Marcus J. Borg (March 11, 1942 – January 21, 2015) was an American New Testament scholar, theologian and author. He was a fellow of the Jesus Seminar and a former Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University, a position from which he retired in 2007. Borg was among the most widely known and influential voices in progressive Chrisitianity and is a major figure in scholarship related to the historical Jesus. He died at the age of 72 on Wednesday, January 21, 2015, after a prolonged battle with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
David Gibson, National Reporter (New York) for the Religion News Service, posted a comprehensive ‘obit’ on 22nd January on the RNS website Religion News Service. He highlighted the way in which Borg ‘popularized the intense debates about the historical Jesus and the veracity and meaning of the New Testament’.
Gibson relates how Borg questioned the Bible but never lost his passion for the spiritual life or ‘his faith in God as “real and mystery”.
In 1979 Borg joined the faculty at Oregon State University and taught religion there until his retirement in 2007.
Borg’s 1987 book, “Jesus: A New Vision,” launched him to prominence. The book summarized and explained recent New Testament scholarship for a popular audience while presenting Jesus as a social and political prophet of his time who was driven by his relationship with God. Borg viewed this relationship as more important than traditional Christian beliefs based on a literal reading of the Bible.
Borg loved to debate but was no polemicist, and over the years maintained strong friendships with those who disagreed with him, developing a reputation as a gracious and generous scholar in a field and a profession that are not always known for those qualities.
Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr., of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, wrote on his blog on hearing of Borg’s passing. “Spanning the study of Jesus and a wide variety of subjects, Marcus shaped the conversation about Jesus, the church, and Scripture in powerful ways over the space of four decades”.
“I once introduced Marcus to a church audience by saying, ‘I agree with roughly 75 percent of what Marcus will say to you this evening,’” Thompson wrote in his tribute. “When he stepped into the pulpit, Marcus quipped, ‘I’m tempted to forgo my notes and discuss with Barkley the other 25 percent!’”
Go to the RNS article by David Gibson at the RNS link above to read all of this wonderful description of Borg the theologian, generous teacher, writer and thinker who has made a huge contribution to giving Christianity relevance to so many in a post Christian era.
Some of Borg’s sayings:
“The Christian life is not about pleasing God the finger-shaker and judge. It is not about believing now or being good now for the sake of heaven later. It is about entering a relationship in the present that begins to change everything now. Spirituality is about this process: the opening of the heart to the God who is already here.”
? Marcus J. Borg, The God We Never Knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion To A More Authenthic Contemporary Faith
“But Christian illiteracy is only the first part of the crisis. Even more seriously, even for those who think they speak “Christian” fluently, the faith itself is often misunderstood and distorted by many to whom it is seemingly very familiar. They think they are speaking the language as it has always been understood, but what they mean by the words and concepts is so different from what these things have meant historically, that they would have trouble communicating with the very authors of the past they honor.”
? Marcus J. Borg, Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power – And How They Can Be Restored
“Jesus died for our sins” has been understood. Among some Christians, it is seen as an essential doctrinal element in the Christian belief system. Seen this way, it becomes a doctrinal requirement: we are made right with God by believing that Jesus is the sacrifice. The system of requirements remains, and believing in Jesus is the new requirement. Seeing it as a metaphorical proclamation of the radical grace of God leads to a very different understanding. “Jesus died for our sins” means the abolition of the system of requirements, not the establishment of a new system of requirements.”
? Marcus J. Borg, The Meaning of Jesus