What is at the heart of being Christian?

Marcus J Borg
Marcus J Borg

During my six days’ stay in hospital last month I listened to two audio books (using Audible from Amazon on my Android smartphone) as my eyesight was too poor to be able to read anything.

The first book I listened to was Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power—And How They Can Be Restored (HarperOne, 2012) by the American Episcopalian theologian Marcus J Borg.

In the book Borg examines a number of words that have been historically important to Christianity (such as salvation, mercy, righteousness, sin, forgiveness and repentance) and explores what they meant at the time the New Testament was written, compared with how they have been interpreted using modern frameworks of understanding, and the tools of post-Enlightenment thought.

I found the book really encouraging and in places challenging, although I would have much preferred to read the book rather than listen to it, not least because the (American) narrator mispronounces a number of theological terms.

In much of the book Borg attempts to get back to the heart of Christianity: what is Christianity all about? I found this article by Borg published last November on the Patheos website an interesting companion: What is a Christian?

In the article, as in his book, Borg argues that Christianity is categorically not about believing the right things. He argues that the focus is not on believing God but beloving God: committing yourself to “a relationship of attentiveness and faithfulness”.

The two ancient creeds of the Christian church (the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed) he says we should begin with an understand of “I give my heart to…” rather than simply “I believe…”

Believing in itself does not lead to a changed life. But beloving God, giving our heart in commitment and fidelity to God does.

At the centre of being a Christian is:

  • A passion for Jesus, the decisive revelation of God.
  • Compassion (love).
  • A passion for the transformation of this world; participating in God’s passion for a world of justice and peace.

I love the simplicity of Borg’s writing and thoughts. I love the simplicity of this core of Christianity. It pushes away all that is unimportant and returns it to Jesus’s response to the question “which is the greatest commandment in the Law”: Love the Lord your God will all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind […] And […] love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22: 38 ff.)

One thought on “What is at the heart of being Christian?”

  1. The first time I came across Marcus Borg was at the 1998(?) SEC Provincial Conference held in St Andrews. I was blown away by his lecturing style and, subsequently, his writing which makes quite difficult theology plain and easy to understand. His ‘Meeting Jesus again for the first time’ is a book I return to again and again.

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