Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today

3 Types of Church

There are three types of churches when it comes to their ‘relationship to power’: [1]

  • Messianic
  • Therapeutic
  • Prophetic

Messianic churches look for ‘help’ from outside the system. Whether it is the 2nd Coming of Christ or intercessory prayer, there is an expectation of an intervention (even salvation) from a source outside of (or beyond) the current order. This is often an unseen realm.

Therapeutic churches help you adjust to the system the way it is. These churches want to help you have your best life now. The priority is to help you be the best citizen you can be (at minimum) or to excel in your field so you can be an influential person within your networks.

Prophetic churches are looking to change the system. They want advocate for those on the margins and the disadvantaged. They utilize advocacy, community organizing, and protest to leverage those in power to change public policy and legislation toward justice and equality.

Here is where it gets more interesting:

Each of the primary expressions has a secondary emphasis … and an unfortunate neglected element.

Messianic churches (change from the outside) seem to have a therapeutic element where they help people to adjust to the system as it is while they wait for deliverance from above (or beyond). Unfortunately, these churches often neglect the prophetic aspect (changing the current system) because it seems like ‘rearranging deck chairs on the titanic’. There can be a resignation or ‘other-world-liness’[2] as a side-effect of this approach.

Therapeutic churches (helping you within the system) seem to have a prophetic element which focuses on issues of  ‘social-justice’ in order to change certain givens in the equation to variables that can be adjusted. Unfortunately, these churches often neglect the messianic component which believes that there are any resources available from outside the system (or established order). This can result in a generational (or personal) crisis that asks “who or what is it exactly that we believe in / pray to ? And what exactly are we hoping for here?”

Prophetic churches (changing the system) seem to have a messianic element which looks to a power ‘beyond’ or ‘above’ that will supply a needed element of transformation in order to bring justice and deliverance to those in need. Unfortunately, these churches can neglect the therapeutic component of religious belief and practice. This lack often leads to participants feeling worn-out or burned-out, depleted and discouraged. Hope in the messianic aspect, without the therapeutic, becomes even more vital.

When I present this in the seminary classroom I give examples of each:

  1. a Therapeutic/prophetic church (like I am at currently) that struggles with messianic spirituality because the ‘interventionist’ view of god seems problematic.
  2. a Prophetic/messianic church that does protest and ‘action’ but struggles with therapeutic spirituality because it is soft or too ‘me’ focused.
  3. Messianic/therapeutic church (like I use to be) that struggles with prophetic action because of ideas like the ‘2 kingdoms’ which has the spiritual realm (or kingdom of god) as over and above the kingdoms of this world.

Here is an introductory video. Please let me know you thoughts, examples, concerns, and questions.

[1] Power is alternatively known as: the ‘system’, the powers that be, the man, institutional power, and the status-quo, among other things.

[2] NoTW – ‘Not of This World’ is an odd consumer expression of passages like Romans 12:1-2, John 15:19, John 17:14 & 16, John 18:36, Colossians 3:2, Philippians 3:20-21, Ephesians 6:12, and 1 John 2:15-17.


The Gospel of Mad Magazine

Mad Magazine is ceasing its publication of the print edition. This is going to be a huge loss.

Mad Magazine used parody, caricature, and satire to lampoon the ridiculous elements of our age.
This was the role of parables in Jesus’s age.

We have been taught to read parables poorly. They have been neutered, sanitized, and de-fanged.

Many of us were taught to read parables as:

  1. Aesop’s Fables
  2. Proverbs
  3. Allegory

Parables are none of those things.

Parables are small stories about birds and farmers, widows and foreigners designed to come in underneath the listener’s radar to that their defenses are down … and then once in, to interrogate assumptions and undermine (subvert) the status quo.

Both Mad and Jesus’s parables utilized irony, skepticism, exaggeration, and satire to poke holes in the hypocritical and unjust elements of the establishment.

Mad’s legacy has now passed to TV shows like the Simpsons, South Park, the Daily Show, and even Saturday Night Live.

Here are two great articles about the end of Mad Magazine (one in the LA Times and one in the NY Times) .

Watch this video and let me know what you think.

Re Nostalgia

Our orientation and posture toward a romanticized notion of the past is problematic. The impulse toward nostalgia is a real danger. I have written about the danger of ‘Re’ words and the past before.

In this 10 minute video I talk about the importance of being fully present and looking for both better questions as well as different answers.

Time for Church 2.0

Interactive Church is my passion.

This week we finally go all the way to Church 2.0 with my current congregation! We have been practicing the component parts and building a culture of conversational listening for 2 years. This Sunday we put it all together for the first time.

You can find videos for Interactive Church (2.0) here [link]

Each of our Sunday gatherings are conceived of in 3 Acts and each act is centered around something (usually involving a table).

Last week was:

  1. Coffee Table Conversations
  2. Sermon/Homily
  3. Communion Table

This week will be:

  1. Presentation of Seven Passions
  2. Coffee Table Conversations
  3. Comparing Notes ‘at the table’.

Here is a short (7 min) video about ‘putting it all together’ and why it is time for Church 2.0

Please let me know if you have any questions or clarifications

Why Use NT Wright?

This September we are going through both the Gospel of Luke (Sundays) and the book of Job (Wednesdays). I had pointed people to NT Wright’s Luke for Everyone as a resource for our study.

It was pointed out that NT Wright is conservative. While he is certainly more conservative than I am (and most at Progressive Bible Study), it does merit a look at why we would use his work as a launching off point.

The key is that many of our participants are ‘post-evangelical’ and so we are being careful to not ‘define ourselves by what we don’t believe’. It is a danger that many ‘exvangelicals’ and former evangelicals (and even post-christian folks) are more sure of what they don’t believe than what they do believe.

We are on a journey together and so NT Wright provides us a launching off point because he is the foremost popularizer of contemporary Biblical scholarship.

It is not enough to know how you don’t want to read the Bible but we want to provide something to start with about what a passage may mean before we run it through our ‘progressive lens’.

I take the concern about NT Wright seriously. I have been critical of his approach many times.

It is also why I always pair it with a more adventurous (and usually academic) resource. For Luke I have chosen “Mark & Luke in Poststructuralist Perspectives: Jesus Being to Write” by Moore. It is a wild look full of daring ideas.

Admittedly, it is not for everyone. It does, however, allow me to come around the back door and sneak in some alternative perspectives. I also use Postcolonial Bible Criticism by R. S. Sugirtharajah

I hope that helps to clarify my comfort with utilizing NT Wright’s ‘Everyone’ series.

Here is a quick video explanation

Not Everything Happens For A Reason

Romans 8:28 often gets translated “All things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose.”

This idea has migrated into our culture, absent the God element, as “everything happens for a reason”.

Both the Bible version and it’s secular offspring have had disastrous ramifications. It is a dangerous idea that harms people daily.

Not only is it a bad reading of the scripture but its impact is devastating for people’s faith and lives.

In this sermon, I challenge the assumption by pointing out two simple things:

  • Not everything works for your good. Some ‘things are working against you.
  • There is an agent (God) that is at work in ‘all things – both good and bad.

We need to get this right because there is a better reading of that Bible passage.

Please let me know your thoughts, questions, and concerns.

Conferences: Problems & Limitations

Randy Woodley and Bo Sanders talk about some problems and limitations of conferences.
Concerns go beyond who talks or what they say – it is about how things are organized.

In the last decade issues of race, tokenism, representation, equality, and power dynamics have come front and center (literally).

Randy wants to promote indigenous models of learning. Bo wants to put the medium & the message in the spotlight.

Enjoy this short chat and let us know your thoughts.

Our next LIVE Online Chat is Sunday August 11 at 3pm (PST). Let us know you want an invite to the Zoom Chat by emailing

Nobody Reads The Bible Literally

Nobody reads the Bible literally. We are all interpreting – and this is a good thing!

This admission allows us to say:

Since we are all interpreting, let’s talk about how we are interpreting.

I first realized this about the book of Revelation (apocalyptic literature). Then it became clear about other genres of scripture like wisdom literature (like Job) and the gospels (like Luke).

Here is a recent sermon that I gave on the subject. You can also listen to the full version of it (including a lot of joking at the beginning) on the VHUMC podcast.

I would love to hear your thoughts, questions, and concerns.

I will be saying more about the idea of ‘moving your application up to your interpretation’ in the months to come.

Preaching Luke Together

I am doing an interesting experiment this Fall. A group of us are going to preach through the Gospel of Luke together by collaborating the sermon prep. Some of us will be in a room together in Portland and others will join via Skype.

I have always enjoyed collaborative projects and I really enjoy sermon prep so I am hoping that it is doubly enjoyable to combine them!

There are two wrinkles that I am looking forward to:

  1. We are saving the nativity story for Advent (December) so we will begin the series in September with Chapter 3 of the Gospel.
  2. One top of the NT Wright ‘Luke For Everyone”, each of us is reading a different commentary and then bringing that unique resource to the prep table.
The 2nd resource can be whatever you want. We will compare notes each month at the planning meeting. All the resources and planning materials will be uploaded to a website and dropbox.
I plan on using two resources – one for my congregation and one for my sermon prep. 
The one for the congregation will be Luke for Everyone by NT Wright 
The one for sermon prep will be much more adventurous and daring
My sermons will be triple-layered: 
  1. What did Luke’s original audience hear?
  2. What has this passage come to mean since then?
  3. What is the most that this text can mean in the 21st century? 
I want to introduce both the historical context AND the progressive trajectory of the gospel. 
The hope is to help people consider a grown up version of Jesus, not just the ‘Mr. Rogers with a beard‘ version from Kids Sunday School. 

Luke: Preaching Gospel


8th                    1:1-4                Intro: 4 Gospels 1 Jesus

15th                  3: 1-20             Voices in the Wilderness

22nd                 3: 21-38           Where did you come from?

29th                  4: 1-29             Trusting God – Rejected by Humans


6th                    4: 31-44           Healing Inside and Out

13th                  5: 1-11             Go Deep (Discipleship)

20th                  5:12-31            Restored and Repaired

27th                  5:33-6:11         Rules and Religion


3rd                              6:12-36            Raising Expectations

10th                           6:37-49            Compare and Contrast

17th                           7:1-17              Life is Tough

24th                           7: 18-50           Two Different Lives


1st                              1:5-45              Setting the Scene

8th                              1:46-80            Songs of Hope

15th                           2:2-20              Event Horizon

22nd                          2:22-40            Promises Seen

29th                           2: 41-52           House and Temple


5th                    8: 1-21             Growing and Belonging

12th                  8: 22-39           Power and Grace

19th                  8: 40-56           Daughters Restored

26th                  9: 1-23             Mid-Term Exam (now you try)


Blog at

Up ↑