A Lenten Journey with “Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power and How They Can Be Restored” by Marcus Borg

Ben Griffiths is a graduate student in theology at Abilene Christian University in Texas. In a blog posting (Huffington Post, January 20, 2012) he defines, as clearly as anyone can, the “one Bible / two divergent views of God and Christian faith which are currently vying for the hearts and minds of the “religious” and “secular” like.

Griffiths begins with a very significant question: “Which God?” and goes on to spell out the great chasm that has emerged between “evangelical” and what Griffiths calls “liturgical” churches. For Griffiths, this chasm is most plainly evident in the worship experiences Christians create. As one familiar with American evangelicalism as manifest in worship, Griffiths points out that such worship is based in a “he walks with me and talks with me” casual approach to God, a God who intervenes in natural events if only we ask hard and often enough, and a God who even influences the outcome of sports events.

Such manifest assumptions led Griffiths to his own crisis of faith. He began to struggle with the notion of an arbitrary ‘God as talisman in the sky’  over against what he saw in more liturgically centred worship, a ‘God as ultimate mystery who is revealed to us in the Risen Christ’.

“The God who opens up parking spots is different from the Holy Mystery,” he writes. Griffiths began to embrace what was for him a new reality – hoping into God in a living journey of faith rather than affirming certainties about the cosmos and the way things are that actually truncate God into something less.

In becoming an Episcopalian, Griffiths embraced the essential theology of liturgical worship and put to rest the parking-spot-talisman-God. He exchanged what he calls “sappy familiarity” in his relationship to God for “inherent mysteriousness”.

I – along with most of us Anglicans – struggle along similar faith journey paths. How do we embrace the mystery of God in Christ? How does God relate to us on a daily basis? How do the words we use when “speaking Christian” shape our view of ultimate things? I’m mapping out a Lenten study series at St. Laurence, Coquitlam based on these issues as explored by Marcus Borg in one of his most recent books, “Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power and How They Can Be Restored”.

I’d like to create a conversation on NW Anglican Blog where we can explore these issues as we approach our Lenten season. Although we are not part of the American religious and political context, the time for exploring – and in Borg’s terminology “restoring” – Christian language seems to have come upon us as we see the’ God-as-talisman’ being piously affirmed and hawked as a political tool in the current race for the Republican presidential nomination. Do take some time to listen to the political/religious rhetoric and its underlying suppositions about issues and their relation to ‘The Bible’ that are helping shape this political contest. Borg will challenge us to move beyond what we may take for granted when words like “Bible” “salvation”, “sacrifice”, “redeemer”, and “repentance” are tossed about both inside and beyond the political arena.

So what’s your initial reaction? Do you agree with Borg’s contention that contemporary Christian language is plagued with “the literalization of language in the modern period”, and narrow interpretations of Biblical language that miss that language’s historical and metaphorical dimensions? If so, how do we “redeem” or reclaim Christian language in “all of its richness and wisdom”?

Start the conversation, and we’ll continue it as we respond to some of Borg’s specific examples and suggestions over the next several weeks. You may even wish to get Borg’s book – available from Amazon in both ‘book’ and ‘e-reader’ formats.

I look forward to your ideas.

Steve Bailey is a deacon at St. Laurence, Coquitlam, and one of the blog masters of New Westminster Anglican Blog. Your ideas and comments are always welcome. 


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