Canon Adrian Alker writes:
PROFESSOR Marcus Borg, who died on 21 January, aged 72, was
Hundere Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon
State University until he retired in 2007. He taught students there
for 28 years, and wrote or co-wrote 21 books. He lectured at so
many churches, conferences, universities, and seminaries that,
friends say, he earned more than 100,000 frequent-flyer miles
almost every year.
Borg popularised a liberal intellectual approach to Christianity
through his lectures and books about Jesus as a historical figure,
and was an early member of the Jesus Seminar in the United States.
Unlike some other members, he was not led towards atheism by
studying the New Testament, but towards deep belief in the
spiritual life, and in Jesus as a teacher, healer, and prophet.
Borg became, in essence, a leading evangelist of what is often
called progressive Christianity.
Tributes to Borg have poured in from all quarters of the
theological world, not least from Evangelicals who disagreed with
much of his work. Their generosity highlights the gentle, humble,
and yet passionate person who was a fine scholar, enthusiastic
educator, and brilliant communicator.
Borg, perhaps, did not present the same threat "from within" as
the radical Bishop Jack Spong; and, unlike a great friend, Dominic
Crossan, he did not fall out seriously with any particular Church.
Indeed, he counted among his friends more conservative scholars
such as Tom Wright, with whom he co-wrote The Meaning of
Jesus. Professor Wright says that he and Borg shared "a deep
and rich mutual affection and friendship".
Of course, deeply conservative people on the US Christian Right
found Borg's writing troubling, especially his exposition of
scripture. Borg, however, gained the respect of most serious
students of the Bible and apologetics. Many considered him a
"friendly provocateur". An important influence in the early days of
the Jesus Seminar, he nevertheless avoided the tendency to
reductionist criticism. His approach suggested a humble conviction
of the presence and transforming power of God; hence his desire
that people look at Jesus, God, and the Bible as it were "for the
In many of his books, Borg alluded to his modest traditional
Lutheran upbringing, and his journey of fascination with the New
Testament, which led him to graduate study at the Union Theological
Seminary, in New York. Further study at Oxford, under Professor
George Caird at Mansfield College, led to his doctoral thesis
published as Conflict, Politics and Holiness in the Teaching of
Jesus. In this, he explored the conflict between a politics of
holiness and a politics of compassion, and their implications for
His books Jesus: A new vision (1987) and Meeting
Jesus Again for the First Time (1994) were on bestseller
lists. There followed a host of books aimed at an enquiring
readership. The God We Never Knew explores different
meanings of salvation, multiple images for God, and the wonderful
idea of the "dream of God for God's world". Borg, like other
biblical critics, elucidated with rigour the context and form of
scripture, an analysis that nevertheless led him to assert that the
Bible could be seen as a sacrament of the sacred. In The Heart
of Christianity, a much valued introduction to the foundations
of Christian faith, he shows how the term "born again" can have
real meaning to seekers of the truth.
With Crossan, he co-wrote books on the birth and Passion
narratives, and, in The First Paul, put forward a case for
liberals to begin to love the man from Tarsus.
In 1983, Borg became an Episcopalian. His wife, Marianne Wells
Borg, is a priest in the Epsicopal Church in the US, and a former
canon of Trinity Cathedral, Portland, Oregon, where he later served
as a canon theologian. Their son, Dane, daughter, Julie, and a
grandson also survive him.
I invited him to the UK to lecture in Sheffield and Edinburgh.
On each of three occasions he spoke in packed churches with
spellbinding lucidity and clarity.
It would be reasonable to say that, because of Borg, thousands,
if not millions, of people have felt able to own the name of
Christian. His work helped to bring new life to individuals and
church communities. Liberal and progressive Christians owe a huge
debt to him, and we are all the poorer for his passing.