The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith

The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith

by Marcus J. Borg


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060730680
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 07/21/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 120,765
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.58(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Marcus J. Borg (1942–2015) was a pioneering author and teacher whom the New York Times described as "a leading figure in his generation of Jesus scholars." He was the Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University and canon theologian at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, and he appeared on NBC's The Today Show and Dateline, ABC's World News, and NPR's Fresh Air. His books have sold over a million copies, including the bestselling Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, Jesus, The Heart of Christianity, Evolution of the Word, Speaking Christian, and Convictions.

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The Heart of Christianity
Rediscovering a Life of Faith

Chapter One

The Heart of Christianity
in a Time of Change

What is the "heart" of Christianity? What is most central to Christianity and to being Christian?

The question arises in each new period of Christian history. It is especially important in our time. A new way of seeing Christianity and what it means to be Christian is emerging in the church in North America. Because this vision of Christianity is quite different from the dominant way of seeing Christianity over the past few hundred years, our time is also a time of con flict. In our context of change and con flict, what is Christianity's "heart"?

Like all good metaphors, heart has more than one nuance of meaning. To begin with, it suggests what is most central. What is the core of Christianity, the "heart of the matter"? What is the essence of Christianity and the Christian life?

If "core" and "essence" suggest something too abstract,too lifeless, heart is also an organic metaphor, suggesting something alive, pulsating, the source of life. What is the heart, the animating source or driving force, of Christianity without which it would cease to live?

Furthermore, as in the phrase "head and heart," heart suggests something deeper than the intellect and the world of ideas. What is it about Christianity that is deeper than any particular set of Christian ideas and beliefs? And what is it about Christianity that reaches us at our "heart" level -- at a level of ourselves deeper than the intellect? The heart, this deeper level of the self, is the "place" of transformation. What is it about Christianity that gives it power to transform people at the "heart" level?

A Time of Change and Conflict

Christians in North America today are deeply divided about the heart of Christianity. We live in a time of major conflict in the church. Millions of Christians are embracing an emerging way of seeing Christianity's heart. Millions of other Christians continue to embrace an earlier vision of Christianity, often insistently defending it as "traditional" Christianity and as the only legitimate way of being Christian.

I have struggled with what to call these two ways of being Christian and have settled on the "earlier" and "emerging" ways of being Christian. What I mean by these terms will become clear in this chapter.

The familiar labels of "conservative" and "liberal" do not work very well, because both are imprecise. "Conservative" covers a spectrum ranging from Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to C.S. Lewis to (perhaps) Karl Barth. The latter two would find the first two to be strange bedfellows. "Liberal" can be applied to a range of Christians from those with a strong sense of the reality of God and a deep commitment to the Christian tradition to advocates of a nontheistic Christianity for whom "tradition" is a negative term. Thus "conservative" and "liberal" don't tell us very much.

Moreover, there is much about the emerging way of being Christian that is conservative and traditional:it conserves the tradition by recovering it and envisioning it afresh. And there is much about the earlier way of being Christian that is innovative: its most distinctive features are largely the product of the last few hundred years. Indeed, both are modern products, as we shall see later in this chapter. Neither can claim to be the Christian tradition. Both are ways of seeing the tradition.

The differences between the earlier and emerging ways of seeing Christianity and being Christian involve specific conflicts as well as more foundational issues. These include how to see the Bible, God, Jesus, faith, and the Christian life.

To begin with, examples of specific issues that divide the contemporary church:

  • Ordination of women: The earlier way of being Christian did not ordain women, and in many circles still does not. The emerging way does. Within mainline Protestant churches, the number of women clergy (including bishops) is rapidly increasing. Indeed, in many mainline seminaries, half or more of the students are women.
  • Gays and lesbians:The earlier form of Christianity continues to regard homosexual behavior as sinful. Within it, the only options for homosexual Christians are celibacy or conversion to heterosexuality. For the emerging form of Christianity, the question of whether sexually active gays and lesbians can be Christians is mostly settled. The debate now is whether gays and lesbians in committed relationships can be married (or the equivalent) and whether they can be ordained as clergy, a debate virtually unimaginable a few decades ago.
  • Christian exclusivism: Is there only one true religion, one path to salvation? Or are there several true religions, several paths to salvation? The earlier way of being Christian was (and is) confident that Christianity is the "only way." Now that is beginning to change. In a poll taken in 2002 in the United States, only 17 percent of the respondents af firmed the statement, "My religion is the only true religion." Most of these are in churches that af firm the earlier way of being Christian. But 78 percent did not, and this is typical of the emerging form of Christianity.

Beneath these specific differences is conflict about more foundational matters, including especially how to see the Bible and its authority. For the earlier way of being Christian, the Bible is seen as the revealed will of God, as "God's truth," and thus as absolute and unchangeable. The changes listed above challenge passages in the Bible that (1)teach the subordination of women and forbid them to have authority over men, (2)declare homosexual behavior to be sinful, and (3)proclaim Jesus as the only way to salvation. To regard these passages as not expressing God's will for all time implies a very different understanding of the Bible's authority and interpretation.

Here too there is statistical evidence of significant change ...

The Heart of Christianity
Rediscovering a Life of Faith
. Copyright © by Marcus J. Borg. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

Preface: What Does It Mean to Be Christian Today?xi
1The Heart of Christianity in a Time of Change1
Part 1Seeing the Christian Tradition Again
2Faith: The Way of the Heart25
3The Bible: The Heart of the Tradition43
4God: The Heart of Reality61
5Jesus: The Heart of God80
Part 2Seeing the Christian Life Again
6Born Again: A New Heart103
7The Kingdom of God: The Heart of Justice126
8Thin Places: Opening the Heart149
9Sin and Salvation: Transforming the Heart164
10The Heart of the Matter: Practice187
11Heart and Home: Being Christian in an Age of Pluralism207

What People are Saying About This

Thomas Moore

“Marcus Borg brings expert knowledge, insight, and warmth to this revisiting of Christianity’s heart and soul. He makes absolute sense.”

Walter Brueggemann

“A winsome, accessible, pastoral offering ... Borg provides a way for an important, positive, and serious rethinking of the gospel.”

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Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 34 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've read several of Prof. Borg's books, and all of them are excellent. In his latest book, The Heart of Christianity, Borg summarizes a lifetime of reflection on the Christian faith. Borg claims that the 'traditional paradigm' is losing it's power over people. Here traditional paradigm refers to a Christianity where God is a being out there with a will and who has all the power in the world and who sent Jesus into the world to die for our sins--literally. Christianity is the only true religion, and if we don't get ourselves to believe in doctrines about God and Jesus (and perhaps eschatology) then we're in big trouble when Jesus returns to earth. While the TP is still nourishing for many in the church, others find it harder and harder to accept they just can't believe that the Bible is a biography of God, of Jesus, and of the end times. There are several reasons, the biggest one being that contemporary Biblical criticism gives us a different picture of the origin of the Bible instead of the Bible being God's words about humans, its the words of humans about God. This doesn't mean that the Bible is false and doesn't contain anything divine it just means that humans had a lot of say about what's in the Bible. Borg endorses the 'emerging paradigm'. Here there's no emphasis on giving intellectual assent to a body of doctrines or creeds in order to be saved, that is, go to heaven. For Borg, this isn't the heart of Christianity. Rather, Christian faith deals primarily with *this* life, and it's a life that emphasizes a *relationship* with God, the key elements being trust in God to provide for all our needs, as well as loving what God loves--in other words, compassion and justice. Thus, as we live a life in God, and take seriously what God takes seriously, which we see in the person of Jesus, we are transformed in this life, saved in this life, so that we bring about the Kindom of God on earth. That's what really matters, not believing in a set of propositions so that we can get to heaven. As I read Prof. Borg's book, I found myself believing in God again. It wasn't the God of the 'traditional paradigm', a supernatural being out there who has all the power and knowledge and intervenes and sometimes doesn't intervene who demands that we accept doctrines and creeds that the mind can't accept--this is just another 'requirement' or 'work'. Also, this God is not the best explanation for the world shown to us by physics and biology, world religions, biblical criticism, and theodicy. I found many of Borg's ideas compatible with process theology (Borg doesn't develop an in depth conception of God, although he says that God is not less than personal. As someone who's in exile from the church--mostly because the traditional paradigm died for me in undergraduate school and failed to re-convince me in divinity school--I found myself, after reading Borg's book, unwilling give up on God. I had a desire to pray, to go to church, and to keep on wrestling with divine matters. If there is a God, I felt close to God as I read Prof. Borg's book God seemed real again, and when I walked the streets of downtown Lincoln, the world looked different: I had a love for people and I knew what the compassion I felt was the way Jesus felt when he encountered people--and it wasn't belief in doctrines that brought about this transformation. There is another way of being Christian, a way centered in a radical trust in God, the one in whom we live and move and have our being. And it's about taking seriously what God takes seriously--that is, a life of compassion and justice. And when we live in the spirit, both in our private devotions and in the life of the church, God becomes real to us and empowers us to strive for the Kindom of God, where the way of God rules our world and not the Caesars or powers-that-be. Thank you, Marcus. Amen and amen.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In THE HEART OF CHRISTIANITY Marcus Borg describes the challenges facing many people who are trying to remain Christians today. It is no longer possible for great numbers of the followers to believe that the Bible or the Creeds are literally or factually true. It is still possible, however, to find much that is true if one views them metaphorically.Borg explains why he chooses to be a Christian and he makes several practical suggestions on such topics as worship and meditation based on a metaphorical, historical and sacramental approach to Christianity. For me Borg is one of the most inspiring writers associated with the Jesus Seminar. This is especially true because of his ability to take the reader beyond the spiritually dry places one may encounter after deciding that Christianity no longer makes sense.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Marcus Borg speaks to the many Christians who can't accept a literal understanding of the Bible. He explains how to understand it in metaphorical terms, as written by people writing in specific cultures. He answered many questions I had been struggling with.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In his book "The Heart of Christianity," biblical scholar Marcus Borg attempts to bring out the real meaning of Jesus and the Christian life. For Borg, being a Christian isn't about believing things *about* Jesus; it's about following the *way* of Jesus. What is this way? It's the way of love and forgiveness. For Borg, God doesn't so much care about what beliefs we have in our heads as God does about how we live our lives. This book will be a breath of fresh air for those looking to reenter the Christian fold but who find the traditional creeds of the church too unbelievable.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a MUST READ for anyone who wants to understand true faith about Jesus. 2000 years of harmful Christian (human) dogma still pervades the Christian culture, and Borg's book is one of the best works available to set the path straight - to get to the 'heart' of what Jesus intended in the first place. This will be a book you will buy many copies of to give to others. I would give it 6 Stars, if that were possible!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Borg removes the shackles that Fundamental Christianity has clasped on us and leads us to a new life and meaning in believing in Jesus Christ. He presents a very compelling argument that the Bible was not meant to be frozen in time but instead is the foundation for discovering God anew. He also affirms the validity of the enduring major world religions.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Each of us brings a point-of-view to interpretation. Borg writes in an engaging and helpful way about Christian experience. This is an excellent book for group study and personal exploration.
rps2053 on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I keep going back and going back to this book and I'm using a great deal of what Marcus Borg says in relation to how be can do something in a sacramental way.
jpsnow on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Marcus Borg articulates so well what I suspect is felt by most participative Christians who don't identify themselves with the fundamentalist religious right. I see why this book was given to each of the new member participants at St. Andrew. Borg thoughtfully conveys the "emerging" paradigm for Christianity (and supports that definition by comparing it, diplomatically, against the "earlier" paradigm). A lot of his concepts resonated with me.
TheMadTurtle on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I enjoyed Borg's thoughts on religious pluralism and his discussion about metaphorical truths in Biblical stories. I got a little tired of Borg constantly pushing the ideas of emerging Christian thought. It was interesting to compare and contrast emerging Christian and traditional Christian beliefs, to be sure, but Borg tended to repeat himself on the subject and that got a little old. While I can appreciate the fact that some can get hung up on taking certain Biblical texts literally, he belabored his point. The question I had after reading the book was 'whether you take some of these stories literally or not, does it really matter'? This book fell short of answering that question.
lgaikwad on LibraryThing 8 months ago
In April 2007, I attended a weekend lecture series by Marcus Borg, PhD - Christian author, historical Jesus scholar, and professor - called "Intentional Christianity: Sharing God's Dream.¿ On Friday night he spoke on ¿A Tale of Two Christianities,¿ which included information from his book "The Heart of Christianity." He provided notes as handouts and encouraged us to spread them about freely, so I will include them here as an introduction to his book.The two Christianities referenced in the title are what he calls the earlier Christian paradigm, or belief-centered Christianity, and the emerging Christian paradigm, or transformation-centered Christianity. The earlier paradigm has been prevalent in the past 300-400 years and is most embodied today in the conservative and evangelical faith. The emerging paradigm has been in existence at least 200 years, taught in mainline seminaries for the last 100 years, and the grassroots movement is much more recent. Borg doesn¿t say one paradigm is right and one is wrong but offers a comparison of the two as follows:Earlier Paradigm ¿ Being Christian is about believing; faith as believing.Emerging Paradigm ¿ Being Christian is about a way, a path; faith as centering in God.Earlier Paradigm ¿ Afterlife centeredEmerging Paradigm ¿ "This life" centeredEarlier Paradigm ¿ Requirements and rewardsEmerging Paradigm ¿ Relationship and transformationEarlier Paradigm ¿ Christianity is the only wayEmerging Paradigm ¿ Affirms religious pluralismEarlier Paradigm ¿ Literalist or semi-literalist understanding of biblical and Christian languageEmerging Paradigm ¿ Beyond literalism: much of Christian/biblical language understood metaphoricallyEarlier Paradigm ¿ In conflict with Enlightenment, for example, creation vs. evolutionEmerging Paradigm ¿ Integration of Enlightenment, no conflict, and some mutualityEarlier Paradigm ¿ Tends to be apolitical or politically conservativeEmerging Paradigm ¿ Tends to be apolitical or moderate/progressive/radicalEarlier Paradigm ¿ Centered in one¿s own well-being, in this world or the nextEmerging Paradigm ¿ Centered in GodFollowers of the two paradigms differ sharply in ways of seeing the origin, authority, and interpretation of the Bible.Earlier Paradigm ¿ Origin: a divine product. Comes from God as no other text does.Emerging Paradigm ¿ Origin: A human product. The product of two ancient communities.Earlier Paradigm ¿ Authority: grounded in originEmerging Paradigm ¿ Authority: grounded in canonizationEarlier Paradigm ¿ Interpretation: literal, factual, absolute (selectively)Emerging Paradigm ¿ Interpretation: historical (text in ancient context) and metaphorical (the more-than-literal meaning)Regarding the emerging paradigm interpretation of the Bible, Borg quoted someone as saying, ¿The Bible is true, and some of it even happened.¿ Borg says that literal interpretation of the Bible may be the greatest factor in people leaving the church. Concluding comments:1. The Spirit of God can and does work through the earlier paradigm, and has for millions of people. But there¿s a lot of static in it. For millions, it has become an obstacle, a stumbling block.2. The emerging paradigm is not primarily an accommodation to modern thought, not a reduction or abandonment of the Christian tradition. Rather, it is ¿neo-traditional.¿ Neo: it is new ¿ we haven¿t seen exactly this form of Christianity before. It is traditional: it is a recovery, a retrieval, of what was most central to Christianity¿God, Jesus, the Bible, ¿the way¿¿before the distortions created by the collision with modernity.We¿ve looked at the differences between the earlier and emerging paradigms. So what do they have in common? Borg outlined three areas of shared thinking.1. At the heart of Christianity is God/The SacredGod: Christianity without a robust affirmation of God makes no important sense. Christianity shares this in common with the world's enduring religions.2. At the heart of Chrisitianity are the Bible and
JRexV on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Excellent book. Borg offers an emerging view of Christian faith and Christian life for today. In getting to the heart of matters, Borg says, "Salvation is about peace and justice within community and beyond community."
grdndog on LibraryThing 8 months ago
Interesting way to communicate theology through story-telling. A good read.
thelorelei on LibraryThing 8 months ago
I wish I could give this book to all of my friends and tell them "Read this, and you will understand the way I see Christianity." Borg so eloquently describes a way of relating to God that does not ask for the abandonment of logic and religious pluralism. I know that it will take me many more readings of this book to be able to take it all in, but Borg comes the closest I've seen to describing the hugeness of a personal relationship to God. When seen outside of a literal-factual interpretation, the scope of Christianity becomes accordingly enormous, and Borg breaks it down with relentless clarity and precision (and examples, even).Most of all, reading this made me realize that I do "fit," and that belief is not mutually exclusive with partaking in a modern, rational, scientifically expanding, pluralistic world.
tim.taylor on LibraryThing 11 months ago
This is the best of the books we have read and discussed in our small group. What Borg says makes sense. It's thought-provoking and well written.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This well considered read requires reflection on where the reader fits within, or outside, the paradigms outlining the status of Christian belief and faith. The author has helped me cut through a lot of sifting about what I do or don't think and feel about Christianity helping me identify my own sense of faith. It is well written. While an easy read it is worth pursuing with patience.
Indigeek More than 1 year ago
I learned so much from this book! I wrote down 31 pages of notes from it in my spiritual journal, so that shows you how much good information can be found in this book. I was raised Baptist in the Southern U.S., but over the last few years I've really struggled with doubts about Christianity and almost decided to walk away. There have been several books that have stopped me from giving up on Christianity, and The Heart of Christianity is the best of them. A lot of my doubts have been resolved as a result of embracing the emerging paradigm Marcus J Borg presents. I don't know if I agree with everything Borg says, but I can't think of anyone else with whom I wholly agree either. As I read this book, I kept thinking, "This makes so much sense!" and I found myself with a more open heart, more centered in God, and overflowing with love for others. I highly recommend this to anyone who struggles to live the christian life in a culture that has twisted and corrupted the gospel message.
KRuffcorn More than 1 year ago
I truly enjoyed this book. It challenged much of what I had been taught as a child and what I believed for decades. The challenges were thought provoking and faith stimulating. What I really appreciated was that not only was Marcus Borg a New Testament theologian,and wrote from his academic background, but Borg also wrote as a man of faith. He writes as a person who wants to help the faith of others, rather than destroy their faith or simply call into question long held beliefs. I heartily recommend this book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Helped me to better understand what had heretofore been so hard to grasp.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was the book that we read and discussed as a class when i joined the Episcopal Church. I had already read some of Borg's books and knew him to be a fine writer and scholar. Unless one is literalist or fundamentalist; this book will be an informative joy to read.
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Borg takes a look here at what he calls the "emerging view of Christianity." Particularly with "the Heart" of Christianity and its three basic areas. The Bible is the heart of the tradition; God as the heart of reality; and Jesus as the heart of God. A good informative read.