Thursday, January 22, 2015

Marcus J. Borg, 1942-2015

Marcus J. Borg died last night -- sad news, indeed.

Borg was a philosopher and theologian of a decidedly liberal bent. He was also a perceptive observer of and articulate participant in New Testament scholarship.
Borg, with his collected works of Walt Kelly & Carl Barks
Borg was frequently accused of throwing the Baby Jesus out with the bathwater, but his sensitive excavation of the more troubling dichotomies and outright contradictions that come with professing a faith in Christ encouraged some of us to stay in the fold. In his own unique way Borg was, to his last breath, a Defender of the Faith: rigorously critical, committed, compassionate and humane.
With a penchant for distracting socks
If introductions are in order, I’d suggest starting where I did: The Meaning Of Jesus: Two Visions (1999, 2007). This chapter-by-chapter back-and-forth with conservative Anglican and academian N.T. Wright is an approachable, almost breezy read, but its oppositional approach does a terrific job of covering the most pertinent “Who was Jesus?” hot-spots. Highly recommended.*
If that whets your appetite for more, you should probably head directly to Borg’s most lauded/scourged works Jesus: A New Vision (1987), Meeting Jesus Again For The First Time (1997), and The Heart Of Christianity (2003).

But the Borg book that has given me the most cause for musing and meditation is probably one of his most poorly-executed: Evolution Of The Word: The New Testament In The Order The Books Were Written (2013).

Borg proposes a seemingly obvious thought-experiment: to get the clearest picture of how the earliest Christians pushed-and-pulled their religious POV into shape, read the New Testament in historical order, from the earliest books to the latest. Borg’s proposal has me wondering how much of my Bible college angst mightn't have got headed off at the pass if this hadn’t been a first-year requirement.

The book itself, however, is difficult to recommend, and the blame falls squarely at the feet of his publisher. Borg’s introductions to each book are well worth the read, but it seems to me that anybody who could be arsed with Borg’s proposal already owns a NRSV Bible. What could have been a slim and punchy volume -- or, better yet, an e-pub -- winds up as yet another Bible to clutter up the bookshelf. Borg's work is likely to experience the usual posthumous uptick. Say, Harper Collins: no better time than the present to rectify this situation.

RIP, sir -- and, as you were always keen to assert, God love you.

*I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my buddy Professor D. for turning me on to this book, as well as to the lovely GR for procuring it for me, back in the day.


Joel said...

I think you've recommended Borg to me in the past. (The two visions books seems to ring a bell.) I'm even more intrigued now after reading this post. Although I regret to say now that I'm back in Asia again I've missed my window for picking up English books. But I'll put it on my radar for my "someday" reading.

Darrell Reimer said...

I probably suggested MOJ when you began your Lee Strobel run. I had no idea that book would be so fruitful for you.