Marcus Borg is Speaking Christian to heal the church

THIS WEEK, we welcome popular Bible scholar Marcus Borg back to ReadTheSpirit for an in-depth interview on Wednesday about his latest book, Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power—And How They Can Be Restored.

Last week, we praised “Speaking Christian” by selecting it for the first slot in our 12 Summer Gems series. In the new book, Borg argues that American Christians are becoming two religions divided by a common language. One version of the faith reads the Bible literally as a guide to avoiding hell and reaching heaven—but Borg argues this is a departure from Jesus’ original message in the Bible. The other version of the faith also has drifted from Jesus’ original teachings, Borg writes. This second version of the faith rejects the angry edge of evangelical America. Borg doesn’t spend a lot of time describing either of these two versions, but this latter group sounds a lot like what Kenda Creasy Dean and Harvey Cox are describing in the last couple of years.

What’s ironic about this split is that both versions of Christianity use many of the same religious terms—but with very different meanings and associations. In his new book, Borg is writing as a revivalist and healer. He wants to help save and rebuild Christianity, vitally reconnecting with the faith’s roots in Jesus’ teachings. He encourages common definitions of our common sacred language.

Come back Wednesday to read our full interview with Marcus Borg, but today we’re offering this brief sample of his new book. Here’s how Borg himself describes his book’s purpose …


Christian language has become a stumbling block in our time. Much of its basic vocabulary is seriously misunderstood by Christians and non-Christians alike. Big words like salvation, saved, sacrifice, redeemer, redemption, righteousness, repentance, mercy, sin, forgiveness, born again, second coming, God, Jesus and Bible—and collections of words like the creeds, Lord’s Prayer and liturgies—have acquired meanings that are serious distortions of their biblical and traditional meanings.

The misunderstandings flow from two major causes shaping the way Christian language is heard. The first is the literalization of language in the modern period, affecting Christians and non-Christians alike. The second is the interpretation of Christian language within a common framework that I call “heaven and hell” Christianity. … When this is the primary framework for understanding Christianity, as it often is, it diminishes and distorts the meaning of Christian language.

Christians in this country—and elsewhere—are deeply divided by different understandings of a shared language. About half—maybe more—of American Christians believe that biblical language is to be understood literally within a heaven-and-hell framework that emphasizes the afterlife, sin and forgiveness, Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, and believing. The other half—maybe less—puzzle over and have problems with this. Some have moved on to another understanding of Christian language. The differences are so sharp that they virtually produce two different religions, both using the same Bible and the same language. …

The book’s purpose is to redeem or reclaim Christian language in all of its richness and wisdom. Indeed, I had thought of titling the book Redeeming Christian Language, but then I realized that redeeming is one of the words that need redeeming. …

This book might also be seen as “a Christian primer.” A primer teaches us how to read. Reading is not just about learning to recognize and pronounce words, but also about how to read and understand them. This book’s purpose is to help us to read, hear, and inwardly digest Christian language without preconceived understandings getting in the way. It is aobut learning to read and hear the language of our faith again.

You can order Speaking Christian directly from Amazon now.

Come back Wednesday for our in-depth interview with Marcus Borg.

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Originally published at, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.

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