Conversations with Scripture: The Gospel of Mark

Author: Marcus J. Borg

Reviewed by CG

Last Fall, the Associated Press reported a church in South Carolina that was having a book burning for Halloween.  What books?  Any version of the Bible that was not the King James Version since their pastor considers it to be the only infallible version!  They were also burning books by authors who used other versions—including books by Billy Graham.  While there are many things one could say about this, I’ll just say: such action is just not reasonable.

Marcus Borg reminds us in an autobiographical note in this little book that Martin Luther, while on the one hand suspicious of reason, on the other also valued it.  Borg goes on to tell us that there was a time in his life when he worried that reason was leading him away from faith.  However, he finally concluded that reason and faith don’t have to clash.  He goes on to say, “Faith without reason can become fantasy, and, at its extreme, fanaticism.  [See above.]  Reason without faith can become arid and amoral.  This book…illustrates the fruit that reason and faith as partners can produce.” [p. xiv]  I agree with his assessment of the book and the interplay of faith and reason.  If for no other reason than that you might be in a faith/reason struggle, you will want to read this book.

Borg writes in a way that is both easy to follow and understand, and at the same time, in a way that is academically honest.  The book is written for a lay person who may have no experience with Bible study.  We see this in his explanation of terms such as “gospel,” “synoptic gospels,” and more.  At the same time, the more seasoned reader will be able to find a lot of meat upon which to chew, along with this milk for beginners.

He begins by outlining what makes this Gospel distinctive, what seems to be the perspective of the writer, and lays out what serious scholarship thinks of Mark.  In the same first chapter, he delineates a reasoned approach for interpreting Mark that is persuasive and helpful.

From this point forward in the book, Borg takes the Gospel section by sectionandprovides explanation and commentary that illumine Mark’s message and purpose.  He advises the reader to have a copy of the Gospel itself nearby so you can read each section in Mark’s words before reading his ideas.  A very helpful suggestion.

The book concludes with a section of study questions.  They can be used to guide either individual or group study.  While he doesn’t suggest it, I recommend that after reading his introductory material, you read pages 109-112 in the study guide, then return to Chapter One to begin your actual work.

I found the book to be an excellent resource and wish I’d had it the last time I led a study of Mark.