The God We Never Knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a More Authenthic Contemporary Faith

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Answering the many "spiritual" questions left unaddressed by such popular historical bestsellers as A History of God and God: A Biography, renowned author Marcus Borg reveals how to embrace an authentic contemporary faith that reconciles God with science, critical thinking and religious pluralism.

How to have faith––how to even think about God––without having to stifle modern rationality is one of the most vital challenges facing contemporary religion. In providing a much–needed...

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The God We Never Knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a More Authenthic Contemporary Faith

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Answering the many "spiritual" questions left unaddressed by such popular historical bestsellers as A History of God and God: A Biography, renowned author Marcus Borg reveals how to embrace an authentic contemporary faith that reconciles God with science, critical thinking and religious pluralism.

How to have faith––how to even think about God––without having to stifle modern rationality is one of the most vital challenges facing contemporary religion. In providing a much–needed solution to the problem of how to have a fully authentic yet fully contemporary understanding of God, Borg––author of the bestselling Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time––traces his personal journey. He leads readers from the all–powerful and authoritarian God of his (and their) childhood and traditional faith to an equally powerful but dynamic image of God that is relevant to contemporary seekers and more biblical and spiritually authentic. Borg shows how the modern crisis of faith is itself rooted in delusion––misinterpretation of biblical texts and of God's true nature––and challenges readers to a new way of thinking about God. He opens a practical discussion about how to base a relationship with the divine both immanent and transcendant, here and now, always and everywhere.

Arguing that the authentic Judeo–Christian tradition is that God's being includes the whole world, Borg persuasively shows how this understanding accounts for the whole variety of human religious experience. Ultimately, he introduces readers to a way of thinking about God who is "right here" all around them, rather than distant and remote. This understanding is more intellectually and spiritually satisfying and allows readers to reclaim a stronger sense of God's presence.

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Editorial Reviews

Robert N. Bellah
The God We Never Knew will appeal to unbelieving seekers and fainthearted believers, but it also has riches for those who think their faith is secure.”
“Borg does what few scholars on religion seem capable of doing: he has digested an immense amount of difficult, often conflicting religious ideas and written a clear, coherent, and highly readable theological work that satisfies the mind and the soul.”
Spirituality & Practice
“In this trenchant theological work, Borg challenges us to re-imagine God, spiritual practice, justice, and salvation. It is a subtle, flexible, intelligent, and mature reframing of Christianity for this age of heated-up religious pluralism.”
Harold Kushner
“A breath of fresh air, a liberating book for Jews and Christians alike.”
Frederick Buechner
“[P]ersuasive and inspiriting.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060610357
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/28/2006
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 192
  • Sales rank: 203,603
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.43 (d)

Meet the Author

Marcus J. Borg is canon theologian at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon, and was Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University. Described by the New York Times as "a leading figure in his generation of Jesus scholars," he has appeared on NBC's The Today Show and Dateline, ABC's World News, and NPR's Fresh Air. He is the author of the bestselling books Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, The Heart of Christianity, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, The God We Never Knew, Jesus, Speaking Christian, and The Evolution of the Word. His blog appears on the Progressive Christian Channel of

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Read an Excerpt

How are we to think of God? Some intellectual questions may not matter much, but this one has major consequences. What is our concept of God (or the sacred, or Spirit, terms that I use interchangeably)? By "concept of God," I simply mean what we have in mind when we use the word God. All of us have some concept of God, whether vague or precise and whether we are believers or nonbelievers.

My central claim is very direct: our concept of God matters.It can make God seem credible or incredible, plausible or highly improbable. It can also make God seem distant or near, absent or present. How we conceptualize God also affects our sense of what the Christian life is about. Is the Christian life centrally about believing, or is it about a relationship? Is it about believing in God as a supernatural being separate from the universe or about a relationship to the Spirit who is right here and all around us? Is it about believing in a God "out there" or about a relationship with a God who is right here?

In this chapter, I will introduce two different "root concepts" for thinking about God. Both are found in the Bible and the Christian tradition. They are fundamentally different. The first conceptualizes God as a supernatural being "out there," separate from the world, who created the world a long time ago and who may from time to time intervene within it. In an important sense, this God is not "here" and thus cannot be known or experienced but only believed in (which, within the logic of this concept, is what "faith" is about). I will call this way of thinking about God "supernatural theism." Widespread within Christianity, it is perhaps what a majority of people (both believers andnonbelievers) think of when they think of God. Some accept the existence of such a being, and some reject it. But it is the notion of God as a supernatural being "out there" that is being accepted or rejected.

The second root concept of God in the Christian tradition thinks of God quite differently. God is the encompassing Spirit; we (and everything that is) are in God. For this concept, God is not a supernatural being separate from the universe; rather, God (the sacred, Spirit) is a nonmaterial layer or level or dimension of reality all around us. God is more than the universe, yet the universe is in God. Thus, in a spatial sense, God is not "somewhere else" but "right here." I will call this concept of God "panentheism." This way of thinking about God is found among many of the most important voices in the Christian theological tradition.

Both concepts of God have nourished Christian lives through the centuries. For most of that time, the majority of Christians thought of God within the framework of supernatural theism. There is nothing wrong with this. Thinking of God as a supernatural being "out there" is the natural inference from many biblical passages, as well as the natural language of worship and devotion. And for most Christians until recently, this posed no serious problem. But in our time, thinking of God as a supernatural being "out there" has become an obstacle for many. It can make the reality of God seem doubtful, and it can make God seem very far away. And many people are not aware that there is a second root concept of God within the Christian tradition--namely, panentheism.

So it was for me. Though I did not know about panentheism as another Christian option for thinking about God until I was in my thirties, it has since become of utmost importance. It resolved the central religious and intellectual problem of the first three decades of my life. Indeed, becoming aware of panentheism made it possible for me to be a Christian again. The story of my own Christian and spiritual journey thus involves the movement from supernatural theism through doubt and disbelief to panentheism. The God I have met as an adult is the God I never knew growing up in the church.

Gropwing Up Christian

My own story of how I met God the first time begins in a Lutheran church in a small town in northeastern North Dakota in the 1940s.There I received a way of thinking about God that for a long time shaped what I thought being a Christian meant.

God and church were important in my town of 1,400 people. Most of us were Lutherans or Catholics. A few belonged to Episcopal, Baptist, and Federated congregations. But I can't recall knowing anybody who wasn't a member of a church. In this sense, the small-town world of my childhood was still the world of Christendom: everybody was Christian.

My earliest memories of God are associated with Our Savior's Lutheran Church. It was a white wood-frame building, with the sanctuary on the main floor and Sunday school rooms in the basement, where church suppers were also held. We attended every Sunday, and my parents were among the lay pillars of the congregation. My siblings, already in high school when I was a preschooler, sang in the choir.

Many of my early memories of God are connected with the music of our worship services. Each Sunday, we sang "Holy, Holy, Holy" as the opening hymn. Its verses created a vivid sense of two realities, God in heaven and us on earth.

Its first verse spoke of us here on earth "early in the morning" gathered for worship of the thrice-holy three-personed God:

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty,

Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee;

Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty,

God in three persons, blessed Trinity.

In the second verse, we were taken to heaven, where those who had died joined heavenly beings in adoration of God:

Holy, holy, holy, all the saints adore Thee,

Casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;

Cherubim and seraphim falling down before Thee,

Which wert, and art, and evermore shall be.

Its third verse spoke of why we on earth did not see God:

Holy, holy, holy, though the darkness hide Thee,

Though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see;

Only thou art holy; there is none beside Thee,

Perfect in power, in love and purity.

The contrast between us and God's holiness, power, love, and purity was strong; seeing with "the eye of sinful man," we lived in a darkness of our own making.

Almost as frequently we sang the great seventeenth-century German Lutheran hymn of praise extolling God as lord and king:

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of creation!

O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation!

All ye who hear,

Now to His temple draw near,

Join me in glad adoration.

The hymn that we sang as the collection plates were brought forward combined thanksgiving and gratitude:

Now thank we all our God,

With heart and hands and voices.

Who wondrous things hath done,

In whom His world rejoices.

Who from our mother's arms

Hath blessed us on our way

With countless gifts of love,

And still is ours today.

The most solemn moment for me each Sunday morning was provided by a short piece of music sung by the choir:

The Lord is in his holy temple;

Let all the earth keep silence before him.

I do not know why these words, and the somber mood in which they were sung, so affected me. I only know that they did.

Our celebrations of Christmas and Easter created a strong association in my mind between God and the wondrous. Christmas was filled with wonders: the special star, the wise men, the holy birth in the stable, the angels singing to the shepherds. I recall one Christmas Eve when
as the sun was setting, I thought that maybe if I looked really hard, I would see the Star of Bethlehem.

The music of Christmas was magic:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her king!

O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie . . .

Silent night, holy night; all is calm, all is bright . . .

Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the newborn king!

My favorite was a solo my sister sang: "O holy night, the stars are brightly shining; it is the night of our dear Savior's birth."

Easter also had its wonders: the empty tomb, the angels, Jesus appearing to his startled followers. "Christ the Lord is risen today," we sang with as much volume as our Scandinavian hearts could manage. And as we sang "Up from the grave he arose," our voices ascended the musical scale as the body of Jesus rose from the dead. God and the wondrous went hand in hand.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Meeting God Again for the First Time 1
1 Thinking About God: The God I Met the First Time 11
2 Thinking About God: Why Panentheism? 32
3 Imaging God: Why and How It Matters 57
4 Imaging God: Jesus and God 84
5 Opening to God: The Heart of Spirituality 111
6 The Dream of God: A Politics of Compassion 132
7 Salvation: What on Earth Do We Mean? 156
Index 179
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 14 of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2001

    Encouragement For Those Struggling With Doubts About Mainline Christian Beliefs

    In THE GOD WE NEVER KNEW Borg invites the reader to enter into a relationship with God. The author draws heavily upon his own personal experiences as an inclusive Christian who does not hold a literal interpretation of the Bible. Borg's account of his search for a meaningful relationship with God will provide encouragement to anyone struggling with doubts about mainline Christian beliefs.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2013


    Mr. Borg helped me go back to being a part of religion that didnt make sense to me before. Highly recommended for anyone struggling with doctrines and faith.

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  • Posted July 14, 2010


    I would like to commend Marcus Borg for writing this book. In it he admits his struggles in coming into a concept of God, Christ, The Spirit and the scriptures that met his personal spiritual needs. The title "The God We Never Knew" is an attention getter. It certainly should be expected to get a response from many that would probably say "speak for yourself Mr Borg, we have known for some time the God that you have only recently discovered after many years of searching". I don't mean in any way to belittle Mr Borg's spiritual journey, but I am simply anticipating the fact that some believers will feel this way. However to Mr Borg's credit he does emphasize more than once that this was "his journey" and perhaps, I might add, the journey of many others.

    We must admire the candidness and scholarly depth with which he takes us through the many avenues of thought that finally led him to his current position of faith and his joyful experience in the grace of God. Being a professor of religion he could not avoid the many challenges to his faith and reason which would naturally have to be wrestled with if he hoped to address his students and peers with confidence. Many of the theological concepts, philosophical concepts, and psychological concepts he examines in his book would have the average person of relgious faith going around in circles.

    The terms used,and the concepts expounded would weary many peoples minds. I will not even mention the various terms,or categories of thought he delves into because that would defeat the purpose of others reading the book, which should be read by people who have a strong interest in a rather thorough presentation of religion in general and of Christianity in particular.
    Actually, the long road that Mr Borg take us on is to finally show that our concepts of God can either bring us closer in our understanding and experience of him or take us farther from him within our own minds. He recognizes some of the concepts that put God far from us in our minds stems from ideas presented in the Bible itself. He also acknowledges that
    the same Bible presents other ideas that culminate in particular through Christ in bringing us closer to God in our minds and in our hearts. If you want pro's and con's and then conclusions in the validation of your faith, then this is an excellent book for study and especially if you wnat to follow through with searching out his notes, references and citations.

    My chief concern with the book is it's easy reference in one section to "myths" in the Bible when referring to the virgin birth, and some other recorded events in the Bible. To me when you start to "mythologize" any part of the scriptures you are in danger of tearing up a part of the foundation of the Christian faith. Thurman L. Faison, Author To The Spiritually Inclined (Volume 1)

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2002

    God Is Present Everywhere

    THE GOD WE NEVER KNEW introduces us to a God that we never met during childhood. Most of us as Christians were taught about a supernatural being out there who created the world a long time ago and sometimes intervened - especially during biblical times. After death we might be with Him if we were good on earth and believed the right things. Instead of believing in a supernatural being out there, Borg suggests we will find it more satisfying to be in relationship with a sacred reality right here. God is not the sum total of things. God is more than everything. He is all around us and we are within God. The Christian life is not about beliefs and requirements. It is not about believing in a God out there for the sake of an afterlife later. The Christian life is about entering into a relationship with God as known in Jesus Christ. This is the God who is out there but also right here. This God is real and is the God we never knew. A relationship with this God will prove to be a life-changing experience. Borg shows how this God has really been in the Bible all along but has been largely ignored by mainline Christianity. For anyone struggling with Christian beliefs, THE GOD WE NEVER KNEW may well lead to the start of an unforgettable journey with the sacred.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2000

    Great Book

    This book confims so much I first learned from An Encounter With A Prophet Spirituality is the answer.

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