s circle of faithful readers has grown. Even some readers who once thought he was attacking their faith now realize that he actually wants to engage with them in ways that may actually restore Christianity’s original vitality in the world.
RECASTING CHRISTIAN THEMES IN FICTION
LIKE PHILIP GULLEY and FREDERICK BUECHNER
Marcus Borg’s first novel, “Putting Away Childish Things,” takes his great body of wisdom about the Bible, American culture and university life—and recasts these red-hot themes in a fictional Midwest college campus. That may sound like an unusual idea, but the Quaker writer Philip Gulley has had great success recasting spiritual issues in the fictional town of Harmony. Frederick Buechner recast religious themes in a wide range of fictional formats over the years.
In Borg’s fictional campus, students and faculty all share in the unfolding drama. One member of the faculty, Kate, finds her controversial career picking up steam on a national level. In the course of the novel, she may wind up leaving her small-town college and its small-town struggles for a bigger university with more freedom and opportunities. Various students in the novel are wrestling with common college-age issues like a friend suddenly coming out as gay—or other friends on campus trying to draw them into evangelical Bible-study classes.
During the college years, life’s timeless questions suddenly loom as big, challenging, urgent chasms. That’s why the book is called “Putting Away Childish Things.” Landing on a college campus for the first time can be an emotional, intellectual and spiritual jolt!
EXCERPT FROM MARCUS BORG
Here’s one scene in the middle of the novel in which a student, Erin, is finding herself torn between a student Bible-study group that interprets the Bible in a literal way—and a more nuanced understanding of Scripture she’s learning in a college class. Confused about these clashing interpretations, Erin begins to fall silent in her Bible study group and another character, Peter, is quick to hammer home his own point of view.
SCENE FROM “PUTTING AWAY CHILDISH THINGS”:
IS SATAN CALLING?
Erin slid her Bible and their small group’s latest Bible study, “Jesus is The Way,” into her backpack after they’d finished their closing prayer. The study they were doing this semester just seemed to be exacerbating her doubts about some of the group’s beliefs. Talking about how Jesus saved them and how he was the only way was starting to feel uncomfortably exclusionary to her. Could they limit God in that way?
Peter walked over. “Erin, how’s everything going?”
“Fine,” she said cautiously.
He sat on the arm of the couch next to her. “I’ve noticed that you’ve been really quiet in Bible study lately, and I wanted to check in with you. How’s the religious studies class you’re taking?”
Erin looked at Peter, who was gazing at her with obvious concern. Suddenly, she felt a sense of appreciation for him. He really cared about her, and he was very intelligent. Maybe he could help her make sense of some of the things they’d learned in class.
“I’m enjoying it,” she answered, “but some of the ideas are really challenging. Today we talked about seeing the creation story as a myth—and although it represents truth, it doesn’t necessarily involve real people. I liked what Professor Riley said about truth not necessarily being the same as factuality, but I’m a little confused about how that interpretation would affect original sin.”
Peter nodded. “I see the temptation of that kind of logic. There are many things in the Bible that are hard to believe, but just because we find them difficult or don’t fully understand them doesn’t mean that they aren’t literally, factually true. It would be a lot easier to be a Christian in many ways, if we could go through the Bible, pick out stories and lessons that spoke to us without challenging us, and throw out the rest. But we can’t follow Jesus partway, believing only one-third of the things he said or one-eighth. It’s pretty much all or nothing with following Jesus.” (…)
Erin listened in silence. Peter’s argument made sense too, mostly. “I guess I’m just confused,” she admitted.
“Pray about it. You can come to me anytime, and we can talk and pray together. I can give you some books to read too that can help dispel some of what you’re hearing. But you might also want to consider whether it’s worthwhile to stay in the class. It seems to me that Satan is using it to launch some pretty serious attacks on your faith. Maybe the best thing to do would be to drop it.”
Erin frowned. “I don’t think I’m ready to do that.”
“Just think about it,” Peter urged.
Erin nodded and went to meet Amy, who was waiting for her at the door.
ENJOY OUR ENTIRE GREAT SUMMER READING AND VIEWING SERIES: (Our series so far: “Crown of Aleppo,” “Science Vs. Religion,” “Belief,” “Apparition,” “Burma VJ,” “Facets World Cup,” “Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth” “The Lonely Polygamist,” “Rise and Shine,” “Saints,” “Beaches of Agnes,” “Mystically Wired,” “Creative Aging,” “Twelve by Twelve,” “Eyewitness 4,” “Connecting Like Jesus” and “NRSV: XL Edition.”)
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