Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today


April 2012

Jesus & (S)words part 3

reposting from last week.
Part 1 & Part 2 provide the lead in

Part 3:  Jesus tells his disciple to buy a sword?

We come to that famous passage in Luke 22 where Jesus tells his disciples to buy a sword.

 35 Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”

“Nothing,” they answered.

36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’[b]; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”

38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”

“That’s enough!” he replied.

Here are two readings you may want to consider: 

Earlier this week I engaged a political reading of Moses and the waters of Meribah from Numbers 20. My question was “why, if Moses was going to ultimately speak to the rock, did the Lord even mention the staff?”  The answer was that it was a symbol of power to be carried – yes – but ultimately resisted in favor of a better present option that might be overshadowed by the most obvious option.

It takes strength to turn the other cheek. If you don’t have the ability to retaliate … it is just being a doormat or victim? That is how I have always thought about it.

In that perspective, I have read Jesus’ odd command with Peter in mind. I see that fateful night where Jesus tells him to ‘put away your sword’ and later tells the authorities ‘if my kingdom was of this world my followers would fight.’ The implication is that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world and so his followers don’t fight.

The sword for the disciple, then, is what the staff was for Moses in Numbers  20: a powerful option to be resisted in favor of a preferable option that is less obvious because it is less forceful.

I used to reconcile ‘buying swords’ as a sort of object lesson or training excersise for the disciples. One lesson (trust and supply) is over – next lesson: You can’t resist temptation is one of the options is not even available.

 Then, in 2007, I discovered that Biblical Scholars have a different way of handling the passage. Here is Ben Witherington: 

Lk. 22.36-38. What is the meaning of this little story, taking into account the larger context of Jesus’ teaching? Vs. 37 is the key where Jesus quotes Is. 53.12—“he was numbered with the transgressors”. Jesus is saying to the disciples—you must fulfill your role as transgressors of what I have taught you!!! They must play the part of those who do exactly the opposite of what Jesus taught them in the Sermon on the Mount. The disciples become transgressors by seeking out weapons and then seeking to use them. This much is perfectly clear from the context for the disciples then go on to say “look Lord here is two swords”. They already have such weapons and Jesus responds in disgust to the fact that they are already transgressing his principles of non-violence by responding “that’s enough” (of this nonsense).

 So either Jesus was saying that two swords was enough for the revolution (not likely) or Witherington has this right.

Conclusion: We have looked at these four famous passages now and it seems clear that although Jesus talked about swords and the writers of scripture utilized sword analogies, none of these passages is a validation of the type of violence these verses are used to justify.


Jesus & (S)words part 2

I’m reposting last week’s HBC conversation in 3 parts
[part 1 is here]

Part 2:  

There are lots of swords in the New Testament.  The Word of God is compared to a double-edged sword and Jesus comes back wielding a sword. Maybe the Bible is more than ‘O.K.’ with swords and sword imagery?

Let me throw out two things:

  • In the context of the Roman Empire and its occupation of Jewish lands in the 1st century, swords would have been a common item that drawing imagery out of would have been appropriate.
  • A well-known pastor in Seattle, Washington 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 worry 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 in Revelation 19, is that the sword is not in Jesus’ hand but it comes out of Jesus’ mouth. That seems important in the poetic/prophetic  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?

Oh, here we go: Hebrews 4

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

So far so good! ‘It’ judges the thoughts and heart… but here comes the twist:

 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from His sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Hold the phones! … the Word of God (it) is a person? Yes. Guess who?

 14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.

Jesus is the Word of God?    (I’m being funny but you may want to check out John 1 for clarification).

 In conclusion: the use of sword imagery  in both Revelation and in the book of Hebrews needs to be taken with a poetic grain of salt. Yes, the Bible uses sword imagery. The thing is that if Jesus’ (S)word, from part 1,  is a non-sword or an un-sword and in Revelation is comes from Jesus’ mouth and in Hebrews it is a person … then none of these passages, thus far, can be utilized to justify what so many Christian (s)words are used for. 

I’ve obviously been having fun here, but the bottom line is that just because the Bible uses swords as analogies – it isn’t a wholesale validation of swords nor a justification for using them as the world does.


I would love to hear your thoughts – I just have one request: please don’t use the word ‘Pacifist’ when speaking of Jesus. That set of commitments belongs to a distinct school of thought  that did not exist in Jesus day so it is anachronistic to use in that way. He was certainly into non-violence and radical peace-making but Pacifism is a unique configuration of convictions.

Jesus & (S)words

This conversation went really well last week over at Homebrewed. I thought I would post it here in smaller chunks for anyone wanted to continue the conversation.

Jesus tells his disciples to sell their bags and buy swords. Why? And why then does he reprimand Peter for using a blade at the moment when it seemed to be most appropriate?  Was Jesus being inconsistent? Did he change his mind in the moment? Was it a test? Did he set Peter up to fail? Why did he say that ‘those who live by the sword, will die by the sword?’ and then tell his disciple to buy them?

I am asked about Jesus’ relationship to swords as much as anything I get asked about. Good hearted people are quite baffled by the whole subject.

  • Jesus did after all say that he came to bring a sword.
  • As the word of God, he is said to be sharper than any two-edged sword.
  • He is pictured with a sword coming from his mouth when he ‘returns’.
  • and there is this matter of him telling his followers to buy swords

As a former apologist, I have gotten pretty good at helping the baffled work through these passages. I even has a presentation I do called jesuSword that incorporates Jesus, his words, and these passages about swords.

 In order to facilitate a lively give and take, we will take this in 3 quick addresses over the next 24 hours.

 Part 1: Jesus says that he came to bring a sword.

 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.

 Is it possible that Jesus was being ironic and that his sword is actually an un-sword. I say this because Jesus’ sword does the exact opposite thing that normal swords do. His sword divides family. Traditional swords are used their swords to defend their kin and kind.

Jesus was using a play on words.

Jesus was using hyperbole. 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!!

John Caputo puts it this way:

The kingdom reigns wherever the least and most undesirable are favored while the best and most powerful are put on the defensive. The powerless power of the kingdom prevails whenever the one is preferred to the ninety-nine, whenever one loves one’s enemies and hates one’s father and mother while the world, which believes in power, counsels us to fend off our enemies and keep the circle of kin and kind, of family and friends, fortified and tightly drawn.”

If Jesus was being ironic or using hyperbole, it would make so much more sense than the way this passage gets used to justify violence and militarism.

I would love to hear your thoughts – I just have one request: please don’t use the word ‘Pacifist’ when speaking of Jesus. That set of commitments belongs to a distinct school of thought  that did not exist in Jesus day so it is anachronistic to use in that way. He was certainly into non-violence and radical peace-making but Pacifism is a unique configuration of convictions.   

Democracy, Pentecost, and the Old Testament?

  • Is it possible that democratic desires are present in the Old Testament and I have just never seen them before?
  • Is the de-centering of Pentecost and the empowerment of the people foreshadowed in the Old Testament?
  • Can we say  A) that Pentecost in the undoing of Babel and B) that God’s desire has always been for the voice of authority to reside in the people (multitude) and not in top-down leaders?

Here is why I am asking:

Recently I stumbled on what might be the most interesting reading of Moses at Mirebah I have seen. It comes from the book Emergency Politics by Bonnie Honig (also on Kindle). In it, she is engaging the theology of Franz Rosenzweig – a contemporary and rival to the German (later Nazi) Carl Schmitt who famously said “” Sovereign is he who decides on the exception.”

In Numbers chpt 20, Miriam passes away. She had been a prophetess for the people and had challenged Moses’ authority on occasion. Immediately after her passing (this will become important) the people realize that there is no water and press Moses and Aaron for solutions. Moses and Aaron step away from the people to seek God and receive instruction to “take the staff and speak to the rock – it will pour out water before their eyes”.

Moses, as you may remember, doesn’t follow instructions to the ‘T’. He ad libs a little bit.  He does indeed gather the people but then he veers from the plan. He chastises the people and then strikes the rock. Two things happen:

  • water does indeed come out
  • God is displeased with Moses and will not let him enter the land that is promised.

I have preached this passage many times and have read lots of treatments. I am intrigued by this passage and have always been unsettled by one detail in the story, which I have never been able to resolve:

why does the Lord tell Moses to take the staff if he is just going to speak to the rock? Why even mention the staff?

Here is where Honig and Rosenzweig bring a unique reading. The staff represent something magical like sorcery – or the miraculous for the early 20th century. This is a political theology and what is at stake in the suspension of law in emergency conditions. Can a sovereign power suspend law in the same way that  God suspends the laws of physics in order to preform miracles? Leaders, being empowered by God, the thinking goes, could suspend ‘normal’ activity if they determined an exceptional circumstance.

In Honig and Rosenzweig’s hermeneutic the dispersed empowerment of the people (multitude) is the location for God’s will and is intended to be home to the will/voice of the Lord. But, as we know, this responsibility had been too overwhelming and was resisted by the people in selecting Moses as a king type who would speak to God for/instead of them (Exodus 20:19). This was an abdication by the people of what the Lord had desired for them as a people – to be prophets all.

This resistance is reinforced when the voice of the people rises in the absence of water, and Moses (along with his brother Aaron) turn away from the ‘stiff necked people’ and receive instruction to speak to the rock. Moses then, probably importing the top-down authoritarianism of his Egyptian upbringing, disobeys the command to speak and instead, chastises the people and strikes the rock with his staff in an act of magical sorcery. God, though it produces water, reprimands this act, and Moses is disallowed from entering the promised-land with the people.

This event is placed within the historical context, earlier in the passage, where Miriam passed away and immediately the people realized that they had no water and held a council against Moses and Aaron. Miriam’s name alludes to water and she was the sister who placed Moses in the Nile’s water when he was an infant. She had been the only one to challenge Moses’ authoritarian ways and she provided, as a prophetess, a check to Moses’ power. Without her, this reading states, Moses proved he will give the people … “not authentic prophecy, but sorcery.” In not recognizing the predictive prophecy of the people (and Miriam), Moses loses his leadership of the people.

Honig utilizes Rosenzweig’s two types of prayer – one that spontaneously arises in a situational moment, and another that is used by the community and creates an openness or receptivity – to analyze the judicial deliberation surrounding the Bush v. Gore presidential ruling. By imagining that the people could have risen up in expectation of a serious effort to count valuable democratic votes instead of waiting for a Schmittian top-down rule from the authorities. The sovereign power might have been within the people prepared for and receptive to the sign instead of what came from above it – a rupture from beyond them. This expectation is foreshadowed within the Mosaic tradition that one day all of the people would be prophets (like Miriam).

Honig asks if this metaphorical reading (which it expressly is)  is a good model for democratic politics and a comparison of the  “state of legal exception to the divine rule of god”. The people, she says, when bound together can give to themselves the powers of state and can again decide to suspend them when, as a multitude, they are oriented and receptive (having been prepared) to the consequences of such action and what they point toward as a sign.

This, in the end, is the problem with magical thinking! We abdicate our power as the people – to be receptive to and bring forward the voice and will of God – in favor of looking to magically empowered leaders to suspend the rules that govern due to exceptional (or emergency) circumstances and hand down solution (metaphorically) through sorcery.

It makes sense then why the Lord even mentions the staff if Moses is ultimately to speak to the rock. It is a metaphor (symbol) of concentrated power that is present but to be resisted in lue of the prophetic possibility of speaking. In that speaking, which is to be located in the people (multitude) prepared by prayer, that a sign is revealed that points to a greater reality. We never hear that voice if a receptive people continually abdicate that potential to exceptional leaders who are expected to provide magical results.

God’s of use of authoritarian leaders would, in this line of thinking, always be either a temporary measure, a concession, or a deviation from the Lord’s will to have the voice housed in the God’s people.

I started with questions and I will close with one:

  • What kind of effect would a reading like this have the kenosis  of Philippians 2 and that weird conversation in 1 Samuel 8 where the people want a king and God says “trust me, you don’t – you only think you do” ?

Charismatics, Evangelicals, Singing & the unamed ‘You’

by Bo Sanders

Three interesting conversations have recently merged in my little corner of the interwebs:

  • The Republican presidential primaries have brought to the limelight some very complex subjects like race, economics, and religion that are handled with stereotypical banter, generally at increased volume.

Santorum is an uber-Catholic, Romney is Mormon, Newt wants the Evangelical vote and all of this is contrasted to Obama’s social-justice-Jeremiah-Wright past. The religion aspect of this election year is going to be fascinating.

I point out that in our national militarism mentality and our cultural myth of redemptive violence, that PSA is playing a role in our religious silo that is spilling over in unhelpful and even harmful ways.

The author calls them evangelical – in contrast to pentecostals who speak in tongues – even though I am not sure that the Vineyard (which both of her congregations are) are wholly representative off all the different camps that come under that tent.


Last week I posted that I was ‘worried about worship’ and one of my concerns dealt with the epistemology behind the band-centered worship experience. I said

“ Is this situation inflamed by an epistemology employed by evangelical and charismatic churches? I don’t know how else to say it but …. if you think that you are singing to God (vs. about God) and the God is actually listening to you and evaluating what is going on, then are you more critical of both the sour-notes and distracting ‘self’ behavior or overly elaborate performances?”

As I read the review of Luhrmann’s new book in the New Yorker magazine (“Seeing is Believing” by Joan Acocella) I was amazed at the obvious parallels to what I had attempted to address. Unfortunaly, the New Yorker requires that you subscribe to the magazine in order to read the article… so I can’t just link there for you. If, however you get the chance to pick up the magazine or copy it at the library, it is well worth your time.

Without the article to link to I will just offer a couple of related thoughts:

The three step plan to Hearing the Voice of God (the Father) is exactly – 100% – my experience of being raised evangelical. So many people that I talk to who were/are charismatic or evangelical have this exact same experience [she also mentions there lack of social service, lack of political involvement, and lack of theology]. The thing I still find shocking is that so many of those outside those groups do not know that is what it is like inside, and how often those inside don’t know that this is not everyone else’s experience of the christian faith.

David Bebbington in Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (Routledge, 1989) did a masterful job of find some common theme that ran through evangelical history. This was a tough job (not always obvious) and has resulted in much debate about if these can even be called one grouping in any coherent sense. I am leaning more and more toward saying that Evangelicalism is not an official membership but is rather a dynamic relation between experience and expression. These two things are facilitated by an epistemology that is more central than any doctrinal or theological markers. Over the last 400 years what has been defining is not the political involvement (it has changed) or what was believed (it has adapted) but the experiential component (enthusiasm) that manifests is a distinct expression.

I have been out of the worship-band culture (Hillsong, Matt Redman, etc) for 2 years. I recently preached at a church with a worship band. What stood out to me so forcibly was the word “You”. I didn’t know why at first but as the service progressed I was struck by how many (all) the songs were addressed to ‘You’. You are holy, you are famous, I need you, etc. It stands in stark contrast to songs sung to God or about God like: a mighty fortress is our God, Oh God our help is ages past, and even Holy is the Lord God Almighty.

I often get to hear Mainliners talk about the alien experience of stumbling upon a christian music station on the radio. I also get to hear visitors to our pipe-organ-hymns-only church wonder about the lack of intimacy and excitement. I think it has less to do with the music style and more to do with the epistemology of singing songs to a ‘You’ and all the assumptions that would accompany that subtle change.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this – agree or disagree

[originally posted at Homebrewed Christianity]

My 200th post is to thank my International Readers!

According to WordPress, this is my 200th post. Of course that is a somewhat arbitrary number since I started on an I-web blog for 2 years, then moved to Blogger for 2 years and have only recently moved to WordPress.

WordPress is constantly making upgrades and I just wanted to tell you about my favorite feature at WordPress. Recently they have added a map on the dashboard that tells you where your readers are coming from. I love maps anyway but this is my new favorite map!

So far today I have had visitors from Canada, Russia, Italy, Sudan and Denmark.  I find that so encouraging! I have had the pleasure of visiting 17 countries in my travels and I love talking with people from around the world. When I found out that folks from all these countries were coming to help me navigate between the everyday and theology – I was ecstatic!

Just this week I have had visitors from Nigeria, United Kingdom, Canada, Republic of Korea, India, Spain, Australia, Portugal, Turkey, Mongolia, Italy, Indonesia, Russian Federation, Mexico, Egypt, Sweden, Denmark, Sudan, Hong Kong, Brazil, Estonia, Cambodia, United Arab Emirates, Latvia, Austria, France, Germany, and Norway. I find this absolutely astounding.

I always knew that there was some level of international readership but this new dashboard feature has really opened my eyes to just how wide a conversation like this  (emerging-Bible-church-theology) can reach in our internet culture. I am so excited to post with this new knowledge and expand the scope even more.

I am honored to be a part of the bigger conversation and look forward to comparing notes with you all over the next 200 posts.  – Bo Sanders

53 in the past month:
Canada FlagCanada
United Kingdom FlagUnited Kingdom
Korea, Republic of FlagRepublic of Korea
Germany FlagGermany
Australia FlagAustralia
Sweden FlagSweden
Denmark FlagDenmark
Brazil FlagBrazil
Philippines FlagPhilippines
India FlagIndia
Greece FlagGreece
Italy FlagItaly
Saudi Arabia FlagSaudi Arabia
Malaysia FlagMalaysia
Indonesia FlagIndonesia
Bulgaria FlagBulgaria
Spain FlagSpain
Macedonia, the former Yugoslav Republic of FlagMacedonia
Turkey FlagTurkey
Egypt FlagEgypt
United Arab Emirates FlagUnited Arab Emirates
Mongolia FlagMongolia
Algeria FlagAlgeria
Mexico FlagMexico
Portugal FlagPortugal
Russian Federation FlagRussian Federation
Thailand FlagThailand
Malta FlagMalta
South Africa FlagSouth Africa
Hong Kong FlagHong Kong
Tanzania, United Republic of FlagUnited Republic of Tanzania
Netherlands FlagNetherlands
France FlagFrance
Sudan FlagSudan
Cambodia FlagCambodia
Latvia FlagLatvia
Austria FlagAustria
Estonia FlagEstonia
Norway FlagNorway
Sri Lanka FlagSri Lanka
Colombia FlagColombia
Japan FlagJapan
Poland FlagPoland
Serbia FlagSerbia
Romania FlagRomania
Bangladesh FlagBangladesh
Moldova, Republic of FlagMoldova
New Zealand FlagNew Zealand
Viet Nam FlagViet Nam
Iceland FlagIceland
Taiwan, Province of China FlagTaiwan
Yemen FlagYemen
Finland FlagFinland


Opting Out of the Argument Culture (follow up to 4 > 2)

Last week I put out a fun challenge for Good Friday: repent of either-or thinking. It got a great response and a reader asked how one might pursue a conversation differently.

After a decade of trial and error, these are the three things (appropriately) I have found most helpful in breaking down the inherited dualisms: diagrams, vocabulary, and intentional complexification.

Diagrams: I am a believer in the power of shapes. I heard Len Sweet talk one time about how the two scientists that finally solved the riddle of DNA actually had all the necessary proteins and elements figured out for quite a while … but could not break the code. It wasn’t until they had that now famous shape – the double helix – that they were able to put the puzzle together.
I tell people

“You can have all the right content and be forcing it into the wrong shape.”

My use of the Venn last week to create 5 categories out of 2 would be an example of this. But it comes from a deep conviction that even when given 2 categories, there has to be more to the story – so look for a third. (The book Argument Culture by Deborah Tannen is excellent on this point).

Draw the person’s spectrum and then bend it (as I did here) for them. Take their two options and put it in a matrix (like the Urgent/Important matrix below). Just become convinced that there is too much data for it to be crammed into a pre-made little mold – it just won’t fit. You end up discarding too much data once your little tins are filled.

Vocabulary: When people are too familiar, too entrenched, and too comfortable, you may have to change the terms of the debate in order to unseat the status quo.

In the never ending Calvinist v Arminian debate that Calvinist love, I will teach them that Arminius was a Calvinist, but  just ‘not calvin enough’ and then, in reaction, the Synod of Dort went more calvin than Calvin to come up with T.U.L.I.P. So when Calvinist portray all free-will theologies as Arminian, that is like an American saying that all non-republicans are democrats: its just not true. They are basically just two sides of the same coin … but certainly not representative of the whole array of options. If they want to read an actual Arminian they should check out Roger Olson and his book Against Calvinism. Once you know what a real Arminian looks like, you will stop mistaking everyone who is not Calvinist for one!

Intentional Complexification:  Since dualism is destructive and deceptive, resolve to never let two contradictory-adversarial positions stand as the only options. Search far and wide, at all costs find a third option. Become inquisitive, Become imaginative. Who doesn’t see it this way?

In the abortion debate you must take away the entrenched or given labels that people assume are the only options. Pro-Life is usually just about one stage of life (unborn) and is less concerned about the life of the mother after her child’s birth, the education of the child 5 years after birth, our  country’s foreign policy and being pro-life in an age of perpetual war, and the ever increasing rates of incarceration, death penalty, etc. To be pro-life you also have to be pro-health care, for education, against militarism, anti-death penalty and should probably do something about hand guns and assault rifles ( I’m not talking about your deer rifle Mr. NRA, that is not what is being used to kill people in these shootings).

If you don’t care about the health of the mother, the education of the child, the life of soldiers, and the life of inmates then you are not pro-life: you are just anti-abortion.

When I see the conversation being set up in an us v. them scenario, I will just boycott by saying “until a women has control over her own womb and she can walk away from a pregnancy like the fella can, we can not even have this conversation. It’s impossible.” I just won’t concede the terms and allow the conversation to be set up like that. It is a false binary and it never leads anywhere except ‘both’ sides (as if there is only 2) feeling justified in their own self-virtue.

So those are my 3 suggestions. I would love to hear what things you have found help us get out of the either/or rut and change the parameters conversation!

Four is greater than Two: Good Friday repentance

So often when I hear two groups arguing, I think to myself  “the problem isn’t what we think about this subject, it is how we are thinking about it.”  If you have read posts here for any time at all you will know that I am not a big fan of dualism in general. I invest great amounts of energy examining binaries and pulling apart overly simplistic dichotomies.

In the past I have utilized a Venn diagram to illuminate the overlap between two groups that are ‘given’ as the options. Lately, I have focused more on the 4th and 5th area.
So in American politics, when ‘republican’ and ‘democrat’ are given to me as opposites, you simply illustrate the overlapping values of the two (3rd space) and then point out those who are ‘neither’ (4th space) like Green folks and anarchists. Then draw a circle around the whole system and point out folks outside the system (5th space) like Canadians.

This semester my two classes are ‘Political Liberalism and It’s Critics’ and ‘Globalization’. It has given me lots of practice in picking up on patterns and thinking in different shaped categories.

Example 1: when a subject like ‘Norms’ is discussed – in sexual identity or sexual practices for instance – often a basic “for & against” structure is presented for any isolated topic. But as the discussion develops you can actually see that this is not a linear ‘far left – far right’ spectrum configuration – even if it is presented as such!

You quickly see that there are least 4 positions even ON a spectrum: if the far left position is “there are no norms” and the far right position is that norms are “intrinsic / originate outside the system” and implement themselves, you can imagine that a center-left position would be an emergent perspective (norms arise from below in the population and then ascend) and a center-right position of top-down Hierarchy where norms are seen to be passed down from the authorities. Recognizing those four positions facilitates a radically different conversation than just outlining two.

Example 2: when the subject is ‘Law’ or court rulings, we need to rise above elementary ‘agree’ and ‘disagree’ binaries.  There are actually 4 positions in practice.

  • Agree & Obey
  • Agree & Disobey
  • Disagree but Obey
  • Disagree and Disobey

It is essential to admit that in any population there will be great variety, disparity, and diversity – so we do a terrible disservice to the matter when we reduce the matter down to basic dichotomies.

The reason I bring this up is because I am very concerned about the round-and-round cul-de-sac conversations that I hear over and over again in the church. I am growing convince that as contemporary Christians, the issue is increasingly not what we think but how we think about it.

The issues of abortion, homosexuality, biblical inerrancy, the creeds/ orthodoxy, environmentalism, and women in ministry are just 6 examples of matters where the dualisms are killing us.

One of the best things that could happen this Good Friday would be for those who take the Christian story seriously to die to – not what we think – but how we think about it. My dream would be for a heart of repentance: to decide in our hearts to swear off inherited dualisms and pledge to, as a community, look for and develop better ways of framing the issues that matter to us most.

Challenge: This Friday, repent of either/or thinking and die to the dualism of us/them for/against right/wrong in/out thinking.  Ask your small group to hold you accountable and maybe even join you in a new life (Easter) of the mind.

disclaimer: some of you will finish this post and think ‘it was so remedial it was barely worth reading’ and others will think ‘that is crazy talk – you are either right (on God’s side) or you are plain wrong – there is no middle ground.’ But we have to start somewhere, and this is the world we live in.


Post-Contextuality : Evangelism and Missions must change

by Bo Sanders
posted at Ethnic Space

Contextual theology was the subject of my Master’s thesis.*  I was, and continue to be, enthralled with the possibility that the gospel could be uniquely expressed in every culture in a manner that was both authentic and indigenous to that group’s place and time. Lamin Sanneh goes so far as to say that it is the distinguishing characteristic of the Christian religion and that unlike Judaism, Islam, Hindu and Buddhist traditions there is no language, place, culture or time that is inherently superior for expressing the gospel.  In Whose Religion Is Christianity: the Gospel Beyond the West, he has it like this:

Being that the original scripture of the Christian movement, the New Testament Gospels are translated versions of the message of Jesus, and that means Christianity is a translated religion without a revealed language. The issue is not whether Christians translated their scriptures well or willingly, but that without translation there would be no Christianity or Christians. Translation is the church’s birthmark as well as its missionary benchmark: the church would be unrecognizable or unsustainable without it…  Since Jesus did not write or dictate the Gospels, his followers had little choice but to adopt a translated form of his message. (Sanneh p. 97)

When I wrote the thesis, I had yet to really encounter liberation or post-colonial thought in depth. My interest in contextualization arose from being a church-planter in a Missionary denomination. I did not realize at the outset of the project just how strong the critique contextual theology brought to classical (traditional) approaches. Since then I have engaged de-colonial, feminist, liberation, post-modern, and pluralistic voices that have even harsher critiques.

I keep circling back, however, to a much simpler concern: the practice of the church.

It is in this concern of practice that I have stumbled onto – and now stumble over – a haunting inconsistency between our thought and our practice.

The irony is thick. In my experience, those who are most excited about missions and evangelism are quite fond of the Bible. They often reference the Bible and even say things like “In the Bible” as a validation for doing something a certain way or “that’s unbiblical” as criticism of something.

Yet, never in the Bible do you see anyone intentionally learning another language in order to present the gospel. In the Bible, God repeatedly used dual-citizens and bi-lingual folks to get the message out. In the book of Acts we see three examples:

  • a miraculous bridging of the language barrier at Pentecost
  • the Ethiopian eunuch was a bi-lingual traveler who took something back to his ‘home’ in Africa
  • Saul/Paul was a dual-citizen who took the message to the Roman Empire

That, it seems to me, is the Biblical model for missions. (This is true whether or not one translates the Great Commission as the imperative “Go” or the more passive Greek rendering of “as you are going”. The precedent of Acts is the same.) The Biblical model is very different than the Colonial model we are so familiar with.

The past 5 centuries have had their effect – but now that the whole world is ‘mapped’ and ‘spoken for’, maybe its time to move away from the colonial obsession with conversion and trust the bilingual and dual-citizens among us to translate to and for their cultures. We would need to repent of our compulsion to import ourselves into foreign peoples or countries and then impose our cultural expectations on them.

In a global era it is time to stop importing and imposing our cultural entrapments into alien environments and presuming that we know what is best for them. There is enough migration, travel, immigration and cultural exchange that we can now trust God that this will happen in the right time and in the right way – without us taking matters into our own hands any longer and asking God to bless our efforts. The era of elaborate organizations for foreign missions needs to come to an end.** They are unbiblical – and I think they always have been – but now they are also inappropriate for our age.

 The move toward contextual theology helped me see that we have to move beyond contextualization in missions and evangelism. The Colonial era was an ugly one for the church and we need to move out its methods – not just for the word’s sake but because it undermines and  discredits the very message we are trying to convey through it.  

*different groups utilize different forms of contextualization – Catholics tend to call the process ‘inculturation’ for instance, others use a similar move called ‘indigenization’.

** I know dozens of missionaries and understand that they are passionate. I mean no harm to any one of these folks that I care so much about. I have delayed putting this out for more than a year out of my concern for their feelings.

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