Dr. Marcus Borg summarizes some of his core concepts regarding the Bible, the nature of Jesus, new atheism and why he is deeply committed to the Christian journey
Marcus Borg has spent decades teaching and writing about the Bible, Jesus, God and religion. His books, talks and interviews are filled with thoughtful and thought-provoking insights that have introduced new possibilities for Christian faith. In this, our most-recent interview with Dr. Borg, explorefaith asked that he reflect on a few keys areas that we know are important to the explorefaith audience, namely, prayer, biblical inerrancy, concepts as to the nature of Jesus, and what it means to be a Christian today.
What follows are the audio reflections that came out of that interview. Each is only a few minutes long. You can listen to them separately or download them as a single file for listening at your convenience. We have also included (in text only) our questions and a few lines from Dr. Borg's responses. We hope these will pique your interest to listen now and perhaps look more deeply at other resources from Dr. Borg, offered on explorefaith and elsewhere. LISTEN to complete interview.
Dr. Marcus Borg: An introduction LISTEN .
explorefaith: The past few years have seen numerous best-sellers from a group of writers known as the New Atheists. These writers claim that there is no proof that God exists, and that belief is naïve, delusional, and has resulted in great evil. What is your response to these charges?
Dr. Borg: I think the best known of the books on atheism that have made the New York Times Best Seller list are Sam Harris’s The End of Faith, Christopher Hitchens's God is Not Great and Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion. What these books share in common is that they attack the most common understanding of the word God, at least in Western culture, namely, that the word God refers to a person-like being, a super-powerful authority figure, separate from the universe, who created the universe a long time ago and from time to time intervenes. In short hand, I call that way of thinking about God—the God of supernatural theism.
I think they are right about that God. I don’t believe in that understanding of God, either. However their books basically ignore another understanding of what the word God means that goes way back into antiquity. LISTEN to complete response.
explorefaith: What does Jesus teach us about prayer?
We know from the gospels that Jesus practiced a form of contemplative prayer. We are not told exactly what kind, but we know that there was contemplative prayer in the Jewish tradition. ...The reason we know Jesus practiced contemplative prayer is that the gospels refer several times to him going to a solitary place and praying all night long or praying for a few hours at a time, and unless we imagine that his prayer list had become enormously long, it's impossible to imagine that he was doing verbal prayer all that time.
Beyond that, of course, Jesus, when asked, taught his disciples to pray ... and it’s the most famous prayer in the world—we call it the Lord's Prayer. … I see the Lord’s Prayer as more or less a summary of what we might prayer. The contents of the Lord’s Prayer are very interesting. ... It's a very this-worldly prayer. LISTEN to complete response.
explorefaith: Many people view the Bible as the inerrant, literal word of God, but for many others this view of scripture is very problematic. You have written that seeing the gospels as human products involves no denial of the reality of God or the presence of the spirit in the process. Can you talk about this further?
Dr. Borg: I think the single-most divisive issue in American Christianity today concerns the nature of the Bible. Many Christians, perhaps even a majority … more than half—are parts of Christian communities that affirm that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, the infallible word of God and therefore factually and literally true in everything that it says. ... A good number of Christians belong to churches that teach Biblical inerrancy or biblical infallibility, and they think that means you have got to deny science whenever it conflicts with something in the Bible. Now, it’s important to realize that the notion of biblical inerrancy (that it’s free from errors) is not the ancient teaching of the church. … A good number of Christians as well as non-Christians think that believing in Biblical inerrancy is orthodox Christianity. … It is not at all. It’s a modern development. ... To insist on a literal interpretation … creates … unnecessary problems… an unnecessary intellectual stumbling block. LISTEN to complete response.
explorefaith: Can you talk about the distinction between the pre-Easter and post-Easter Jesus, and why it’s important to see those differently?
Dr. Borg: It’s very helpful to realize that the word Jesus refers to two quite different even though related realities, and to distinguish between these two meanings of the word Jesus, I refer to the pre-Easter and the post-Easter Jesus. The pre-Easter Jesus is, of course, Jesus before his death—a flesh and blood historical figure. …
The phrase the post-Easter Jesus refers to what Jesus became after his death. And this Jesus is a spiritual reality … I mean that he has all the qualities of God. He is One with God, in the language of the New Testament; he can be experienced anywhere, and in more than one place at the same time. LISTEN to complete response.
explorefaith: One of your many books is titled the Heart of Christianity. The concept of Christianity and being a Christian has different meanings for different people. Can you explain to us what you consider to be the essence or heart of Christianity, and what it means to be a Christian?
Dr. Borg: I have a number of shorthand ways of speaking about what it means to be a Christian for me, and I think more generally too. One of them simply goes like this: To be a Christian is to enter more and more deeply into a relationship with God as known in Jesus. The first part of that—to enter more and more deeply into a relationship with God—would apply to basically the major enduring religions of the world. What makes that a Christian statement is the last part—as known decisively in Jesus. …
For me personally, and this is not about the superiority of Christianity at all, this is just why I am so deeply committed to the Christian journey, I think the Christian message, the Christian gospel, speaks to the two deepest yearnings of most human beings. LISTEN to complete response.