Wolfgang Stahlberg and his wife Liliana, and Marc and I were close friends.
The friendship began with Marc and Wolfgang. Marcus was invited to speak at the church Wolfgang served, Messiah Community Church Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in Denver, Colorado. For years thereafter Marcus and Wolfgang exchanged ideas, hopes, concerns, open ended questions, shared vision for the church and their love for the heart of Christianity: Jesus.
Marcus’s death in January 2015 left us bereft. And Lili, Wolfgang and I became even closer.
Wolfgang provided strong encouragement for establishing a Foundation to continue the conversation about Christianity and Jesus and being Christian today, a conversation Marc so deeply engaged. Wolfgang, familiar with Marc’s work, was friend and colleague and a creative resource. He was a valued Board member.
Wolfgang died suddenly on October 6, 2017. He survived a dissected aortic aneurysm almost two years prior. A recovery that seemed nothing short of miraculous. He slowly regained his strength and stamina. He never lost his wit or humor, or keen insights, and he remained tireless in his passion for Jesus and the evolving tradition of Christianity. He was a beloved pastor and gifted teacher.
In 2013 he completed his doctor of ministry through Phillips Theological Seminary, Tulsa, Oklahoma. His topic: Exploring the Doctrine of Substitutionary Atonement. His doctoral work focused on the development of a curriculum for congregational use.
I quote from his dissertation:
The goal of my curriculum will be to discuss convictions of mainline believers, who in different forms and grades believe that “Jesus died for my sins.” I will offer an alternative interpretation of Jesus’ death that sees the death as a consequence of his life and teachings. I will also offer in the curriculum an understanding of salvation that focuses on participation of the believer; when Jesus says in the gospel according to Luke, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27), he is not referring to any kind of substitutionary death, instead he is inviting to participation in his “Way.”
I will teach the curriculum and be in conversation with lay people, Christians from my own mainline congregation, which is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It will be important to listen to them and to take their arguments seriously. The curriculum is intended to be a tool for mainline clergy, with building blocks that the teaching minister can chose from and use according to the local situation.
What Wolfgang undertook is in keeping with the work of the Foundation. Engage, explore, learn, listen, continue the conversation. We would love to hear from you who were part of this curriculum study and learn from you how your understanding was impacted by this experience.
Wolfgang is deeply missed. And will be. His contributions to progressive Christianity will continue to energize us. Thank you, Wolfgang. Thank you.
And thank you to the many who have made contributions to the Marcus J. Borg Foundation in honor of Wolfgang. Your support will help sustain what Wolfgang called “lifetime work,” being part of a realistic and meaningful Christianity for the 21st Century. If you would like to contribute now in his honor, you may do so here. Thank you.