Nigel Leaves: A Tribute

Dear Westar community, it is with deep sadness that we announce the death earlier this week of Fellow Nigel Leaves of St. John’s Cathedral in Brisbane. His partner of 30 years, Julie Leaves, reports that at 10:31 am London time and 7:30 pm Brisbane time, Nigel died as a result of a massive and unforeseen heart attack. He was only 56 years old. “I want to thank everyone who has worked so hard to help us over the last few hours both in Brisbane and in London,” she writes. “Can’t know how much it means to us.”

Nigel Leaves

Nigel Leaves

Nigel contributed to the work of religious literacy in numerous ways, most importantly in his interactions with people in both his academic and pastoral capacities. His absence will be felt acutely among us for many years to come. “Nigel was one of the quiet yet great ones of us,” said Westar Fellow Jarmo Tarkki upon learning of Nigel’s passing.

His remarkable insights into the work of both Don Cupitt and Lloyd Geering, let alone his very own thoughts in his last book Religion Under Attack: Getting Theology Right will fortunately be with us for a very long time. Amazon describes the book as I would describe Nigel: “He wrestles religion from extremists and into the hands of reasonable and sane believers.”

Nigel and I had plans to get together in Australia “soon.” This was about 4 years ago. What do I learn – “Morgen, morgen, nur nicht heute, sagen alle Leute” – is wrong. Do it now, for tomorrow might not be there.

Nigel surely will be missed by his family, friends and all of us, who knew him as great fellow of Westar and a friend. Thank you, Nigel.

Nigel Leaves was based in Brisbane, Australia, where he served on the staff of St. Francis Theological College and as Canon of St John’s Anglican Cathedral. He was also an Academic Associate of Charles Sturt University, teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels (full bio). He was concerned that theology should be both honest and appropriate to the culture in which it is situated. Fearful that truthful “God-talk” had been sidelined from ordinary conversation, he enjoined theologians to be more creative in their engagement with postmodernity. He authored several books, including a two-part study of the work of radical theologian Don Cupitt followed by his own Religion Under Attack: Getting Theology Right! and The God Problem: Alternatives to Fundamentalism. Westar members may recall that he delivered a lecture on The God Problem at the Westar Institute national meeting in Spring 2005.

Most recently, Nigel contributed an essay to Why Weren’t We Told?: A Handbook on ‘progressive’ Christianity (2013), in which he addressed the ongoing gap between academic and public conversations on religion.

The tragic irony is that the seminary I trained at was so far ahead of the church I was being prepared for. And in many ways that same situation remains today. The theology taught to the next generation of priests and deacons is serviced through secular universities whose programs embrace the latest biblical, hermeneutical, and methodological approaches. Ideas about ‘God’, ‘Jesus’, ‘the Church’, etc., are not necessarily filtered through a denominational lens, but are presented in a sweeping overview of what has been written in the past and what is being written and spoken today. Seminarians rub shoulders with secular humanists as they both seek to discover ‘the historical Jesus’. As one who now sits on the other side of the lectern, I often discover that the seminarian is far more theologically and ecclesiastically radical than the ‘seeker after Truth’ sitting next to her. And yet, the Church they are being sent to aren’t necessarily prepared to receive their theology. It daily proves to be an intellectually stimulating process.

In short, some of the disconnect I experienced as a young curate all those years ago still remains. How does the Church envision its own programs of theological education? Does it really want its future ministers to embrace the habits of critical thinking inculcated in its educational modules? …

It is my contention that what is taught in the seminary should be applied in the Church. If the seminary experience is to prove useful, it cannot be simply a training regimen to be endured or a warm-up round with little relation to the main event. Rather, it is a vital resource for enabling the Church to become theologically liberated and renewed. The seminary and the Church need to become partners in the revitalisation of an institution in decline. Parishioners should not look forward to moulding the new curate in their own image, but to being challenged and invigorated by the visionary proclamation of good news that transforms their situation and the world at large.

Rest in peace, Nigel, and may your vision inspire and encourage us ever onward.

Information about funerary arrangements will be available on the St. John’s Cathedral website here.

Marcus Borg: A Collection of Tributes

Learn more about Marcus BorgDear Westar Community,

It is with sadness that we received the news of Marcus Borg’s death on January 21. Marcus Borg was a major contributor to the work of the Jesus Seminar in its seminal period.  In his career, he modeled the ideal of a Westar Fellow. Marcus ably bridged the gap between the academic guild and the general public. His books are cherished by Westar associates for their clarity and honesty. We at Westar will miss him terribly. Our sympathies go out to his family.

From Marcus

“Me and Jesus, the Journey Home”
Marcus Borg, The Fourth R

A few years ago I received an invitation from an Episcopal group in the San Francisco Bay area. “We want you to talk to us about Jesus,” they said, “and we want you to make it personal.” Nobody had ever asked me to “make it personal” before. Trying to figure out what to say, I wrote the words “Me and Jesus” on a page. I reflected on those words. What emerged was the story of “me and Jesus”—of what I could remember about Jesus from my childhood, adolescence, early adulthood all the way to the present. I see now that my “personal and academic pilgrimage” has been tied to the figure of Jesus from the very beginning…

Tributes to Marcus 

We have been overwhelmed by the number of tributes poured out to Marcus across social media, news sites, and blogs, a selection of which appears below.

“Much will be said, and deservedly so, of Marcus Borg’s career and contributions,” wrote Westar Fellow Arthur Dewey. “No one can forget that his writings and lectures spoke to people far beyond the scholarly pale. But I cannot forget that notebook he forever carried to catch something unexpected, nor that shuttle ride to Atlanta’s airport, when he gently detailed his personal quest for his Christian roots. As he finished, I looked into that gentle face and found compassion again, as if for the first time.”

Looking for a place to share your own response? We invite you to contribute here or on the Westar Institute/Jesus Seminar Facebook page, where there is already a growing collection of anecdotes, favorite quotes, and expressions of gratitude for his work.

Memorial to a Beloved Advisor, and Friend – Marcus Borg
Fred Plumer,

It will be impossible to ascertain just how big of an influence Marcus has had on the Progressive Christian movement, but I believe his biggest gift was the fact that he was a consummate teacher. It did not matter if it was one of his books, one of his lectures or if you were lucky enough to experience it, one of his quiet conversations, he always wanted to communicate in such a way you would get it…

My Friend, Marcus Borg
Rev. Barkley Thompson, God in the Midst of the City (blog)

Unlike so many other writers in the field of religion (on both ends of the spectrum), Marcus was humble. Once one of my parishioners asked him during Q&A, “But how do you know that you’re right?” He paused, looked at her thoughtfully, and said, “I don’t know. I don’t know that I’m right.” …

Marcus Borg, leading liberal theologian and historical Jesus scholar, dies at 72
David Gibson, Religion News Service, The Washington Post

Borg emerged in the 1980s just as academics and theologians were bringing new energy to the so-called “quest for the historical Jesus,” the centuries-old effort to disentangle fact from myth in the Gospels. Alongside scholars such as John Dominic Crossan, Borg was a leader in the Jesus Seminar, which brought a skeptical eye to the Scriptures and in particular to supernatural claims about Jesus’ miracles and his resurrection from the dead…

In Honor of Marcus Borg
Brian D. McLaren (blog)

Hardly the hard-bitten “liberal theologian” out to eviscerate Christianity of any actual faith, Marcus Borg impressed me as a fellow Christian seeking an honest, thoughtful, and vital faith, ready to dialogue respectfully with people who see things differently. … Some friends of mine wrote about Marcus somewhat uncharitably on a few occasions. I remember a dinner where he asked me many questions about them, utterly non-defensive, sincerely trying to understand where they were coming from and how he could still seek common ground with them, something I wish his critics had done more earnestly with him…

Beloved Bestselling Author Marcus Borg
HarperOne, on Patheos

Marcus Borg was an internationally revered speaker and scholar who authored or co‐authored 21 books, some which were New York Times and national bestsellers. His books have won multiple awards and been translated into twelve languages. The New York Times called him, “a leading figure in his generation of Jesus scholars.” …

Marcus Borg Reintroduced Me to Jesus
Katherine Willis Pershey, Christian Century

Marcus Borg modeled how to doubt faithfully, how to believe rationally, and—most importantly—how to move “beyond belief (and beyond doubt and disbelief) to an understanding of the Christian life as a relationship with the Spirit of God.” Though his progressive take on scripture was anathema to many, to others it was a revelation…

Local Renowned OSU Jesus Scholar Marcus Borg Dies at 72
Anthony Rimel, Corvallis Gazette-Times

Borg’s scholarship was aimed to make Jesus a figure of the present that people can have a relationship with, rather than focusing on literalist interpretations of the Bible…

Marcus Borg didn’t just study Scripture; he lived its message
Maureen Fiedler, National Catholic Reporter

I interview a lot of people — wonderful people — for “Interfaith Voices.” Many are outstanding scholars and people of deep faith. But sometimes, someone really stands out. That was the way it was with Marcus Borg. Memories of my interviews with him came rushing back when I got the news that he had passed away on Wednesday…