Marcus Borg

23 01 2015

It was the mid 1990s and I was serving as Pastor and Head of Staff at First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant in Erie, PA. As the largest and one of the most conservative churches in the Presbytery of Lake Erie, First Covenant was steeped in the reformed tradition, with strong Evangelical, and some might even say Fundamentalist, leanings. In so many ways, it was a wonderful church for me and my young, growing family. The people there loved me, my wife, and our children. They extended vast amounts of grace to this 31-year old, wet-behind the ears preacher, and taught me volumes about Church Administration and Finances, and the importance of history and tradition; and without even knowing it, clarified and helped me to hone my sense of call to ministry and service to God in the Church of Jesus Christ. (I also learned alot about ‘lake effect’ snow but that’s another matter altogether!)

My time in Erie was a critically formative time in my life, and I remember countless drives home from my office with the sense that God was preparing me for something that I had yet to discover. Little did I know that it would come from a segment of the Church that I had often maligned and pretty much ‘cut out’ of the Kingdom.

First Covenant had a wonderful Sunday School program for adults . . . that people actually attended, with curriculum that was carefully scrutinized by session, and that accurately reflected the theology of the congregation. But one of the classes was continually pushing the boundaries of the church, and always challenging the narrow and restrictive teaching that was coming from the Adult Education Ministry. So when they announced that they were going to read and study a book titled “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time,” by Marcus Borg, I was instructed by the ‘powers-that-be’ that I need to spend some time sitting in on the class and making sure that they were not leading people astray.

So I did, and . . . well . . . let’s just say I mark those days as the beginning of my being born again, again!

I still have the book, and there are question marks everywhere! On page 9, when Marcus states that the books of the Bible are not “Divine Documents,” there is a note in the margin calling into question his statement. “Who says?” I wrote, in anger no doubt, as a way of challenging what was clearly his opinion. Every page seemed to betray my long-held beliefs, but I could not put the book down. It was as though the Spirit was calling me on, taking me deeper and further, inviting me to let God out of the box that kept divinity bound to another time and place, and kept holiness from breathing new life into the dead bones of today’s church.

By the end of the book, Jesus remained for me . . . in the words of the church, the fullest and most complete expression of God in human form. I didn’t abandon the faith that had raised me, nor did I hastily adopt a new paradigm for understanding the Gospel. However a brick in the wall of my worldview — the one that everyone had told me needed to remain firm and fixed or the wall would come tumbling down — that brick moved. The mortar cracked, and things shifted just enough to allow a new ray of light to touch my heart and mind.

Marcus Borg did what he had set out to do. He introduced me to a Jesus I had never met before; and if I already had, I was missing out on who he really was and what he was seeking to do in the world. Was he really some kind of divine son on a rescue mission for a God demanding a blood sacrifice for human sin, or a miracle worker out to prove his identity by breaking the laws of the universe that the Spirit within him had set up in the first place? Perhaps. Or perhaps he was more than that. Yes . . . MORE, than that.

Over the past 15 plus years, I have discovered Jesus to be, in Marcus’ words, “a subversive sage and a social prophet.” I have discovered spirituality to be more than believing in things that don’t make any intellectual sense, but rather about “becoming conscious of and intentional about a deepening relationship with God, a God with whom we are all, already in relationship!” And I have discovered faith to be about so much more than going to church every Sunday, so I can learn how to stop sinning, in order to go to heaven when I die! Rather, Marcus Borg has helped me to see that Jesus is the norm by which the Bible is discerned and evaluated, and that while Scripture tells us how ancient Israel saw God, it does not necessarily tell us how God actually is. He has helped me to see that believing in Jesus can never come at the expense of following Jesus; and that while Jesus is the norm for our living, Christianity has no monopoly on the Spirit.

At last year’s January Adventure, a conference that Marcus Borg keynoted on more than one occasion, he titled his presentation, “What I Wish Every American Christian Knew.” His countless books, articles, DVDs, sermons, and lectures, have been doing that for years, and my life and faith are different because of his ministry and presence. My view of Jesus has morphed in ways that have drawn me closer to God than I ever hoped, dreamed, or dared to imagine.

Rest in peace dear brother, and thank you for introducing me to Jesus, again, but in so many ways, for the first time!

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