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Putting Away Childish Things

| 22.7.10
Putting Away Childish Things: A Tale of Modern Faith, by Marcus Borg

I've long been a fan of Marcus Borg's scholarship. His non-fiction not only speaks to issues I find important, but is clearly written and easily accessible to a broad audience. If there was a single book I'd recommend to give people insight into what I think are the most important issues in Christianity and what it means to be a person of faith in the 21st century, it would be Borg's The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith.

Nonetheless, it was with some trepidation that I picked up Putting Away Childish Things, Marcus Borg's first novel, and a didactic novel at that. Growing up fundamentalist, I had read evangelical didactic works such as The Sugar Creek Gang, (boys having fun while converting their friends and families) The Third Millennium , (end times novel where rapture happens in 1994), This Present Darkness (demons, angels, and spiritual warfare), and of course the Left Behind juggernaut. Big questions I had going in: what does a progressive Christian didactic novel look like? Can there be a didactic novel that is actually worth reading, with characters you actually care about and doesn't get bogged down in preachiness?

I think Borg largely succeeds here. His story of an Episcopalian religious studies professor at a Midwestern liberal arts college was the perfect backdrop for interjecting theological and scholarly content in a way that didn't seem too jarring or unnatural to the story. The story was well plotted. While the characters seemed more cerebral than average people, they were reasonably well drawn and plausible. I especially appreciated that the evangelical characters in the story did not seem to be mere straw men, and in the end I truly cared about the characters and what happened to them. On the other hand, some may find the book to have a lecture-like quality at certain points. This may be unavoidable since the book aims to teach a large amount of information in relatively few pages, while trying to entertain at the same time.

This book is not the best novel I've ever read by far, but it is the best didactic novel I've ever read. Not just because I happen to agree with the message, but also because it presents its message strongly without demonizing other points of view (a flaw in just about ever other didactic work I've read.) I think Borg has made a great contribution by putting progressive theology and historical critical biblical scholarship into a format that might make it more accessible to people who would never read a non-fiction book. Putting Away Childish Things made me realize what a dearth of instructional fiction there is for progressive Christianity, and how bringing these ideas down to the mass-market level might allow progressive Christians to go head-to-head with their evangelical and fundamentalist brethren.

Beyond story, and beyond theological content, however, where the book truly shines is when it shows us how a modern faith actually works in practice. How does prayer, devotion, dealing with life's troubles and anxiety actually work for liberal and progressive Christians whose view of the supernatural and scripture is not fundamentalist? In every evangelical didactic novel I've read there has been a point or points in the story where God dramatically intervenes in a stunning and miraculous way --a type of modern day deus ex machina to solve the conflict and reinforce the literalistic worldview of the story. Putting Away Childish Things, in keeping with its message, doesn't do this. Yet one can still say that God is at work in what happens in the lives of the characters in this story; showing that God can be real and active for Christians that aren't fundamentalist may be the most necessary contribution this story makes.

Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: HarperOne (April 20, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0061888141
ISBN-13: 978-0061888144

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