The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith

by Marcus J. Borg

Paperback, 2015




World-renowned Jesus scholar Marcus J. Borg shows how we can live passionately as Christians in today's world by practicing the vital elements of Christian faith. For the millions of people who have turned away from many traditional beliefs about God, Jesus, and the Bible, but still long for a relevant, nourishing faith, Borg shows why the Christian life can remain a transforming relationship with God. Emphasizing the critical role of daily practice in living the Christian life, he explores how prayer, worship, Sabbath, pilgrimage, and more can be experienced as authentically life-giving practices. Borg reclaims terms and ideas once thought to be the sole province of evangelicals and fundamentalists: he shows that terms such as "born again" have real meaning for all Christians; that the "Kingdom of God" is not a bulwark against secularism but is a means of transforming society into a world that values justice and love; and that the Christian life is essentially about opening one's heart to God and to others.… (more)


HarperOne (2004), Edition: Reprint, 234 pages


(137 ratings; 4)

User reviews

LibraryThing member lgaikwad
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
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"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 centered
Emerging Paradigm – "This life" centered

Earlier Paradigm – Requirements and rewards
Emerging Paradigm – Relationship and transformation

Earlier Paradigm – Christianity is the only way
Emerging Paradigm – Affirms religious pluralism

Earlier Paradigm – Literalist or semi-literalist understanding of biblical and Christian language
Emerging Paradigm – Beyond literalism: much of Christian/biblical language understood metaphorically

Earlier Paradigm – In conflict with Enlightenment, for example, creation vs. evolution
Emerging Paradigm – Integration of Enlightenment, no conflict, and some mutuality

Earlier Paradigm – Tends to be apolitical or politically conservative
Emerging Paradigm – Tends to be apolitical or moderate/progressive/radical

Earlier Paradigm – Centered in one’s own well-being, in this world or the next
Emerging Paradigm – Centered in God

Followers 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 origin
Emerging Paradigm – Authority: grounded in canonization

Earlier 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 Jesus. They are the two primary sources of revelation for Christians. This is what distinguished Christianity from the world's other religions.
The Bible is the Word of God expressed in human words.
Jesus is the Word of God embodied in a human person.
For Christians, Jesus is the decisive revelation of God, of what can be seen of God in a human life. When Jesus and the Bible conflict, Jesus is decisive.

3. At the heart of Christianity is following Jesus: The Way. Christiantiy is a way, a path of transformation. The Christian life is about a relationship with God as known decisively in Jesus that transforms us “into the likeness of Christ.”
The way, the transformation, is both personal ("born again" through "dying and rising with Christ") and political ("the kingdom of God" and "Jesus is Lord").
The way is lived within Christian community and tradition.

So if we’re in conversation with someone who subscribes to the opposite paradigm from our own, Borg suggests one way to make an overture to a productive dialog is to ask, “Would you agree with me that at the center of the Christian life is a relationship with God as known in Jesus?” And if the answer is yes, “This might provide a starting point for talking about our differences, if you wish.”
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LibraryThing member revslick
Let me give a shout out to Clint Gill for recommending this book. I actually gave up on Borg several years back because of his dualistic fundamentalism within the Historical Jesus Movement. This is not nearly as dualistic nor dogmatic and shows both a rich scriptural response within scripture on
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atonement theology and approaches to Christ before moving on to the heart of the matter in Christianity, which is a collective transformation with the encounter of Jesus. I've actually simplified his responses far too much but I recommend this book for those that have been exposed to only one theology of atonement as well as those that have been disillusioned with the church's overemphasis on belief without the next step of transformation.
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LibraryThing member thelorelei
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member tim.taylor
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.
LibraryThing member jpsnow
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
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Christianity (and supports that definition by comparing it, diplomatically, against the "earlier" paradigm). A lot of his concepts resonated with me.
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LibraryThing member rps2053
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.
LibraryThing member TheMadTurtle
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member grdndog
Interesting way to communicate theology through story-telling. A good read.
LibraryThing member JRexV
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."
LibraryThing member MarkPlunkett
Interesting way to communicate theology through story-telling. A good read.
LibraryThing member Elizabeth80
Marcus Borg finally 'caught' me in the last chapter. Using Diana Eck's work on American pluralism, he draws his thoughts together and also shares his own reasons for being Christian. At the same time, he acknowledges that had he been born in a Muslim, Jewish or other religious culture he could also
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remain within it. I am glad I finally read this book.
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