Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today


February 2011

>Friday Follow up: thoughts on following

>What a great week of discussion! After honing this down a bit, I wanted to post it and get some thoughts:

In John 14:6, when Jesus says  “I am the way”  – that Jesus’ way is the humility that we see in John 13 (washing the disciples’ feet)

When he says “I am the truth” – that Jesus in the revelation of God.

When he says “I am the life” that it is Jesus’ life that reconciles ALL things to God.
I get that from verses like:

Colossians 1:20 “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Romans 5:10 
“For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

2 Corinthians 5:18 “
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation”

When he says “no one comes to the Father but through me” – he is saying ‘everyone who comes to God comes through me’. Jesus reconciled ALL things to God.

This is built on the previous understanding that:

In was in response to Thomas asking about “where you are going”. Thomas would not have had the concept of the after-life that we have. He was a first century Hebrew.

So Jesus says ‘it’s not about the way to where I am going – I am the way’. Jesus is clearly not talking about “life after you die”. 
When Jesus says “no one comes to the Father” – IF we think that the Father lives in heaven (3 tiered Universe) , then we think that Jesus is talking about Heaven only he is saying ‘the father” . So the Father = heaven.
But I don’t believe that ANY of that is what is going on in that passage!
Just think about these 4 ideas:
  • the word Hindu does not appear in the Bible. So the Bible has nothing to say about Hindus. If we do… then we are INTERPRETing things that are in the Bible and APPLYing them to Hindus. 
  • as a 1st century Hebrew, Thomas was not asking about our concept of heaven.
  • Jesus was not talking about “life after you die”
  • Jesus was talking about a KIND of relationship with God (the way he had) before you die. 

Instead, it was an invitation to a caliber of connection with God that is only found in Jesus’ way (servanthood) and Jesus’ life (that reconciled all things to God). 
Now, some have asked about the possibility of this verse being about both the relationship here and also affecting eternity.  I could go with that… as long as we begin by acknowledging that it is not primarily or even initially about eternity.  
That passage in John 14:6  is about how we live now (Jesus’ way), the radical impact on our whole existence (Jesus’ truth) and  the entrance to that (Jesus’ life).  

Perfect Theology?

Here is a fun (weird) conversation I had the other day.

My friend and I are from very similar backgrounds. We both come from a type of church that would classified as charismatic – even if it is mildly so. In our circles there is a very popular preacher on the west coast that tons of people listen to and quote religiously.

I was out for drinks with my friend and we were comparing notes on all that we were learning and he brought up a quote that I have heard the preacher say many times (when I used to listen to the podcast every week) – a quote that is used over and over again by those who run in these circles.

My friend said “what do you think of the quote “Jesus is perfect theology” ?”   Continue reading “Perfect Theology?”

>Black Women, Jews and Hindus

>We need to address how we read the Bible. There is a whole study of how we interact with and interpret texts – it’s called Hermeneutics. Many of us (most? ) are taught one way to read the Bible – that can be devotionally, ‘literally’ *  or allegorically, etc.

There are many ways of reading the Bible – I am not going to pretend that every way is good or that any interpretation is equally valid, helpful, or faithful.  This is why we need to talk about how we read the Bible.

Last week we talked about Jesus and Rome –  pigs and water.  [link here]

I would like to try and build on that for our conversation here.


One of the truly horrific aspects of Christian History is the anti-Semitism that has plagued the Church
for 1900 years.  It started early on in the 2nd century** and it peaked in the Holocaust of WWII. There is no way to escape the incriminating evidence of nearly two millennia but I would like to address something rather odd in the argument that lies behind it.

The Jews did not kill Jesus.  This accusation that ‘the Jews killed Jesus’ has been around for 1800 years.  It is ridiculous.

Let’s be clear about two things:

  1. Jesus laid down his life willingly.  In that sense no one killed Jesus. In John 10: 17-18 Jesus says “ The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
  2. If anyone did kill Jesus (which we already established that they did not) it would be the Italians. Romans are the one who nailed Jesus to the cross! The Italians killed Jesus (if anyone did).

So the question has to be asked: why have the Italians not come under condemnation and persecution for the death of Jesus?  The answers to that are revealing.

The seat of Catholic power (the Vatican) is in Rome… said another way – those who are in power are in charge of the narrative
It is difficult to punish descendants for the actions of previous generations. (unless they participate in the same oppressive activities)

The reason that the Italians get off scott-free tells me something. It tells me that Jesus and the Bible have almost nothing to do with the treatment of the Jews in Church History. This is one of those cases where we do what we would have done anyway and just find Bible verses to hide behind.


Whenever other religions come up in conversation, somebody will invariably go immediately to John 14:6 where Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Now, I love this verse as much as the next choir-boy [I have written about it multiple times]  but there are a couple of things that need to be addressed before it is applied thickly to whatever religious wall we are erecting.

Jesus probably did not know about Hindus and definitely did not know about Muslims***.  Therefore we can say with a fair amount of confidence that Jesus was not – in any way – commenting on whether Hindus or Muslims had a relationship with God.

Look – Jesus was not commenting on Hindus or Muslims! He was making a positive statement about the potential of having a certain caliber of relationship with God – he was not saying something negative about Hindus or Muslims … ALL that I am saying is that you can NOT use John 14:6 for a proof-text of something that Jesus was absolutely NOT addressing.

Go back and read the story in context. Ask yourself “what was Jesus saying – what was he talking about”.  Then draw a circle around it and on the other side of that circle write “everything else” and that is what Jesus is NOT addressing in John 14:6.

 Black Women

There is no easy way for me to ease into this. There is no clever anecdote for me to wade into the subject, so just let me spit it out.

Times have changed… things are different … and we need to learn to listen.

Now, we can all agree that the Copernican Revolution affected the way that everyone – even modern Christians – see the universe (cosmos).  Then there is the influence of people like Newton who deeply impacted our understanding of the world and how it works. Said another way …

between the Telescope and the Microscope we know that the world works very differently than those who wrote the Bible thought that it did.

And that is ok! We are fine. Faith is still possible and the church is still intact. We can deal with new realities and we can adjust to new information.

All of this is to say that we know that the world works differently and we admit that things are different than they were when the Bible was written. This is why it is so important that we listen to people when they talk to us about the impact that the Bible has had on them and their communities.

When women talk about passages in the Bible that have been oppressive or hurtful to them…we need to listen.

When African-Americans talk about passages in the Bible that validate or at least assume slavery… we need to listen.

They are telling us something. They are telling us that the world is not the same as it was in the 1st Century and though it may be less ‘scientific’ than the microscope or telescope – it is not less profound, impactful or true.

I have lots to say about how Paul was (in my opinion) a voice of liberation and progressive freedom in his day.  But what I have to say about Paul in the 1st century is not as important as what black women may have to say about the impact of those same  passages in the 21st century.

*   we have discussed over & over again how no one actually reads the Bible literally.

**  there are many scholars who say that it started in the Apostolic age already in the 1st century.

*** Islam started in the 7th century.

>Bo’s Blogs: week in review

>I had a little extra time this week (with the Big Tent event over)  and I had a back log of ideas I needed to get out.  I was able to pace myself and put one idea out in each of the projects that I am a part of.

Ethnic Space and Faith: I wrote about this bizarre story out of Mississippi where a community descended from freed slaves is in really trouble and was saved by… bird watching.  

Everyday Theology: I started a new month long series about “Reading the Bible Better” and we got right into it with the story of Jesus and Legion.  My theory is that we need to know two things to read the bible better A) about the 1st century and B) about genres of the books. A lively discussion on politics followed. 

Homebrewed Christianity: reflections on the Big Tent Phoenix event.

Lead from the Fringe: and LA Times article about men and the new phenomenon of being a “Lout” got me to write a little on masculinity and relationships.

That was a good week.  Now I need to get some homework done and (hopefully) get ready for a change of seasons on the job front.

peace to you    -Bo

From Men to Boys

Masculinity is a fascinating topic. I really am quite intrigued by what it means to ‘be a man’ and how that has changed over the last 200 years. There is a biological component (no doubt) but there is also a really prevalent social component. Masculinity is a construct in flux.

I was in College training for ministry during the Promise Keepers years. As a minister interacting with different families, I realized that the PK model didn’t work for every guy (and fewer gals). I loved the subject though and I read everything from “Wild at Heart” to Lads Mags. There was little doubt for me that masculinity was changing even in my lifetime. This was obvious at every level from my Family Reunions to the Church’s men’s retriets and Pastor Conferences to the missions trips we went on to other countries.

The best resource that I ever found was a book called “King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: the archetypes of a man“. It is written from a Jungian perspective and it is powerful powerful stuff.

I have been saying for a long time that something is in the air. Part of it is the divorce culture, part of it is the feminist revolution, part of it is the medium of media (video games and internet) and part of it is the economy-work force.  But something is up. Continue reading “From Men to Boys”

>When demons are not really or only demons (Friday follow up to Jesus and Pigs)

>Jimmy and Joe  had interesting insights about “political” readings of the Bible. Here was my response.

– Let me just throw out a wild idea.  What if… just what if Jesus was primarily political.  Or if you don’t like “primarily” then how about even “significantly” political?

Then a century or two later, the Imperial powers play down his message and influence by breaking them into categories like “spiritual” and “political” that Jesus as a Jewish person would not have had?

It would benefit the Imperial power a great deal to have Christians NOT be radical, counter-cultural or prophetic.  It is much better if they are obedient, passive, understanding, and (best of all) focused on the world to come.

It was better for Rome.  It was better for the Europe of Christendom. and it is better for America when it is acting with unilateral power or cutting parts of the budget that expose the most vulnerable of it’s citizens while increasing the military budget.

IF I am right (and that is a big if) then even passages like Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female”  is a political stance.  If you knew about Roman civilization and the VERY present ‘household codes’ (called pater familias) then statements like Paul’s in Gal 3:28 are radically political.

but we don’t know about the pater familias so… it becomes ‘spiritual’

– on FaceBook Mhoira Lauer-Patterson said “Contextuality is the key”. I agreed and added

 This is about doing in our culture what Jesus did in that culture… NOT simply us repeating Jesus in our culture as if it were the same as that culture!

– On the issue of demons being more than demons or not demons at all:

We are looking for a 3rd way. So instead of my saying ‘the story of Legion’ is NOT about what it appears to be – and you insisting that it is ONLY what it appears to be… 

I am willing to say that , in the story, the demons are MORE than demons and you can say that they may not be ONLY demons.

– Holly: Thanks, Bo. I appreciate all three readings. I am coming to believe that as human beings are so incredibly diverse, although our political, social, individual problems are universal, that we need the freedom to read scripture in the way that is the most empowering, the most liberating, the most freeing. 🙂


I, of course, agree with what your saying – for I see that AS the message OF Scripture from the Exodus to the Revelation and everywhere between. (everywhere might be overdoing it but … it is prevalent)

Now – it would be good to admit, as a point of contrast, those who are more concerned with CONSERVing the old ways of reading certain texts, would disagree. One of the reason I am OK with this is because the more we know about the 1st century, the more empowered we will be to read those texts in the 21st century. 

That is my positive way to say it! here is the negative.

The reality is that some of the most popular readings of the past 300 years in N. America have been in complete absence of knowledge about the 1st century. They are ahististorical readings and they are somewhere between damaging and devastating – depending on who is doing the reading and who it is aimed at.

>Jesus and Pigs


There is a problem when it comes to reading the Bible in the modern world.  It’s not that big of a problem – unless we don’t deal with it and then it becomes a huge giant nightmare.

Let me say something positive first. I am a fan of everyone having the Bible in their own language and in their own hand. I am a proud Protestant. I would not want to live in an era where everyone did not have access to the Bible in their language.  I like this aspect of the world and era that I live in.

We read the Bible. Not reading the Bible is not our problem. Sometimes preachers get on people for not reading their Bibles enough. I disagree.  I think that people are generally reading the Bible enough. That is not our problem. (I know these are generalities – just go with me for a second)

I do, however, think that there are two problems when it comes to reading the Bible.

  1. The first is that  we don’t know enough about the first century.
  2. The second is that we don’t know enough about the genres that the books of Scripture are written in.

It is difficult for me to express how important this issue is in our contemporary situation.
It would be overstating it to say that we don’t know how to read the Bible.  
It would be understating it to say that we just need to read it more.  One might even go as far as to say that if we are reading it wrong, then reading that way more will just create more of a problem!

This is what I want to address over the next 4 weeks with this conversation.

I will start with a story that illustrates both the points (about the 1st Century and about the genres).

The story of Jesus and ‘Legion’ (you can go read this is  Mark 5 and Luke 8)

Here are three readings of that story:  modern-Literal, Political, and Post-Colonial

In the modern-Literal reading, Jesus goes over to this region called the Decapolis which is primarily inhabited by gentiles. He finds this guy chained up because he is being tormented by a large number of demons and had become a danger to himself and to the town folk. Jesus comes over – the only time he was ever in that area on that side of the sea – and he casts out the demons. But the demons make a deal with Jesus and so he casts them into a herd of pigs – which immediately run down the hill into the sea and drown. The townspeople are not happy with Jesus for wrecking their economic livelihood and agricultural income.  They ask Jesus to leave. The guy – now freed from his torment – asks to come with Jesus and Jesus tells him to go back into town and testify.
It is not said if he wanted to leave because a) he was mad at the people for chaining him out there or b) the people would be mad at the guy for what happened to the pigs.

This is a straight forward reading and when one does not know much about the first century … it is probably the reading that you would go with. The story is about demons, pigs, and people. And that is about all.   The application is that Jesus loves this one guy more than a bunch of livestock and is concerned with the wellbeing of a single person more than the livelihood of an entire town.

In a political reading, the lens of first century politics gives the story a different look. Jesus goes into a Roman occupied territory (think about the name Decapolis). He encounters a man tormented by a foreign occupier with a Roman name (Legion is a military term) and frees this man who is bound by casting out the alien presence into pigs – which are unclean to the Hebrew mind.  It is also notable that a pig had been sacrificed in the Jerusalem Temple in the time between the Hebrew (older) Testament and the beginning of our newer (christian) Testament.
The story that we get Hanukkah from is found in the Maccabean revolt. This uprising was ultimately set off by the sacrifice of a pig (called the abomination of desolation) in the Temple.
But in our story,  what to do with the pigs drowning is water?  I have heard two good explanations.The first revolves around the Egyptian army drowning in the Exodus and so drawing of the imagery of Jesus (as a Moses character) liberating his people out of captivity.  The second has to do with Shamanism (both ancient and modern) which puts extracted bad things (tumors, spirits, venom, etc.) into water to neutralize them.

Either way – knowing about the Political landscape of the 1st Century makes it possible to say maybe demons aren’t demons and pigs aren’t pigs in this sense.   

Of course the obvious thing  is to say “Well, can’t it be both?” that Jesus really did cast out the demons but that the way Luke told the story allows them to be not JUST demons.  This way, pigs are pigs but they are not just pigs. Demons, likewise, are real demons who are really cast out … but they are not just demons – there is another implication to them.

Here is my point though! You can not have the possibility of pigs not being pigs or pigs being more than pigs unless you know something about the politics of the 1st century!   Otherwise pigs are only pigs and nothing more.   In that case, we may be missing more than half the message of Jesus or at the message as it was portrayed by the Gospel writer.

Added Bonus:
After I had already written this post, I heard another take on this passage. At Big Tent Christianity last week, Anthony Smith (the Postmodern Negro) and Tripp Fuller (of Homebrewed Christianity) had a dialogue about post-colonial Pentecostalism and race.

In this lens the reading of this passage takes on a very different look. The story becomes a model or a type of parable that is recreated over and over again.

The man is in chains (slavery) and the free culture keeps him outside. Jesus finds him and Jesus frees him. This exposes the disgraceful treatment of this man by those who are free. The liberation comes at great price (the pigs) and collateral damage (the economy). The man wants to flee and go with Jesus but Jesus asks him to stay and testify to those that who had bound him – to be an uncomfortable presence for them and to not simply be an “out of sight – out of mind” part of their past .

A post-colonial reading talks of liberation, of exposing the shameful treatment of ‘the other’, and of speaking truth to power.  This is a powerful reading that places Jesus squarely in our midst again and allows the Gospel to speak with real power to our real situations.

It is important to note that post-colonial readings are not merely allegories or metaphors – they are read as real events that really impact our real world… but they are not simply literalistic one-dimensional readings like the our first model (modern-literal).

There are many more interpretations that merit to be in the conversation – I simply wanted to introduce these three in order to say that A) what was happening in the first century matters to how we read the newer Testament  B) what genre a text is written in matters to how we read it.

The post-colonial reading introduces a third:
C) that the world we live in is both a lens and a light through which we read and view the text. That is called interpretation and that is our focus for next week.  

>We believe in Hope

>I was reading a book the other day and I stumbled onto an interesting idea.  It comes from the great contemporary theologian Miroslav Volf.

I am headed to Big Tent Christianity this week and next week will start a series of post on reading the Bible. Here is something to think (and talk) about

Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. As Christians we will assert this as the truth. But we cannot assert it as absolute knowledge, we can not assert as the final truth. Short of becoming God, humans cannot possess the final truth… All Christian beliefs are our beliefs, human beliefs and as such always provisional beliefs. We assert that they are true; but we make this assertion provisionally. I called this provisional certitude. There is, if you want, an absoluteness about our beliefs: We cannot relinquish our standpoint but rather assert that it is true. So the ground on which we stand as we act and reflect his firm. Yet we assert our standpoint as true in a provisional way: we believe our beliefs are true. This hinders us from becoming arrogant and oppressive.

This is a fascinating idea for the 21st Century.  I think it holds something for us.

 Later he takes it up even another notch when he adds “if we understand our views as provisionally true, we will have to understand the views of others as possibly true.”

Now that is some epistemic humility for ya  !!    That might take some getting used to.

Glee's greatest gift

I know that some people are excited about watching a football game today.  I, alas, am not. My beloved Chicago Bears were eliminated by their dastardly rivals and I have been left with no team to cheer for.

But don’t cry for me – I have something to look forward to on TV tonight that warms me deep down in southern California when I am chilled thinking about my friends who are freezing in the NorthEast and on the Canadian Prairies:  The return of Glee!

I love Glee.   I will freely admit it in the face of scorn and disdain Continue reading “Glee's greatest gift”

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