How Marcus Borg gave me hope

Renowned liberal theologian and Historical Jesus scholar Marcus Borg passed away yesterday at the age f 72. In honor of his life, here is my brief reflection on how his wisdom helped me in my ministry.

I only got to hear renowned theologian Marcus Borg speak once. It was interesting. I was grateful for the chance to reflect on my relationship to the divine through new eyes. But I came across his work after liberation theology had already broken my world apart and connected me to God in ways that would leave me changed forever. I deeply appreciated how he reconnected many of my friends to a relationship with God and the possibility of a relationship with the church, but he wasn’t my guy the way James Cone or Gustavo Gutierrez or Emilie Townes or Kwok Pui Lan were.

Until I heard a story, third hand, about the way he answered a random question at a lecture. And that story allowed me to remain hopefully engaged in the work of congregational transformation for almost a decade. More than any of the countless books I read or courses and workshops I attended, this one story continues to give me hope.

I tell this story almost everywhere I speak on congregational transformation (if I think the audience won’t be hurt by it), because at moments I feel defeated by the church’s struggle to change, I am reminded that of the privilege I have of living in this moment where the church is turning into something phenomenal and powerful, whether I want to be a part of that or not.

I didn’t even hear him say it, and it wasn’t the kind of thing he was famous for saying.

My friend Russ told me that a friend of his went to a Marcus Borg lecture, and someone asked the following question:

“Dr. Borg, what is the future of the church?”

Almost without hesitating, he responded, “Right now, the church is made up of two groups of Christians. There are conventional Christians who go to church because that’s what you do, who were shaped by an era where church was a typical part of the culture. And then there are the intentional Christians, the ones who don’t experience church as the norm but are craving spiritual community and are willing to invest deeply in the relationships and the rituals and the interactions with what is transcendent; they are also driven by the desire to be in deeper relationship with the community around them. In fifty years, all of the conventional Christians will be dead. The church will be much smaller, but it will be much more alive.”

Thank you, Dr. Borg, for giving me the hope necessary to do the work of congregational transformation even when it felt like Jesus himself would have struggled to effect change.

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