I first came across the writings of Marcus J. Borg, the American New Testament scholar, theologian and author, a few years ago. I thought his books looked interesting and ordered one from Amazon. It was entitled “Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking The Bible Seriously But Not Literally”. This was a subject I was interested in, as I was attending a church where the Bible was considered 100% literally the Word of God. I thought there must be another approach to reading the Bible.
The church was an English-speaking Baptist church in Brussels, where I also held a position of responsibility. A few days after ordering the book, I found myself standing in front of the (temporary) Pastor of the church who bluntly asked me:
“Why are you recommending such a dangerous book?”
I was completely stunned by his question, for three reasons.
First, the idea of a theology book being dangerous in the apparently open-minded 21st Century seemed rather ridiculous. If I had ordered “Bombmaking For Dummies” he might have had a point, but a book about the Bible?
Second, I hadn’t recommended the book to anyone for the simple fact that I had not read it. Third, how did he know I had ordered this book?
To cut a long and painful discussion short, the Pastor said that Marcus Borg was a “false teacher” propagating unBiblical doctrines, and hence was deemed to be “dangerous”. The pastor had been told I was recommending this book to fellow church-members by someone in the church (unnamed; I never did find out who he was, although I have my suspicions). As to the third question, this same person had noticed on my Facebook profile that I had ticked the box on the Amazon site that said “Tell your friends on Facebook about your book”.
Time to leave
That was the last time I saw the pastor, and the last time my feet crossed the threshold of that church. Actually, my departure was not due to this difficult discussion about this book, but due to the extremely critical and hurtful remarks made to me by a number of men in the church when I admitted to believing in the evolutionary process rather than a literal six-day creation. (I may post more about that topic later!)
Anyway, so traumatic was that latter issue that after I had left the church, reading any kind of religious book was the last thing on my mind.
Time to rediscover
Now however, a few years down the line, it’s been good to rediscover Marcus Borg, not through his books but through his many excellent videos on YouTube.
The late Marcus Borg (he sadly died in 2015) had such interesting and insightful things to say about many aspects of the Christian faith. He speaks in a warm, friendly and honest manner. He is deeply respectful of those who hold alternative beliefs and opinions. He is an excellent communicator, able to explain complex thoughts as if he’s chatting with you about the weather or a football game. (He’s also helping me to read the Bible seriously but not literally).
I’ll write about what I have specifically learned from him later. But if you are at all interested in Christian teaching that is generous, inclusive, eye-opening, mind-broadening, based on love and compassion, and genuinely thrilling, I recommend you go to YouTube and type in “Marcus Borg”.
In the meantime, I leave you with one of his most insightful quotes:
“The requirement of faith divides the world up into those who have faith and those who don’t, with the implication that God is kindly disposed toward the first group and not so kindly disposed toward the second. This understanding is reflected in a popular Christian bumper sticker that reads: “Christians aren’t perfect — they’re just forgiven.” It implies that other people aren’t forgiven, and that Christians have done something (become Christian? Believed?) that merits forgiveness. There is a smugness and divisiveness in the statement …”
– Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, page 79