The Heart of Christianity

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2/2/2010
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications

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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.

“Highly readable a valuable glimpse into the essence of Christianity Borg writes with clarity and precision.”-Publishers Weekly

“A winsome, accessible, pastoral offering Borg provides a way for an important, positive, and serious rethinking of the gospel.”-Walter Brueggemann, Christian Century

“Marcus Borg brings expert knowledge, insight, and warmth to this revisiting of Christianity’s heart and soul. He makes absolute sense.”-Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul and The Soul's Religion

Author Biography

Marcus J. Borg is Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University

Table of Contents

Preface: What Does It Mean to Be Christian Today?
The Heart of Christianity in a Time of Changep. 1
Faith: The Way of the Heartp. 25
The Bible: The Heart of the Traditionp. 43
God: The Heart of Realityp. 61
Jesus: The Heart of Godp. 80
Born Again: A New Heartp. 103
The Kingdom of God: The Heart of Justicep. 126
Thin Places: Opening the Heartp. 149
Sin and Salvation: Transforming the Heartp. 164
The Heart of the Matter: Practicep. 187
Heart and Home: Being Christian in an Age of Pluralismp. 207
Indexp. 227
Table of Contents provided by Blackwell. All Rights Reserved.


The Heart of Christianity
Rediscovering a Life of Faith

Chapter One

The Heart of Christianity
in a Time of Change

What is the "heart" of Christianity? What is most central to Christianity and to being Christian?

The question arises in each new period of Christian history. It isespecially important in our time. A new way of seeing Christianityand what it means to be Christian is emerging in the church in NorthAmerica. Because this vision of Christianity is quite different fromthe dominant way of seeing Christianity over the past few hundredyears, our time is also a time of con flict. In our context of change andcon flict, what is Christianity's "heart"?

Like all good metaphors, heart has more than one nuance of meaning. To begin with, it suggests what is most central. What is the coreof Christianity, the "heart of the matter"? What is the essence ofChristianity and the Christian life?

If "core" and "essence" suggest something too abstract,too lifeless, heart is also an organic metaphor, suggesting something alive, pulsating, the source of life. What is the heart, the animating source or driving force, of Christianity without which it would cease to live?

Furthermore, as in the phrase "head and heart," heart suggestssomething deeper than the intellect and the world of ideas. What is itabout Christianity that is deeper than any particular set of Christianideas and beliefs? And what is it about Christianity that reaches us at our "heart" level -- at a level of ourselves deeper than the intellect?The heart, this deeper level of the self, is the "place" of transformation. What is it about Christianity that gives it power to transformpeople at the "heart" level?

A Time of Change and Conflict

Christians in North America today are deeply divided about the heartof Christianity. We live in a time of major conflict in the church. Millions of Christians are embracing an emerging way of seeingChristianity's heart. Millions of other Christians continue to embracean earlier vision of Christianity, often insistently defending it as "traditional" Christianity and as the only legitimate way of being Christian.

I have struggled with what to call these two ways of beingChristian and have settled on the "earlier" and "emerging" ways ofbeing Christian. What I mean by these terms will become clear in thischapter.

The familiar labels of "conservative" and "liberal" do not work verywell, because both are imprecise. "Conservative" covers a spectrumranging from Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to C.S. Lewis to (perhaps) Karl Barth. The latter two would find the first two to be strangebedfellows. "Liberal" can be applied to a range of Christians fromthose with a strong sense of the reality of God and a deep commitment to the Christian tradition to advocates of a nontheistic Christianity for whom "tradition" is a negative term. Thus "conservative"and "liberal" don't tell us very much.

Moreover, there is much about the emerging way of beingChristian that is conservative and traditional:it conserves the tradition by recovering it and envisioning it afresh. And there is muchabout the earlier way of being Christian that is innovative: its mostdistinctive features are largely the product of the last few hundredyears. Indeed, both are modern products, as we shall see later in thischapter. Neither can claim to be the Christian tradition. Both are waysof seeing the tradition.

The differences between the earlier and emerging ways of seeingChristianity and being Christian involve specific conflicts as well asmore foundational issues. These include how to see the Bible, God, Jesus, faith, and the Christian life.

To begin with, examples of specific issues that divide the contemporary church:

  • Ordination of women: The earlier way of being Christiandid not ordain women, and in many circles still does not. Theemerging way does. Within mainline Protestant churches, the number of women clergy (including bishops) is rapidlyincreasing. Indeed, in many mainline seminaries, half ormore of the students are women.
  • Gays and lesbians:The earlier form of Christianity continues to regard homosexual behavior as sinful. Within it, the only options for homosexual Christians are celibacy orconversion to heterosexuality. For the emerging form ofChristianity, the question of whether sexually active gaysand lesbians can be Christians is mostly settled. The debatenow is whether gays and lesbians in committed relationshipscan be married (or the equivalent) and whether they can beordained as clergy, a debate virtually unimaginable a fewdecades ago.
  • Christian exclusivism: Is there only one true religion, onepath to salvation? Or are there several true religions, severalpaths to salvation? The earlier way of being Christian was(and is) confident that Christianity is the "only way." Nowthat is beginning to change. In a poll taken in 2002 in theUnited States, only 17 percent of the respondents af firmedthe statement, "My religion is the only true religion." Mostof these are in churches that af firm the earlier way of beingChristian. But 78 percent did not, and this is typical of theemerging form of Christianity.

Beneath these specific differences is conflict about more foundational matters, including especially how to see the Bible and itsauthority. For the earlier way of being Christian, the Bible is seenas the revealed will of God, as "God's truth," and thus as absoluteand unchangeable. The changes listed above challenge passages inthe Bible that (1)teach the subordination of women and forbidthem to have authority over men, (2)declare homosexual behaviorto be sinful, and (3)proclaim Jesus as the only way to salvation. Toregard these passages as not expressing God's will for all timeimplies a very different understanding of the Bible's authority andinterpretation.

Here too there is statistical evidence of significant change ...

The Heart of Christianity
Rediscovering a Life of Faith
. Copyright © by Marcus J. Borg. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith by Marcus J. Borg
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Worth Reading July 3, 2011
This is one of the finest overviews of an emerging Christian theology. It allows continued participation in the Christian tradition for those who no longer find meaning in traditional interpretations of the Christian story. This textbook not only deconstructs the old paradigm but reconstructs a more healthy way of living Christian life today without losing faith, hope and love of God. I advocate this textbook for anyone seeking to learn about Christianity.
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The Heart of Christianity: 5 out of 5 stars based on 1 user reviews.

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