Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today


January 2012

4 Locations for Theology in the 21st Century

originally posted at Homebrewed Christianity

I come from a Methodist tradition that looks to John Wesley as its founder. Wesley utilized a famous quadrilateral to talk about how we do theology.
The four elements were Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience.
I love the quad! I am a proud descendant of Wesley and I still find it quite helpful to utilize the same quad.  Here is why I find each element so valuable.

Scripture: No matter how fancy we want to get with our theology (I am looking at you Tillich) or whatever else we want to do (Griffin), it must account for the scriptural witness . I am not saying that we must always begin with scripture (like neo-Orthodox or Open folks) nor am I saying that we must only do scripture – but any 21st century theology must account for it. The Gutenberg and Missionary eras have reinforced a global importance and influence that must be acknowledged for any theology to carry weight. There is just no sense in having a theology that is not thoroughly scriptural if you want it to count widely.
Tradition: I grew up evangelical and developed a disdain for tradition. It was a bad word to me – like religion. It meant thoughtless, empty ritual done on autopilot in rote repetition. I see things a little differently now. Back then, I actually thought that we were free to do whatever we wanted as long as it was meaningful and effective for accomplishing the goal – which was to bring people into a deeper relationship with the living God. Now, I understand that we are all socially conditioned into elaborate human constructions. These constructs (like language or religion) are part and parcel of both the communal/social order and the religious tradition. Tradition and community must be recognized and honored since all theology is contextual theology.
Reason: I loved quoting Colossians 2:8 when I was an evangelist and someone would ask me a better question than I had an answer to
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces[a] of this world rather than on Christ.
It was the deceptive word play that depended on human thinking that was so dangerous to my Josh McDowell faith. I had evidence that demanded a verdict and you had tricky mental gymnastics and endless questions. I had never heard of Neoplatonism and why did I need to? I had Paul and the Epistle to the Hebrews! … Which is to say that I had never encountered the philosophical underpinnings of the New Testament writers nor of my Protestant declarations of faith.
Experience: I know that part of my fascination comes my charistmatic-evangelical roots. I know that part of it is my American protestant upbringing and that it is reinforced by my personality. But I find it on the pages of the New Testament, and I am simply uninterested a religion that is all in the head and not in the heart. I want a full body religious experience. Nice words are fine (and OH how I love nice words) but we have to walk the walk (as they say) and not just talk the talk. Theology must be validated by the community’s experience.  

I always attempt to frame things in the positive. In this case, I will also attempt to reinforce the need for all four by allowing myself to state them in the negative as well.
 Scripture: I am not interested in a Christianity that does not engage scripture or does not seek to be faithful to those initial witnesses.  We can update, renovate, adapt, evolve and reinterpret … but we must always interact with scripture. It is  scripture that we update and reinterpret.
Tradition: Let me say first that I  loath tradition for tradition’s sake. It makes be somewhere between vomitous and irate – which is not pretty. But in our global context you can’t just ‘do theology’ as if it were in a vacuum or you were starting from scratch. We are not starting with a blank slate!  I did not write the Bible, I am not the first to read the Bible – it was handed to me, was given to me and it is that ‘givenness’ that must be absorbed.
 Reason: who wants a faith the un-reasonable? Not me.  Plenty of other people do. In fact, this is really in vogue right now. Lots of conservative folks are retreating into their orthodoxy silo and playing their own isolated word games. That is a theological dead-end for the faith. It is a desperate remnant of Christendom monopoly and wholly counter to the very impetuous of the gospel they so proudly claim to defend.
 Experience: I am as uninterested in a theology that is not experienced as I am in a faith that is unreasonable.

I have been reading a lot of theology lately in preparation for the 2012 Emergent Theological Conversation. Much of it has been philosophical 20th century theology, some of it has been early century and reformation era. At the end of the day, I keep coming back to the Wesleyan quadrilateral as a framework that works for the inter-active, cross-cultural, multi-voiced engagement of the 21st century.


Job, the Gospel and Tebow

I love the controversy that surrounded Tim Tebow – I just hate what his fan do with his success.   It is irresponsible and un-Biblical.

I have said before that I respect Tim and that he does not think God helps the Broncos win football games.

Why I love Tim: He works incredibly hard, has an amazing energy, lives out his faith, and serves orphans. This guy is incredible!

Why I hate his success: If you are in the NFL, you are gifted. Every player is extraordinarily talented … and I think that those talents come for God. I would prefer if we said that every player was blessed by God –  some acknowledge it and some are quite vocal about.

The assertion that God blesses one player more than another is where I run into the problem: that God is picking and choosing this person over that one – and interfering in this moment but not that one is a view of God that is irresponsible and indefensible.
 I will go as far as to say that it is somewhere between superstition and missing the entire point of Jesus’ life and message. This certainly is not a Christian view of God.

Last week, my partner at Homebrewed – Tripp had a blog posted by Rachel Held Evans where he said that God was not omnipotent and that the future is not determined. In the TNT podcast that followed that, Tripp and I talk about the line of reasoning that some people took in not only their objection to Tripp’s note but came to the defense of an omnipotent conception of God . Some people just came out and said “the book of Job shows that God is omnipotent”. This is a terrifying sentence to hear from a Christian.

There are three things about Job that need to be clear:

  • It is not a newspaper report. It is a dramatic presentation (broken into distinct acts).
  • That God rewards those who do right and love God and punishes those who disobey and turn away from God … is exactly what the book of Job is written against. That is against the narrative of Job’s life story at the beginning and against what God says at the end.
  • Christians believe that Jesus lived a perfect life – and was brutally murdered. I see that as the Death of Job’s God. That old concept of God died on the Cross.

So the Bible Continue reading “Job, the Gospel and Tebow”

White, Extremely Male and Incredibly Homophobic

I originally posted this at Homebrewed Christianity but wanted to move it over here to keep the conversation going.

The news is wild these days! Its almost as if there is a cultural shift underway!
Let me just highlight 4 news stories from the past weeks:

1) The Pope: Gay marriage threatens humanity’s future

2) Pastor Joel Osteen to Oprah: Homosexuality Is Sin — But Gay People Will Get Into Heaven

3) Rick Santorum: A Straight Dad In Prison Is Better Than Two Gay Dads Who Aren’t

4) Pastor Mark Driscoll’s book on Marriage hits the shelves

It is interesting that all four of these stories have come to my attention within a week. What most people will focus on is whether there is a Bible verse to back up what they are saying or not.

What needs to be stated before we get there is two-fold:

  • All four are white males. Somebody may ask “are you implying that their gender or race somehow diminishes their right to speak with authority?” and I would answer “No – I just think that it is worth pointing it out in case later we wanted to examine how people come to power and in what ways authority is constructed, bestowed, or recognized.”
  • When you have the leader of all the world’s catholics, a guy who is renowned for not speaking up about anything or coming down on anyone, a presidential candidate, and one of the most influential evangelical pastors in America saying the same thing… one of a couple of things has to cross your mind.

a) they are all sticking up for the truth or
b) they are all sticking up for an antiquated perspective of the past

The reason that this issue has grabbed my attention is that many are calling it “The Last Taboo”.  Continue reading “White, Extremely Male and Incredibly Homophobic”

God is great, Jesus is a good guy – now the other team…

It was a busy week over at Homebrewed Christianity as we get ready for the 2012 Emergent Village Theological Conversation. This is one of 3 blogs I am moving over from there to extend the conversation.

I was reading something that other day that really excited me. It was a comparison of the existential approach of someone like Rudolf Butlmann and the “powerful and illuminating analysis of post-christian existence” with the approach of someone like A.N. Whitehead in his book “Religion in the Making”.

It was particularly this sentence which caught my attention:

Bultmann’s belief that through Jesus’ death and resurrection a change was effected in the human situation at the most fundamental level can be examined as a historic hypothesis without introducing any ad hoc notions of a unique act of God.*

Fairly straight forward stuff, but it piqued my interest enough to go back and make sure that I understood the whole section leading up to it. What is interesting is that just before the above quote is this little nugget:

In such a context (exploring distinctive Western structures) the role of such historical figures such as Buddha, Socrates, and Jesus can been seen a bringing new structures of existence into being.

“Whoa! Hold it right there! I like it when you say wonderful things about how great Jesus is … by why do you have to include those other people?” I can hear my conservative and evangelical friends saying.

This is not the only time I have seen something like this and had the same reaction. (God is not One by Stephen Prothero springs to mind). It can almost be framed in this simply rubric

  • God is Great!
  • Jesus is super.
  • don’t elevate anyone else or Jesus won’t seem unique

Continue reading “God is great, Jesus is a good guy – now the other team…”

Women: Images & Identity

Last week I read a fantastic post by Julie Clawson. I wrote a post asking her some questions. She responded and so did Carol Howard Merritt.  Then Rachel Held Evans gave it ‘Conversation of the Week’ in the coveted Sunday Superlatives!   These 3 women great authors and speakers. I feel privilege to have them as dialogue partners! Here are some highlights:

Background: I love going to the movies. As a student, I usually only go the theatre on Summer break (blockbuster action films + air-conditioning = awesome) and on Winter break (tired brain + Christmas money = fantastic).

Last week I saw two movies and was quite intrigued by a pattern that I noticed during the trailers: women being tough guys. The three trailers were for Underworld: Awakening with Kate Beckinsdale, Haywire with Gina Carano (both action films) and The Iron Lady with Meryl Streep playing Margaret Thatcher.

I have read enough feminist literature to know that there is a principle (which Thatcher made famous) that “In a man’s world …” a women often has to out ‘man’ the guys in order to break into the boys club and be taken seriously.

In a system where we have been socially conditioned to see certain behaviors and attributes as ‘leadership’ or ‘strength’ – or in the church as ‘anointing’ – then women must over-do it in order to overcome the intrinsic biases and gain credibility in a system geared to evaluate by masculine expectations. (people point to Joyce Meyer as a Christian example)

This is a real problem.

THEN I was reading your blog this week and you bring up the Lego Ads making their way around Facebook and tie it into both modesty and obesity. As a youth pastor I have read everything from Reviving Ophelia to Queen Bees and Wannabes ,that explains why girls treat each other the way that they do, and I recognize that there are deep underlying issues. Let’s be honest, these deep issues will not be solved by quoting some Bible verses or ‘going back to the way things were in the Bible’.

So here are my questions: 

1. What do we do with the karate-chopping drop-kicking gun-shooting heroines of violence on the silver screen these days? On one hand, it is nice to women getting these big-deal leading roles in major films… on the other hand, are they real portrayals of women-ness or is it the bad kind of mimicry –  like ‘Girls Gone Wild’ as a picture of sexual liberation or power.


2. Are there any resources that you can point me to for Image and Identity? Your blog post on the Lego issue is really sticking with me.

3. As a youth pastor, how would you suggest I navigate the (rapidly) developing sexuality without repression while steering clear of moral permissiveness?  Any thoughts?

Julie Clawson:  Bo brings up some really good questions to which there are no easy cut and dry answers. I ranted/blogged about this general topic a few years ago, but the issues still exist, and perhaps are even intensified. On one hand, I would start by pointing out that just because a woman is an action hero, tough as nails, or possess traditional leadership qualities doesn’t mean she is acting like a man. That could simply be just who she is and she should be given space to be herself without being judged. But at the same time, I agree that it is a widespread cultural issue that women often feel like they must put on the persona of men in order to succeed. Our culture doesn’t know how to handle women who are strong, intelligent, and assertive.  Continue reading “Women: Images & Identity”

the 99 and the Tebow: success, Billy Graham and Canada

I blog both here at at Homebrewed Christianity. Sometimes after a post rotates off the front page over then I re-post it here for ongoing conversation.

Several weeks ago I had fun looking at the difference between Tim Tebow’s* faith and what his zealous (mostly evangelical & charismatic) fans do with it. I took some flack from asserting that Jesus was not intervening to help him win close games.
Since then he has lost 3 games. The choir has gone shockingly quiet. It appears – and this may come as a surprise – that Americans worship success more than any ‘god’. In fact, one might wonder if success is America’s god.

It always piques my imagination when politicians say ‘May God bless America” at the end of their speeches … I try to pay attention to how they say it and what they might be expecting that blessing to look like.

 There are two elements to this that really attract my attention:

  • Part of the reason this sticks out to me so sharply is that I have dual-citizenship with Canada. I went to High school and started Bible College there. When I see Tebow bowed on the sideline praying in the 4th quarter, I smile as I think of the completely different religious and political atmosphere in Canada. Almost every Canadian I know – even the believers – I can hear saying “Easy big guy, don’t make too much of a display”.

American zeal is a phenomenon. I have a theory that it is actually embedded in the DNA of this country courtesy of those original Calvinists who brought with them the concept of “signs of divine benevolence”. This little mechanism says
‘while we can’t know who is elect unto salvation or damnation – certainly we say that a good tree will bear good fruit. So, while no can know for sure if they are “in” certainly God graces the chosen with “signs of divine benevolence”. Continue reading “the 99 and the Tebow: success, Billy Graham and Canada”

Cut it out with the whole ‘Curse’ business

My posts on Tim Tebow and Pat Robertson were so well received I thought I would  comment on one more incident this week.

You may have heard that another football player made non-sports headlines this week when he admitted that he now believes in curses.  You can read the story of Payton Hillis here.  You see, it is believed whichever player makes the cover of the Madden Football Video game each year can expect trouble in the season that follows and may see his career take a turn for the worse.
There is a similar curse for the magazine Sports Illustrated cover. I have seen that pattern happen over and over in past years.

I want to suggest here that we leave behind the idea of curses and all that associated hokus-pokus.

Before I do that – let me clarify two things:

  • You can curse somebody by saying hurtful things about them. Words effect both the speaker and the the hearer. Not guarding one’s tongue can be a curse.
  • You can curse someone by gossiping about them and crippling their chances with other people.

If we want to use ‘curse’ in a symbolic-poetic way … that would be one thing. But if we think that it has a literal correspondence to actual (ontological) reality then:
What I am saying is that this idea of somebody being cursed or being under a curse is so medieval, antiquated, and superstitious that it is somewhere between folk-religion and hogwash.

Now you may be asking yourself “Why does he get so upset about this stuff? Why does he even care? Why does he bother taking this on? Why not just let it go?”

It turns out that there is a really good explanation!

  1. I have been told that I had a curse.
  2. I regularly have to council people pastorally who have been told that they are under a curse.

It is hurtful and superstitious and I want to shout “How do you think that universe works? Really!”   Do you think that I could be plagued today because somebody who I may or may not know said something into the air that I may or may not be present for and it limits my life?” I have spent hours & hours late into the night praying to break curses – trying to discern in prayer who & where the curse came through in order to overturn its power at the origin.

Over the past 20 years I have been told so many times by people who are into Spiritual Warfare and Intercessory Prayer that “witches go through the phonebook and pray against pastors by name and put curses on churches” as an explanation for everything from pastoral adultery to drops in attendance.  Continue reading “Cut it out with the whole ‘Curse’ business”

trying to making sense of the miraculous

This is a re-post from a blog that I did at Homebrewed Christianity. I wanted to display here in preparation for a series of upcoming posts.  [ I have started putting posts with big words over there and more everyday stuff over here – it seems to be working]  Thank you all for your great feedback and thoughts!

In his book Process Theology: a basic introduction , C. Robert Mesle says:

“the miracle of birth” is a wise phrase, pointing us toward a healthy theology of miracles. Birth is not supernatural. It involves no intervention violating natural processes. We know a tremendous amount about reproduction and may one day be able to create life in laboratories. Yet for all that, we still feel, and speak of, the miracle of birth…
Miracles become problems when we think of them as demonstrating divine power to intervene in the world however God wishes. The problems are not merely scientific, but also theological and moral. Nothing challenges the goodness of God or the justice of the universe more than the stark randomness of such alleged “miracles”.

That is an interesting way to think about the subject, but I want to make an important distinction between supernatural and miraculous.  The Miraculous can be seen several ways – as something that surprises us, outside our expectations; as something that is amazing; like the miracle of birth, something that is statistically improbable , like landing a Airplane on the Hudson River; or religiously as something that only divine help could account for.

There are several reasons why I think that this topic is SO important:
I can not tell you how often someone says something about how God directed them to take a specific road or a route that avoided an accident.

  • Did god tell everyone and they just were not listening?
  • Did god only tell those whom love god?
  • Does god monitor all traffic patters and why would god be so concerned with getting you  home on time but so unconcerned with children being abused and people going hungry?

People often get defensive and say “In a worship service I saw/experienced  _____. Are you trying to tell me that did not happen?”  No. I absolutely believe you that it happened. What I am saying is that maybe the explanation provided in the worship service was not the whole story of why the phenomenon happened (people being slain in the spirit, etc).
I want to be clear about something: I believe in prophetic words. I have told people things that I could not have known in my own power – including twice that I have described pictures that hang in their homes, homes that I had never been to.
I absolutely believe that the Lord could ‘lead’ you to call someone who needs a call ‘at that exact moment”.

So keep that in mind when I say that we need to revisit our frameworks around the miraculous and we definitely need to abandon the whole ‘super’ natural worldview. It does not hold together under even the slightest examination in the 21st century. Continue reading “trying to making sense of the miraculous”

Pat Robertson makes me a better believer …

God told Pat Robertson who the next President of the United States will be.
You can watch it at Slate or read about in million other places.

Here is the thing: as much as people may want to make fun of the guy for being delusional I have to think that there may be something to be said for him.

If anyone follows my blogs either here or at Homebrewed Christianity then you know that I am a big proponent updating the faith. In fact, truth be told, I have written about it more than any other subject over the last 4 years.

I am especially interested in 3 updating things:

  • The way we read the Bible (hermeneutics)
  • The way we conceptualize the universe (cosmology)
  • The way we talk about miracles (metaphysics)

I have even gone so far lately as to publicly articulate why the miraculous is not super-natural and to research church history about eschatology (the end)… I have even shown concern about the evangelical icon Tebow [here].  All of that is to  say that I am not dabbling in this or being halfhearted… nor I am doing what so many that I know are and simply walking away from a faith that is not intellectually credible, scientifically accountable, or personally tenable. Continue reading “Pat Robertson makes me a better believer …”

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