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Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today

Deconstructing Demons

I am often asked about ‘casting out demons’ in the past and how I reconcile that now. This is one of my favorite things to talk about, but it does require a little set-up so I will be a concise as possible and then get to it.

In ‘What had changed since I was your Pastor” I explained ‘why the natural is super’:

I am convinced that the church has made a major mistake in adopting the language of the super-natural. Since the epic flub with Galileo and Copernicus the church has allowed science to have the natural (things that make sense) and has been relegated to watching over things that increasingly don’t make sense and retreating into words like ‘mystery’ and ‘faith’ as cover for that which is just not reasonable.

I do not believe in a realm (the natural) that is without God. As a Christian, I believe that God’s work is the most natural thing in the world. I am unwilling to concede the natural-spiritual split and then leave less and less room for God as science is able to explain more and more. The church is foolish to accept the dualism (natural-supernatural) and then superintend only the spiritual part.

I would prefer to reclaim the language of the ‘miraculous’ (surprising to us or unexpected) and ‘signs’ from the Gospel of John (that point to a greater reality).

SO inside that expectation, what do you do with demons and the devil?

I no longer believe that demons are ancient fallen creatures that work for some cosmic bad army in unseen realms and attached themselves to people’s souls… or something.

I believe that demons are the ‘shadows’ that result from injury, brokeness, and scar tissue in a fractured psyche (or spirit or soul). Those ‘dark’ elements or places can manifest in the exact ways that we used to describe ‘spiritual oppression’.

The Devil is a poetic-literary device for when corporate evil is so big and bad that we outsource it (personify it) to an anthropomorphic bad guy envisioned as some overlord type.

[now, I have done this enough to know that two pushbacks are coming, so let me just say: A) Don’t quote Job. The ‘hasatan’ or the satan is not the New Testament ‘Devil’. Plus you have to read Job as the ancient play that it was (it is more like a manuscript than a newspaper report). B) The temptation of Jesus plays an important role in the gospels. stick with me, it will make a lot more sense if you don’t read the devil as ‘an ancient fallen being now terrorizing the earth’. The temptation of Christ was about identity. Not if he was Messiah, but what kind he would be. ]

When we kick demons out of people (through deliverance, exorcism, or guided prayer) we use something called “Open Doors & Broken Windows”.  We invite God’s Spirit to walk them through their ‘house’ – every area of their life – and look for places that the ‘enemy’ could have gained access. Doors are opened from the inside (you have the lock & key to your own heart). Windows are broken from the outside. That is our imagery.

  • Open Doors are decisions that you make (sin, weakness, participation, etc.) that leave you vulnerable and susceptible.
  • Broken Windows are injuries from others (abuse, neglect, violence, etc.).

Sometimes we do this topically (verbally go from room to room) sometimes we do it chronologically (starting from when you were young). Once we have find something, we take back the authority that has been given away (renounce sin) or we invite the Spirit into that place of injury to repair what has been broken and fractured.

Within Deliverance circles that are two primary schools: Authority (or power) and Truth. I am a Truth guy. I simply speak truth into that place of hurt or brokeness. The words of Christ are very powerful for healing and release. Within the Authority school there are two groups: a group who talks to (interviews) the demons; one that doesn’t but simply ‘takes authority’ over them. The theory is that you have to figure out how they got in in order to take away that root of their power. I never liked that, demons lie – they work for ‘the Liar and Father of Lies’.  I even thought that back then …

 How do I process this now? I still do deliverances but much prefer ‘guided prayer times’ without the deliverance element. The only time I will do it is if the person is convinced that there is a demon present. If this person grew up in an environment where this was taught, or has bought into a place where this is the religious teaching – I never introduce the idea, but if that is what they are being tormented by, then I help them out and meet them where they are at.

I believe that demons are the ‘shadows’ that result from injury, brokeness, and scar tissue in a fractured psyche (or spirit or soul). Those ‘dark’ elements or places can manifest in the exact ways that we used to describe ‘spiritual oppression’.

This can affect every thing from internal dialogue, to relationship, to social behavior. Gone far enough, it can even look like possession. Two important things:

  1. As Christians, we believe in the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in the world.
  2. The deliverance style prayer works just as well on shadows in fractured souls.

When someone walks into my office and they are convinced that they are being a tormented by a demon, I’m not sure that is the best time to explain to them how the ancients viewed the 3-tiered universe and the metaphysics behind it that allowed for demons. It is a time to care for that person and just translate for them.*  What they have been taught to call a demon is a personification with anthropomorphic characteristics. When we have injuries, there can emerge shadows from the fractures and scar tissue. Pastors do all sorts of counseling and this can be a way of caring for a hurting person who is really struggling inside.
I can still do 80% of what I used to do and operate in integrity. I can:

  • invite the Holy Spirit’s presence
  • walk with the person through their life
  • speak the words of Christ into that place of hurt
  • help them renounce the origin, impact and collateral damage
  • take authority over that situation and for themselves
  • confess trust in God and the power to live differently in the future
  • celebrate the freedom that is in Christ and in Christ’s work

I would love to hear your thoughts, concerns, comments and questions. This has been  long journey for me and though I no longer believe in ‘the boogie man’, I understand that this language of demons is powerful in some traditions so I work with people where they are at – I don’t need to first convince them of my perspective.

* I have at times said to the person “What if I told you that there is no such thing as a demon and that what you are experiencing is something else?” Just to test the waters. About 50% of the time the person is open and was simply told by someone else (usually the person who referred them to me) that it was a demon – which terrified them. Some times they insist, so I just go with it.

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God Loves Who?

Our Left – Right politic divide creates problems for understanding and living in God’s love.

God loves us AND them.

I have been thinking about Identity Politics in the Gospel of Luke.

Identity Politics are great for politics – everyone should bring their whole humanity to the table and should vote according to their social location.

While Identity Politics are great for politics, it is not great for community.

It exposes that the Left is just the inverse of the Right – and neither is the gospel.

The gospel of God’s love transcends and even subverts our current political divide.

Check out the video and let me know your thoughts.

Another Trinity

Christians believe in a 3in1 God. The Trinity has become too root-bound and concrete.

It needs to be updated.
Here is another way to understand the Trinity:

Christ is the power of the past (forgiveness)
Spirit is the power of the present (faith and ministry)
God is the power of the future (possibility)

Watch the video and let me know your thoughts. Also check out Perichoresis

Preaching to the Choir

How should we handle the ‘crisis of the week‘ from the pulpit?

In my year of being a professor I visited lots of churches. I noticed a predictable trend:

  • Evangelicals never preaching on the news
  • Mainliners almost exclusively preached on the news

I made a decision (based on past experience) to go a different direction – and it has led to mixed results.

Do I need to change my sermon every time something happens in the news? If I did that, all I would ever do is respond to the ‘crisis of the week’ … but if I never do it, then I am not speaking to the issues of the day.

I could use some help thinking this through.

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) .

https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2007-mar-18-ca-mad18-story.html

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

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