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MemConConvJan14 First Talk: January Adventure, St. Simon’s Island Marcus Borg

Prologue to "What I Wish Every (American) Christian Knew"

Memories, Conversions, and Convictions

*I begin autobiographically. My talks are the product of recently turning 70. My 70th birthday was a Sunday in Lent, and I had been invited to preach the sermon in my home congregation. Lent, of course, is a season that vividly reminds us of mortality and death. Think of how it begins on Ash Wednesday. It continues with following Jesus to Jerusalem and death. Of course, Lent and Holy Week climax in resurrection and new life. But its emphasis upon death/ mortality is unmistakable.

Preparing that sermon led me to a triad for thinking about my life and our lives: memories, conversions and convictions.

I. Memories. Especially of childhood and the understanding of Christianity that I absorbed then. To involve you, a memory exercise (useful in congregational educational or Christian journey settings): by the end of childhood, at age 10 or 12, what understanding of Christianity had formed in your mind? Imagine that you had been asked: What is the heart of the Christian message? Why should you or anybody else be Christian? In a sentence, what do you think you would have said?

*My memory from age 10 or 12: Jesus died to pay for our sins so that we can be forgiven and go to heaven if we believe in him. Note what it emphasizes:

*The afterlife - heaven and hell

*Sin and forgiveness – our primary problem and need

*The role of Jesus: he died in our place to pay for our sins (the "payment" or "substitutionary" or "satisfaction" understanding of his death)

*Believing (and often believing that Christianity is the only way)

This is what might be called the "common Christianity" of the recent past: what a majority of Christians absorbed and took for granted not so long ago. Still central to conservative Christianity, it is also the "default" position of many mainline Protestants and Catholics, continuing to shape what many think Christianity is about

II. Conversions. Major changes in how we see things. Not all major life-changes are conversions. For example, growing up, divorce, loss of employment, serious illness, retirement are all major changes – but they are not in themselves conversions, even though they sometimes become occasions for conversions. Conversions are major changes in our orientation toward life: how we see life and what is real, and what we are passionate about. Sometimes involve a change in affiliation – or a passionate deepening within an affiliation.

*My major conversions have been intellectual, political and religious

III. Convictions. Foundational and settled ways of seeing things that we "own" and that are not easily shaken.

*For some people, their convictions continue to be what they grew up with. They have found no reason to change them.

*For many, their convictions are the product of conversions they have experienced

IV. My Convictions at 70 (and counting….). A partial list.

1. God is Real. The product of a series of experiences that began in my 30s…

2. Christianity Has No Monopoly on God or Goodness

3. Jesus is the Norm of the Bible.

*As a child, I heard both the Bible and Jesus spoken of as "the Word of God" in church and Sunday School. And I took it for granted that both were. Hymns:

About the Bible: "God’s Word Is Our Great Heritage"

About Jesus: "O Word of God Incarnate"

*It never occurred to me that there might be a conflict between "the Word of God" in the Bible and "the Word of God" embodied, incarnate in Jesus. But there is.

*Sometimes the Bible is wrong. , maybe even shocking. All Christians have learned to revere the Bible.

*Why it’s important to be able to say that the Bible is sometimes wrong: because of the widespread tendency to think that the Bible has the last word….

*Some examples of when the Bible is wrong:

*God sometimes commanded the slaughter of men, women, and children

*Slavery is okay

*Women are to be subordinate to men – and are to be silent in church

*Jesus was expected to return soon – many texts in the NT

What this realization leads to: the Bible, OT and NT alike, tells us how our spiritual ancestors in ancient Israel and the early Christian movement saw things – not how God sees things. Texts like these indicate that the Bible is a human product, not a divine product. It is sacred in its status and function, but not in its origin. "We have this treasure in earthen vessels" (II Cor. 4.7)– just as the body and blood of Christ come to us in the earthen vessels of humanly-produced bread and wine.

*Discerning when the Bible is wrong. Reason plays a role (and reason includes experience). But the primary criterion is that Jesus as "the Word of God" is the decisive revelation of God’s character and passion. "The Word of God" in the person of Jesus trumps "the Word of God" in a book. This is ancient, traditional, orthodox Christian teaching. And also one of the distinctive features of Christianity among the world’s religions: we find the decisive revelation of God in a person and not in a book or set of teachings or set of doctrines.

4. A Christianity Grounded in the Bible Is Much More about Transformation in This Life Than about an Afterlife. Salvation is primarily about transformation this side of death – of ourselves and the world. More about that in my next talks.

If Time: a second triad for thinking about our lives:the stages of pre-critical naivete, critical thinking, and post-critical affirmation/conviction.

*Pre-critical naivete: what we absorb in childhood.

*Critical thinking: how much of that is true?

*Post-critical affirmation/conviction: the ability to affirm, "I know that Christianity is true, even if it’s not literally or absolutely true."