My Friend, Marcus Borg

Marcus Borg died this morning after a prolonged illness.  I received a phone call this afternoon from a Cathedral parishioner and friend of Marcus, relaying the news to me.

I first became aware of Marcus Borg when I was a sophomore at Hendrix College.  His landmark book, Jesus: A New Vision had just been released.  It hit me at exactly the right time.  I was a philosophy & religion major who knew God and increasingly knew about God, but I had little room or need for Jesus.  Marcus’ book gave me an entirely new access point: to consider Jesus as Jesus had been historically, as a wisdom teacher, a healer, a social prophet, and more.

Marcus Borg 2

I first heard Marcus speak at Hendrix.  He was the epitome of a college professor, right down to the cardigan sweater and pipe.  He spoke calmly and with passion, and the first time I heard him in person was also the first time I understood how those two things–calm and passion–could coincide.

I heard Marcus speak several other times over the years, but it was after I’d become a priest that I came to know him personally.  When he was the annual Dodson Lecturer at St. John’s-Roanoke, he and I went to dinner.  I was starstruck and wanted to quiz him about his research and his approach to Christianity.  He’d have none of it.  Marcus wanted only to talk about me, about St. John’s, about our ministry, and about my experience as a young priest in the Episcopal Church.  He was solely interested in me, and I’ve never forgotten it.

Several shared meals and opportunities for fellowship later, my Christology has become higher and higher as the years have gone by.  In ways I could not have done all those years ago in college, I now attest without hesitation that Jesus the Christ is God Incarnate, the hinge of history, the defeater of death, and the fulfillment in a single human life of God’s hopes for the whole world.  And yet, my approach to Holy Scripture, my social convictions, and my love for the Episcopal Church mirror Marcus’ own perspectives quite closely.  I once introduced Marcus to a church audience by saying, “I agree with roughly 75% of what Marcus will say to you this evening.”  When he stepped into the pulpit, Marcus quipped, “I’m tempted to forego my notes and discuss with Barkley the other 25%!”

Unlike so many other writers in the field of religion (on both ends of the spectrum), Marcus was humble.  Once one of my parishioners asked him during Q&A, “But how do you know that you’re right?”  He paused, looked at her thoughtfully, and said, “I don’t know.  I don’t know that I’m right.”

Very many people who had left the Christian faith have returned to it through Marcus’ evangelism (though he would grimace at my use of the word, I suspect). Marcus was a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ in word and in deed.  He understood Jesus (and especially the Resurrection) differently than I do.  But the veracity of his faith was clear.  And calm.  And passionate.

Marcus and I last corresponded in late November.  I’d asked how he was doing, and he responded, “I may have ten years left.  Not sure I want more.  There comes a time to let go.  And I could, with gratitude, sooner than that.  My life has been very blessed.”

Like Abraham, Marcus was blessed so that he could be a blessing.  He blessed my life, and I am grateful.

50 thoughts on “My Friend, Marcus Borg

  1. Pingback: Breaking: Marcus Borg has died | Episcopal Cafe

  2. I’m an evangelical Christian, but was raised an Atheist, & came to Christ “through the back door” (I started trying to follow Jesus before I was convinced God was real), so I’ve always had a love for Marcus’s books. I especially loved “Jesus: Two Visions”, & found some of his ideas fresh, & even likely Biblical. I – like you – didn’t agree with him on everything, but I’m sad to hear of his passing. I hope he’s finding himself surprised right about now in the best of ways! Thanks for posting this.

  3. RIP Dr. Borg. He was instrumental in my returning to the church after a 20-year hiatus with “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time.” In all of his writings I have found him a man of deep faith. Was privileged to have heard him speak a couple of times.

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  5. Absolutely the most influential theologian in my life. Reading Meeting Jesus Again For The First Time was a turning point in my life. I am so happy I got to see him in person at High Point University a few years ago. The world is a better place because of him.

  6. Pingback: Tribute to Marcus Borg (1942 – 2015) | VIEWS from the EDGE

  7. I had the privilege of hearing Marcus Borg at the Washington Island Forum a few years ago. What an impressive speaker, person, educator! His books have continued to inspire me and make me think and I use them often with an adult study group. They, too, find him inspirational, thought-provoking, and a delight. He will be sorely missed! Thank you for your beautiful reflection. May Marcus be at peace and may God grant his family peace as well!

  8. I never knew Marcus Borg nor have I read him nor did I hear him speak but reading about him here from people who did and loved him is inspirational to me. It evoked thoughts of those who have been instrumental in my faith journey; some who are no longer of this world and some who still are. Jesus came into my life and heart at a very early age, he taught me about His Father and I hav e been blessed my whole life in ways that no one could even imagine. Yes, I may only have 10 years to go in this life and it is gratifying to hear of Marcus saying that about himsel. My station in this life has not measured in academics as has it been for all of you, so basically how I developed in my life was by hard work, learning as I grew and being supported by friends who loved me in Christ. I recall them, each one and thank God for them. But I am also thankful for those in my life who do not fit this description and remember the “good” things that I learned from them that put shape into who I became in this long life of mine. I am thankful for that. Presently, as I celebrate my. 81st birthday, I am still learning and praise God for affording me a pastor who has finally put “context” into my study of The Word of Jesus, my Bible…and in this study he often says, “I don’t know”. I join in with you in thanking God for this memorable man in your lives who has lived life humbled by the greatness of his Blessed Lord and touched your lives.

  9. I thank God for the life of Marcus Borg. I have never met him nor heard him speak, but I have read a number of his books and appreciated his participation in the series,”Living the Question”. He has been very influential in the growth of my Christian faith. I appreciate the tribute given by The Very Reverend Thompson. As much as I never met Marcus Borg personally, Rev. Thompson has described the man I envisioned as I read his books. I feel a great loss in the passing from this life of Marcus Borg. However, from the comments made here, it is easy to see that the seeds he has sown there is much harvest. God bless his family and all of us, and thank God for this man.

  10. I never had the privilege of meeting him, but I have taken several workshops based on his teaching and I own several of his books. Marcus Borg was one of the greatest Christian thinkers of all time and an inspiration to millions. The world is a richer place because of him.

  11. I will always cherish my time and conversation with Marcus while walking the stations of the cross in Jerusalem. His thoughts and understanding of Christianity gave me strength in engaging in the conversation with people of a many different beliefs. Thank you Marcus! You helped me see more clearly! You will be sadly missed.

  12. Pingback: Marcus Borg, leading liberal theologian and historical Jesus expert, dies at 72 | SpokaneFAVS

  13. Marcus always that unique ability to make you the center of his interest for the time he was talking with you. That is an incredible gift and very hard to do but it says a lot about who he was and why he was able to touch so many people. I will wear my RED socks tonight in honor of Marcus. It was an honor to be his friend and for him to be my friend. Rest in Peace.

  14. Pingback: Marcus Borg, leading liberal theologian and historical Jesus expert, dies at 72

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  17. I loved the sound of his voice. I went to a presentation he gave at University UCC in Seattle a few years ago. I think it was on Mysticism. I just remember the sound of his voice as he shared a traditional prayer he often used:
    Jesus Christ, light of the world
    Fill my mind with your peace
    And my heart with your love.

    i always hear his voice when I say that prayer

  18. I am not sure how I first encountered professor and author Marcus Borg.
    But he has an amazing mind, teaches profoundly. I have seven of his books, and read each of them at least twice. And will read them again, and continue to recommend them to others.

    We have been blessed to have him share his knowledge with us, and bring us closer to God.

  19. I met Marc at OSU in about 1984. Marianne and I were close friends sitting next to one another in class an hard pressed to determine who loved him more. He sat cross legged on the table in front of us and introduced us to the NT in such a living and powerful way. He was my friend, my teacher and my guide.

    Meeting him years later and hugging him, I said to him. Wow, I didn’t remember that I was taller than you! He smiled and said ” put that in your memoir.”

    He was a huge beautiful presence and he was also fully human and approachable. He changed me and I am sure he has changed so many others with his love and the way he wrote and spoke.

    I am so sad to lose him.

  20. Thank you for sharing about your experience and relationship with Marcus Borg. I am one of those whose faith was restored in part by his genuine and passionate perspective. He will be greatly missed.

  21. Pingback: Marcus Borg: A Collection of Tributes - Westar Institute Westar Institute

  22. I had the honor of meeting him at one of his appearances in Norman Oklahoma last year. I asked him a question that some more learned theologians might have scoffed at. He smiled..answered me..and for the first time, I knew that I had met a real “Christian”. The light of religious understanding has dimmed with his passing.

  23. I can read and re-read Marcus Borg’s books. Its like being able to have a private meeting with him, no one can interrupt.
    We were in 100% agreement that perhaps the singular most important written words, attributed directly to Jesus are in Matthew 22: 36-41. And I have never met anyone who knows that quote when asked. The greatest commandment is LOVE. Be compassionate as God is compassionate.

  24. Marcus came to my seminary (Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Berkeley) my senior year to offer a day long retreat. What struck me about Borg was his gentility. This was a kind soul. And he combined that gentle kindness with both the heights of intellect and the depths of a very clearly profound spirituality. It was just a privilege to be in his presence. I have long loved his approach in his writing using a small wooden mallet to laying out the same message that many of us tend to be much more inclined to use a sledge hammer to make. I don’t think Marcus ever underestimated the hostility of the fundamentalists on either the brittle evangelical or brittle atheist edges of the religious spectrum. But he was particularly skilled at recognizing and honoring their humanity in the process of engaging them, anger and all.

    To paraphrase the Centurion, this was truly a son of G-d. The world is a little dimmer without the light of his presence this night.

  25. Marcus Borg’s writing has made a difference to many of us who have found meaning in his work. He is a loss but fortunately there are others who are as interested as he in helping us learn the real Jesus.

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