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The God We Never Knew

| 3.7.02
The God We Never Knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a More Authentic Contemporary Faith, by Marcus Borg

The God We Never Knew is simultaneously a fascinating account of one man's spiritual journey from one understanding of God to another and a compact, readable summary of the major trends in theological thinking from the Enlightenment through the present. Marcus Borg, a Jesus scholar and professor of Religion at Oregon State University, uses his own personal experiences as a metaphor for the changes that have taken place in biblical understanding through the centuries.

For years I have sought to resolve the conflict, or tension, in my own mind between modernism and Christianity. Because the modern scientific world view so rigorously and systematically reduces all of reality to what can be measured or observed with the physical senses, Christianity is totally deprived of reality. Yet the heart cries out for a level beyond the material; a longing for the sense that God is real and near and grants life meaning in a very personal way. I think the major reason why some Christians are so threatened by modern scientific theories such as evolution and literary/critical techniques of reading the Bible is because they fear that there is nothing real left to base faith upon when the Bible does not match reality in a very literal way. Part of the reason why I enjoyed The God We Never Knew so much is because Borg's theology is able to incorporate modernism intelligently while critiquing its tendency to reduce everything in the universe to the purely physical. By the same token he is able to view and interpret the Bible in a non-literal yet meaningful way which illustrates a close personal relationship with God that is not only possible but indeed nurturing to Christians daily, strengthening their faith.

As the title suggests, Borg compares and contrasts two different ways of looking at God. One view comprises a distant God "out there," who points his finger at humanity's failings, and demands adherence to a set of beliefs in order to gain acceptance into heaven. This view of God focuses mainly on eternal rewards for earthly deeds, and uses biblical metaphors of king and lord as the primary way of viewing God. Borg's view of God, by contrast, holds that God is close and personal, existing in us and around us as well as "out there," is accepting and nurturing, and focuses on relational rather than propositional truth. Rather than focusing on eternal rewards, Borg suggests that the kingdom of God is here and now around us, and can be visible, if we are willing to look through spiritual eyes.

Surprisingly (for a book primarily about theology) Borg looks cross-culturally to find a number of useful techniques for enhancing one's sense of God being present in personal way to each believer. Borg gives each traditional notion of worship, prayer, and evangelism a helpful tweak when he recommends "sounds in creating an opening to the sacred", "talking to God", and "the dream of God", respectively. According to Borg, spiritual senses need to be practiced and developed because we are used to thinking purely in terms of our physical senses and material reality.

The only glaring critique I have of Borg's book is that it tends to oversimplify the broad range of Christian understanding existing both today and throughout history. Because he uses the Lutheranism of his childhood as the metaphor for a traditional understanding of Christianity, he builds a false dualism--an "either/or" scenario in which it feels like Borg is saying "this is the way Christianity was traditionally conceived...and this is my new conception of it." The footnotes are a helpful corrective, where it becomes apparent that there are myriad positions that can be taken in between these two views. Some passages, however, still feel like Borg is attacking a straw man. More so than in other books, I would recommend reading the footnotes (located at the end of each chapter.) All of the scriptural references are in the footnotes, and since Borg often looks at parts of the Bible that are traditionally underemphasized, you may be as surprised as I was at what is actually in the Bible. Finally, the footnotes provide additional reading sources should you be interested in a particular topic Borg mentions only briefly.

The God We Never Knew is a very useful book on many levels. If you are seeking a way to reconcile modernism and religion, or if you are seeking a readable synopsis of contemporary theology, or if you are interested in reading about one person's spiritual struggle, Borg's book will speak to you.

PUBLISHER: Harper San Francisco; ISBN: 0060610352; Reprint edition (June 1998)

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