Liberal theologian Marcus Borg dead at 72

NEW YORK (AP) — Marcus J. Borg, a prominent liberal theologian who attracted praise and controversy by helping to lead efforts to analyze Jesus as a historical figure, has died at age 72.

Borg died Wednesday at his home in Portland, Oregon, according to his publisher, HarperOne. The publisher announced Thursday that Borg had been suffering from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a scarring or thickening of the lungs that makes it difficult to breathe.

A popular speaker, frequent television commentator and the author or co-author of more than 20 books, Borg was among a group of scholars known as the Jesus Seminar that emerged in the 1980s and offered a skeptical look at the accounts of his life in the Gospels.

The Jesus Seminar was founded by Robert W. Funk and included John Dominic Crossan, a frequent collaborator with Borg. Through such books as “Jesus: A New Vision,” Borg is credited with bringing scholarly debates about Jesus to a broad readership. His work drew much criticism from more theologically conservative Christians and others, who argued his methods were unsound and his work undermined faith. But Borg wrote that he had conducted his research within the context of his “unbelieving past” and his “believing present” as a Christian.

“Marcus was unafraid to follow the scholarly evidence where it led him while both communicating complexity fluently and remaining a man of faith,” HarperOne publisher and senior vice president Mark Tauber said in a statement. “In these times when writing and speaking (and illustrating) messages and stories that seek truth are dangerous, Marcus Borg was a hero and a beacon.”

He was born in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, and raised in a Lutheran family. He studied politics and philosophy at Concordia College and became interested in liberal theology while on fellowship at Union Seminary. He taught at several colleges but spent much of his academic career at Oregon State University, from which he retired in 2007. Two years later, he was named canon theologian at Trinity Cathedral in Portland. His other books included “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time,” ”The Heart of Christianity” and “Convictions,” published last year and described by Borg as “a bit of a memoir.”

“My convictions are about the past and the present,” he wrote on his blog earlier this month. “Beginning 50 or more years ago, my intellectual passion became the study of the Bible, Jesus, Christian origins, Christian history, and to a lesser but substantial extent, other religions.

“My working title for this book was ‘what I wish every American Christian knew.’ I am convinced — convicted — that if American Christians knew and embraced what is in this book that it would change American Christianity — and American society, culture, and politics.”

Borg is survived by his wife, Marianne, two children and one grandchild.

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