On April 14, 2011, Marcus Borg was the speaker at the Westminster Town Hall Forum. His topic: Speaking Christian.
Borg asserted that each religion is like a language that expresses through words a way of seeing reality and a way of life (ethos). Thus, being a Christian requires one to understand and speak the language of Christianity.
Today in the U.S. (and Europe), however, the Christian language often is unfamiliar and misunderstood.
It is unfamiliar because so many citizens have grown up “unchurched.”
It is misunderstood because of a greater cultural unfamiliarity with Christianity and because of “literalization” of the Christian language by some. The latter is associated with the 17th century’s introduction of notions of Biblical infallibility and the 20th century’s notion of Biblical inerrancy.
To keep Christianity vibrant in the 21st century it is necessary for us,, says Borg, to reclaim the Christian language and speak Christian. To this end, Borg offered the following examples of Biblical terms that need such reclamation:
- “Salvation” really signifies transformation in this life/liberation from bondage/returning home from exile/deliverance from an illness or enemy. It is never about the afterlife in the Old Testament, and seldom is in the New Testament.
- “Redemption” really signifies release from bondage.
- “Repentance” in the New Testament means going beyond the mind that you have (our socialized mind).
- “Sacrifice” means making something holy by offering it to God.
- “Righteous” means just or justice.
- “Believe” means “belove” or “I give my heart to” a person (God or Jesus). It is a way of expressing loyalty, devotion or commitment. It is not giving intellectual assent to a proposition.
- “Kingdom of God” means a transformed earth.
Borg also said it is necessary for Christians to be bilingual. We need to speak the Christian language within our community of faith and to speak about Christianity to non-Christians in ordinary language.
Religion, for Borg, is a practical means of initiating transformation, of healing the wounds of existence, the way that spirituality gains traction in history.
The Bible, says Borg, is a pervasive political document from beginning to end. Judaism’s primal narrative, the exodus from Egypt, is a story of liberation from political bondage and economic exploitation. It tells us that it is God’s will that we not be slaves.
Marcus Borg is the Canon Theologian at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon and a professor emeritus in the philosophy department at Oregon State University. He was an active member of the Jesus Seminar that aimed at discovering and reporting a scholarly consensus on the historical authenticity of the sayings and events attributed to Jesus in the Gospels. He also served as chair of the historical Jesus section of the Society of Biblical Literature. Borg is the author of 19 books, including Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time and The Heart of Christianity. In his latest book, Putting Away Childish Things: A Tale of Modern Faith, he explores some of the important issues facing Christianity today.
The Westminster Town Hall Forum engages the public in reflection and dialogue on the key issues of our day from an ethical perspective. The Forum is nonpartisan and nonsectarian. Forums are free and open to the public. They are usually held on select Thursdays from September through May from noon to 1:00 p.m. (CT) at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Nicollet Mall and 12th Street, in downtown Minneapolis. Each forum is preceded by music at 11:30 a.m. A public reception and small group discussion follow the forum from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. The Forum presentations also are broadcast on Minnesota Public Radio.
 The Jesus Seminar, http://www.westarinstitute.org/Seminars/seminars.html.
 Founded in 1880, The Society of Biblical Literature is the oldest and largest learned society devoted to the critical investigation of the Bible from a variety of academic disciplines. (Society of Biblical Literature, http://www.sbl-site.org/default.aspx.)
 Westminster Town Hall Forum, http://westminsterforum.org/; http://www.facebook.com/l/UAQAsQrFg/westminsterforum.org. See Post: Westminster Town Hall Forum (July 25, 2011); Post: Westminster Town Hall Forum: Krista Tippett (July 26, 2011).