Borg, a prominent liberal theologian and Bible scholar who for a generation helped popularize the intense debates about the historical Jesus and the veracity and meaning of the New Testament, died on Wednesday (Jan. 21). He was 72 and had been suffering from pulmonary fibrosis.In my time co-leading a book group at St Bartholomew's Church in Manhattan. we read several books by Borg. He was a true scholar who followed his inner light and the evidence wherever it led him.
Borg emerged in the 1980s just as academics and theologians were bringing new energy to the so-called “quest for the historical Jesus,” the centuries-old effort to disentangle fact from myth in the Gospels.
Alongside scholars such as John Dominic Crossan, Borg was a leader in the Jesus Seminar, which brought a skeptical eye to the Scriptures and in particular to supernatural claims about Jesus’ miracles and his resurrection from the dead.
Like other scholars, Borg tended to view Jesus as a Jewish prophet and teacher who was a product of the religious ferment of first-century Judaism.
But while Borg questioned the Bible, he never lost his passion for the spiritual life or his faith in God as “real and a mystery,” as he put it in his 2014 memoir, “Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most,” the last of more than 20 books he wrote.
But he was not dogmatic, or exclusionary about his views. In fact, my favorite book by Borg was one he co-wrote with N.T. Wright, the traditionalist scholar-bishop. In that book, The MEaning of of Jesus: Two Visions, Borg and Wright each presented their views on the key questions of the historical truth and the theological ramifications of Jesus. They did so with charity, with friendship, and, to use a phrase beloved of the current Archbishop of Canterbury, disagreed well. Their arguments gave off light, not heat.
Indeed, I would never have read Wright but for the book, and there were certain areas where the conservative persuaded me as against the liberal, whom I had bought the book to root for. Marcus Borg--and N.T. Wright, let it be said--modeled a higher form of discussion for me in that work. If he had written nothing else, he would have changed my life, at least, there. The less argumentative tone of this blog in recent years is in part a reflection of my admiration for what they did in that book, and a desire to emulate that willingness to hear the other view, and learn from it.
As a historian, Borg was a member of the Jesus Seminar, which has contributed much to our understanding of Jesus's life and times. I say this, by the bye, as one who is not 100% onboard with all of their results. I am more aligned with Charles Gore and John P. Meier. But Borg, like the great John Dominic Crossan, has challenged me, enriched my knowledge and understanding, opened my mind, and, ultimately, deepened my faith.
May light perpetual shine upon him.