Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today


November 2011

No One is 1st Century these days

I have been having a great conversation with a good friend of mine named JD. I wanted put part of it up here in the hopes that others will be able to jump in.

Me: I keep saying: I have no interest in discounting or explaining away my Christian experience – but neither am I willing to be bound to the antiquated ways that it was talked about in the 1st centuries.
JD: Understood! But does that mean you also discount people that do follow the 1st century Christianity? Is there not a place for everyone to understand and follow God in his/her own way
Me: Good clarification! I certainly do want to be open – engage – interact with – and learn from people of all traditions, denominations, and sects.
The one thing that I am most concerned about is people who think that they have a 1st century perspective but … who have not accounted for the radical developments that have impacted their faith! I will give you three examples:
1) Individualism. 1st century folks would not have even thought in our terms. They were connected in community and family systems/structures that defined them. When they said “I” they did not mean what we mean when we say “I”.
2) Literacy: since the Gutenberg press we each have a Bible in our own hands. The Bible was never meant to be studied alone. It was a communal activity where is was primarily read out loud.
3) Science: our understanding of everything from the Universe to the human body (not to mention Facebook and the Internet) has profoundly changed the way that think about the world, interact with each others and interact with God. This can not be underestimated. Continue reading “No One is 1st Century these days”

The Christmas message of the Angel

In Luke chapter 2 the Angel of the Lord says something really profound (v.14)

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom God is pleased”  (NAS)

It is beautiful in its simplicity.

I’m not trying to make this into a three point sermon, but it does seem to me that there are three interesting things said here:

God is pleased with us. That strikes me in a post ‘sinners in the hands of an angry god‘ era. Now, maybe someone wants to say that god was pleased with us before we killed his kid and rejected the gift… but that is not how I’m reading it here. Why is God pleased with us? Is it because god is gooder than we have been told? Probably. Is it because of something within God and maybe not within us? Possibly. But the bottom line is that God likes us and in Christ is well pleased with us! That is is a Christmas gift worth unwrapping.

Peace on Earth is God’s intention. God wants peace on earth. The angel said so. The sad part is that many Christians will argue with me about this. Fortunately, they probably disagree with part one (that God is pleased) as well … so you have take that as a whole package.

The Glory of God is peace on Earth. This is God’s house and we are God’s people. The state of your house and welfare of the people who live in it reflects something about you. The state of the earth and the welfare of the people who live in it reflects something about God. Now, people who emphasize the transcendence of God portray God as being so holy that God can have nothing to do with humanity’s sinfulness. The problem is that Luke 2 is about incarnation and God becoming one us. God is not just in the highest – as of Luke 2, God is also in the lowest.

So to you I say Merry Christmas! I join the Angel to say Peace on Earth! Goodwill to all mankind! For this is the Glory of God!

A Progressive take on being Pentecostal (or Charismatic)

In a recent Homebrewed Christianity podcast episode Mike Morrell interviews Leif Hetland, a charismatic signs & wonders Pastor. Afterward I got to talk with Tripp about my thoughts on reconciling the best of Pentecostal practices with a Progressive Christianity.

Here are my two big points:

 What Pentecostals have to say to Progressives

Jesus laid hands on people, the Disciples laid hands on people and the letters of the New Testament tell us to lay our hands on people. If you have bought into a brand of Christianity that does not have you laying your hands of people and praying in expectation that something would happen – you may want to revisit the reasons why.

If your faith is primarily intellectual, abstract, and conceptual … it may not be the religion that the writers of the New Testament called us to. The early church was a hands on movement and prayed with expectation.

What Progressives have to say to Pentecostals

Being delivered from personal demons is great and praying over whole cities to break or bind the ‘strong man’ that holds people in bondage is fine. There is a vital missing element that needs to be added. Its not just about the personal (mini) and the heavenly (meta) – that leaves a gap that must be filled. In the middle is the address of systems, structures and institutions (what Walter Wink calls ‘The Powers the Be”).

If you faith is primarily personal-congregational and supernatural-heavenly, then you might want to revisit some understandings of Scripture and the address of systemic sins (like injustice).  Otherwise you are in danger of being so heavenly minded that you actually reinforce and empower that very structures that you say you are praying against.

The 21st Century

I think that it is important to have these two camps are in conversation. Continue reading “A Progressive take on being Pentecostal (or Charismatic)”

Bo’s Blogs in November

Between a trip to San Fran for a conference and Thanksgiving in the mountains, I have not been blogging much this month. There are two things that I have been doing over at HomeBrewed Christianity that I am quite proud of.

The first is a conversation about the Cross.  It started with this blog post and then led to an hour long conversation with Tripp Fuller for a Theology Nerd Throwdown.  My basic take was that we have over-focused on the Cross and neglected both the empty tomb and Pentecost as Christian symbols and events.

Last week my friend A.J Swaboda said “Discipleship is photo-shopping the cross into every picture and angle of my life.”  I asked him if the empty tomb  wouldn’t be more appropriate. He said (wisely) that you can’t have one without the other.
So is that what we are doing? Is ‘the Cross’ shorthand for the whole story? Is it assumed that when we say ‘Cross’ we mean also Resurrection and Pentecost?
That would make me nervous.
Here is my concern: in the resurrection God spoke a new word over the world. I would like to live into that new word and participate with God’s Spirit who was given as a gift and a seal of the promise.
To obsess on the cross and related atonement theories is to live perpetually in the old word and to camp in the final thing that God said about the old situation.

The second is a conversation about being Charismatic/Pentecostal Continue reading “Bo’s Blogs in November”

Why change is challenging

I am fascinated with human behavior and the psychology behind it. I love reading books that examine sociology and help to explain why we, as a culture, do what we do. This is partly why I am in the field of Practical Theology and not Philosophical, Biblical, Systematic, Historic or any other branch of theology.

I am interested in how faith is lived out in actual locations.

I am also interested in why I do what I do. Why do I make the decisions that I do? Why do I value what I value? Why do I spend my time the way that I do?

Two quick stories:

I used to be a big fan of ‘time’ theory and practice. I based much of my philosophy on books like “Unwinding the Clock” by Bodil Johnsson and “Margin” by Richard Swenson. When I was a Lead Pastor this was a major emphasis of my thought and practice. Then I went back to school for graduate work and became an Associate Pastor and almost all of this has either gone out the window or deteriorated to the point of being unsustainable.

This past week I had the opportunity to go up to the mountains where there was no TV, Internet or reliable cell coverage. It was a wonderful Thanksgiving break. It dawned on me after two days “maybe I am not spending time during the week in a way that brings out the best of me.” I decided to revisit some of my routines and renovate some of my ruts.

Saturday went well as I change the way I prep for Sunday.
Sunday went well as I tweaked the way I get ready for a full day of activities.
Monday went well as I disciplined myself to change the way I spend time in the office.
Then came this morning…

I was doing so well that I thought I would return to an old pattern I had gone away from: morning devotional reading.  I pulled out an old daily reader that I have read and re-read so many times over the last 20 years but have not touched for the past 4.  I was excited to sit down with an old friend and meditate again to some classic ideas. There was just one little problem – it stunk.  The reading was stale and the thoughts were antiquated.

I had a good laugh after I got over my initial disappointment. This is why it is so hard to make changes! If your first run doesn’t meet immediate success, it can be really hard to muster enough energy to try again. This is especially true if you are making the change because of a perceived lack or deficit.

I feel like the person who does situps one day and then is disappointed when they look in the mirror and they are no thinner.

Anyway – I almost done with the semester and have great plans to get ready for the new year and some new patterns. I just thought I would throw out this reflection and share it with people I love exchanging ideas with.    seasons greetings to one and all  –Bo

Heaven, we have a problem – with sexuality

This was a week of controversy in the Blogosphere – at least in my neighborhood.

The topic of gender, femininity, and sexuality were the touch points.  I am going to highlight 3 controversial blogs from this week … but first I want to acknowledge that it mirrored (albeit in a much smaller way) something happening in the larger culture that we are embedded in.

This was also a week that saw the Penn State football sexual abuse scandal rock the nation, the Herman Cain sexual harassment allegations, and several other national news story related to discrimination, abuse, and harassment.

These three christian conversations that follow are not happening in a vacuum – perhaps that is why they illicit such a heated response and so much attention. It impacts all of us.

Post 1:  from Stuff that Christians Like – a post called ‘Girls with a Past’ was a little test (written by a man) that women could take to see if one qualified as intriguing or not.  It was satire (which not everyone gets or likes) and it pointed out a real problem. Now, some people were offended and took it out on the author. I just want to say that the situation is infuriating but we can’t take it out on the person who illustrates the problem, Jon was articulating a severe inconsistency between what we say and what we do in the ‘church’.

Here is his post: let me know what you think. My 2 cents will be at the bottom of this post. It got over 500 responses.

Post 2: Rachel Held Evans (one of my favorite bloggers) put up a post called “13 things that make me a bad feminist”. It is part of a series that she does from time to time – she has also admitted to being a bad ‘evangelical’ and ‘progressive’.  This post went over like a lead-balloon . This led to a guest-post the following day.

Here is the post: . It got 149 responses.

Post 3: my good buddy Tripp Fuller came out of the closet as not being ‘open and affirming’ on a video from Two Friars and a Fool. His contention was that affirming letters – whether L, B, G, Q, T, I or any other dash or asterisk – is an inherently limited response. It has two great dangers: Continue reading “Heaven, we have a problem – with sexuality”

Do the numbers in Revelation add up?

I am excited to put out part 3 and 4 of Reading Revelation Better in the coming days. I wanted to bracket out this conversation about numbers. Let me make two concessions and then I will post a part of the conversation that has been going on.

1) This is not numerology. It is poetics…only with numbers.
2) a Biblical scholar would call my example ‘woefully anecdotal’. but this is an entry-level introduction so it will do for now.

Q: Whenever I encounter interpretations of it I always come away thinking: “Really? Did these numbers have that much meaning in them for these people? Those symbols were normal and often used?”. I can’t imagine being in a culture so steeped in symbolism & numerology that this stuff would make sense.

R: Think about it this way,
If I say 1776, you know exactly what I am alluding to.
If I say 4 score and 7 years ago, you know what I am referencing.
If I say 666, I don’t even have to mention what it comes from.
If I am talking about battle and mention 300, you would probably get that.

So we have all sorts of numbers that we are kind of ingrained with. Now imagine that we lived in a culture that where a=1 and b=2 (etc.) so my name (Bo) would be worth 17. So 17 would just be the number of my name. your name would be 59. If we lived in a culture where this was just part of how we thought, then we might naturally read this stuff different.

What do you think? How does that sit with you?

Q: OK, I can kind of see how we have a similar system going on today, perhaps not as pronounced though. The example of “300″ really hit home with me. I guess another example of this in today’s world might be “911″ which immediately brings to mind an emergency situation?

So I think I understand why 1 = unity (pretty intuitive) & 3 = completeness (trinity?). How about the others? For instance, when you say 8 = “newness” do you mean that when the word for “newness” was spelled out that if you added the numbers you get 4, in the same way Bo = 17 in english? Or are you saying 8 just WAS newness to them in the same way 911 IS emergency for me or “the 4th” is Independence?

R: YES! you got it. The 911 is a fantastic example.

So 8 is newness, not like the name thing (spelled out and added up) but in the symbolic way that the 8th day was a new week, boys were circumcised on the 8th day, and when the author of of 2 Peter (2:5) wanted to talk about God starting fresh with the Ark & Flood, the number 8 is intentionally used. (Noah & his wife, and their three sons and their wives = 8).

The number 8 is specifically invoked. it meant something and so could be alluded to in the same way that 911 means emergency to us.

I am really enjoying this conversation! Hope you are finding it helpful.

(I use “R” for response instead of “A” for answer… because I don’t have the answers- just responses.)

Reading Revelation Better (part 2)

Three things up front:

  • I love the apocalyptic elements in the Old and New Testament. I think they are both fascinating and helpful – or should I say instructive.
  • Apocalyptic literature is a very unique genre and in the modern mind, if it is unacquainted with apocalyptic, can really get mucked up fast.
  • I no longer believe that the book of Revelation or passages like Matthew 24 or 1 Thessalonians 4:16 are about the, 20th, 21st, or even 22nd century.

That last point is going to be held loosely. I am totally open to the idea of a Symbolic reading (from the last post) that sees the book of Revelation about all oppression and injustice – in every place in every time. I get the appeal of that and have listened to my friends who hold that position and why they think that it is so important. I get it and I am open to it.

The danger with the Preterist reading (all in the past) is that people immediately jump to “then it has no relevance to the modern reader” argument. I do not see that one directly leads to the other – but I will cover that in part 4.

Having said that I am not sympathetic toward the Futurist or Historicist views, I hope to clarify why in this next post and the next.

A couple of things that pre-modern hearers (readers) would have been familiar with that late-modern (enlightenment) folks may not is the imagery embedded in numbers and symbols. While these show up in other places in the Bible (40 days of rain for Noah, the spies spent 40 scouting the promised land, 40 years in the wilderness for Israel, Jonah warned Ninevah of impending doom in 40 days, Jesus being tempted for 40 days, Jesus was seen on earth for 40 days after the resurrection, etc.)  they are really evident in apocalyptic.

Simply stated
one = unity
two = witness
three = completeness (heaven)
four = earth
five = intensity
six = man
seven = heaven (3) and earth (4) in unity
eight = newness
ten = intensity (double)

If we don’t understand the way numbers were embedded with meaning, then we are going to be confused, lost, or just wrong about what a passage means or has come to mean.

Numbers like 666 Continue reading “Reading Revelation Better (part 2)”

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