Marcus J. Borg

The Heart of Christianity

Marcus Borg is an apologist for what he terms, the Emerging Christian church. His approach to Christianity goes by other names, such as “liberal”, “main line”, or “progressive”. “Why can’t we all just get along?” is another way to describe his view of things. He wants to retain the “heart” of Christianity while believing that other religions provide essentially the same thing, the only difference being that they are culturally more suited to the people who embrace them. He calls this “religious pluralism”. 

While there is much that is appealing about his all-embracing approach, it does not take into account that Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and Jews, not to mention orthodox Christians, may not feel comfortable with the notion that the distinctives of their respective religions are cultural rather than critically important. What is more problematic is that Borg’s defense of his emerging paradigm is a challenge to reason and, ultimately, an argument for something of little value.


Borg is opposed to the orthodox Christian idea of faith which, as he defines it, is the belief in ideas that are difficult to believe. This is a misrepresentation of Christian faith, which fundamentally about action. Faith often involves doing difficult things and saying difficult words but it is not because the belief is difficult. To the contrary, Christians have faith in Jesus because it is the most reasonable and obvious thing in the world to believe. Other religions are hard to believe. Scientific materialism and/or atheism are really hard to believe. If Christianity is hard to believe, it because it insists that God is God…and that people are not. 

Borg says that “faith is the way of the heart, not the way of the head”. If he could explain what that means, I would give his idea some consideration. It seems he means that when he sees a commercial for beer with a saccharine mini-plot, accompanied by tear-inducing music, he will find himself caught up in a moment of transcendent unity with the One. And with deep, reverential feeling, he will buy the beer. He is one of that select group of people who can be fooled all the time. 

He also states, “Faith is what you need when beliefs and knowledge conflict.” It sounds like he means that when knowledge conflicts with what we believe, we just need to believe harder to enable us to ignore the knowledge. What he ought to understand is that when knowledge and belief disagree, one or the other must give way. Either the belief must adjust to accommodate the knowledge, or the knowledge must be exposed as “knowledge” and be rejected.  


Borg objects to what he characterizes as orthodox Christian’s obsession with the afterlife. Such Christians, he says, think their religion is about making sure they make it to heaven. But this is not true. Christianity teaches that rebirth takes place when a person submits to Jesus as Lord. The heavenly life begins for Christians on earth. Christians do not live their lives hoping to store up enough merit so they can pass through the pearly gates. Heaven is assured. The Christian strives to live the heavenly life immediately because that is the way God called on us to live from the beginning. It is the way of flourishing, and it is characterized by love.

Borg fails to recognize the importance of heaven’s eternal nature. Heaven represents two great rewards. The first is delivery from bondage to sin. On earth we, in spite of good intentions, struggle with sin, to our own harm and to the harm of all our relationships. Heaven is the place where the redeemed are freed from sin. It is a wonder to think how this changes individuals, but it is a greater wonder to consider the shocking transformation to society. In heaven we are freed from our own bondage, we are freed from the bonds that other people impose on us, and we are freed from our inclination to put others in bonds. 

The other great reward is life. On this earth we are subject to the corruption of sin and the corruption of our bodies. We may die early from some sort of accident, or from a disease, or from war, but most of us die from slow, physical failure. Death is the end of us. Heaven contradicts this. Without the hope of heaven there really is no motivation to live any particular lifestyle. You get what you can get while the getting is good, and when the getting is no longer good, you take the suicide pill. When the threat of death is removed, so is all fear. (I don’t mean that Christians are fearless. Christians still live on the earth and are subject to all its dangers. But the Christian who has seized on the promise of Jesus to raise him or her from the dead begins to stare the dragons in the eye and say, “So what?”) Belief in the resurrection powerfully and positively affects how a person lives on earth. 

Work Ourselves To Heaven

Borg seems to think that Christians believe their good works will get them to heaven. This is contrary to the Gospel. Salvation is a gift from God. Good works are about living as humans the way humans are meant to live. In fact, the most fundamental identity marker of being human is the job of being God’s representative on the earth. We care for the earth, all life forms and, especially, the people of the earth because they belong to God and he wants us to care for them. 

And, no, we are not saved by our faith. We are saved by God through faith. It is God who gives faith.

Biblical Infallibility

Borg contends that the idea of biblical infallibility didn’t come on the scene until the 1600s. I think he is probably right about this. However, “infallibility” is really an attack on a straw man. What the Bible has said from the beginning, starting with the writings of the Law (Genesis through Deuteronomy) is that it comes to men and women with God’s authority. Those who opposed Moses were punished by God. True prophets were held to a standard of perfection when they delivered messages from God. A single false prophesy was proof of a false prophet. Jesus dared to say, “Before Abraham was, I am,” boldly claiming to be God. The disciples were finally convinced of his deity when more than 500 of them saw him alive after he had been crucified, been shown to be dead, and then buried. The historian, Luke, was a firsthand witness and a careful reporter who gathered many other first hand accounts in order to write Luke & Acts. The Apostle Paul was a persecutor of the early church but was rudely interrupted by Jesus himself, who then commissioned Paul to witness about him to the Gentiles. 

There is no book in the world that comes close to the power and authority found in the Bible. It is a gift from God to men and women. We need to know it well. Frankly, people have always recognized this. Since the canon was established (the list of Old and New Testament books to be included in the Bible) in the late 300s, the Bible has been the number one book sold in the world every year. 

Bible as Product

“For the emerging paradigm, the Bible is the historical product of two ancient communities, ancient Israel and the early Christian movement. The Bible was not written to us or for us, but for the ancient communities that produced it.”

Apparently, Borg does not believe God had anything to do with the writing of the Bible. This is another way for him to say that it does not rule him. Borg will pick and choose from the Bible what he believes represents its essence. He repeats the heresies of Jefferson, who removed all references to miracles, the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus, and  Jesus’ resurrection. You might say that Jefferson distilled the Bible into a manual for proper civic behavior. Borg hasn’t gone quite so far—he wants to maintain the warm fuzzies of religious ceremonial behavior—but he gets close. It’s all about being practical, as long as you believe life on earth is all there is. This is the Bible without power. This is a world in which God is Santa Claus…a cuddly fiction. 


For Borg, the Bible is metaphorical. He is not interested in its historicity. The beauty of the Bible comes through its meaning, he says. What he doesn’t seem to grasp is how crucial history is in the Bible. The Bible is about God acting in history. It is the reality rather than the myth of the Bible that gives it heft. Its characters are real and their struggles, like ours, are real. Jesus was incarnate (made flesh; became human), making it clear that we are not just brains on sticks or, to follow Borg’s thinking, hearts on sticks. Our spirits are real and our bodies are of great value. The death and resurrection of Jesus was the crucial event in human history. It is the reason why humans have hope of deliverance from their present desperate condition. 

But, of course, viewing the Bible as one great metaphor also provides one more justification for interpreting it in ways that are suitable to the reader, rather than reading it in order to be transformed to be like Jesus. 


Borg seems to like all religions for their sacramental character. “A sacrament is something visible and physical whereby the Spirit becomes present to us.” There is truth in this idea. The entire creation is in this sense sacramental. The heavens declare the glory of God, as do the rocks in the stream that cause the water to glisten and whisper. But Borg has what I would call an idolatrous attraction to emotive reaction. If a sweet symphony brings him to tears he feels himself embraced by God. Perhaps that is so but it is also true that we are embraced by God when sitting in the dentist chair. If we are moved in our spirits, it is important to understand why. Our passions can be right and God-honoring, and they can be the products of the imaginings of a fool. Borg wants to disengage from dogma…but then he takes 225 pages of written words to say so. This is yet one more way for him to argue that he should believe whatever it is that makes him happy…and that everyone else should do the same. 

Orthodox Christianity’s Problems

  1. It insists on biblical literalism, especially when the Bible disagrees with science. There certainly is a range of thought on such issues within Christianity but Borg’s thought here is clearly not what the Bible teaches. God created the universe. He invented science. Science developed most rapidly in the West because of the Christian belief in an orderly universe created by an orderly God. The Bible is not a science manual and its various passages represent numerous literary types. A parable should not be read literally, for example. On the other side of the problem, there is a wide gap between science and what can be termed “received science”. Much of science is more faith-dependent than religion. Are there conflicts between Christianity and “science”? Yes. Are there conflicts between Christianity and science? No. 
  1. Those of the emerging paradigm are frustrated with orthodox Christian subordination of women. There are many issues here. First of all, women and men are of equal value in Christ. God made male and female in his image. Subordination is practiced within families and within the church structure. Headship within Christianity is not about lordship. It is about bearing responsibility. Christ laid down his life for the Church and this is what church leaders are called to do, and it is what husbands are called on to do for their wives. Throughout its history, Christianity has been more popular with women than men. I will not explore that here, but anyone who accuses the Church of patriarchy needs to examine this more closely. 

Christianity does not teach that women cannot be in positions of authority outside of these institutions. If a woman wishes to be President of the U.S., she should be (as long as she is a good one…and in recent years the men put forward have certainly not been).

Some think that opposition to abortion is oppressive to women. More honestly, it is abortion that is oppressive to the unborn. If the unborn (the most frail of humans) can be oppressed, the door remains open for the oppression of other frail groups. Women who advocate abortion, and those who support their advocacy, only increase the danger to women.

  1. Those from orthodox Christian traditions have negative attitudes towards gays and lesbians. Gays and lesbians are fully human and are every bit as valuable as any other human. They are to be treated with kindness, respect, and justice. But God designed humans, male and female for family, and for the bearing and raising of children. Sexual deviance is a failure to recognize God’s purposeful design. The design aspect is obvious to anyone, even to scientific materialists. I daresay Borg would  have a negative attitude towards pedophiles. He may not agree that these are equivalents, and they are not equivalent, but to the orthodox Christian, they are all sexual behaviors that do serious harm. 
  1. Borg is unhappy with orthodox Christians’ “preoccupation with conservative political issues rather than issues of justice”. This is a false narrative and a false dichotomy. All political issues and all laws are about justice. Liberals like to talk a great deal about compassion and about helping the oppressed. For this they deserve credit. But having a soft heart and a soft head is generally not helpful. 

Progressives want to send more money to public schools and, yet, progressives align themselves with the teacher unions which have done great harm to the quality of public education. Progressives are opposed to vouchers, but it is vouchers that will enable low-income students to escape public schools’ incarceration apprenticeship programs. Additionally, it is the public schools that teach children they are the products of an apathetic universe, rather than beings of unique and great value, made for important purposes by the Creator of the universe. 

It is the progressives who have lobbied for the defunding of police, and it has been the poor and minorities who have suffered from these profoundly misguided efforts. 

It is the progressives who have called for broadening the definition of “family”, to the harm of the nuclear family. The data is clear that the greatest predictor of child poverty, psychological difficulties, and a future of jail time is the absence of a father at home. 

It is the progressives who have continued to push welfare programs on the poor as remedies for their poverty. But, again, it is clear that welfare programs have devastated a high percentage of the black community by encouraging dependency and by disconnecting individuals from the normal process of financial growth through long-term employment. Welfare programs have their place but, rather than eradicating poverty in America, they have largely embedded it. 

Borg and his ilk are simply wrong about conservative politics, which is not to say that conservative politics are not infected with many sorts of foolishness. But conservative politics suffer more from narrative management than from a lack of interest in justice. Liberals, on the other hand, have fully embraced virtue signaling. And they are guilty of patronizing solutions that have done more harm than good. And they are guilty of talking “left” while living “right”. 

  1. Borg is also unhappy with the exclusivism of orthodox Christianity.  The issue is, what is true? If there is no difference between a $10 bill and a $1 bill, let’s not argue. I’ll take the ten and you can have the one. If there is no difference between me taking your house or me looking at your house, okay; I’ll have it, please. But it’s clear by all the things Borg does not like that he does differentiate. He does discriminate. We all do and we all must. The question remains, is there something critically different between Christianity and other religions, and the answer is, yes, many things. To name just a few: in Christianity salvation is a gift of God; it is not the result of good works. In Christianity, God came in human form to rescue people from death and corruption. In Christianity, God decides what is true, not theologians, and not the popular vote. 

Personhood of God

“Whatever God is ultimately like, our relationship to God is personal. This relationship engages us as persons at our deepest and most passionate level.”

“So is God personal? At the ontological [the nature of being] level, I don’t know, even as I am convinced that God is not a person-like being.”

“But I do think that personal language for God is appropriate. Indeed, I think it is more appropriate than impersonal language, for I am persuaded that God is not less than personal.”

I feel sympathy for those who understand God to be a personal being, but who find it difficult to relate personally to a being who is not physically present. This, I think, is normal. But I have little sympathy for those who attempt to bring clarity to concepts they are equally determined to shroud in mystery. This is dog tail-chasing…except that dogs do seem to have fun at it.

Borg needs God to be personal since we tend to become like what we worship, and Borg is interested in the “heart” of Christianity. He believes in love. But he does not want any real clarity about who God is, because that would mean that God would define what love is. Borg wants to retain that power in himself.  

Conditional Grace

According to Borg, the Apostle Paul and Martin Luther affirmed radical grace: “God’s acceptance of us is unconditional, not dependent upon something we believe or do.” Borg is rightfully opposed to a Christianity in which salvation is dependent on good works. He does not like the idea of the Gospel essentially being a threat: “Do these things or else.” Rather, he would have it be an invitation into relationship and transformation. There are a couple weaknesses to Borg’s formula. The first one comes with the word “transformation”. While it is true the Christian life is to be one of transformation, the question remains: what is the transformation to look like? The other concern is this: while grace from God does not depend on human faith or works, these are required responses to grace. If we do not put our faith in Jesus and if we do not keep his commandments (however imperfectly), this is evidence that we have not received God’s grace in the first place. His work is to change us to be like himself. We don’t get to be whatever it may be that makes us feel good.

Jesus as God

“A strong majority of mainline scholars think it unlikely that Jesus said these things about himself; he probably did not speak of himself as Messiah, the Son of God, the Light of the World, and so forth. Rather, this is the voice of the community in the years and decades after Easter.”

This is why if you are a member of a mainline church and you really want to be a Christian, run! Get out now! Find a Bible believing church and relocate yourself there. If Jesus is not God, Christianity is a complete waste of time. 


“I do not and cannot believe that God is an interventionist. And yet I do petitionary and intercessory prayer all the time.” This is prayer as navel-gazing. This is prayer that does not believe God is interested in us. This is just vanity. 


Borg has latched on to the idea of political pluralism and overlaid it on religion itself. If religious tolerance is a good thing within political systems, then it only follows that religions themselves should be pluralistic. If all religions have characteristics that allow us to call them religions, then there is no substantive difference between one and another. All are fine. 

“Taking religious pluralism seriously calls Christian exclusivism radically into question and, in my judgment, negates it. It is impossible for many of us to believe that only Christians can be in saving relationship to God. Knowing about other religions and especially knowing people of those religions have made it impossible.” “If I thought I had to believe Christianity was the only way , I could not be a Christian.” So, apparently, Marcus Borg and those who think like him determine who qualifies for the kingdom of heaven. It is not for God to decide. 

Borg relates this story. “When a Christian seeker asked the Dalai Lama whether she should become a Buddhist, his response, which I paraphrase, was: ‘No, become more deeply Christian; live more deeply into your own tradition.’ Huston Smith makes the same point with the metaphor of digging a well: if what you’re looking for is water, better to dig one well sixty feet deep than to dig six wells ten feet deep.”

But to run with the metaphor: better to dig ten feet deep where there is water than to dig sixty feet where there isn’t.