Marcus Borg died yesterday and this morning I am feeling more exposed; a little less brave. For 25 years since Jesus: A New Vision came out I have read his works with fascination and admiration for this scholar and prophet who dared go where many of us wanted but dared not.
His progressive and deeply biblical, historical vision has been an inspiration to many of us preachers whose livelihood is forever tied to the approval of people for whom academia can feel a threat. We pastors are smart enough to not go actively looking for conflict. Yet we still must reflect on both tradition and our personal faith. We are asked to extrovert what is profoundly personal, even when our deepest, newest, and hesitantly articulated beliefs might bring condemnation.
How do we interact with God’s word reflecting our own cutting edge of growth while not alienating the very people paying us to shepherd? How do we keep at it week after week without merely parroting 8th grade truisms? Borg allows many of us to preach where we are growing while finally uncrossing our fingers in a church that is in some ways theologically stuck in the 1800s.
He wasn’t as poetic and idiosyncratic as his friend Dom Crossan but he was more faithfully tied to the church, to worship. Marcus always took seriously where people live and where their faith was anchored. Watching and meeting him in person on two occasions and then on numerous adult education video series over the years I came to treasure his great compassion as well as wisdom. He wasn’t as scholastic as his friend N.T. Wright but also seemed less unduly beholden to orthodoxy. Borg was a daring, creative and humble theologian many of us have looked up to as we try to take some chances of our own.
I would be embarrassed to admit how many times I have read a sentence up front from one of his books that I find thrilling, wise, dangerous and with which I agree wholeheartedly. Having the words come from him gives me cover. I say something like “I don’t agree with everything Marcus Borg writes but he brings up intriguing possibilities…” because this is better than saying: “Church! When will we wake up? Don’t you realize how obviously true and totally liberating this is?!” He gives me permission to take a chance on being prophetic when there is so much at stake and I am scared.
Marcus Borg, aged 72, beloved teacher, prophet, and disciple, died yesterday. And now I am going to have to be a little more brave without him. With him.