Search

Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today

Bible and Church Links

Here are some fun things that you may be interested in:

My friend Brett has been blogging over at Progressive Bible Study. Today’s post was about flesh and the Spirit. He is doing some deep thinking about bodies as we read through Galatians.  https://progressivebiblestudy.com/2017/10/04/in-our-flesh-full-of-the-spirit/

It is a great follow up to his post that says:

“When we read the Bible as gentiles, we are the question – not the answer”

I have also been recording weekly debriefs with Katie. Here is a link to our conversation about Galatians 3: 15-29. https://progressivebiblestudy.com/2017/10/02/galatians-3-15-29/

We talk about the Law, belief, and identity politics.  I take exception to quoting “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” too easily. It has become a Hallmark card if we do not do the hard work first.

Sunday School has been going great with the ABC’s of Faith. The last 2 weeks were C is for Christ and D is for Deconstruct. I have been reworking the older material to facilitate a conversation in my new context.

Lastly, as some of you know, Thomas Jay Oord has written an excellent book called “The Uncontrolling Love of God” and I have written one of the responses in a new book on Uncontrolling Love.

My essay is called ‘Uncontrolling Church Leadership’ where I try to argue for a non-coercive and open-ended approach to ministry.

I am hosting Oord on November 3 and 4 here in Portland, OR. The Friday night event (Nov 3) will be very pastoral as my pastor friends are in dialogue with Tom. The Saturday event (Nov 4) will involve Randy and Edith Woodley as conversation partners. The Woodleys are amazing folks who have Eloheh Farm – and Randy and I have a book coming out later this year. So there will be lots to talk about.

Make sure to look at the Facebook page and the Eventbrite page – the Portland events will be added soon.

 

Thanks for all the likes, shares, and comments on my Statement of Belief (so far). I am greatly encouraged by all the feedback.

 

 

Advertisements

Statement of Belief (so far)

Transferring my ordination has been an interesting and rewarding process. I was originally ordained more than 16 years ago but my leave of absence has expired and since I am out of relationship with my former denomination (neither serving nor worship with them), I have decided to transfer to the United Methodist Church.

Here is my ‘statement of belief’ so far …

Convey your personal beliefs as a Christian.

I believe that the church is the body of Christ on earth. When Jesus ascended into heaven it was with a promise of a visible return. Jesus promised that we would not be left alone and that another would be sent. Shortly after (roughly 50 days) the Spirit of Christ returned at Pentecost. Holy Spirit power came to the gathered and created the church – not ex nihilo (for this is not how god works) butbringing something new out of that which was.  The new creation was a revolution in religion! God’s presence was no longer contained in one place (like the holy of holies) but the veil had been torn in two and god’s Spirit had come out into the world.

Holy Spirit power and presence is the fulfillment of a long-anticipated prophecy that god would pour out god’s self on women and men from every place and of every generation. They would become witnesses to god’s goodness for every tribe and tongue – to the ends of the earth and to the end of the age. The church then, is inherently both pentecostal and incarnational. She is pentecostal because she is called, birthed, and empowered by Spirit. She is incarnational because the central story of the gospel that she proclaims is that the logos (wisdom of god) became flesh and dwelt among us. God is not distant nor disapproving of humanity – but took on human flesh to heal the brokenness, bridge the divide, forgive the trespass, reconcile the animosity, and model a way to live fully human.

I believe the gospel is simple but that its implications and applications are profound, complex, and consequential. The gospel: is the good news that god loves the whole world and provided for us in Christ something that we cannot provide for ourselves.

The church proclaims this good news, in word and in deed, when she serves those in need, gathers for fellowship and worship, tells her story, examines the scriptures, engages new ideas, confronts injustice in all its forms, and breaks bread together. In the same way that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine, the church is both sacred and secular, both holy and enfleshed, both sinners and saints simultaneously. How this can be true is a mystery of grace.

One further mystery is that the church is simultaneously rooted in the past, empowered in the present, and a foretaste of a future kin-dom of new creation.  She is a remnant of the past and a driving force for a proleptic telos of things to come while fully expressed in the context of her current culture.

 

I am a committed Trinitarian who finds the picture of perichoresis (the divine dance) the most beautiful, helpful, poetic, and powerful way of addressing the conception of a transcendent, eternal, divine being that the early churches called the godhead. Christians in this sense are not strictly monotheistic like the other Abrahamic religions of Judaism and Islam, nor are we polytheist like the Greeks and Romans, nor pluralists like so many other traditions.

 

As a contextual theologian, I believe that the church has both a permission and a precedent for this is the model of Jesus and the early churches. The New Testament is, in this sense, a set of tools and case studies of how this work looked in its time and in its place. The assignment is “to say in our language and in our era the kinds of things that they said in their language and in their era”. History has progressed – good and bad – so that our understanding, our cosmology, our metaphysics, and our view of history have been impacted by the two millennia of church and world history. We cannot simply parrot what they said in rote mimicry or in the original languages of Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. The gospel is infinitely translatable and is meant to be contextualized into every language and into every culture in every era.

 

The practices of the church are ancient and have come to us as inherited artifacts. They are both a gift to us (an inheritance) and an assignment. The legacy of christian practices is their embodied nature. Our bodies matter to god as much as our thoughts and beliefs. The embodied nature recognizes the inherent worth of our human existence and sets our experience as a valid location of divine revelation and theological reflection. Phronesis (embodied wisdom) holds an idea that there is a knowledge in our bodies that is accessed by practice and is enacted at a performative register. We have to do the things that we believe and we come to believe and understand the things that we do.

 

The Wesleyan quadrilateral is perhaps the most profound and useful framework that I have ever encountered. The great thing about the quadrilateral is that it improves greatly on the Anglican tripartite formulation or scripture, tradition, and reason by adding a fourth category of ‘experience’. This was a novel innovation of Wesley and the early Methodists that radically transforms the entire paradigm. By adding the fourth category of ‘experience’, in removes belief from the realm of the abstract and speculative and grounds belief in the concrete and located existence of in/carnated human embodiment.

The other genius aspect of the quadrilateral is that it has a pronounced sequence to it. It begins with scripture because we are never starting from scratch, creating in a vacuum, or making it up as we go. Tradition is next because there is a given-ness to the Christian faith. Like the English language, it comes to us as a gift that we are patterned by before we then come to utilize it to express our true feelings and convictions. We are first acted upon by the tradition/grammar/language and then we use our agency as actors to act within the socially constructed relations of culture. The third category is ‘reason’ because we don’t want a faith that is unreasonable or belief that is unreasoned. Last comes ‘experience’ because all the theory, scripture, and traditional practices in the world is ultimately impotent if it is not a part of our lived experience as a community.

 

Sacraments are enacted symbols. In this way, they are both signs that point to a greater reality and they are performed signifiers that can never fully reveal or contain the antecedent they are attempting to signify. Sacraments are both significant artifacts of the church and they are gifts and graces (charis) that both form and inform our faith and practice.

In this sense sacraments and corporate worship are a parable of the kin-dom. Jesus used parables (not earthly stories with heavenly meanings but earthy stories with heavy meanings) to slide underneath the listener’s defenses in order to interrogate the ‘way things are’ to subvert the unjust status quo and turn upside-down / inside-out the listener’s presumptions about the way things are and the way that God wants them. This is the prophetic ministry of the church – to imagine the world a different way and to image what that looks like to the world around us.

 

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

A Global Table

One of my favorite aspects of being part of the Methodists is the global communion. Tomorrow happens to be global communion Sunday and I can not wait to preach and then invite people to the table.

My angle tomorrow is going to pair two sets of three:

The first level is directional. After Pentecost, the church spread in at least 3 directions:

  • south to Africa
  • east to Asia
  • west to Europe.

The second level is historic. Coming to the communion table:

  • Reaches back through time to connect us with the saints of the past
  • Wraps around the globe to connect us to our global sisters & brothers
  • Propels us into the future of serving the world that god loves so much

Here is a little video I made to promote this Sunday.

I have been thinking about sacraments lately as I transfer my ordination from a non-sacramental denomination (ordinances) to a sacramental one.

Sacraments are enacted symbols. In this way, they are both signs that point to a greater reality and they are performed signifiers that can never fully reveal or contain the antecedent they are attempting to signify.

Sacraments are both significant artifacts of the church and they are gifts and graces (charis) that both form and inform our faith and practice.

In this sense sacraments and corporate worship are a parable of the kin-dom. Jesus used parables (not earthly stories with heavenly meanings but earthy stories with heavy meanings) to slide underneath the listener’s defenses in order to interrogate the ‘way things are’ to subvert the unjust status quo and turn upside-down / inside-out the listener’s presumptions about the way things are and the way that God wants them.

This is the prophetic ministry of the church – to imagine the world a different way and to image what that looks like to the world around us.

I’m really looking forward to preaching this tomorrow.

The Gospel of Grace

What is the gospel?

That is what Katie asked the group last week.  We had finished reading Galatians 1 where Paul seems pretty sure about it. He is sure that there is a gospel, and that he has the right one.

Katie asked the group “so what is the gospel?” She then asked “and what is grace?”

We talked about it a bit and then (as I mentioned on the Week 1 Debrief podcast) I offered my working definition:

“The Gospel is the good news that God loves the whole world and did something for us in Christ that we can not do for ourselves.”

I have worked on this a lot over the past 15 years and have grown quite comfortable with it. It includes:

  • good news (literally the definition of the word gospel)
  • the whole world (John 3:16)
  • grace (a gift of what we can not earn)

I would love it even if it just existed in a vacuum and I never talked with anyone about it.

The reality, however, is that everywhere it comes up, people REALLY want to talk about it!

The response follows a typical bell-curve. Most people like it or at least get it. But there is a tail on either side of a small minority who object at some level (but for completely different reasons).

For those who have a very particular understanding of the gospel, my working definition is not specific enough. It doesn’t say anything about asking Jesus into your heart, praying a specific prayer, believing certain things, believing them certainly, or going to heaven after you die.

On the opposite side, for those who hold that Jesus is one way (a path) to God, my working definition is too narrow. It sounds as if Jesus was unique in human history and in religious thought.

This is why the ‘gospel’ conversation is one of my favorites.

What do you think? How would you answer the question? What is your working definition? 

 

[I originally wrote this for PBS but wanted to share it here as well]

Progressive Bible Stuff

On the eve of tomorrow’s first Progressive Bible Study (Galatians 1) here are some items you might be interested in.

The first is a series of short podcast by some friends who will be helping with PBS

Katie North is up first, then Charlie Jesch is second and finally Brett Stuvland joins Katie and me at the table.

The second is a short post to clarify the ‘I’ words of inerrant, infallible, and inspired

I-Inerrant

art by Jesse Turri

There is something uniquely intense about words that start with the letter ‘I’ when it comes to the study of religion and scripture. It is an unfortunate quirk in the English language that leads negatives – or negations – to begin with the letter ‘I’.

We are talking about infallible, inerrant, and inspired. 

The important thing to know right off the bat is that:

  1. Those words are not interchangeable
  2. Those words are vastly different in intensity

These three ‘I’ words exhibit the most intense aspect of the difficulties when delving into matters of faith. Many people point to words like these as an example of exactly why they are not interested in studying the Bible. It can be both intimidating and infuriating to caught up in these contentious issues.

This is the sort of stuff that keeps some people away all together. For our purposes here, we will be as generous as possible but we will also be clear in our commitment as progressive christians.

 

We live in a unique time of history where those who claim to believe the Bible the most attempt to place two words not found in scripture upon the Bible:

Inerrancy: The idea that Scripture is completely free from error. It is generally agreed by all who use the term that inerrancy at least refers to the trustworthy and authoritative nature of Scripture as God’s Word, which informs humankind of the need for and the way to *salvation. Some, however, have gone further and try to affirm that the Bible is also completely accurate in whatever it teaches about other subjects, such as science and history.

This is admittedly a tough line to hold. The more that one learns about Biblical scholarship or historical criticism the tougher it gets. Inerrancy is an outside idea imposed upon the Bible that the Bible itself and thus has a tough time living up to its claim. It does not, however, mean that the Bible is not trustworthy!! One can trust the Biblical narrative without having to elevate it to the level of inerrant.

Infallibility: This concept is a little simpler says that, “the scripture will accomplish that purpose for which God gave it”.

The characteristic of being incapable of failing to accomplish a predetermined purpose. In Protestant theology infallibility is usually associated with Scripture. The Bible will not fail in its ultimate purpose of revealing God and the way of *salvation to humans. In Roman Catholic theology infallibility is also extended to the teaching of the church (“*magisterium” or “*dogma”) under the authority of the pope as the chief teacher and earthly head of the body of Christ.

Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 726-731).

Infallibility is better than inerrancy. Infallible can simply mean that the Bible will accomplish that which it is meant to accomplish. That seems fair enough on the surface.

Here is my contention: Why do we need to assert that it is guaranteed to accomplish the task? Where does that need for certainty come from?

Why isn’t it enough to say that the Bible is ‘inspired’ and leave it at that?

Inspiration: “A term used to designate the work of the Holy Spirit in enabling the human authors of the Bible to record what God desired to have written in the Scriptures. Theories explaining how God “superintended” the process of Scripture formation vary from dictation (the human authors wrote as secretaries, recording word for word what God said) to ecstatic writing (the human authors wrote at the peak of their human creativity). Most *evangelical theories of inspiration maintain that the Holy Spirit divinely guided the writing of Scripture, while at the same time allowing elements of the authors’ culture and historical context to come through, at least in matters of style, grammar and choice of words.”

– Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 731-736). Kindle Edition.

2 Timothy 3:16 talks about scripture being ‘god breathed’ . It should probably suffice for believers to say that we recognize the work (activity) of God in the scriptures and by that same Spirit we come to read, interpret, and apply those lessons to our lives.

 

I would love if Christians would simply be satisfied with believing that the Bible is inspired by God’s Spirit and not attempt to make a claim on it that it can not sustain.

 

Where would energy go?

If same-sex marriage, evolution, end-times, and biblical inerrancy were settled issue – where would your energy go?

I have been thinking about this question for the past year as I returned to an evangelical context from 7 years away. For 7 years I attended a mainline (inter-religious) school and worked at a mainline (liberal) church.

I was struck upon my return to evangelicalism at the amount of energy that goes to LGBTQ discussions, defending creation and biblical authority, and end-times prophecy.

I kept thinking:

“imagine all the good that could be done if our energy didn’t go to this”.

So it has been eye-opening to be appointed to a church this summer where our energy doesn’t go to those issues – it turns out that my suspicion was right! An amazing amount of good does get done when your energy is not being sapped by those controversies.

Those controversies are exhausting and they occupy a disproportionate amount of mental and relational energy for evangelicals.

I sort of get why so many evangelical, charismatic, fundamentalist, and pentecostal  young people walk away from the church in their late teens and early 20’s. I get why so many people are now claiming to be ‘nones’ and ‘dones’. If you were raised conservative and then you settled those issues, your faith might seem spent.

I am in the midst of developing a thing for folks who are thinking about faith again as an adult but who want to begin again with those issues off the table. What would faith look like if those 4 variables were changed to givens? Where would your energy go?

I would love to hear from you:

Where would your energy go?
or if you have settled those issue, what has your energy gone to instead?

More than welcome – wanted!

A fascinating part of my last 2 years is the amazing number of evangelical and charismatic pastors that I have been able to talk to who feel trapped by the whole ‘open & affirming’ conversation [or same-sex marriage issue for some].

I hear, on a fairly regular basis, that they wish they could be ‘open but not affirming’ or that the whole conversation would just go away and they could just get on with the business of preaching the gospel or making disciples without this cultural pressure to conform to something they are uncomfortable with or even see as wrong.

On the other hand, I have heard from so many gay and lesbian friends about the sheer frustration and agitation at churches saying that everyone is welcome (come as your are) but it really being code for ‘anyone can come and attend but to be fully accepted or empowered will require you to change and conform to be like us.’

The church that I am now pastoring is not just ‘open & affirming’ but it actually a reconciling congregation that advocates for LGBTQ inclusion at every level of church life, ministry, and ordination.  You can probably imagine how amazing it feels to be able to say with complete integrity that “everyone is welcome here” and know that it is totally true in this place !

This morning I wrote the following post in prep for the weekend:

You may have seen that Vermont Hills UMC’s tagline is ‘a spiritual oasis’.  It has been both fascinating and encouraging to find out how accurate of a description this tagline is.

I’ll be honest: we live in a cynical age and if you are not an accepting and welcoming church, people will grow skeptical of taglines and slogans. You have to be open and affirming of people’s journey and their uniqueness or it will not pass the ‘smell test‘.

It was with great joy that I discovered that VHUMC really is a safe and accepting place – that it lived up to the tagline of being ‘a spiritual oasis’.

Now, no one wants to define themselves by what they are not or what they are against – as tempting as it may be. So we don’t want to state this in the negative or only in contrast to others. We want to be as constructive and as hopeful as possible.

That is why it gives me great joy to be able to say that you are welcome here.

In fact, you are more than welcome – you are wanted!

Part of our transition toward being a conversational community is that we need people of:

  • different backgrounds
  • different journeys
  • different perspectives
  • different opinions
  • different races
  • different genders
  • different sexualities
  • different religious convictions
  • different income levels
  • different ages
  • different education levels and styles
  • different passions
  • different giftings
  • different phases of life

I am delighted to be able to say this about VHUMC and I look forward to exploring this topic together this coming Sunday.

 

IF you are a conversational pastor (as I am) THEN you actually want to hear from people of different genders, stages of life, races, religious backgrounds, and sexualities.  It is not something to be addressed or overcome … it IS the point and the joy of being in dialogue.

If people just repeat back to you what you already believe – that is called ‘an echo chamber’.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of being a conversational church is accepting that we are not all going to agree about everything … and that is not just ‘OK’ but is a good thing!

Tomorrow I will post part 2 of this idea and ask: ” what would our energy go to if this debate was settled?”

Help Progressive Bible Study

I have read and learned a lot about the Bible.
Now I want to read the Bible again.

This has been a long time coming.

For the past 10-15 years I have been growing increasingly unsatisfied with the either/or options that were being presented.

  • Creation or Evolution
  • Catholic or Protestant
  • Democrat or Republican
  • Gay or Straight
  • Married or Single
  • Conservative or Liberal
  • Public or Private
  • Think or Do
  • Talk or Act
  • Faith or Reason

I have come to see that these binaries are not only unsatisfying and impotent but are in reality inaccurate and often deceptive.  If nothing else, they result in a round-and-round series of dead-end debates that lead nowhere and only serve to produce cul-de-sac brands of christianity that where folks in one camp don’t trust and don’t even know how to talk to folks from the ‘other’ camp.

When it comes to reading the Bible, the either/or options seemed to be:

  • one-dimensional black & white literalism
  • reductive dismissal and criticism

Both of those are unsatisfying and impotent.

So over the past 4 years I have been comparing notes with trusted friends and trading ideas with respected thinkers and practitioners. I have tried some new stuff out on Sundays in the pulpit and I have read lots of books about the Bible.

About a year and a half ago I have got to the point where I was tired of reading and talking about the Bible … and I want to actually read the Bible.

I know better than to do that alone … so I went on a journey and I found some fellow travelers. We come from all over the country but we have crossed paths in Portland.

We want to take a classic and give it a twist:

Starting Wednesday September 6th at 7pm we are going to meet in a church basement with Bibles open and read the scriptures together through a progressive lens.

So it begins …

____________

This is one of the blogs & articles that we have been preparing over at ProgressiveBibleStudy.com

I have asked a few close friends to take a look at it and now I am wondering if you will take a minute to help me out before we go public with this thing!

If you get a chance to look at it or to share it with someone who might be interested in the topic, that would mean a lot to us. You can post comments here, on that site, or email us at ProgressiveBible@gmail.com

Thank you ahead of time!

 

Practicing Faith

I’m in an interesting phase of life and faith. My year of being a theology professor is over and I have many reflections that I am processing – both about evangelicalism and about the academy.

Now I am pastoring again, but this time in a wildly liberal post-christian context where I am attempting to do at least two things at the same time:

  1. reach out to non-believing and post-evangelical folks in a compelling way with an invitation to a mature, complex, nuanced approach to faith.
  2. cultivate a vibrant and vital faith in my current congregation.

Focusing on these two things has resulted in a re/turn to two elements that have been dominating my thoughts: the body and the bible.

Below is a post about bodies that I wrote to prepare for church this past Sunday. The person who leads our ‘spiritual practices’ ministry was at the table as my conversation partner.  Later today I will send one about the bible that I could use some help with.

Our bodies matter.  Bodies are key for what gets called spirituality in general and specifically bodies matter in christian worship.

Many people have not thought about it directly but the central story of the entire christian faith is the Christmas story – as story about god becoming embodied. The word (wisdom of god) became flesh and dwelt among us. 

Unfortunately for many in the 19th and 20th century, religion and faith became about what you believe and what you think. It became a mental or intellectual enterprise. For others, religion became about feelings and experience – it changed into a purely heart thing.

The good news is that both the brain and the heart are part of the body!  This is wonderful because when we talk about ‘practices of faith’ or ’embodied belief’ it does not discount the head and the heart ~ it includes and transcends them.

Faith is a whole body activity.

Our bodies matter. They matter to our experience of being human and they matter to our expression of faith.

Our bodies matter to God ~ and the divine is embodied in our practices of faith.

In fact, as Methodists our entire history is built around a series of these embodied practices called ‘methods’. It is literally where we got our name from! Now unfortunately, much of this has been lost over time. It is time to have a conversation about why bodies matter and why the practices of faith are not just a head or a heart issue but a full-bodied experience.

 

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑