Marcus Borg talks about teaching your Bible study

This week, we’re introducing a great new Bible-study series with best-selling author Marcus Borg. On Tuesday, we shared an excerpt from the talks Marcus delivers on the DVD for the class. Today, we welcome Marcus for our weekly ReadTheSpirit interview.

Marcus Borg talks about ‘Embracing an Adult Faith,’
a New Way to Teach Your Bible-Study Class

DAVID: You’ve led countless classes in your career as an educator. One thing that jumped out of this new video series was the age range of people in the room. Were you trying to bridge the adult age gap?

MARCUS: We started with the idea of gathering a multigenerational group and that’s actually what made this project most exciting for me. We intentionally invited people in their 20s and 30s, some of whom were involved in the church already. But some of those younger adults did not have much connection with the church, except that they were really interested in religion and in finding out more about Christianity. Then we also had people who were over 50 and most of those older adults actually were in their 60s and 70s.

DAVID: I know that you did a number of trial runs with this class format. You worked with bigger groups and smaller groups before finalizing these videos. What feedback did you get about this intentional effort to balance generations?

MARCUS: What we heard from the groups afterward was that the most exciting thing for them had been these conversations with people from the other end of the age spectrum.

The 60- and 70-somethings said they never had opportunities to talk with 20- and 30-somethings. They’re interested in doing that, but the only 20- and 30-somethings they know are their own children and grandchildren and honest conversations about faith with them are fraught with the younger people mainly feeling that the older people in their families are wanting to know why they’re not more regularly involved in the church.

DAVID: What did the younger group of adults tell you afterward?

MARCUS: They said they never have chances to talk to older people about the big topics like God and Jesus—the kinds of topics we talk about in this series. One of the best things about this series is that I hope churches will intentionally organize cross-generational groups. This may not happen unless people make a real effort to recruit people across the age spectrum. But the people in the groups we worked with to create this series all reported it was a very rich experience.

DAVID: Why? I can guess the answer, but what did these people tell you?

MARCUS: The young people reported that they had no idea people in their 60s and 70s are still wrestling with these big questions—and the older people were not as dogmatic as the younger people had expected. The younger people said: We didn’t know this about you! The older people said they enjoyed having an experience to talk with young adults who were so open and direct.

Marcus Borg: Importance of Mystical Experience

DAVID: One part of the series that I think will open some eyes and ears is the section in which you describe the mystical experiences that really woke up your faith.

MARCUS: Yes, I did have a number of mystical experiences in my early 30s that made all the difference in my life. Suddenly, through these experiences, my life changed from having this notion of God as a hypothetical concept to experiencing the reality of God. This transformed my understanding of God.

Karl Rahner, the great Catholic theologian, said that the future of Christianity will be mystical or it will not be at all. What I understood him to be saying is that in a world of religious pluralism, a religion that simply operates as a kind of hypothetical construct will cease to have any enduring power. The question becomes: Why should I take Christianity seriously if there is no experiential validation of its foundational claims? How can I take Christianity seriously if we cannot experience God as real and known to us in various ways? For Christians, the decisive way God is known is through Jesus. Jesus gives us a sense of the character and passion of God.

DAVID: In your “Community” talk in the video series you talk about this idea of following God’s passion. When we publish this interview, we’ll add some lines from the video so people can read a sample of the kinds of talks you deliver on screen. (See Monday’s story.)

This is our second interview with you in six months. During our American Journey series, you and your wife were gracious enough to host me and my son in your home. And, in that interview that was carried across the newspaper network, you and your wife spoke eloquently about your hopes for America. So, let me close this new interview by asking: What’s your forecast for 2011 in America?

MARCUS: I think the crucial factor is what we might call the fear index. This year, the higher the fear index goes in our country, the more problems we’re going to have. That fear index may depend on our fear of “the other”—or it might be fear that the United States is in decline. The fear can take various forms, but that’s what we need to watch. The higher the fear index moves, the more people will project their fears on the religious differences they may have with their neighbors.

DAVID: Well, I do hope many congregations will offer your new series. And I hope that, if people read this interview, they’ll realize that they can do the most good in this new series by intentionally organizing the enrollment to cross the age gap.

MARCUS: I hope so, too. As Americans, our culture is so individualistic. There’s so much research on this that most people are aware of it, I think. What I want to emphasize is that congregations—and here I want to include churches, synagogues and mosques among these religious organizations—provide the few remaining opportunities in American life for real community. As I say in the series: Community is utterly central to our biblical tradition.

What You Need to Lead This Class with Marcus Borg

  1. Paperback Guidebook to the Study (1 for each person in the group; everyone gets the same paperback): Embracing an Adult Faith: Marcus Borg on What It Means to Be Christian is available now in PAPERBACK from Amazon.
  2. Five-session DVD to show at the start of each class: Embracing an Adult Faith: Marcus Borg on What It Means to Be Christian: a 5-session Study, is available now in DVD from Amazon.

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