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borg and christian diversity

26 June 2004

I find it interesting that a total amateur from Lorain, Ohio, can reach the same conclusions as a college professor and world-famous author.

Just yesterday I pulled "The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith" from The Plain Dealer's discount book cart. I figured it might be worth $2 to see what Marcus Borg had to say, though I hid the book as if it were pornography because I wouldn't want anyone to think I was actually interested in "that sort of thing." I have a reputation to maintain.


Borg starts out trying to define the two forms of Christianity he sees today. The old style belief, which has been in place for the past 300 years or so, he calls, "earlier," and the new form, which he sees coming into prominence, he calls, "emerging." Yes, he's trying to pick benign words that don't further separate the "warring" camps.

He makes the following distinctions between the "earlier" and the "emerging" groups.

The Bible's origin and interpretation: The "earlier" group says it's factual, a divine product with a divine origin; the "emerging" group says it's metaphorical and historical, a human response to God.

The Bible's function: The "earlier" group says it's the revelation of doctrine and morals; the "emerging" group says it's metaphorical and sacramental.

Christian life emphasis: The "earlier" group says its about requirements and rewards, that you must think and do the right thing to attain salvation; the "emerging" group says it's about transforming this life now through right relationship with God. The old group believes there's one way to God; the new group thinks there are a variety of ways.

"The two ways of being Christian are often suspicious of, even hostile toward each other," Borg writes. That's for sure!

I give that as background info for those who may want to read this book. Not sure I would recommend it, but if you can get if for $2, then go for it.


Borg also poses the question: "What is the 'heart' of Christianity? What is most central to Christianity and to being Christian?" And his answer is the first hint that the amateur and the professional are in some respects on the same wavelength. He concludes that, "The question arises in each new period of Christian history," which is to say that it's not determined by anything timeless or absolute but by people under the influence of time and place.


Borg follows this up with a look at Christian diversity. He notes that not all Christians believe the same things. As we know, that is both obviously true and profoundly instructive. Borg writes:

"We can perceive Christian diversity in the various cultural forms that Christianity has taken. To illustrate without seeking to be comprehensive: there is a second-century Syrian way of being Christian, an eighth-century Irish way, a twelfth-century Eastern Orthodox way, a fifteenth-century Chinese way, and a nineteenth-century Scandinavian Lutheran peasant way.

"There is theological diversity as well. Without explaining the differences, there were, from the early days of Christianity, Arian and Athanasian Christians, Monophysite and non-Monophysite Christians, predestination and non-predestination Christians, infant-baptisim and adult-baptisim Christians. Being Christian therefore can't be about getting our beliefs 'right,' even though we have often acted that way.

"The point is, there is no single right way of understanding Christianity and no single right way of being a Christian. ... "

And so the amateur and the professional meet in the realization that supposed momentous, eternal, absolute and essential ways of thinking and acting come back to human views and judgments after all, regardless of truth-claims to the contrary.

Thank "God" for The Plain Dealer discount book cart.

See also —


30 JUNE 2004
This item from the Associated Press

Eastern patriarch, pope vow to seek unity

Wednesday, June 30, 2004
Associated Press

VATICAN CITY — Sitting side by side, Pope John Paul II and the spiritual leader of Orthodox Christians made passionate appeals yesterday for unity between their churches, while acknowledging serious obstacles remain.

With Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople saying the joy of the occasion was clouded by "disappointment" over lack of unity, the pope assured him that Roman Catholics are irrevocably committed to mending the rupture between the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity.

These efforts "cannot be abandoned," said the pope, urging all Christians to intensify them.

"The road is certainly not easy or without obstacles," the 84-year-old John Paul declared, holding up well in the two-hour service despite his frail condition.

Both men insisted their presence on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica was not merely ceremonial but a genuine attempt to mend their split in the 11th century over the growing power of the papacy, with more recent tensions over the expansion of the Catholic Church's reach in the former Soviet Union.

Bartholomew, speaking in Italian like the pope, acknowledged it could still take some time to achieve the goal but said there is a "sincere desire to remove obstacles."

The patriarch, a gold and purple cape over his black robes, sat to the right of John Paul, who wore red vestments, at the flower-filled altar for a Mass on the feast day of St. Peter and St. Paul.

Vatican officials said the two men will sign a joint declaration later in the week. A top cardinal, Walter Kasper, suggested the churches might agree to resume theological talks interrupted three years ago and establish regular contacts.

At a meeting earlier in the day, the pope again expressed remorse over "painful episodes of history" that have darkened their relations.

"In particular, we cannot forget what happened in the month of April 1204," the pope said, referring to the sacking of Constantinople by Crusaders that contributed to the collapse of the Byzantine Empire about three centuries later.

"How can we not share, at a distance of eight centuries, the anger and the pain?" the pope said.


“Great doubt: great awakening. Little doubt: little awakening.
No doubt: no awakening.” — Zen proverb