Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today


November 2010

>Talking Turkey – breaking the bell curve


In honor of Thanksgiving week and families sitting around tables and living rooms talking… I thought it would be fun to take a week off out normal topics and talk about how we talk about what we talk about!

I seem to run into the same odd glitch in almost any conversation I attempt to enter, and honestly, I find it a really unhelpful way to have a conversation.

It happens when we talk about economics or taxes or anything regarding money. If you hold up Bill Gates on one hand and the homeless guy on the other, the large majority of people (in the middle) are neglected and the conversation doesn’t go anywhere.
It happens when we talk about War and your grandfather who fought in World War II (who you deeply love) and the Pacifist at the other end of the spectrum. There is a whole series of considerations that get passed over and neglected as emotions quickly rise.  
It happens in religious conversations – whether to topic is the Calvinist/Arminian debate, speaking in tongues, the Catholic sex abuse scandal, or Creation / Evolution. I seems to happens whenever abortion or homosexuality or gun control comes up. 

So often these contentious issues seem to to have no “middle ground”, but my theory is that this is a direct result of the way that we frame the conversation. When we live and talk out at the extreme “ends” of the spectrum, we can roughly predict how almost all conversations will go on any contested issue. 
Before I get into examples let me give what I think are the 3 clearest signs that you may be up against it. 
  1. If there are only two options or if two options seems to dominate. 
  2. If “Spectrum Language” is used but it is exclusively the highest end and the lowest end that are used. If the focus is on ‘the extremes’.
  3. If there is a long history (or track record) that is summarized by slogans, cliches, bumper-stickers or inflammatory insults. If the round and around nature of the argument discourages people to even enter in or if it finds them fatigued on the hope that there is any helpful solution whatsoever. 
This is especially true if either the extreme of one end or the extreme of the other is used anecdotally to resist any change or to discount any innovation. 
Here is my suggestion: Take any topic that seems to have this polarized nature to it and force yourself to come up with 4 or 5 groups or views on the subject. 
Then take those groups and see if they might be (even roughly) chartable on a Bell Curve. Then – for the purpose of an initial conversation – we eliminate the upper 10% and the lowest 10%. We take them off the table so that we can address the big middle (or majority) to see if it changes the conversation at all. 
Let’s start with an easy example: speaking in tongues.  
Step One: come up with 4 or 5 categories. Obviously we have a) those think that if you are ‘saved’ you have to speak in tongues, b) those that think it is complete hogwash, c)those that believe it because it is in the Bible but have never experienced it, d) and those who think that it is one of the Gifts but that not everyone needs to do it.  
Step Two: chart it (roughly) on a spectrum / bell curve. Those who insist on it for salvation will be the high-end and those who think it is hogwash will be the low end.  Everyone else goes in the middle.
Step Three: mute the high-end and the low-end and see if there is a different conversation that happens when the majority talks without the vocal minorities who normally dominate the conversation. 
Let me give some more examples.
When people try to talk about Finances, the Economy, and Taxes someone will often bring up Bill Gates (as the richest of the rich) and the homeless guy (as the poorest of the poor) – I find this wholly unhelpful.   In fact – and this ironic –  rarely are there any numbers used in a conversation about Money!!   People say ‘the rich’ or ‘the poor’ and there is no dollar amount assigned. Who are the rich? Is that like assets over $500,000 or it those who make $250,000 a year or $100,000 a year.   
My point is the the “the rich” as a category is unhelpful to any conversation that you might be having over a coffee table or in a living room. Let’s get some numbers on this baby!   Then, let’s put it on a bell curve and for the purposes of constructive dialogue lets NOT talk about Bill Gates or the ‘homeless guy’ (an unhelpful caricature) as the high end and low end of the spectrum.  Now, lets talk about taxes. 
When people try to talk about War, the two extremes of ‘just’ war theory and pacifism are instantly invoked and then the conversation is immediately polarized and we are swept into the deep water, get in over our head immediately, tempers rise and intelligent exchange drops. I think that the overly simplistic understanding of WWII needs to be dropped from the conversation. Unless someone has looked at the role that the German  Christians played and has read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s letters from prison, I would ask you to not use “the Nazis” as example – especially if you think that “the Nazis” is a trump card that ends the conversation and you are automatically declared he winner. 
I find is disconcerting that when it comes to war we make this same jump. There is not discussion about what constitutes a “Just” war and if the current conflicts that our country finds itself in meet those criteria. People shout “we were attacked” or “they hate us for our freedom” and off we go to invade two countries.  Then if anyone asks about America’s military operations and para-military activity in those regions for the past 40 years they are somehow “dishonoring the 3000 people who lost their lives the day those towers fell” ?  If someone points out that no “Just” cause was justified by the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Bush coalition (and groups like Haliburton)- somebody gets all up arms because ‘the young men and women who serve in our military are laying down their lives so that we can be free!’.  This kind of blind faith and rote repetition of rhetoric and slogans that all American military activity is automatically virtuous by default – that is not helpful. 
I get the feeling that the whole Pacifist at one end of the spectrum and Just War at the other end is failing us. I think that it would be helpful to sketch out 4 or 5 positions on war, put ‘the Military Industrial Complex and those that profit off of War’ up at one end and ‘those who oppose all war fundamentally’ at the other. Everyone else goes in the middle. Then mute the extremes at both ends and see if the conversation goes differently. 
When people try to talk about salvation or some other christian idea and the Calvinist vs. Arminian  are introduced the conversation takes on a round-and-round exhausting track that does not lead anywhere (or anywhere good).  I think that it would be good to go through the exercise here too. 
I could also talk about Homosexuality, Abortion, Gun control, Creation /Evolution and so many other things but I just wanted focus on the three topics of the Economy, War, and Salvation for this post. 
So just in closing I wanted to pass along little indicators that the conversation may need this kind of intervention. 
– When people are initially dismissive of any new suggestion because of one of the two extremes.
– When people will not acknowledge the large impact of an idea because they object to one of the possible exceptions. 
– When people throw around big bad Titles, without qualifying the historical past or the nuanced present. 
I have examples of all of this stuff – if you want any clarification just ask about a specific. I didn’t want to get off track with hundreds of examples – I just wanted to put out the Big Idea.
 I thought that it would be a good idea to take a week off just focusing on Bible verses and debating Christians being violent and talk about how we talk about the things we talk about. 


>The Kingdom Comes : in 3-D !

>Buried deep in the hot & heavy give and take of this weekend’s conversation – in the fallout of the Friday followup was something that I really believe and don’t want to be lost as comment #10 in a 20 deep running tally.

 I have modified it slightly so that it doesn’t read like an answer but like an idea.

There is a moment when we jump from being two-dimensional drawings in the pages of a novel and we become the real-life Heroes of the Kingdom who live and move and have our being in the Prince of Peace!! This is where we walk in the land of the living and move out of the land of the dreaming (sin) and move beyond the realm of talking (doctrine).   Now we act!

The jump happens because of a simple realization: we are not the world. We are in the world but our power is not from the world. IN FACT – we are the world’s only chance to realize that it is the world!

The people of God being the Church is not the kingdom but is suppose to be a “coming attractions” of what it will be like when God is in charge of all of our lives. The people of God being the Church is the only chance that the world has to see that it is the world… and repent.

The problem is that we are JUST like the world. We make the mistake of saying that we are “Not of this world” thinking that it means ‘meant for another world‘ (which is not the Biblical word or idea) and this mistake then leads to us living exactly like the world while we wait to go the next world.

This is why our credit cards are at the same levels of debt, our divorce rates are the same, we shop for Christmas presents the same, we vote in roughly the same proportions, we own the same number of cars, our teenagers get pregnant at the same rate, … you name it. Those inside and outside the church are nearly indistinguishable by almost any statistical measure – amounts spent on makeup, clothes, or movies. (not that I want to judge anyone of any of those in particular) You get my point.

It is not enough to say “I am just like you – only I believe in Jesus … and so I will go to heaven after I die.”

But when it comes to violence… we are the same too. And this is a travesty! Because Jesus did not participate in the ordinary human violence of his day during the Pax Romana. We have an opportunity to stand up for the right thing in the right way and to show the world that it is the world ! SO THAT it may see it’s reflection in our mirror (as we reflect Christ) and recognize what it is NOT and come to terms with what it IS.
Our truth is the world’s only chance to escape it’s lie -the world is deceived and it lives in a lie.

But when the church is too much like the world then the world does not see and the church has nothing to say. 

It’s time to move from the two-dimensional characters on a page and walk into our 3-D destiny. This is how the Kingdom comes – one life at time making one decision at a time.  The kingdom comes where God’s will is done.

>Friday Follow up – Jesus was not violent


The conversation has been wild this week – both on the Blog and on Facebook (which I could not be in on this week). I wanted to thank all of those who contributed so much. I appreciate the full table when everybody brings something to share!
I wanted to tell a story and go back over some basic stuff. First the story:

When I was first a pastor we only had Saturday night services.  We didn’t have a building and so we rented a space on Saturday night. Sundays I would meet with people or ‘sabbath’.  One Sunday my beloved Chicago Bears football team was playing a big game and I did not have a TV. So I went down to the sports bar to watch the game which had a 4pm kick EST. I got down there to get a good seat only to find the bar full as many of the NFL games start at 1pm. 
I found a seat in view of the TV that the waitress said the Bears would be on when it was time. As I sat there, I noticed that there was a group of guys a couple of tables away who were quite rowdy. I think that they had been drinking quite a bit for quite a while and … it showed. One of these guys, a big muscular guy with a crew cut had his team’s jersey on (a team that was losing pretty bad at the time) and he was starring at me pretty good. Now, I have been around long enough to know that stare – he wasn’t attracted to me, he wasn’t thinking about being my friend – he was figuring out how to start something with me. 

This went on for a little bit and I thought to myself “ how am I going to explain to my congregation that their new Sr. Pastor was in a bar fight on a Sunday !” I also had recently come into a conviction of non-violent resistance.  SO I had to think of something. You only get so much time with these things. When a guy is building up courage… you either play chicken, you leave, or you fight. 

I knew that violence was not an option , it was off the table, so I prayed a little internal prayer and an idea come to me. I thought to myself, it is too bad that men do this puffed up- tough guy – peacock- poser thing , because under different circumstances this guy and me would be good friends. 

 I went up to the bar and ordered a beer. Walked over to his table, put the beer down in front of him and said “If a fight breaks out in here today – you are I are tag team partners- I think that we could clear this whole place.”  He huffed at me , half in disgust (I think) and half in surprise. He told me where to go and what to do to myself. I put my hands in the air as if to surrender, turned my head to the side, and said “It’s a standing offer”. I went back to my table. 
He drank the beer. Their game ended. They left. I enjoyed watching the Bears win in peace. 
I think that when we hold violence as an option – even a last resort – we may not have enough energy to overcome the inertia that is required to put all of our energy into creative non-violent solutions. 

I once heard a young man who went to a famous church, quote his famous pastor as saying “The only way to bring peace is to prepare for war”.   I do not believe that is true.
That seems very Roman to me. The saying in Jesus’ day was “The Romans make a desert and call it peace.”  Welcome to Pax Romana.   What we have in Jesus is a different kind of peace. The Prince of Peace brings in a Kingdom of Peace.  
Caesar had his legions, minions, and battalions.  Jesus has you and me. 
Here is one of the responses I had this week that I wanted to  adapted for the Friday Follow up  (because I know that many people do not follow all of the comments but only read the main post – so I wanted to bring them up to speed on something). 
Four things  🙂
1) There is much agreement on 80% of this violence issue. Most, I would guess, agree that Jesus was not violent, that we are lead by the Spirit who is at work in the world, that we would should have a gracious posture to others and many other things. We simply part ways on that final 20%. For instance: I don’t want endorse religious leaders (of any stripe) that say that “god told them” to be aggressive/violent.  I think that pastors (like the one in Seattle) aren’t just getting a detail wrong (like Revelations 19) they get Jesus wrong, are preaching a false gospel, which makes the world a worse place by enforcing that violent status quo. I know that not everyone will agree on that final 20%. 
2) By saying that I don’t want to support religious leaders who say that “god told them” to be aggressive/violent. I don’t think that I am being UN-gracious. I think that I am being very gracious in saying that I want to make a sharp break with the violence of Church History since 300. I think that it is all-too-ordinary-human violence just baptized in Jesus name and that we need to STEP AWAY from that as an act of repentance and take it OFF the table in order to see what God’s Holy Spirit can do that we can not do in our own power.  
3) I just want to make sure that when we talk about  ‘receiving things in personal prayer” that we are not speaking as an Enlightenment Individual. This is not YOU doing what “God” is laying on YOUR heart. I am convinced that what we need is a community discernment where there is both accountability and faithfulness to what God has already revealed in the 10 commandments and the Sermon on the Mount. That would be my suggestion. Not just you being you (Rambo style) and calling it “being undignified” or a ‘jesus freak” or “on fire”. 
In my defense: 
I have been clear from day one about my conviction that we will need a VERY different theology for the next 500 years than what we have had for the past 500 years. I have never apologized for that. That should not be surprising. It could not be more clear about what I am up to.

have a great weekend! see you next Tuesday for “Breaking the Bell Curve”

>Jesus is not Violent

> When we talk about God as Christians we are not talking about a generic conception of God. As Christians we believe in a very specific concept of God, one that was most fully revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. 

 For people that believe in Jesus and call themselves Christians, I think that it is important that we get something strait: Jesus was not violent. That is the first proposition. The second theory flows out of that: since Jesus was not violent, maybe his people should not be violent either. 

I know that there are those who will object. Some of them will even point to verses in Scripture. I will try to look at each of the objections that I hear as best I can as quickly as I can.
Old Testament
I think that it is important to recognize that we are not GOD-ians, or Spirit-ians. We are Christians.We would take our cue from Christ.

Here is my concern: Every time some Christian wants to be violent and can not find a way in Christ to justify it – they reach back into the Old Testament in order to do so. This is a bad way to read the Bible.  Sometimes, when christian ministers speak, it almost comes across as if Jesus never came.  When I say “Jesus was not violent” you can’t just jump backward and say “In the Old Testament God…” That is not the right way to do it.

Turning over table in the Temple
Whenever I say that Jesus was not violent, almost without exception the first thing someone says is “what about when he cleared the Temple?”  In passages like John 2:15, Jesus makes quite a ruckus in the Temple – driving out the animals that were for sale and turning over the tables of the money changers. 
I would just point out three things: A) it was the only time that he did something like this. It was an exception. B) he did not harm any human or living thing. He cracked a whip and turned over tables. C) this act was in protest of those who had made religion big business, profiting from the vulnerability of others. 
So often I hear this verse used to justify supporting violence and ironically it is by those who have made the christian religion big business and make a handsome profit off of it. That should tell you something.
The Book of Revelation

in chapter 19 of John’s Revelation you hear this: 

11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:  KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS

Somehow this becomes permission to be violent to other countries and to people of different backgrounds or persuasions. 
The error is threefold:

1. To derive doctrine from apocalyptic literature in difficult at best. The very nature of the genre is poetic, fantastic, and explosive. It really should not be read like the rest of scripture. I am firmly convinced that each genre should be read in ways that are appropriate to the nature of that genre. The Histories of the Hebrew Testament, the Psalms, the Prophets, the Gospels, the Epistles (or letters) and the Apocalyptic all need to be read in distinct ways.     

2. To miss that his sword is a non-sword – it is his Word !  I call this “the problem of jesuSword”  and though it can be confusing, it’s important to see that it is not Jesu’s Sword  but Jesus’ Word !!   What brings the nations to submission is not a sword but Jesus’ Word – or the word of the Word (if you prefer). To miss this is to miss the point all together. It is to think that the Romans did the right thing is nailing Jesus to the cross. It is to miss that Jesus was killed unjustly and the injustice pains the heart of God.  There is poetry in that Jesus told Peter to “put away” his sword (jJohn 18:11) and said that if his kingdom was of this world that his followers “would fight” (John 18:36). The implication is that his kingdom’s power does not originate with this world* and therefor his followers will not fight. 

3. Some people justify violence by saying “Jesus even said that he came to bring a sword”   but think about the whole sentence… what did he say? 

Matthew 10:34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—   37 Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

 Here is the important thing: swords were meant to guard families. To protect me, my things, and those close to me! Jesus says that his sword it to divide up families – and I think he was being ironic !!  Because  in his day swords were actually for defending one’s family – for guarding me and mine. In this sense, Jesus’ “sword” is an un-sword… or an anti-sword. It does the opposite of what human swords are used for.  Jesus’ sword is not for defending family but for dividing family. Jesus did not come with a human sword but the opposite!! 

The Kingdom suffers violence
In Matthew 11:12 Jesus says that the Kingdom “suffers violence” and that the violent “try to take it by force”.  I know that this is a tricky passage. Some people see it as saying “you have to be aggressive to enter the kingdom” but I think it is more appropriate to read it as “violent men try to seize to use for their own purposes”.  Regardless, either reading does not give us permission to be be violent and advance the kingdom of Christ “by the sword”. 
I am not a pacifist.  I am not passive.  I am actively and passionately non-violent.  I believe that violence begets more violence. Sometime – a person who wants permission to be violent in Jesus’ name will pull out the big two examples and ask me either “what about the Nazis” or “what if some guy broke into you house and was going to rape your wife”?   These are always the big two and I will deal with them next week in “Breaking the Bell Curve”.  Suffice to say – barring those two examples, most of what we are talking about with burning heretics, Godly nationalism, and militarized violence does not primarily fall into those two famous categories. They are just all too normal human violence baptized in Jesus’ name. 
Let me get down to the heart of the matter. Here is an example of exactly what I am talking about. There is nationally known pastor in Seattle, Washington who is famously quoted as saying “Jesus is a cage fighter with a tattoo on his thigh and a sword in his hand, determined to make someone bleed”. He said this in reference to the fact that he “could not worship somebody that he could beat up.” 
Some people dismiss statements like this and chalk it up to testosterone fueled, overly inflated, pumped up hyper-masculinity.  I think that there is something much deeper and much more sinister involved. I think that it is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of God and the interpretation of Christian scripture. 
What is noteworthy is that in Revelation 19, the sword is not in Jesus’ hand but it comes out of Jesus’ mouth. That seems important in the poetic nature of Revelation. This sword is not your average sword. It is not in Jesus’ hand and that makes you wonder if the way in which this sword “strike down” the nations is not in bloody violence but in a kind of destruction that would happen as a result of a sword that proceeds from the mouth of God?  Let’s ask ourselves “is there something that comes from the mouth of God that radically impacts or consumes peoples and nations?”  Is there something sharp that comes from the mouth of God … something sharper than any two edged sword? 
I am suggesting that we need to be open to consider at least three ideas:
1. that since that time in church history when the church rose to Roman power and began to kill people (burn, hang, and behead) what we often call Christianity has been very different than the initial vision of Jesus and the precedent set by the early church when Jesus was killed by Romans and the church suffered violence. 
2. that when groups of nationals are invaded by violent foreigners who mix commerce and religion with genocide and ethnic cleansing, that maybe the rejection by the indigenous population of the alien religion can not be called a rejection of christianity. Maybe when groups like the Native American tribes who were assaulted by European invasion were not actually rejecting what you and I would know as the gospel of Jesus Christ. 
3. that when preachers get stuff like this wrong, that it essentially changes the message and thus the addition of violence to the gospel makes it a different enough message that they are not preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ anymore but a different gospel. Maybe he doesn’t just quote this passage wrong, maybe he has Jesus all wrong.
Now usually people say “no no it is not a different gospel – it is just an adding of something to the gospel.” It is the gospel plus violence. 
But I would ask, if the example and model of Jesus and the apostles is essentially and fundamentally  non-violent, and one adds violence to it… does it then essentially and fundamentally transform the gospel into something that is then not the gospel of Jesus Christ. 
But is it possible that this preacher did not just get a detail wrong but is actually portraying Jesus wrong. That he is not just adding something to the gospel but is preaching a different gospel and thus is not preaching the gospel? 
I guess a fun example would be : if I write a book about how English is the best language and how everyone should speak English. Then someone translates that my book into French… that would be complicated. But what if they then appropriated the message and said that French was the best language and everyone should speak French… would that then be a different message?   Even if it were based on my original book, had the same title and used all the same stuff – it would be a different message.
I think that they would not just have translated my message but would have changed my message. Essentially and fundamentally they would be saying something different than I was.  They would not be promoting my same message. 
This is the exact situation that I think we often have. People use Jesus’ name, read from the Holy Book and even put crosses on the outside of their building and on their stage. It has all the markers of a Christian message. Here is the problem – it has a fundamentally different message and motives than Jesus did. It uses Roman models and methods and thus it is not in keeping with the Spirit of Christ. 
Jesus was not violent. jesuSword is not Jesu’s sword but Jesus’ word. It’s not a sword – it is an un-sword or an anti-sword.  When we miss this detail, we miss the message.
* the phrase “not of this world” does not mean that Jesus power has nothing to do with this world, but that it does not originate with this world (unlike Herod’s or Pilate’s). It definitely impacts the world and is for the world. “Not of this world” does not mean that it has nothing to do with this world and is for a “world that is to come”. It means that it is fully IN the world but that the source of its power is not OF the world.  

Interesting thought

I had the privilege of being a part of a group called Arrow Leadership [link]. I also got to attend a Young Leaders gathering held by the Laussanne movement [link].

as Laussanne prepared for a massive gathering in South Africa last month, Carson Pue, the president of Arrow, wrote an interesting little article about it. He said that he thought there was a message that the Canadian and American leaders needed to hear.

The essence of the message is this: discipleship in other parts of the world are outdoing us in commitment, effort, sacrifice and effectiveness in sharing Christ with the lost. They look at us and see our significant human and financial resources being used to reach the ‘once churched’ and to feed the voracious appetite of Christians for conferences, books Continue reading “Interesting thought”

>Friday Follow up – Relational Religion


Two things that I wanted to follow up on – one brought up by Wanda on Facebook and one brought up by Joe on the blog. Luke gets my comment of the week.
Wanda asked if there was a difference between being born sinful and being born full of sin. That is an interesting question. It caused be to think.  I responded by saying being born sinners is Status. Being born full of sin is Substance. 
What I am suggesting is the we are born into families that have broken relationships, and that we are born with the ability (and propensity) to foul things up all on our own!

I once heard Brian McLaren say  (this my memory and not a direct quote) if you mean by original sin that humans don’t need any help figuring out how to mess things up and to be selfish… then yes I believe in it. But if you mean something at the cellular level or that means babies who die are going to hell… then no. 
That might be a good way to say that. 
Joe brought up a scenario about prayer – “A recent acquaintance requested a group of people to pray for his friend who had sent suicidal text messages to his wife and kid. So we did. There’s a relational connection there, but it’s a couple of degrees separate. There wasn’t anything we could do OTHER than pray…  By the way, the news was good, they got to him in time.”
 Let me put forward a definite theory and tell me what you think:
If we were having a small group meeting or a night of prayer and Joe said “God told me that we need to pray for Mike he is planning to commit suicide.”  We would pray for Mike.  But how would we know if it worked?  Would we just end the meeting and think ‘we did what we could – we did what God wanted us to do’?  But what if Joe said “God told me that it worked and Mike is going to be fine.”  Then we go home having detected and resolved a conflict without having any contact with ‘Mike’?
Now you may choose to concentrate on Joe’s quality of discernment or his track record. But what I am saying is that though those scenarios may be fantastic and exceptional – I actually think that it is not how prayer is designed and it is not how God wants work. Some people may be called to that kind of intercession. I just think that it is not and should not be the normative mode of prayer for the majority of believers. I think that we should pray for people that we know. 
 I am actually saying that God wants to work through relationship and wants us to pray for people that we know (even our enemies as Luke pointed out).  Maybe it is just me – but I do not want to go prayer meetings where people are pulling things out of thin air  where there can then be no verification or validation. I want to go to a prayer meeting where we pray for people that we know by name and then go love them in tangible ways. 
Luke had the comment of the week!  “I feel like the traditional idea of Original Sin views sin as kind of a cosmic STD. I think the idea of sin as primarily broken relationship  is much better, and much more in line with the biblical narrative.”
That got me thinking: we do talk about Sin as an STD – a Spiritually Transmitted Disease!   That is why you have to be so careful about who you interact with – and once you get an STD… it can be tough to get rid of and cause a lot of damage to your health and be passed onto others… Wow.  Scary.

I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend not matter what the weather is like where you live. I am researching a major project on the topic of the history of Practical Theology.  
Let’s keep the conversation going!  I will put up the new Podcast on Tuesday entitled  “Jesus is not Violent” .

Thinking about Theology

by Bo Sanders

I was really challenged by this post entitled “The New Orthodoxy” on Homebrewed Christianity.  Over the past several years I have grown to have a very different understanding of Theology and indeed the entire theological enterprise than I had before.

Here is what I posted there (in the comments):

I like how Continental Philosophy is constantly in dialogue with another author or figure or discipline. I think about John Caputo saying the minimum requirement for philosophy is “make sense”. and to do that you have to utilize thought forms and language that is accessible and understandable to your audience and peers.

It seems to me that theology tries to do that in one of two primary ways:

1) to show continuity with the past at some level.

2) to justify a claim that one is closer to the original intent of Jesus or the early churches’ ideals than the deviations of formalized institutional constructs.

Continue reading “Thinking about Theology”

>Relational Religion

> There are three significant implications for reading the Bible relationally. 

The first has to do with prayer. 
The second has to do with the original sin. 
The third has to do with Pentecost.                  by Bo Sanders

Prayer is a relational thing. We pray for people that we know. This is a good thing. That is how it is suppose to work. We need to be praying for the people that we know.
It is tough to pray for someone you don’t know. Let’s take two examples: letters in the mail and hiring a pastor.  

When a church wants to hire a pastor, they do not hold a prayer meeting and ‘discern’ a name and phone number out of thin air and then call that person and say “God told us that you are suppose to be our next pastor”.  That is not how it works. They look over resumes, they do phone interviews, they call the person in for the weekend to candidate and then ‘discern’ based on relational cues. 

When god lays on somebody’s heart to write an encouraging note, send a gift, or to make a phone call, it is always to somebody that we know. God works in and through relationship. If you want to send a check for $100 to help someone out, you don’t write a random name on an envelope and make up (or pray and discern) an address and then put it in the mail. You send it to someone you know – someone that you are in a relationship with. That is what God leads us to do. 
Can you imagine writing a check to Jackson Bolaliber, making out the envelope to 765 Kings Highway in Jacksonville Kansas and then making up a zip code (98126) and putting it in the mail?  I don’t even know if this person exists. I don’t know if Kansas has a town called Jacksonville. I don’t know if that zip code is even for Kansas or if it exists anywhere.

That is not how it works. That is not how God works. God works in relationship. God lays on our hearts to send encouragement notes to people that we know. To dial phone numbers that belong to people that we are in relationship with. 
Have you ever said “God give me 10 single-digits that make up a phone number of somebody that you want me to call and encourage.”  No.  You call somebody that you know and encourage them. You may even be led to call them because you know of something going on in their life and that they need encouragement.
I’ve said this before, when we pray for the people of Haiti, we are not asking God to fix the situation “from Heaven” – we are a) asking God to send the people that will fix the situation and b) making ourselves available to God for whatever situation God might want to use us in. 
Prayer prepares our hearts to participate with God in God’s world and work. God is relational. Therefore God’s work is relational. And thus, prayer is relational. 
The original sin
I believe in the original sin.  I do not believe in Original Sin. I believe in the original sin, but I do not believe in what has been the dogmatic teaching that children are born full of sin – that the cells of the body are corrupted or depraved and that unless they pray a prayer to Jesus or are baptized by a priest or belong to the right church (which is sanctioned by the State) they are “fallen” and will not go to heaven. I do not believe in that kind of original sin. 
The concern over Substance (corrupted) and Status (fallen) are not the concerns of the Bible and come to us via Greek philosophy (both Platonism and Aristotelean thought).
The concern of the Bible is relationship. That is the power of the original sin – that it broke relationship.  There were three types of broken relationship in the Garden of Eden narrative.  
But before we get to that … and while were are on the subject –  there is no such thing as the fall.   Look it up. The Bible never talks about a fall.  Adam and Eve did not fall.  Humans are not fallen.  If you look up ‘Fall’ in most biblical concordances you will see six verses listed. Not one of them uses the word fall.  It was a concept – a construct- that was added later – because of philosophy.
What happened in Eden is not a fall. It is a breaking of relationship, and it impacted three things. 

The first relationship that was broken was between God and humanity. They were afraid of God and they hid. The relationship was broken. 

The second relationship that was broken was between between humans – some focus on the split between the genders, some on the relationship between husband and wife, I prefer to look at the simple  human to human brokenness. 
The story of Cain and Able illustrated the brokeness of both of these first two levels – with God and between each other. 

The third relationship that was broken was between humans and the earth. It changed from a care – partnership – providing connection to a hostility (the earth to us) and domination (us to the earth). 
Good News: This is what Jesus comes to restore! Jesus heals our broken relationship with God. Jesus enables us to have restored relationships with other humans around us. And Jesus brings us into a new awareness of the earth beneath us.
I draw it this way: the Circle was broken in Eden. Three circles were broken in Eden. Living in Jesus restores those broken circles – repairs the brokeness and reconnects the unity of the circle. 
Living in Jesus connects the circle above us in a restored unity with God. It also connects us to those around us in the circle of community. Lastly, it connects us to the earth below so that we have restored appreciation and partnership with the dust from which we came and to which we will return. 
This is the idea of Shalom. It is peace-restoration-connection-wholeness. Living in Shalom is a circle running North-South above and below and another circle running east-west connecting us to those around.  This is healthy connection, mutual care and edification.
There was an original sin but there is no Original Sin. There was no Fall but there is restored relationship and connection.*
     As long as I am laying it all out I might as well say this: reading the Bible relationally changes everything.  Look at it this way – the Incarnation was Jesus taking on flesh and opening a new way for humanity to to relate to God. Jesus gives us a new relationship with God.
Many people that I know who self-identify as Christian live as if Jesus never came – reverting to a set of rules, regulations, and religious rituals. 
When Jesus dies, the veil in the temple is torn in two. God’s presence comes out into the world. God is no longer kept behind closed doors and God no longer lives in buildings built by human hands.  The Religious presence of God had come out into the world where the Natural presence of God had always been – but this was now in a new way. 
This move came to its culmination at Pentecost and God’s spirit – the Spirit of Christ – who is Holy Spirit now indwells us as the people of God. In the Hebrew Testament God’s Spirit would fill one person at a time (like a Judge or a Prophet) for one task or a specific time. Now, after Pentecost God’s spirit resides in every believer for all time.
God is with us. God is here among us. Christ’s Spirit is at work in the world and is with you – to guide you and use you and change you. 
God wants to guide you. 
God wants to use you. 
God wants to change you. 
This is why God gave Holy Spirit to the world as a gift. We are the people of God. We are the House of God. God dwells in us each of us and among us as a community. 
When you pray, you are not projecting your voice past the heavens and trying to get the attention of a God who lives on the other side of curtain – begging and pleading for God to ‘come down’.  God already came down – and died on a cross – that is when the veil was torn in two and God’s presence came out into the world. God is here with us now. God is at work among us. 
God didn’t write a best-selling book and then retire to the far corner of the universe leaving it all up to us to do what was said in the book. That book is not an instruction manual or a constitution or a rule book. It is a story. In that story God gives his own Son who dies for the world – to repair a broken set of relationship and restore us to right relationship – three new relationships. Then God gives his Spirit to the world as a gift so that we may have a new connection (Shalom) with God, a new connection (Community) with those around us, and new connection (edification) with the world that we inhabit.  
* My mentor Randy Woodley has given me a wonderful understanding of Shalom and he did his Doctoral Dissertation on the Harmony Way understanding of this concept by native American communities. 



There is a reason that relationship is so central to our religion, to reading the Bible, and to prayer.  We will focus on prayer next week, but this week I wanted to look at the relational aspect of reading the Bible as a tie-in to what we have been talking about for the past 5 weeks.
    In the past, much of church history has been focused on A) Status and B) Substance. Now, it is my conviction that these are not the concerns of the Hebrew mind (in the Old Testament) nor are they the concerns of Jesus (in the Gospels) and they will not continue to be the concerns of the world that is becoming (our post-Modern world).

    That means that the only place where it has been a primary concern is with 1) those Greek  thinkers (substance) and Roman authorities (status) that come after the first century – and thus after the writing of those books that would come to be in the New Testament 2) those European systems ( in Italy then Germany then England, etc.) that led up to, and really came to fruition in, the Enlightenment (think Denominations). 
    So let’s take Communion as an example. Jesus had this meal. Whether you say that he observed it, celebrated it or initiated it – he used the moment to demonstrate and model ultimate servant-power (John 13). Jesus’ concern about communion was relationship. He even had the meal with a disciple that he knew would betray him (and one that he knew would deny him).  Jesus modeled relational truth. 
    In the 300-500 years after Jesus, the focus changed significantly. That is why – for even so many to this day – the main concern is  A) what it is and B) who is allowed to eat it.   That is why Substance and Status have supplanted Jesus’ concern – which was relationship. 
    That is why I think that whenever you eat a meal with someone and Christ’s love is in your heart – that is communion.You are having communion with them  – at least Level 1 communion. Now, if you agree with that and what to add to it an official meal of special bread and wine – that is fine. But if you want to move to that specific meal and special ingredients without the element of relationship – then I would have a problem. Especially if you then want to add a third level which is concerned with who is allowed to eat it (and who is not) and then who is allowed to serve it. 
    In fact, relationship is the main focus of so much of the Bible and we miss it when we use these lenses of Status and Substance. 
    Look at the concept of the Trinity. The main point is that God is relationship. God is perfect relationship. But somehow in those years that followed Jesus’ time on earth – the main concern became Substance (is Jesus fully God and fully Man? )  and Status (Is the Holy Spirit equal with the other two members or not? ). Now, the whole point of a Three-in-One god is to form and inform us about the inter-relating of one to another. We miss the point of the Trinity (and the Bible)  when we look at Status and Substance.
    Look at Creation. The stuff that attracts so much attention and draws so many of the headlines (Creation vs. Evolution) misses the point of that section of scripture. It is important to know that the idea of Creation Ex Nihilo (out of nothing) never showed up in connection to the Genesis account until 200 years after Jesus.  That means that no Jewish Rabbi would have believed that before (or during) Jesus’ life. It also means that Jesus would not have believed in Creation Ex Nihilo.  God did not create the world out of nothing. 
    Go back and read that portion of scripture again. You will notice two things: first, that there were already substances present; second that God works with what is in order to bring forward something new. Then God gives that something new a responsibility (partnering in relationship) and then uses the something new to bring about yet a newer thing still. 
    So God makes the earth. Then God says to the earth ‘you bring forth plants’. Then God takes some earth and makes humans. Then God gives to the humans  responsibilities on earth.  
    The point is not the science behind creation – but ultimately God’s relationship to creation. God calls the earth good and it is noteworthy that God never says that creation is not good!   It is later that Substance and Status change the way we think about that. Substance says that the earth is “fallen” because of original sin (this is borrowed from Greek philosophy and does not come from the Bible). Status says that creation is lower than humans and therefor is of less value. Now, admittedly,  there are some words that are used in Genesis that can be read that way… but if you want to read them that way ,they do have to be interpreted that way. All I am saying is that they do not need to be interpreted that way!!
    I think that it is worth pausing and noticing that even our communion elements come up from the earth. The wheat for the bread and the grapes for the wine come from the soil – the earth. 
    I believe in the resurrection. The reason that I have been less dogmatic about it being a literal/physical resurrection than others is two-fold. 
First, I am driven by a desire for a BigTent Christianity where people who dialogue about the exact nature of this or that element of the Bible can still be included.
Secondly, I don’t think that that substance of Jesus resurrected body is the point of those stories. I think that the main point is how Jesus relates to us in resurrection. The experience of the disciples after the resurrection was of Christ’s presence with them – the veil had been torn in two and soon the Comforter would come in power (Acts 2). God’s spirit – the spirit of Christ – was out and about and at work in the world. 
    Just look at what the Apostle Paul would experience on the Road to Damascus (Acts 9).  Whatever Paul experienced was the real and post-resurrection Christ. It was enough to radically change his life and cause him to live for this cause and it would lead to his own imprisonment and death. The substance of the post-resurrection body is not the focus. Relationship is. God was in a new relationship with humanity. 
    I have tons and tons of examples, but I want to point out how not focusing on relationship effects even the way that we read specific verses in the New Testament.  There is a popular verse that is often quoted this way “God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purposes.”  That is based on a bad translation (King James Version). But that is not exactly how that verse reads and it certainly (even if it did read that way in English) does not mean that!
    But listen to the Revised Standard Version “ We know that in everything God works for the good with those who love him…” 
    God does not cause the things to work for us. Think about how mechanistic of view of the world produces a reading like that. 
    A more accurate way to think of it is “God works for the good with those who love God so that all things come to accomplish God’s purpose.” 
    First: It is God who works – not the things.     
    Second: God works with us to bring about God’s purposes.  
Reading the Bible with Relationship in mind affects so many things. The nature of the Trinity, the Creation narrative, the Incarnation, Communion and prayer … just to name a few!! 
    The bottom line is ‘how God relates to us’. Everything else is fun and function. Realizing this is one of the most important things that has happened to me and my walk with the Lord. I wish I had know this 15 years ago. I don’t regret what I learned and everything that I was taught – but I do wish that less attention had been paid to SUbstance and Structure and more had been paid to relationship. 
    Next week we I hope to address Salvation and Prayer. Please feel free to posts any comments or questions. I love the dialogue.

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