Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today


March 2011

hearing God's voice

I believe that we can know God’s will. I believe that God speaks. I believe that we can hear from God.

That has not changed. What has changed is how I picture that and thus participate in it.

I used to teach a weekend class called “a Map and a Compass”  that focused on reading the Bible and hearing the voice of God’s spirit. It got great feedback, bore lots of fruit, and gave our congregation(s) a common language with which to engage in dialogue and mutual learning.

I don’t know how much of it I would change if I taught it these days but I definitely would add something major to it. It is more that a word picture or a metaphor – it is an actual understanding that I was lacking Continue reading “hearing God's voice”


>the Bible is not about the End of the World

>I wrote this for something else but wanted to post here for discussion.

The minute the earthquake in Japan happened, I told several friends that two things were coming: 1) talk of the end of the world  2) talk of God punishing Japan

But I was not prepared for was the quality of the sample that was to come. This article details the prophetic take of Cindy Jacobs.  She is an authoritative leader in Intercession Prayer circles and someone that I am very familiar with and had even quoted during my college years (the mid- 90s).

    “In the early nineties, the Lord gave me a prophecy for Japan that it was a “sickle in the hand of the Lord” that will be used for great harvest. The physical geography of the islands look like a curved sickle with the handle being the island of Hokkaido in the north. One could also say that it looks like a curved sword. Where Japan has historically been a sword of war across Asia.”

    “On the other hand, if you look at it another way, this island, Hokkaido, looks like the head of a dragon with the body being the rest of Japan. The people of Asia have worshipped the dragon for 5,000 years. If one looks at the place where the earthquake took place, it looks like the soft underbelly of most vulnerable part of the dragon.”

Can you believe it? The reasoning is that it ‘looks like a sword’?  Are you serious?
Does that mean as seen from space… or on a map… or… wait – I’m looking at a map right now and I am not seeing a sword,  or a dragon for that matter.

Not that it matters. When you are being this imaginative and fantastical, I am not sure that the facts would be all that helpful.

I was making fun of this on Facebook and I referenced the best selling book by Harold Camping’s 1994 or Edgar C. Whisenant “88 reasons the Rapture will be in 1988”.  How corny right?

A week later I get a text message from someone listening to NPR that Harold Camping is on the radio saying that the end of the world will be next May 26th. It will happen at 6pm. It will make it’s way around the world time-zone by time-zone.

Wasn’t that how Y2K was suppose to happen?  Not that it matters…

Here is what I wish would happen: that we could make a deal as Evangelical-Conservative-Fundamentalist and Charismatic Protestants that IF this happens next May or even in 2012 at all – then those of us who doubt them will volunteer to go to hell.

BUT if it doesn’t happen then we will realize that nothing is going to happens like this – and stop doing this every time a natural disaster occurs.

Here is what I wish we would realize:

   1. human civilizations (brick and mortar) who live on fault lines and shore lines are impacted when the world does what it has always done – shift, evolve, and create.
   2. every generation can not imagine things continuing to progress beyond a point that they would find unrecognizable and thus they think ‘this must be the end’
   3. when we talk about the ‘eschatological hope’ of the resurrection we need to be careful to distinguish it from cooky dispensational “Left-Behind” mumbo-jumbo. We must distinguish because most people can’t tell the difference. In fact, sometimes I can’t tell the difference.


  • Most of what Jesus said that gets chalked up to ‘end times’ stuff – like his story about two people in a field or on a road and one is taken, or  how women will not want to be pregnant – he is talking about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 a.d.   All that ‘flight to the hills’ and sky/moon turning red and a loaf of bread costing a bag of gold is about something that happened “within that generation” (Matthew 24:33-35).  It is not about the end of the world.
  • The book of Revelation was a political commentary on Rome of the first centuries CE. It is written in apocalyptic language because of the Roman oppression of the first century. It is not about the end of the world.

End of the (gullible) World!

The minute the earthquake in Japan happened, I told several friends that two things were coming: 1) talk of the end of the world  2) talk of God punishing Japan

But I was not prepared for was the quality of the sample that was to come. This article details the prophetic take of Cindy Jacobs [it opens in a new window] .  She is an authoritative leader in Intercession Prayer circles and someone that I am very familiar with and had even quoted during my college years (the mid- 90s).

“In the early nineties, the Lord gave me a prophecy for Japan that it was a “sickle in the hand of the Lord” that will be used for great harvest. The physical geography of the islands look like a curved sickle with the handle being the island of Hokkaido in the north. One could also say that it looks like a curved sword. Where Japan has historically been a sword of war across Asia.” Continue reading “End of the (gullible) World!”

3 words of wisdom on love wins

Beside the release of my interview with Brian McLaren on the Homebrewed Christianity podcast [link]  (also available on Itunes), I have been busy reading all week. I have gotten a pretty good survey of all the big discussions going on in, around, and because of the release of Rob Bell’s “Love Wins”.

my fellow student Bill Walker has a very insightful take, asking “is this really about theology?”  at the end he quotes a buddy

“In such a climate, is it really possible to be moderate? Continue reading “3 words of wisdom on love wins”

>Rob Bell Wins

>I watched the live- webcast of the Rob Bell interview about his new book “Love Wins”

you can watch the video of the event here

Here are two quick thoughts on it:

1) We are not having this conversation in a vacuum
2) rob bell is up to something

we are not in a vacuum and the context of this conversation is post-enlightenment / post-christendom. That means a couple of things:
a) everyone has their own bible
b) most people can read it
c) evangelicals do not have Popes or councils to make decisions on this kind of stuff 
d) for Reformed folks (Piper, Driscol, Keller, etc) the bible just doesn’t say what they need it to say for this thing to be air tight.

SO – we have a couple of issues!
The BIGGEST issue is that we take passages like Matthew 7 (which one of the white women in Rob’s audience asked about) where Jesus says “wide is the road that leads to destruction” and we THINK that it is about Hell. It is not. We have been taught to read the bible wrong. We trade one word for another all the time.  I wrote about that here.

THEN – some one like Rob comes along and calls that into question (he is up to something) and people FREAK out.

Matthew 7 isn’t about hell. But we got so comfortable thinking that it was … now we are uncomfortable with how comfortable we were.

I’ll give you another example: Paul never mentions hell. In any of sermons (Acts) or letters. It is not there.  I wrote about its absence here. 

Here is another one: Revelation – which is not to be read literally – teaches (even to those who DO think it is literal) that hell is not eternal. Even in that scenario hell is temporary and is emptied into the lake of fire. They are not the same place or for the same purpose.  read Revelation 20:14-15.

But since many believers don’t know that… we end up asking “wait! if there is no hell … then why are we even doing evangelism or missions”. The answer is that we were doing them for the wrong reason. Some of it was colonial … some of it was worse. 

We should do evangelism and we should do mission – but not because of this understanding of hell.

So – I am not saying that Rob Bell is right. I am not saying that everyone will be saved. BUT the reality is that many have not taken these passage seriously.  Passages such as:

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”

What did YOU think?

>why are they walking away?

>My friend Rachel Held Evans – the amazing author and blogger – posted this on Facebook:

Lots of folks are talking about the future of young, disenfranchised evangelicals. I’d love your thoughts on this. What is driving them away? Where are they going? (Working on a post that explains the phenomenon from my own perspective – as a young, disenfranchised evangelical myself!) 🙂

I started to respond and it just took off!  So i thought that I would post it here and see what anyone else had to say.

For me it comes down to two things: epistemology and dualism.

The evangelical epistemology is rooted in an individualism that does not resonate with the worldview/cosmology that the Bible was written in. This Bible is suppose to be God’s Word (an elusive concept) and does not ultimately (long term)  provide the coherence of worldview, the continuity with tradition or the cohesiveness of experience (burning bushes etc.) that satisfy.
It feels disconnected after a while if you are thinking about it at ALL.

The dualism of us/them, in/out, heaven/hell, right/wrong, creation/evolution, republican/democratic, et al.  is so disjointed from our experience of the world that it becomes untenable to continue pretending that we believe something just because we were “told”.  It seems ridiculous. It gets to be embarrassing. SO instead of undertaking the arduous task of deconstructing without destructing – and then subsequently rebuilding… many just walk away.   Plus, where would you live during the renovation ?

 When you take these two and multiply them by things like the evolution of Finney’s new measures (alter calls) and the ‘christian music industry’ that many people have not heard about but somehow can SENSE the formulaic nature of modern christian religion … it gets – not just incrementally but -exponentially more challenging to hold onto it.

For me this gets no better when we try to ‘return’ to the past with yearly schedules, antique liturgies, and outdated lectionaries. That is no better. It may FEEL more mystical for a time but… in the end there is no more congruence with our ‘real life’ than being an End Times- Rapture ready – Bible thumper waiting to go to heaven who sings passionately on Sunday that God would ‘come down’ – as if God was not already ‘down’ and that the Copernican view got rid of the 3 tiered universe.

That’s the kind of realization that leads people to walk away.

[I was so fired up I forgot to mention two other huge issues: hermeneutics (knowing how to read books like Jonah or Revelation) and gender issues.]

– So that is why I think that many young people are walking away… why do you think that this is happening. 

bad guides

I was reading a big serious book tonight and I found a great little quote. It is from Ludwig Wittgenstein – who has a lot of interesting things to say (but that is for another day)

In teaching you philosophy I’m like a guide showing you how to find your way round London. I have to take you through the city from north to south from East to West, Continue reading “bad guides”

>Reading the Bible Better: Talents


We have all read the parable of the Talents
Matthew 25:14-30 (New American Standard Bible)
Parable of the Talents
 14 For it is just like a man about to go on a journey, who called his own slaves and entrusted his possessions to them.
 15″To one he gave five talents, to another, two, and to another, one, each according to his own ability; and he went on his journey.
 16″Immediately the one who had received the five talents went and traded with them, and gained five more talents.
 17″In the same manner the one who had received the two talents gained two more.
 18″But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
 19″Now after a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.
 20″The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.’
 21″His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave You were faithful with a few things, I will (I)put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
 22″Also the one who had received the two talents came up and said, ‘Master, you entrusted two talents to me. See, I have gained two more talents.’
 23″His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’
 24″And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed.
 25’And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’
 26″But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed.
 27’Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest.
 28’Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’
 29″For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.
 30″Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

 Here’s the thing:  what if we have not understood the environment and the context that Jesus was speaking to enough to understand what is going on in this parable?

 Several weeks ago I put forward two theories about our understanding of the Bible:

  •  we would benefit to know more about the first century context
  •  we would benefit to know more about the genres that the Scriptures were written in
 This parable is a perfect example of those two ideas.
 A talent was the largest denomination of currency available in Jesus’s day. It weighed 72 pounds and required several servants to carry. It was used once a year to pay estate taxes.
 When Jesus says that some servant received several talents his first century audience would have known that this was absurdum.  They would have known immediately that this was a political or economic lampoon.
 It is also interesting to note that the Jewish rate of interest was capped at 12%. Anything more than that was considered unethical.
 So when we listen to Jesus tell this fictitious story, there are two things that may not be obvious to us as 21st-century listeners:

  • The first is that those servants that are applauded/esteemed in this parable would have been perceived as villains and potentially booed or jeered by the original audience.
  • The second is that the servant that buries his treasure was the hero in this story!
It is possible that the servant who buries his treasure is the good guy both as Jesus tells the story and as it was heard by the first century audience!  Keep in mind that this is in an agrarian society  and that by sticking his money in the ground he has demonstrated to his master that money does not grow and will not feed his family. 
 In this sense, he is sticking it to the man by saying that participating in an predatory economic system of profit does not feed me and those I care about.  Money does not grow and you cannot eat it.  This guy might be the hero of Jesus’ story. 
Now-  Somebody might object at this point and say “he is called a wicked and lazy servant”, but I would point out that Jesus does not call him that… Jesus is telling a story where the evil landlord is calling him that.   This is a huge distinction.
Just because of the phrase “evil and lazy servant” appears in the text does not mean that Jesus is assigning it to the man. And this is where our lack of knowledge about the genre of parable betrays us.  If we do not know how to read a parable then we are in danger of mis-reading the parable. 
 It might be interesting at this point to note that the word “talent” did not come to mean what it does in our modern definition until somewhere around the 13th century.  This is one of the first instances we have of a word’s definition actually coming from an interpretation of Scripture.  Talent came to mean skill or ability in the 13th century because of this very passage.  Before that it had never meant what it means in our contemporary understanding.  Talent was a Roman denomination of money.  When Jesus told this story he was clearly meaning it as an economic teaching.
At this point, we have to be willing to come to terms with the fact that we may have been reading this parable exactly the opposite as Jesus meant it.

The man who buried his treasure may actually be the hero of this story! And the servants who derived income from a double percentage gain may have been a wicked participant in an oppressive system. 
A capitalist reading of this passage may actually result in an exultation in the exact opposite purpose for which Jesus meant it.  This is a grave realization. 
If the man who buried his treasure is indeed the hero of this story and he is – by means of a prophetic act – demonstrating the fatal flaw of an opportunistic (predatory) economic enterprise… then we may have been sold a  faulty view of both the kingdom and the financial enterprise of this world.  This is a sobering possibility.
Most people that I talk to do not know that the talent was a denomination of money. They do not know that it weighed 72 pounds. They do not know that it required several servants to carry. They do not know that it was used as an estate tax once a year. This is information that radically changes the way we read the parable.
I am not a fan of either/or, this or that, in or out, us or them, dualism and binary thinking. That is well-established. In this one instance, however, it is clear to me that these are two very different readings and that one reading supports the status quo of Imperial economics and the other is a subversive reading that undermines the way things are and the ‘powers that be’ !
Jesus does not call the servant who buries the money a “wicked and lazy servant” he puts that phrase in the mouth of the wicked landowner.  When people say to me that “the Bible says… that man was a wicked lazy servant” they are misunderstanding the very purpose for which the parable was spoken. We must acknowledge that it is the wicked landowner who calls the servant by that title.
On a side note –  think about what we are saying about God if we think of the wicked landowner as God.  We are saying that God is absent. We are saying that God us harsh. We are saying that God is ruthless.  Is this really what we want to say about God?
 Is this what we think God is like?
I am not blaming those who have been taught to read the Bible this way –  but the simple fact is that it is not how Jesus meant it in the first century nor is it how his original audience would’ve heard it. 
 If we are going to read the Bible better we have got to know more about the first century and we have got to know more about the genres that Scripture is written in.
 This is simply a snapshot of how our ignorance of those two areas … and how 2000 years of dust have blurred the original picture. 

the C.S. Lewis Bible

I referenced C.S. Lewis earlier this week. I am always surprised by how much people like C.S. Lewis.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that I own and have read almost every book that is out. When I was an evangelical youth pastor, he was my go-to voice for apologetics and devotional material.

I bought the “Year with C.S. Lewis” the week it came out (ironically, at the Borders bookstore that had just opened in my town). I took a year off reading the Bible for morning devotions (I needed a break) and spent my quite times with his thought of the day. I have bought a dozen copies over the years as gifts for friends that I thought might like it.

So I just found out that they have released a C.S. Lewis annotated version of the Bible. Continue reading “the C.S. Lewis Bible”

Blog at

Up ↑