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Putting Away Childish Things: A Tale of Modern Faith


Putting Away Childish Things: A Tale of Modern Faith

Readers familiar with theologian Marcus J. Borg may do a double-take when they discover that his latest book is a novel. Borg's previous nonfiction titles, including the bestselling THE HEART OF CHRISTIANITY and MEETING JESUS AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME, presented his theological perspectives on current issues within Christianity --- most notably, the nature of Jesus and a non-literal interpretation of the Bible. Here, he offers those perspectives in a fictional format that is highly engaging, at least to those who understand that Borg's primary purpose is to teach.

And teach he does, through the character of Kate Riley, an assistant professor of religion who is up for tenure at Wells College, a small liberal arts college in Wisconsin. Though she's one of the most popular professors on campus, her position is jeopardized by two factors: the publication of several of her books that the religion department deems too Christian, and a campaign by parents who want her removed because they believe she's forcing her beliefs on students.

The drama in Kate's life intensifies when she receives an invitation to apply for a one-year visiting professor position at Scudder Divinity School, an East Coast seminary. Although Kate is happy at Wells, the Scudder invitation intrigues her. But even that has its complications, since the Scudder professor who recommended her is Martin Erikson, with whom she'd had a brief affair in grad school. And Wells will not guarantee that she will be able to return to the school at the end of her year at Scudder, should she decide to apply.

Meanwhile, another drama is unfolding in her classroom and elsewhere on campus. Several evangelical students are enrolled in her Religion and the Enlightenment class, where their conservative beliefs are challenged. One of the students, Erin, has those beliefs further challenged when she goes home for Christmas break and discovers that her brother is gay. Back at school, she seeks out Professor Riley to help her come to terms with what the other evangelicals on campus see as an assault on her faith as a born-again Christian.

What Borg has done through the main plot and subplots is provide the perfect setting for presenting his theological perspectives. The college environment offers him significant opportunities in that regard, and he takes full advantage of every lecture, student discussion, classroom handout, and counseling session to present and clarify his beliefs on such issues as the divinity of Jesus, the inerrancy of the Bible, and the relationship between reason and faith.

Borg doesn't stop there. He also makes his views known through sermons, poems, and, most memorably and effectively, radio interviews in which Kate discusses her latest book, TWO STORIES, ONE BIRTH, in which she makes a clear distinction between the accounts of Jesus' birth in Matthew and Luke rather than seeing them as one story told two different ways.

In the hands of a lesser writer, all of this "teaching" would be intrusive. But Borg seamlessly integrates theology with a compelling story populated by characters who the reader will likely care about: Kate; her best friend, Geoff; several other professors; and her students. Erin's crisis of faith coincides with Kate's, making for an absorbing look at such a crisis from two very different points of view.

About the only downside to the book is the way that several story lines end abruptly, but the upside to that, especially for Borg, is that readers may very well clamor for more, wanting a sequel that will tie up those loose ends while also revealing what will happen to Kate given the decision she has made about her future.

If you're looking for pure entertainment, you won't find it here. But if the thought of immersing yourself in a thought-provoking, meaty and entertaining novel appeals to you, then PUTTING AWAY CHILDISH THINGS is for you. It's also ideal for church book clubs, emerging church participants, and those who are comfortable with the idea that "putting away childish things" means embracing the belief that the Bible is true --- but not literally factual.

Reviewed by Marcia Ford ( on January 23, 2011

Putting Away Childish Things: A Tale of Modern Faith
by Marcus J. Borg

  • Publication Date: April 20, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne
  • ISBN-10: 0061888141
  • ISBN-13: 9780061888144