Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today

Hope They Serve Tacos In Hell (and other updates)

2019 is off to an frantic start so I wanted to give you an update about some fun I have been having.

At Vermont Hills I am enjoying a new sermon series.  Two weeks ago was “God Loves Groups” about how the gospel has to be more than getting one small part of you (as an individual) to a good place after you die. That is too small a gospel.

This past week was about how the concept of ‘Hell’ functions in our psyche and how we need to take the sting out of this hellish idea. (Video below)

Peacing It All Together podcast comes out every Monday. This past week Randy and I talked about being a good ‘ally’ on Ally: Do’s and Don’ts

Progressive Bible Study (now called imBible Study) just finished the book of Ruth so Katie and recorded a Ruth Recap podcast that was a LOT of fun.

Sunday School (no called Brain Storming w/ Bo) is going through the alphabet. D is for Demythologize was a good podcast. E is for Emergence (and ecclesiology) comes out tomorrow.  This Sunday is G is for Gay Christians where we are going to unClobber the Bible.

Let me know you thoughts. I would love to hear your comments, concerns, and questions.


Is Christianity Inherently Conservative?

Is the Christian religion inherently conservative? The answer is ‘no’ but you could be forgiven for thinking so. I am rarely discouraged. Yesterday I had a free hour so I googled ‘new books in theology’ and sank as I went from list to list.

Christianity, it appears at this moment, has no future.

98% percent of the books that I looked through were in some way related to the past – or worse – past oriented. We are a backward looking people as Christians.

This has been a terrible and ominous realization that I have come to over the past 15 years:

Christianity appears to be inherently conservative. It wants to conserve the previous structures and expressions.

We are in a period where the Christian religion is primarily past-oriented instead of present-centered and future-motivated.

I am always astounded at the number of spiritual/religious/theological projects that start with “Re-“

  • Revisit
  • Reclaim
  • Restore
  • Return
  • Renew
  • Reform
  • Renovate
  • Reframe
  • Redefine
  • Remember
  • Recall
  • Re-imagine
  • Re-present
  • Reinforce
  • Revive
  • Reexamine
  • Redeem
  • React
  • Respond
  • RetreatIMG_7802

It is as if we think that God worked better (or only) in the past and if we could only get BACK to that … then things would be better.

Make Christianity Great Again in a very real impulse.

I have also been looking at the phenomenon in our culture as a whole. Books such as:

Consumed Nostalgia: Memory in the Age of Fast Capitalism

Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past

The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap

So this impulse seems to be prevalent within our society but it is especially heightened within many churches and traditions.  I get it. I used to really buy in to in. I wanted to have an “Acts 2” church, to get back to the Bible, and to do what Jesus did.

My change began when I bought into this idea of an ‘incarnational’ gospel that translates the gospel (good news of God’s love) into every language and in every place. Translatability is one of the unique aspects of Christianity that sets it apart from other religions.

The next step was looking at the radical changes throughout history and noticing that God seemed to work in every new era, in every new place, and with every new technology. Just start with the printing press and Luther’s protest(ant) reformation, the introduction of radio in the early 20th and the TV in the second half of the 20th century … up through today of people tweeting about how we need to ‘get back to’ and ‘reclaim’ the truth.

The third step was notice the irony of romanticizing the ‘Eden’ of the early church (as if there was only one) in an age of Christian radio stations, bookstores, schools, TV preachers, Study Bibles, megachurches, and the religious right. This romantization is somewhere between a mental imaginary and a commodity fetish.

The forth step was studying history and realizing that there was no ‘simple’ or ‘pure’ or ‘perfect’. It was always messy, complex, contested, and evolving.  The creeds, the councils, the early canon, and even the Acts of the Apostles reveal this.

The final step is confessing that with the advent of capitalism, Christianity is being consumed. It is a product (or production) that is marketed and purchased by ‘church shoppers’. From the parents who pay extra to send their kids to Christian schools to disenchanted evangelicals who convert to Catholicism-Anglicanism  or Orthodoxy, there is a component of consumerism that saturates the entire enterprise. [1] We are sold a distinct brand of religion.

As I travel, and as I get to talk to people from all over, I try to present a vision of the church or christian spirituality that is present-embracing and future-oriented. Some people are open to it but many people are really resistant. The resistance seems to be rooted in a different understanding of the past. A past that I do not want to return to and whose inconsistencies and injustices I do not want to repeat or reinforce. I want to learn from the past in the present, a

Is Christianity inherently conservative. Not exactly. It is for many folks right now. It might seem that we are in a conserving pendulum swing or at least that the brand of Christianity that is most visible (or loudest) is past-oriented. That is not the fully story however.

There is a kind (or type) of stream within Christianity that is socially engaged (present-oriented) and aware of the past enough to make corrections in the future. I hope to be a resource for people who are interested in a non-conservative approach to Christianity.

Next week I will talk about the dangers of reinforcing and repeating the past.



[1]  I get why people convert and I am not judging that. It is the absence of the capitalist component that concerns me. If there is no awareness of this facet of the ‘looking for a better brand’, then one might presume that it was only about ‘truth’ or ‘tradition’ or something more essential or substantial.

i Believe the Burnout Generation

There has been lots of discussion about Anne Helen Petersen’s  article “How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation” on BuzzFeed.

I have read and listened to some great responses and would like to weigh in to the conversation.

I was a worked with youth from 1996-2016 and saw a severe amount of change. I have also picked up some new tools as an academic that I hope will be helpful.

Millennial  generation is burned out. We should believe them.

3 insights to help move the conversation along.

  1. media culture and image
  2. consumerism and branding
  3. formed by our upbringing

Here is a short video. I would love to hear from you.

Books Before 2000

I condensed my library last year and decided to allow one theme or topic per shelf. An interesting theme developed with the books that did not make the cut.

There were 3 important topics that many books written before 2000 were missing:

  1. The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and the subsequent global war on terror.
  2. The impact of the internet, cell phones, and social media.
  3. Capitalism and Consumerism.

Here is a short introductory video (more thoughts coming next week)

Beware The Emergency

I write about Emergency Politics every so often. It is far more ominous than its news coverage. Here is a snippet for those who are new:

Bonnie Honig, in Emergency Politics, says “The state of exception is that paradoxical situation in which the law is legally suspended by sovereign power.”

The problem is that we now live in a permanent state of emergency.

September 11, 2001 ushered in a state of perpetual exception. This applies to racial profiling, police brutality, State surveillance of its citizenry in the NSA – to name only a few.

When people are scared they willingly sacrifice their freedom and privacy in exchange for safety. The State benefits from a frightened population and people are more willing to accept the exceptional measures.

A population is more willing to view as exceptional the excessive tactics and escalation of violence precisely because we now live in a permanent state of exception (or emergency).

Gulli [in this article ] reports, “At the end of his critique of the state of exception, Giorgio Agamben addresses the question of contingency, which is very important in all of his work, when, with a reference to Benjamin, he speaks of “the urgency of the state of exception ‘in which we live’” (2005)

In his eighth thesis on the philosophy of history, Walter Benjamin says:

“The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency.” (1968)

I bring this up in the hopes that our current crisis might help to create a real sense of emergency that will call into question in the larger American conscience a question about the permanent state of exception that has crept in over the past decades. The supposed ‘war on terror’ and ‘war on drugs’ are but two examples of this.

We must question the exceptional violence and emergency politics that have become too normalized and quietly accepted in our society.


* I capitalize ‘State’ to illustrate its elevated and exceptional status.

Retiring from Evangelism

I am done trying to convert people from the old ways – it is time to live into the new ways.

Nearly 20 years ago I attended the Billy Graham School of Evangelism and even over the last 10 years, as my faith has changed, adapted, expanded, and evolved, I have labored to help those who wanted a bridge to a new kind of faith.

In the past, I have held a deep sense of obligation to help those who were asking questions to get a sense of how things were assembled … or for those who were in transition to find a landing spot for their new conviction.

I didn’t want anyone to get left behind. We live in a time of constant change and fluid social settings. I always tried to account for various perspectives and to give a generous a framework as I could imagine.

I am satisfied that I have done that well.

No longer will my primary concern be explaining the faith and providing access points for those who want to understand. I have left a substantial bread-crumb trail for those who are looking to migrate.

Starting in 2019 my primary concern will be professing faith that works in the 21st century and postmodern context.

I am retiring from evangelism and moving to profession – from apologist to professor.

It takes a lot of energy to account for and attend to the various perspectives and then to frame them and present them in a way that any genuinely interested person could gain access. It has been a wonderful 10 years and it has been a very formative experience.

I will now put my energies toward a constructive and innovative project where my primary concern will not be translating or explaining for those who believe a different way … but professing a forward-leaning faith for those who are interested.

I am done trying to convert people from the old ways – it is time to live into the new ways.

Here is the upside: because Protestantism (in general) and Methodism (in particular) provide me an already assumed structure  – complete with content, praxis, and institutional frameworks … I will be free to play off of the as-is always/already and put my energy into the:

  • Playful
  • Irreverent
  • Creative
  • Poetic
  • Whimsical
  • Melodic
  • Critical
  • Ironic (and at-times)
  • Transgressive

I am moving from being a builder who feels obligated to provide a constructive apparatus for those who are migrating and need a completed faith that they can live in (which is now available), to an artisan or song writer or analyst.

This is a big shift for me.

I have spent the last 10 years honoring, explaining, translating, and mediating between the Evangelical world of my upbringing and the new constructive, philosophical, and diverse approaches of the late 20th and early 21st century.

Those who have wanted to make the migration have largely done so – I leave them to be the new translators, practitioners, and guides. Evangelicalism has changed even more than I have in the last 10 years. It has become something in its contemporary manifestation that I barely recognize from my youth. [1]

I have thought about this long and hard. I am at peace with this change. I am confident of the timing. The reality is that Evangelicalisms is a closed-system (or what system theory would call a ‘bounded set’). It is has its own borders, its own gatekeepers/guards, and its own internal logic.

I will still be available to help those who are genuinely asking for clarification but I am retiring from the business of attempting to convert anyone.

I want to thank you all for the support and feedback during this journey. If you unsubscribe, I bless you and wish you well. If you choose to continue on, buckle up … some changes are in store.


[1] Evangelicalism (and its charismatic offspring) has its own operating system (based on inerrancy) where the Bible becomes a science text book, a history book, a counseling manual, a financial spreadsheet, an explanation of world religions, a road-map to the future, and guide the end-times/afterlife . The evangelical operating system is incompatible with nearly any other program that you might seek to run. It is an all-or-nothing- machine.

Christian Politics

Normally I am allergic to modifiers. I find them deeply suspicious.

Why reference someone as female comedian or author? You don’t call Stephen King a male author or Jerry Seinfeld a male comedian.

Randy Woodley is often referenced as a Native American theologian. That is fine… but why am I not introduced as a white theologian?

The worst is ‘biblical’. Every time I hear it used I think to myself, “this is probably going to be inaccurate and untrue”.

People talk about biblical marriage but that is an imaginary. There are between 9-15 types of marriage in the Bible. It is the same with a ‘biblical’ worldview. There are 6 different worldviews in the Hebrew and Christian testaments. People want to say that scripture speaks with one voice … but have you read it ? I wish it did!!  It just doesn’t.

All of that is to say that I DO have one modifier that I find helpful: Christian.   Not like christian bookstores, or christian radio stations, or christian colleges.

I find the modifier ‘christian’ helpful when it comes to politics and the underlying motivation behind them.

Watch the short video and let me know what you think.

Formula For Success?

Is this a formula for success?  Not everyone thinks so!
Focused Intensity – over Time – multiplied by the ‘God’ factor
I always pay attention when push-back does not follow a predictable bell-curve.
In this case, the concerns were equally divided into quarters.
Watch this 5 min video and let me know what you think.

Favorite & Least Favorite Part Of Church

In the past month I have been told by somebody that each element of our Sunday gatherings is their favorite … and somebody else’s least favorite.

  • Passing of the Peace
  • Music and Singing
  • Prayer
  • Sermon
  • Conversation
  • Communion
  • Videos

This is fascinating to me – and I love that we can talk about it!

This is part of our life together. This is how community works. Each aspect or element connects with some and may not with another. BUT when you put it all together … that is where things become life-giving and dynamic.

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