Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today

Be Brave (it might not work)

Here is a short encouragement that I shared with a seminary class recently.

Be brave. Be bold. Be daring. … it probably won’t work anyway.

The systems is so powerful and so dominating that it can absorb, adapt to, and even appropriate any protest or critique.

Parables, by the way, are not earthly stories with heavenly meanings.

Parables are earthy stories with heavy meaning.

Parables come in underneath your radar when your defenses are down … and then ask you to subvert, undermine, and interrogate the presumptions that you came in with from the as-is structures of the powers that be. 


Sex Talk


Next Tuesday night at our monthly Pub Chat event, we are going to talk about sex.

The question will be:

“What advice would you give your younger self?”

We are asking people read the article “It’s Time for the Church to Grow-up about Sex” (link) and get ready to chat.

Here is a PDF if you prefer It_s Time for the Church to Grow-up about Sex.

I would really love to get some feedback. The times are changing and we know that ‘just wait’ purity culture doesn’t work in the long run.

  1. How would you answer the question?
  2. What did you think of the article?

I know this tricky subject so I could use some help getting ready.

You can also email me at if you prefer

two people laying on a bed covered with a floral comforter
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Religionless Church Interview

Last week my interview with Mason Mennenga came out. I had so much fun recording it and we cover a variety of topics.

  • my spiritual migration
  • academic interests
  • interactive church
  • Religious but not spiritual
  • nerdy takes on Bonhoeffer and ‘the world come of age’

He also has a wonderful style for his podcast where he features the music of a different artist every time. He chose Workman Song for this episode and it really came together.

Please listen to the episode and then let me know what you thought!


Disagreeing Well

I had the opportunity to be on the UMC podcast Get Your Spirit In Shape.

My interview is Ep. 43 called Disagreeing Well.

It’s no secret that people disagree, sometimes vehemently. When our opinions match, it is easy to have a conversation. When we are on opposite sides of an issue, talking can be far more challenging, but often more fruitful. In a time when opinions are strong in both our public and church lives, learning to disagree well is important.

To learn some techniques for disagreeing well, we talked with the Rev. Bo Sanders, a United Methodist pastor who leads his congregation in weekly conversations about a variety of topics. Bo shares great tips for getting out of our “echo chambers,” and learning to listen and talk to those with whom we disagree.

You can watch the youtube video , or listen on Stitcher, or Itunes (where it comes up as episode 1 right now because it is most recent)

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

You might also like to hear the background thinking behind Interactive Church on my church podcast.

Please share these with your friends and followers – I am trying to starter a larger conversation!


Interactive Church

I had the opportunity earlier this week to be with leaders who are doing innovative things in their communities and ministry settings.

I got to talk about ‘why we do church this way’. I love to think through how to do and be church in the 21st century. I like to call it ‘a liturgy of listening and learning’.

Interactive church brings together the best of constructive approaches, emergent thought, church 2.0, and church as google. It is not top-down and heavy-handed in a prescriptive way, it is open-minded and open-ended.

Here is the link the podcast audio:

Below are my notes if you want to follow along – and at the bottom is the powerpoint

feel free to comment here or email me at


Interactive Church

An Embodied Practice Of Dialogue As

Prophetic Ministry To Argument Culture


Location of Resistance and Transformation (Church In The Round)


Context Is Crucial

Interactive Society

Contribution, Collaboration, Conversation

98% of Church Groups and Activities

Except …


The Moment is (a)Live

Web 1.0

Web 2.0

Interactive Church is an invitation and an opportunity

People bring their experience, insight, and perspective

Integrated Not Exceptional

Compliment Not Supplement



Methodists are built for it (DNA)

Small Groups

Wesleyan Quad

Communal Discernment



What we do doesn’t make disciples

It makes spectators of Spectacle




Church As Search Engine

Not Warehouse but Journey

Not Encyclopedia but Web

Different Metrics

3 months – 3 years – 3 decades


Interactive Church [powerpoint]

Desire & Longing Sermon

This past week at Vermont Hills, we started into a new series about Practicing Faith.

The first week’s topic is “Times of Yearning” and I took the opportunity to have some fun talking about different ways of talking about desire.

Here are 4 ways that I have heard desire talked about:

  • God Shaped Vacuum

You may be familiar with the famous quote by Pascal:

“There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made know through Jesus Christ.”

  • Competing Desires

In evolutionary terms, and for those of us influenced by Darwinian thought, we may talk about ‘competing desires’ and the different urges, motives, goals, and weaknesses that compete within us and within our societies.

In the end, however, we usually end up sounding a lot like the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:15-20 (NIV)

“15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do… For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”

  • Eternity In Their Hearts

In missionary circles there is a popular idea that comes from Ecclesiastes 3:11 that says God has put eternity in the human heart. It is a beautiful and poetic way of talking about our desire for the transcendent, divine, eternal, beyond.

Every human civilization that has ever existed has some concept or narrative about this deep longing.

  • God will give you the desires of your heart

Another popular way of talking about this concept comes from Psalm 37:4 (ESV)

4 Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

People love to quote this passage as some sort of a promise that they will get what they want … and it has been misused badly in a consumer society like ours.

It is helpful, however, to realize that in the original language there is a much better way to interpret that passage:

Delight yourself in the Lord and God will give unto your heart its desires.

Another more pointed way says, “God will give desires unto your heart”. This is helpful because if we follow God, God will help our heart by authoring our desires.


I would love to hear from you about other ways to talk about this that you have found helpful or unhelpful.

Listen to the audio of this sermon below OR from VHUMC [link to the podcast here] and read chapter 1 of Practicing Our Faith.

Feel free to comment, question, or offer suggestions.


Kneeling Honors The Founders

You are free to disagree with me.

And that is the beauty of this issue.

You are free and you disagree.

Welcome to America.


Three things I would like you to consider:

  1. America is founded on protest
  2. Protestants are the largest group in America
  3. The national anthem is too special to sing at every game


America is founded on protest. The founding fathers were literally protesting things like ‘taxation without representation’ and the divine right of kings.

Protest is baked in the American bread – it is embedded in the DNA of our nation.

So kneeling during the national anthem is the perfect time to do so and it honors the ideals that this country is based on. The timing is part of what makes the protest so poignant. It would be so much less powerful if players knelt during the first commercial time-out.

In fact, seen in a certain light, kneeling is probably the perfect way to honor this aspect of our rights as Americans. By one definition, Kneeling is a basic human position where one or both knees touch the ground. It can be used:

  • as a resting position
  • as an expression of reverence and submission
  • as a mark of respect
  • during childbirth


Protestants are the largest group in America. It always shocks me when protestants demand conformity and control. Look no further than our name to see that we are born in protest. The entire enterprise is based on the individual’s conscience. [1]

Martin Luther famously said, “here I stand and I can do no other”. An NFL player might say, “here I kneel and I can do no other”.

If you are a white person in America, you should defend player’s rights to kneel no matter how much you disagree with the timing or the message they are trying to convey about policing practices in minority communities. That is what freedom is all about.


The national anthem is too special to sing at every game. I love the singing of the national anthem at big events like the Olympics. That makes sense because the athletes are representing their country. I have never understood why we need to sing a worship song to America before we play baseball or football.

I stopped singing the national anthem before non-national games when I was an athlete living in Canada. At first, it was because I was not Canadian. Then I became a dual-citizen but it had stopped making sense to me.

I do honor the singing of the national anthem before USA Soccer matches – that makes sense because the players are in the red-white-and-blue. I swell with pride when the anthem is played after an athlete wins a medal at the Olympics.

Singing it before every single sporting event seems inappropriate. Let’s save it for international games and make it truly special.

Of course, you are free to disagree.


[1] Nerdy sidenote: the same can be said for evangelicals, fundamentalists, charismatics, and pentecostals, who call someone ‘heretical’ or claim ‘orthodoxy’. You might want to go to your nearest Orthodox church (they are very welcoming actually) and ask the man in charge what he thinks of your modern take on Christianity. Spoiler alert – you are not orthodox.

New Podcasts for Sept 2018

Randy and I are enjoying the Peacing It All Together podcast. We are slowly picking up listeners and seeing the kind of conversation that we were hoping for.

A couple episodes to highlight:

Episode 14 was about peace being more than the absence of war.

In Episode 15 Randy introduces the Native American tradition of peacemaking.

Episode 17, which came out yesterday, asks ‘where do you get your news?’ and I would love if you would let me know about good sources as we construct a ‘resources’ page.


The church podcast is back this week. We took the summer off to catch our breath and enjoy the amazing weather.

Check out my short sermons – like this one on handling conflict well.

We also have great conversations at the table – here is Sara talking about finding the sacred in the EVERY day.

The thing I am most excited about it the return of Sunday School! Last year we had 1 big topic each week. This year I am layer 4 topics each week to form a theme. I hope that you will tune in to these dynamic conversations (I use an interactive style).

Skinny Jean Fundamentalists

Broderick Greer, who often writes insightful and sharp critiques on his twitter feed, set off an interesting conversation with his tweet:

“The evangelicals with instagram hipster aesthetics and churches that meet in theatres know EXACTLY what they’re doing: Misleading otherwise-progressive urbanites to adopt fundamentalism in skinny jeans, accompanied by a drum set.”

The conversation took a non-sequitur turn when subtweeted:

“I have personally been duped by churches where the pastors wear traditional stoles with crosses on them, only to find out years later that no one on the pastoral staff affirms the resurrection.”

The opinions that flew in response to her were varied and fascinating.

I have three quick reflections on these tweets that I would love to hear your response to.

First, in my year out of church ministry I had a chance to go to different church services each Sunday. I would mix it up between Evangelical and Mainline congregations mostly. Sometimes I went to multiple churches on the same morning. It was an eye-opening experience.

Perhaps the most interesting trend I saw was that the more conservative an Evangelical church was – the more fashionable the clothing style. It was odd enough that I would comment on it to my students (I was a visiting seminary prof.) They were well aware of this pattern.

Turns out that lots of non-LGBTQ affirming churches dress really hip.

I first noticed the trend about a decade ago, ever since the Mark Driscoll led Mars Hill Church in Seattle was so over the top at it. At first, I thought that maybe it was more pronounce here in the Pacific NW (I live in Portland) but then I asked friends around the country and it is actually probably even worse east of the Rockies.

I now understand why nearly everyone who visits a church has scouted the website first. Rock-n-Roll evangelical churches may say “all are welcome” but if they are not open-and-affirming or don’t support women in ministry … eventually it will come out.

Second, I am not sure how ‘progressive’ is being used in this current debate. When I use progressive (as in ‘Bible Study for Progressives’) I mean that:

  1. History has progressed and the present is not the same as the past.
  2. The arc of history is long and there is a trajectory towards justice.
  3. That trajectory is more inclusive and empowering of formerly marginalized and disadvantaged people and groups.
  4. The future is not found in reclaiming a romanticized notion of the past.

In this sense, I’m not sure that ANY of these ‘hip’ evangelicals would qualify as progressive. Broderick is Anglican so maybe Rock-n-Roll evangelicals are progressive when it comes to worship innovation?

How do you understand ‘progressive’?  I want to make sure I know what others are hearing when I identify as a progressive.

Third, I am amazed how any conversation about ‘the’ resurrection – both for and against it – presume a literalist physical view. The result is that both views miss the point of resurrection entirely.

The resurrection is one of my favorite topics because the either/or options that most people have been provided after the Enlightenment seem to be a real barrier. The conservative versus liberal arguments about a physical versus spiritual resurrection seem to focus on the probability and provability of a resuscitated corpse and sound dangerously close to gnostic notions of body and spirit.

The gospel narratives, on the other hand, point to a Jesus who had a glorified body post-Easter.  It could both walk through walls (for miraculous entrances) but was solid enough to make breakfast on the shore for His disciples. It bore the scars of Calvary so that (doubting) Thomas could touch His side where the spear had entered but different enough that He could be mistaken for strangers at first. He was neither a zombie nor a ghost – we have completely missed the point of Easter: glory.

Resurrection created an Easter people who live into hope, possibility, justice, imagination, and second chances. Life ruptured death. Christ penetrated history and split it in two. Hope overcame darkness.

New life rose up on the other side of this life. This is the proleptic moment. We know the future of every human and of all living things: New Creation.


I look forward to your thoughts.


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