November 1998

Borg, Marcus J.

The God We Never Knew: Beyond Dogmatic Religion to a More Authentic Contemporary Faith

HarperCollins, $25.50 (paper), ISBN 0-06-061034-4

Marcus Borg again offers what we have come to expect from his pen - wit, warmth and critical engagement with ultimate questions. Probing behind his usual concern for Jesus and history, he sustains throughout the book a devotional, intellectual, and experiential quest for God. It is perhaps both a strength and a weakness that the accent falls on experience ("How does it feel?"); for Borg constructs his own pietistic Lutheran childhood as an "icon" of 20th-century Christian understanding. All will appreciate his impulse to move beyond knowledge of God to knowing God. Yet the premise that "dogma" blocks "authentic" faith seems born of reaction. Borg's false dichotomies do not actually move beyond dogma but suggest an alternate dogma: a God "right here" versus "out there," "this life" and not "the next," "an inclusive social version" versus "emphasis on righteousness." Reaction does not always make for fruitful thinking, as Borg himself notes in describing fundamentalism over against liberalism. A long gaze at the incarnate Son and the Triune God (which revelations Borg humbly admits he "does not yet understand," will, I think, confirm that classical Christianity directs us to the intimacy which we crave. Borg's enthusiastic "pantheism" (God-in-everything) and invocation of the sacred do not really portray, despite promises, an immanent and transcendent God, one who is majestic yet tender. I recall the words of Dorothy L. Sayers, "it is the dogma that is the drama: there never was anything so exciting ... (as the) orthodox creed of the church."