Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Putting Away Childish Things

Theologian Marcus Borg is one of the most original thinkers of our time. His nonfiction books are popular and the writing generally accessible even to the non-technical reader. Borg branches out into a new type of writing in Putting Away Childish Things: A Tale of Modern Faith, a short novel that attempts to communicate some of his understanding of the nature of the Bible, revelation, and faith. The result is not completely satisfactory.

The primary thrust of the novel seems to be that theologians are not only smart and articulate but also sexy and sophisticated. He tries to develop some tension by presenting characters going through times of decision—an attractive woman professor at a liberal arts college, an accomplished theologian at a prestigious divinity school (with whom the woman once had an affair), and a female college student facing a crisis of faith. Quite honestly, I wanted them to be interesting, but they didn’t really come alive.

Most people who have read Borg or other theologians with similar views will find nothing new in this book. The most helpful points for me came in the second to last chapter where the college professor talks with her class on religious faith and the Enlightenment about the matter of faith. She points out that prior to the Enlightenment; the word “believe” was usually associated with a person rather than a statement. Believing in God or Christ did not entail “believing that” a set of statements was true but “believing in” a person—God or Christ. She also makes the link between the word “believe” and the word “belove”. Modernism changed religious faith into embracing a set of principles rather than embracing a person: “[I]t’s the difference in believing that a set of statements about God and Jesus are true and beloving God and Jesus.”

The professor explains that there are three Latin words for faith. One means “assenting to the truth of a claim or set of claims.” The second is faithfulness or fidelity to a relationship. The third word is trust as in “trusting in God.” Drawing on H. Richard Niebuhr, she suggests that the opposite of faith (expressed as trust) “is not doubt or skepticism or unbelief, but anxiety, worry, and fear.” All of these come from a lack of trust. She encourages trust on the part of her students.

The book is a quick read and presents some key issues about the Christian faith and biblical interpretation in a “user-friendly” format, but I would suggest that you just read Borg’s other works and pass on this one.

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