The Heart of Christianity (Book Review)

Alan Goss reviews The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg. Harper San Francisco, 2004, 256pp, 8.14. ISBN 0060730694.

Alan Goss is a retired Presbyterian Minister in New Zealand and a member of the NZ Sea of Faith.

Marcus Borg, well-known American theologian, outlines in this, his latest book, how Christians may become more passionate about their faith. As former ways of believing the Christian faith are no longer meaningful, Christians are turning away from traditional beliefs to search for more satisfying alternatives. Writing for Christian readers, Borg proposes a rejuvenated Christianity, based on a new model or paradigm that has been developing for some considerable time. This new model is a product of Christianity's encounter with the post-modem world.

Borg identifies what for him is the heart of Christianity, which is central to a vibrant and authentic Christian life. He draws upon the traditional Christian vocabulary, words and terms like faith, the bible, God, Jesus, Kingdom of God, born again, and shows how when re-interpreted they can help to re-vitalize Christian faith and practice.

For Borg, God is more than a human idea or construction. While God is not a person-like being, our relationship to God, or being with God, is personal. Borg rejects supernatural theism (a being "out there") and favours a panentheistic way of thinking about God. This way emphasises both the transcendence and the immediate presence of God. God is "the more", "the real", "the sacred", and the heart of Christianity is to have a deep and transforming personal relationship with God. Jesus is both metaphor and sacrament of God.

Borg holds that as we grow up this very process, especially during adolescence, means that we become more self-conscious and therefore more culturally conditioned by worldly ways. We therefore need to forsake our old identity and take on a new identity, i.e. we need to be born again.

Borg is strong on issues of justice and challenges economic and other systems which favour the rich at the expense of the poor. 'The bible is political as well as personal.' He has a useful chapter on other religions—there are more Buddhists in the USA than Presbyterians or Episcopalians—and he rejects the idea that Christianity is the only true religion. 'For us, as Christians, Jesus is the way but not the only expression of the way.'

Borg's theological position seems to lie somewhere between the liberals and the radicals and there is certainly much to commend in this book. It is the product of encounters with many Christian groups in the USA. Others will feel that Borg does not go far enough. As Lloyd Geering is constantly reminding us, our modern, secular, humanistic world is a continuation of the flowing and ever-changing Christian stream.

Our relationship to God is now being expressed more in terms of our love for one another and for the environment, often in homely, down-to-earth ways. Our focus is on life and on the living of life in this world. We need new artists, new words, new music, new rituals, to reinforce and reinvent those rich and abiding Christian hopes and values which are part of our religious heritage.