Perhaps nothing illustrates the way my thinking has changed over the past decade better than the evolution in my appreciation for Marcus Borg.
Like many students of conservative, evangelical theology—the tradition in which I grew up—I first learned of Marcus Borg in his role as one of the most prominent figures involved in something called The Jesus Seminar back in the 1980s and ’90s. That endeavor comprised 150 academics and laypersons who met occasionally to debate the authenticity of the sayings and deeds attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. The group’s methodology for registering their individual opinions—i.e. depositing colored marbles in a box, each different color representing greater or lesser likelihood of authenticity—provided ample material for jokes and put-downs in the conservative circles where I moved at the time. Continue reading →
I am not a medical professional, but I assume that, if an individual shows up at the emergency room in excruciating pain from some sort of injury, the first order of business is to ease the pain so that the injured party can assist the attending physician in determining the cause and extent of the injury, thereby abetting treatment and eventual healing. The same procedure applies to pain inflicted through psychological and spiritual injury as well. Continue reading →
Father Harold Stanhope removed the stole from around his neck—green, since September is Ordinary Time in the liturgical year—and laid it back on the shelf. Then he unfastened the rope cinch around his waist, took off his alb, and hung it on the rack next to the stole. After pouring himself a glass of cranberry juice over ice, he kicked off his shoes and settled into his favorite chair. It had been a good morning.
He had spent most of the past two hours standing—while preaching, celebrating Holy Communion, and greeting the people as they left the chapel following the service—and at age eighty-one, that was not as easy to do as it once was. Father Harry, as everybody called him, was tired, but he was also very happy. His ministry filled him with satisfaction and a deep sense of gratitude for the privilege of serving God in this place. Continue reading →
A friend once described my perception of Christian discipleship as eclectic, and he wasn’t paying me a compliment. He believed that I had drunk from too many different wells, had dabbled in too many different traditions, and the result was a sort of “Rube Goldberg” contraption that made Christian life far more complicated than it needed to be.
In response, I suggested that his perception of Christian faith, arising as it did from the tradition into which he had been born, was far simpler than it ought to be. By that I meant that his restricted exposure to traditions outside his own and his limited experience with approaches to Christian faith and practice other than in the community of his birth left him with a myopic perspective. His view of Christianity, I believe, is not merely more simple than mine, it is simplistic. Continue reading →
With this post I conclude the series of email exchanges into which you and I entered more than a month ago on Ash Wednesday. This is the last day of Lent, the Holy Saturday of Passion Week as it is known in the liturgical tradition. Lent has been a good experience for me this year, owing in large part to the disciplined reflection your thoughtful questions have fostered. I hope you have found the experience equally beneficial.
It seems only right to conclude the series on the same theme with which it began: the need for change in the life of a growing, thinking Christian. Continue reading →
Again I thank you for sharing, in a deeply personal way, some aspects of your life and ministry that I had not seriously considered before. Here’s what I took away from your last two letters. (Read them here and here.)
The course of your pilgrimage and the scope of the changes in the way you understand truth, faith, and Christian discipleship have taken an emotional and psychological toll. And while you readily acknowledge that you are less certain about a lot of things than you used to be, you are clearly okay with that.Continue reading →
Thank you so much for your last two letters in which you shared a thoughtful and heartfelt response to my question about how you would define the gospel. The more I have thought about what you wrote, the more I appreciate not only what you shared but also the courage it takes to change your mind about such important matters at this point in your career.
Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that you are old or that your ministry is over. I only mean that it is unusual to observe such dramatic change in perception in anybody, much less someone who has spent a lifetime in pursuit of a very different vision.Continue reading →
I’m sure that my last letter raised more questions than it answered with regard to the way I define the term “gospel” these days. For that reason, I wanted to get this follow-up letter off to you with dispatch.
I don’t mean to suggest that everybody gets to define the word for himself or herself. What I do mean is that it’s possible we have not fully understood the meaning of the word in its original context in the New Testament, specifically in those first four books that we call “the Gospels.” Continue reading →
You have referred several times to evangelical Christianity in this exchange of emails. You’ve made it clear that, although evangelicalism was the context for your early Christian formation, you no longer share some of the movement’s foundational presuppositions. In your last letter, however, you said something I had not heard before, and it raised a question I’d like to pursue.
You wrote, “Despite my belief that evangelicalism has lost its way and is flailing around in a confused state of self-misperception, I pray for the movement’s recovery of the gospel of the kingdom.” Could you say a bit more about that?Continue reading →
In your most recent letter, you somewhat sidestepped the question of whether you consider yourself a liberal (just kidding, I know exactly what you meant) :-), but it still raised some additional questions. I pose them now as follow-up, if I may.
First, I know how much it hurt you to lose your job as a teacher, but do you think you would be where you are today if you hadn’t? Second, have you ever considered that you might have formed some of your current positions and opinions as a reactionary response to that unpleasant situation? And finally, when I had you as a teacher, you spoke very critically of a number of well-known liberal scholars and writers. Have you changed your opinion about any or all of them?Continue reading →