Why Be Christian?

Revisionist Jesus scholar Marcus Borg explains why "Christianity makes persuasive and compelling sense."

In renowned Jesus scholar Marcus Borg's latest book, The Heart of Christianity, he responds to an audience of readers who, over the years, have asked him about the essence of their faith. How, they ask, can Christianity be relevant in a time of ever-expanding historical and scientific knowledge? In a conversation with Deborah Caldwell, Borg answers that question, touching on the afterlife, living in a multi-cultural society, the meaning of salvation, and being born again.

You say that Christianity in North America and Europe is going through a paradigm change-that a new vision of how to be Christian is emerging. What is it and why is it happening?

Broadly speaking, there are two different visions of Christianity in North America today. The earlier vision is the product of the last few hundred years, especially the last 150 years. This earlier vision of Christianity is literalistic in its understanding of the Bible, absolutist in its understanding of the ethical teachings of the Bible, and exclusivist--meaning Christianity is the only way.

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That's the vision of Christianity that the majority of us grew up with, whether we are mainline Protestant, Catholic, or conservative Protestant. But that way of seeing Christianity has become unpersuasive to millions of people--who can't be literalists or absolutists or exclusivists. But now there is an emerging vision, an emerging paradigm.

The conflict between these two paradigms can be seen in many different places. In the second half of the 19th Century and early in the 20th Century we saw conflict over evolution. Thirty years ago the conflict was over ordination of women in mainline denominations, and of course today we see the conflict about gays and lesbians in the church. For Protestants, the two visions have everything to do with biblical authority. The earlier vision sees the Bible as divine product with a divine guarantee to be true. The emerging vision sees the Bible as a human historical product, the product of two ancient communities [Judaism and Christianity]. It tells us what they thought, not what God thinks.

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