The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith

February 4, 2010

in What I'm Reading

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In the decade before he wrote The Heart of Christianity, Marcus Borg spoke to “more than two hundred Christian groups throughout North America.” Originally invited as a historical Jesus scholar, he writes that these talks inevitably moved to “larger questions of the Christian life: God, faith, the Bible, biblical authority, atonement, resurrection, the creed, prayer, ethics, Christianity and other religions.”

The fruit of Borg’s thinking on these topics can be found in this volume, where Borg considers what is “most central to Christianity and the Christian life,” while reminding us that our faith is “deeper than any particular set of . . . ideas and beliefs.”

In fact, Borg argues that ideas and beliefs are part of the problem faced by the church today. For millions, he writes, Christianity “makes little or no sense” and has become identified with “believing ‘iffy’ things to be true.”

In response, Borg writes with two purposes. First, he writes with a conviction that Christianity makes sense, presenting “no serious intellectual obstacles.”

Second, he writes with a passion to communicate this to those “who have left the church,” those who “remain within the church but struggle with the beliefs they learned in childhood,” or those who “find little in Christianity that attracts them, but . . . are hungry for a source of meaning and values.”

The first half of the book focuses on the major subjects of the Christian tradition—“Faith,” “The Bible,” “God” and “Jesus.” Those familiar with Borg’s work will not be surprised by what they find here, although he attempts to revisit these topics with new material and “in a fresh way.” The second half focuses on the Christian life, with chapters on “Born Again,” “The Kingdom of God,” “Thin Places,” “Sin and Salvation,” “Christian Practice” and “Being Christian in an Age of Pluralism.”

There is much in these pages worth commending. In the chapter on faith, for example, Borg does a masterful job of affirming the sense of faith as assent to certain truths while enriching and augmenting this sense with three more relational and more dynamic definitions: faith as trust, faith as fidelity, and faith as vision. In my opinion, this chapter alone is worth the price of the book. Similarly, the chapter on the Bible will be helpful for those who struggle with our culture’s tendency to read the Bible in an overly literal way.

Borg’s treatment of sin in the second half of the book—and his suggestion that we might be wise to more regularly lift up other equally valid Biblical images like “bondage and exodus, exile and return” for “naming what is wrong” helps to remind us what the doctrine of Sin—with a capital “S”—actually means. And the chapter on Christian practice reminds us—particularly those of us who stand in a Protestant tradition often nervous about works—that “faith and practice are not opposites.”

Of this book, Frederick Buechner says Borg writes “with a simplicity that never becomes simplistic.” And so he does. In this accessible and thoughtful volume that regularly succeeds at presenting a vision of Christianity that “satisfies both head and heart,” Borg offers much “for lovers of faith and those seeking a faith to love.”

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