This article is a summary of thoughts about God by Marcus Borg, a leader in "emerging" theology. Comments are welcome.
GOD - Marcus Borg The Heart of Christianity
How we think of God is primarily the result of our world-view (our image of reality). Our worldview, for most of us, "is a mixture of elements internalized from our culture's worldview and from the worldview of a religious tradition. (62)
Two worldviews predominate: (1) the religious point of view affirms there is "More" to reality than what we can perceive through science. A "supernatural" dimension of reality exists. (2) a non-religious point of view says there is no "More". Time and space, matter and energy (and the natural forces which lie behind them) are all there is. This is sometimes called the modern world view (modernity). (63)
In the history of Christianity there are two ways to think about God.
(1) supernatural theism--which imagines God as a "person-like" being who created the universe which is apart from him*. He intervenes occasionally in this world (esp. in NT miracles, and in answering prayer)
(2) panentheism--God is an encompassing spirit which enfolds everything. We "live and move and have our being** God is present everywhere and also is transcendent. God divinely offers direct intention and interaction (not) intervention. (64-67)
God as Personal
Building upon William James' concept of a "wholesale God" and a "retail God" Borg says the former is the God of philosophical theology. Terms such as "ulitmate reality", "being itself" and "isles without limitations" point to the meaning of the word "God". However the "retail God" is the depiction which appears as the central character in scripture. This is the God of the "local distributors". Typically this God is personified, spoken of as if God were a person like being. Only when we literalize this expression of God do we have problems. Some Christians take the phrase "the righthand of God" to imply that God really has hands. This kind of thinking leads to supernatural theism and its problems.
We can say: (1) Our relationship to God is personal in the language we use; but not personified. (2) Our relationship with God involves the quality of a presence, mores than that of a force of energy. Like Martin Buber there is an "I/Thou" quality, a covenantal relationship. (3) We sometime receive communications from God: in dreams, visions, internal "proddings" from people, scripture, devotionals and worship. Sometimes there is a sense of being "addressed". (This does not mean that everything that happens to us is the direct will of God
The Character of God
What is God basically like? Deeper than that we ask: (1) Is God a God of requirements and rewards? or (2) is God a God of love and justice?
The first description of God's character presents God as a lawgiver and judge. We are disobedient and need to be punished. God has provided, through our repentance and the death of Jesus, the means for our punishment to be paid. Thus our forgiveness and salvation is possible if we believe in that proposition. When the Christian life is couched in these terms the Christian's responsibility is to meet God's requirements.
The second way of looking at God's character is that of love and justice. Through the scripture, God's love for his people is expressed. The prophets repeated this theme over and over. "For God so loved the world". But love also implies justice. God does not just love you and me. God loves everybody, including the non human creatures and the rest of creation. To take justice seriously means to recognize that continued injustice has serious consequences.
Another way to contrast these two descriptions of God are to talk about law and grace. And look at the ultimate message of the two ways of imaging God: the first is: there will be a day of judgement (at the end of your life, or at the end of history). You better be ready or you will be in deep trouble. The second is an invitation to live a transformed life here and now, and to be engaged in transforming the world. it seems the first description of God's character makes God out to be a threatening force. The second is an invitation to a transforming relationship.
Borg, Marcus J. THE HEART OF CHRISTIANITY: Rediscovering a Life of Faith. New York: HarperSanFancisco, 2003.
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Paul Tillich speaks of "theism" in three ways, in his book COURAGE TO BE.
(1) It can mean an unspecified affirmation of God. E.g., a politicain or public speaker may reference "God" in order to appear serious or morally trustworthy. Theism is thus used to convey a character quality from the speaker to the audience; but this can be negated if the audience takes its theistic affirmation [more] seriously. (302)
(2) A second meaning for theism is that it may be the name for the divine-human encounters found, for example, in the Judeo-Christian scriptures. The personalistic representations of God show theism as the "non-mystical side of biblical religion and historical Christianity" ( (303)
(3) Theism in a third sense is dependent on the first two meanings. It is strictly theological and is thus dependent on the religious substance which it conceptualizes. In the first sense it attempts to shore up the necessity of affirming God in some way. It may formulate arguments for "existence of God". In the second sense it attempts to translate the person-to-person experiences into a doctrine of two different realities which may or may not coincide.
All three of these views of theism must be transcended. The first because it is irrelevant; and the second because it is one-sided. The third must be transcended because it is just wrong. It is bad theology
*of course "him" is used in a general sense, and could man him, her or it.