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The Blog of Bo Sanders

Headed To Seminary This Fall?

I’ve been having some good Twitter exchanges with people in transitions. One of them is with a person headed to seminary this Fall. Here is a quick list of resources I would suggest as you get ready:

1a) The Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms. Tiny little book. Do 1 letter per day. 26 days you are set!

1b) The Global Dictionary of Theology. Massive work (996 pages) Read it and you will be unstoppable.

2) Shalom and the Community of Creation by Randy Woodley. American contextual theology connecting Jewish Biblical notions.

3) She Who Is by Elizabeth Johnson. The nature and importance of religious language and God-talk.

4) To Each Its Own Meaning: Biblical Criticisms and Their Application by McKenzie and Hays. Genre is everything.

5) Postcolonial Criticism and Biblical Interpretation by R. S. Sugirtharajah. You will never see the Bible the same. Available on audible as well.

6) Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism by Nancy Murphy. The #1 book I wish I had read before seminary.

7) Post-Christendom by Stuart Murray. Gotta know your context. Mind-blowing analysis.

8) Modern Christian Thought: Twentieth Century edited by Livingston and Fiorenza. Epic tome (554 pages) covers everything you will need to get started. SO good!

9) Theology at the End of Modernity edited by Sheila Greeve Davaney. 15 authors who light up the subject! Powerful.

That is my Top 10 list. I love this stuff so much and am grateful to have been asked this question.

I would love to hear your thoughts or additions!

Resurrection-al

On last week’s TNT podcast I got to present my 3-fold take on the life of the church (minute 55).

Let me try to articulate my perspective as quickly and clearly as possible so that there are no misunderstandings – even if you disagree with me.

My 3-fold thought is pretty straight forward.

The gospel and thus the church are:
A) Incarnational
B) Resurrectional
C) Pentecostal

Incarnation means embodied and enacted. It is not abstract ideas, universal concepts or timeless truths … it is local, particular and timely.

Resurrection means the church is a new-life people with perpetual hope. Death is not the last word and we serve a God who vindicates the victim and unmasks the powers that be.

Pentecost means that God’s Spirit is at work in the world (ahead of us) in-filling us with power for a transformed life resulting in sanctification-holiness (within us) and opening us to the possibilities and opportunities for ministry (all around us).empty tomb

So let’s zoom in on the Resurrectional aspect more specifically.

An argument that I hear over and over is that the resurrection must have been real because
A) the disciples lives were transformed by what they experienced
B) they were so convinced that they were willing to risk –and ultimately give – their lives for it.

I don’t disagree with either one of those lines of reasoning.

My contention comes from Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). Continue reading “Resurrection-al”

On Earth Day

Today is Earth Day and I wanted to share 2 things: a quote and links to the HomeGrown series of podcasts. HomegrownLogo_green_rev1

Reading ‘Theology At The End Of Modernity’ – our text for the upcoming Summer School High Gravity class – chapter 1 Sallie McFague says:

We have the powers of destruction no other species has ever had, as our deteriorating ecosystem clearly illustrates. The ongoing history of our planet will necessarily involve our partnership and our participation for its well-being. This does not mean assuming an attitude of control toward the planet, hoping we come up with a quick technological fix. Responsible partnership means adjusting to the rules and rhythms of the earth, adapting to its reality …

Our loyalty must move beyond family, nation, and even our own species to identify, in the broadest possible horizon, with all life: we are citizens of planet Earth.

Last year we did a series called HomeGrown Christianity and got 4 parts into a planned 8. This Summer we will publish the next 4 in preparation for the Pando Pupulus conference ‘An Alternative Vision’.

Here are the 4 episodes for your listening pleasure:

1 – Leah Kostomo – on being planted

2- Matthew Sleeth – on the Gospel according to the Earth

3- Jen Butler – about On Earth As In Heaven

4 – Randy Woodley – on Shalom and the Community of Creation

April Update

My PhD Qualifying Exams have been postponed until September. I have siphoned off some time from studying to put out some stuff on HomeBrewed that I wanted to share with you:

An interview with Grace Ji-Sun Kim and Joseph Cheah on the cultural implications of a media sensation: Gangnam Style. This is theological look at the internet phenomenon and the Asian-American experience.

For The Bible Tells Me So with Peter Enns. This Biblical scholar addresses everything from genocide, to Paul’s view of his own Jewishness, to Biblical innerancy.

Today we are releasing an interview with Bonnie Miller-McLemore on Practical Theology.

I returned to the TNT show for a Call-In Special where Tripp and I respond to listener messages.

Freestyle Christianity had me on as a guest to chat about my passion for theology lived out in community.

I will also be leading a Summer School High Gravity class called ‘Living Options in Christian Theology’.
Here is a plug for the class: We are interested in a vibrant approach to a contemporary theological framework that doesn’t require a complete overhaul of your already existing faith.

  • Is Process too big of a leap?
  • Does Radical Theology provide too little substance?
  • Is Practical Theology just too darn practical?

Looking for a robust, thoroughly-Christian theological framework for the 21st century?

Then we have a conversation for you!

As I have taken some time off these past several months, I have noticed a couple of trends:

  1. Process is just too big of a conversion for some. They like the ideas and enjoy that Tripp is so jazzed about it … but it is a major commitment to learn that vocabulary and overhaul nearly every aspect of what they have been taught was Christianity.
  2. Radical Theology is interesting and challenging … but at the end of the day just doesn’t provide very much to go on. It is deconstructive in helpful ways but doesn’t leave you with much for constructing a faith worth even having.
  3. Practical Theology asks some helpful questions and people get why I am into it … but it is a second order discourse and people want to ask some ‘first order’ questions about some primary issues.

Continue reading “April Update”

God Is Not In Control – the end of history

God is not in control and that is why, for many, the world feels so out of control. Some have adjusted to say that God was never in control – our ancestors just believed that was the case. Others think that God used to be in control but that something has fundamentally shifted in God’s relating to the world.Bomb

The past century brought about profound challenges to the way that we conceptualize God’s work in history. The horrific developments of warfare seen in the First World War began the shift. WWII brought not just incremental but exponential leaps in the technological capacity for human and environmental devastation.

This escalation has changed the way that humanity conceives of God and God’s work.

In Theology for a Nuclear Age, Gordon Kaufman says it this way:

In the religious eschatology of the West the end of history is pictured quiet differently than we today must face it. For it is undergirded by faith in an active creator and governor of history, one who from the beginning was working out purposes which were certain to realized as history moved to its consummation. The end of history, therefore – whether viewed as ultimate catastrophe or ultimate salvation – was to be God’s climactic act … the moment when God’s final triumph over all evil powers was accomplished.

For the entirety of Christian history, God was thought to be ultimately be in control. When the bombs were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki we entered into a nuclear age and the very way that we conceive of and conceptualize God had to adjust.

The end of history which we in the late twentieth century must contemplate – an end brought about by nuclear holocaust – must be conceived primarily not as God’s doing but as ours.

We now have the capability of stopping future generations from even coming into existence. We could end human existence on this planet. The “possibility that we will obliterate all future human life is so novel and strange that it is difficult for us to grasp what we are up against”.

Henry Nelson Wieman wrote:

 “The bomb that fell on Hiroshima cut history in two like a knife. Before and after are two different worlds. That cut is more abrupt, decisive, and revolutionary than the cut made by the star over Bethlehem… it is more swiftly transformative of human existence than anything else that has ever happened. The economic and political oder fitted to the age before that parachute fell becomes suicidal in the age coming after. The same breach extends into education and religion.”

This is one of the reasons that we have created a High Gravity Summer School session – to deal with those who are responding to theology for a nuclear age.

My assertion is that every major theological development in the past 70 years – especially in Protestant circles – is in some way a reaction to the fracturing that has resulted since we split the atom.

The postLiberals, the Radical Orthodoxy, the Religious Right of Evangelicalism, Death of God and Radical theologies, Process and Liberation camps – even the small trend of Protestants converting to Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy … all are responses to or are adjustments resulting from this cataclysmic shift in the 20th century.

We might put them in 4 basic camps:

  • “God is not controlling things so we better take over” (Religious Right)
  • “The nature of God’s power is not what we had been told it was” (Process)
  • “Whatever we had thought God was and did is clearly not the case” (Radical)
  • “Clearly something is different and not working … we are going to pull back inside this insulated protected compartment so we get to keep doing what the church has always done” (Radical Orthodox and postLiberal)

The world changed in 1945. This August 6th will be 70 years since the bomb was dropped. Between Auschwitz and Hiroshima the world’s eyes were open to a new level of devastation and, through technology, an elevated capacity for human and environmental catastrophe.

I sometimes get accused of disparaging the past. I certainly don’t mean to as often as I do. So I am going to take a new approach. I wrote last time that attempts to revisit-reclaim-return-restore notions and concepts from a romanticized past are not just futile (we can’t go back) but dangerous because they do not deal with the inherent problems of the cultures and times in which they were embedded.

It is not that I am opposed to Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas. It’s just that their projects were specific and particular to their time and place – even if they or their followers are under the impression that it was universal and timeless.

We live in a different world than they did and our god-talk needs to adjust-adapt-evolve accordingly.

I am excited about the conversation that we are going to have this June and July.

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This is the final post in a 4 part series.

1 – The Problem With The Future Is Its Past

2- Christianity Isn’t Conservative

3 – The Problem With ‘Re-‘ Words

The Danger of ‘Re-‘ Words

We have some work to do and I am not sure ‘Re-‘ words are sufficient to get us there.R-Revelation

Omar Reyes is the fourth call on this week’s HomeBrewed TNT episode. His question relates to  the new interest in Paul by philosophers.

One reason that Paul is attracting so much attention recently has to do with his view of universal implications from the particularity of the Christ event.

An example of this would be the famous unfolding-progressing inclusion of more and more people by dissolving established categories of separation-exclusion: male/female, slave/free, Jew/gentile.

This trajectory continues in the ongoing work of God’s spirit for reconciliation and restoration in more contemporary categories: gay/straight, black/white, rich/poor, citizen/foreigner, etc.

Now reconciliation and restoration are two good (and biblical) words that start with ‘Re-’. Two more powerful words that would complete that constellation would be :

  • Repentance
  • Reparations

In fact, I would suggest that these last two words need to come before the previous two:

  • Reconciliation
  • Restoration

Unfortunately, these four ‘Re-’ words are not the ones that I see/hear the most in many Christian circles. ‘Revelation’ and ‘Religion’ may be the big ones but they are not the only ones. Many seem to be fond of words like:

  • Revisit
  • Reclaim
  • Restore
  • Return
  • Renew
  • Renovate
  • Re-imagine
  • Revive
  • Retreat

I am not sure the above group of ‘Re-’ words is sufficient for the challenge that we are up against. As I argued last week in The Problem With The Future Is Its Past and Christianity Isn’t Conservative, the nature of Christianity is incarnational – so the past is not the determining factor for our present or future expression.

The problem with the past is that it is too easy to romanticize some notion or concept in isolation without addressing the larger structures of injustice and exclusion that it was embedded in.

That is why we can’t just reach back and reclaim-recycle-repurpose old words and concepts.

Here is an example: there is a popular desire in certain circles – from Radical Orthodoxy to my field of Practical Theology – to reclaim some Aristotelian notions like polis, habitus and phronesis (enacted wisdom).

This desire comes from a good place! There is a recognition (admittedly an ‘Re’ word) that the modernity project has dried out and withered the Christian soul and left it without vibrant connection-in-community and stripped of nearly all its practices/praxis.

I agree with that diagnosis.

The solution, however, is not simply to reclaim/recycle/repurpose ancient, antiquated or Aristotelian concepts from the pre-modern world. I have written about this a while ago in After MacIntyre and have since found the work of Susan Hekman very illuminating.

 MacIntyre’s approach exemplifies a disturbing characteristic of much of the communitarian literature: the romanticization of premodern societies that ignores the oppression and hierarchy that was endemic to those societies. Even Sandel (1984, 17), despite his modernist leanings, sometimes falls prey to the tendency to glorify traditional communities. The narrative selfhood that MacIntyre lauds can only be obtained at a high price: the ascription of traditional roles. 

She explains: 

When it comes to the highly charged issue of the sexism and racism of the traditions he praises so highly, MacIntyre seems to abandon his interrelationship thesis. With regard to the Aristotelian tradition, he tries to deny the claim that sexism and racism are an integral part of this system of virtues.

… throughout his writings MacIntyre unambiguously asserts it is this traditional community we must foster if we are to return to any semblance of a moral life:

“What matters at this stage are the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us (1984,263).”

 

This is a significant difference! To those like MacIntyre and Hauerwas, we are descending further into an age of darkness. Their answer is to reclaim-return to some former understanding or manifestation.

Hekman is right though – we cannot even attempt to do so without acknowledging and addressing the inherent racism, sexism, and disparity built into every level of the structures from which those romantic notions come.

This concern in the root of my unease with the popularity of ‘Re-’ words among groups including evangelicals, missio-alliance, radical orthodox, and post-liberals.

3 things in closing:

1) This is part 3 of a 4 part series. Tomorrow I will address the fiction of the End of History. Part 1 and part 2 can be found here.

2) Please sign up for Living Options in Christian Theology if you are interested in ideas like this. It is a High Gravity study group this June and July. Here is an introduction.

3) The words that we use indicate what impulse is behind them. This is why the critics can’t just say ‘semantics’ and dismiss the charge. I would love to hear the words that you would put forward to further this conversation.

My tri-part configurations of suggestions would be:

  •  Examine – Imagine – Adapt
  •  Explore – Address – Evolve
  •  Investigate – Interrogate – Innovate

I would love to hear your suggestions! 

The Function of Good Friday and Easter

Ahead of the Great Debacle this morning between Tony Jones and Pete Rollins, I find myself in an interesting place.

On the surface, it is fairly obvious that I would agree more with Jones on what he believes about the events of Good Friday. Much of what Jones says about the crucifixion and its implication (atonement) are solidly where I am.

However, Rollins concerns in the realm of identity/belief/spirituality are closer to the heart of my major interest in the performative nature of religion.

My overwhelming fascination is the way in which beliefs are practiced and more specifically how they function in our religious communities.

I was on another podcast last week trying to explain my preference for adding ‘al’ to the end of important elements of the Christian faith – rather than get bogged down in arguing for their historic validity or scientific veracity.

My assertion is that Christianity is Incarnational, Resurrectional and Pentecostal. 

I want to look at how ideas like the resurrection function in Christian communities – how those beliefs and convictions are enacted. I want to know the performative function of believing in the resurrection, not argue for its verification or about its provability.

Do I believe what Jones does about the events of Good Friday and Easter? Almost certainly.

My real interest, though, is more in line with Rollins’ project about the ways that holding these beliefs impact us and frame the way in which we engage the large structures of society.

What difference does believing in something like the resurrection impact they way we live?

How does our view of the atonement frame our participation in issues of violence?

Does our Christology have any function in how we perceive our own humanity?

In what way do we as Christian communities perform on Monday what we proclaim on Easter Sunday?

I have been reading some intense books, such as Eliane Graham’s Transforming Practice. I will be taking a break from studying this Saturday morning to attend the Great Debacle – I just hope that Rollins and Jones take a breath at some point and I get to ask a question about this aspect of belief.

What questions would you like to ask? I’ll see if I can get them in. 

Christianity Isn’t Conservative: incarnation

The incarnation is my favorite part of Christianity. When we say ‘the word became flesh and dwelt among us’ we say something unique and particular about who we believe God to be.

The divine became human – that which was beyond came near – the unknowable made itself known to us – the transcendent fused the imminent horizon – the eternal entered time … however one frames it, we make bold claims when we talk about what happened in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.

From there it gets steep! Folks start talking about the cosmic Christ and the 2nd person of the Trinity and the eternal nature of the Godhead. Those are all great but they are also lofty and can be abstract. Incarnation is the opposite: it is down to earth and fleshly.

Incarnation may seem like an odd thing to talk about during Easter week, but one can never escape the fact that the reason we think something significant happened on the cross and in the empty tomb is because of what we think happened in the person and work of Jesus.cross-150x150

The birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus are four of the acts in the great drama that Christians are called up into.

The life of Jesus – including works and teachings – is one that called the entire system of political and religious power into question. His parables undermined and interrogated the assumed order of things as well as the inherited understanding of how the world worked.

This inversion of assumed structures and subversion of “the powers that be” characterized not only his life and death … but the very notion of an incarnation.

Christianity is undeniably incarnational. The Romans tacked lots of people up on crosses – anyone they perceived as being subversive to the order and stability of the empire. Jesus was crucified for sedition, as were many others every week of every year. The reason that we think something significant happened on that cross is because we believe that God was present and revealed in some unique way in the person and work of Jesus.

John Cobb has said that Jesus embodied God’s presence in a unique way in history – a way that constituted Jesus’ very being and allowed him to say things like “I and the Father are one”.

If, therefore, this is what sets Jesus apart and makes that cross different from all of the other crosses – then we who follow the way of Jesus can not be satisfied to simply receive what was done on our behalf and then continue to participate in the system as it is and continue to reinforce the structures as we have inherited them.

We must ask the questions:

“Who is getting conned?” and “What is being served?”

There is a built–in romanticism to Christianity when it comes to the notion of the ‘early church’. There is a perpetual longing to return to some romantic ideal that we see re-presented in the Acts of the Apostles.

Returning to the past is trap for two reasons:

1) As books like  The Churches the Apostles Left Behind have shown, the early church was as plural and diverse as one could possibly imagine. There is no such thing as THE early church. That is a romantic construction that serves as a kind of Eden image we are to be haunted by and perpetually longing to return to.

2) Even if it did exist, it would be impossible for us to return to it. We simply cannot get back to that romantic ideal or edenic notion. Time travel is impossible and too much has happened for a return to be possible.

Which is fine! Because Christianity is incarnational and our calling is to embody the spirit of God in our time and in our place as those early believers did in their time and place.

The church’s calling is not simply to repeat what those in the early centuries did – but to speak to and live in our culture the reality that they attempted to do in theirs!

You can hear more about this on the FreeStyle Christianity interview 

Incarnation is why the impulse to preserve or conserve some former notion of culture is not Christian. Christians are not called to conserve some antique expression or ancient manifestation. Christians are to in-carnate (embody) the life of God by following the way of Jesus in their ‘here and now’.

In fact, I would take it one step further.

To follow the way of Jesus is to call into question and interrogate the very assumptions about the way things are and to subvert the inherited systems and structures that keep people from living the abundant life or the ‘life of the ages’ (eternal life).

One way that we would do this is to ask those two earlier questions:

Who is getting conned?
What is being served?

Given the chance, I would respond that those who have been sold a romanticized notion of the past – a past that we can never return to even if it was as good as remembered – are being conned.

It is somewhere between fantasy and fiction to long for a return to a time that is embedded in structures of patriarchy, sexism and injustice. Jesus would construct stories (parables) that captivated people and caused them to question the assumed order of things and to undermine their  inherited notions of the way that world works.

The bigger question might be “what is being served?”

Christians are not supposed to get hung up on issues of flesh and blood but instead to combat the principalities and powers that reside in high places. It is a tragedy that so much of contemporary Christianity is consumed with culture wars obsessed with issues of flesh and blood … all the while neglecting the larger structures of power and control.

We think that we have really done something when we buy a Jesus-themed T-shirt at Walmart – or put a NoTW sticker on our SUV. We have purchased (within capitalism) and display (within consumerism) our branding that sets us apart (identity) and all the while ignore that we are participating in a larger system that doesn’t care if the $10 dollar shirt we bought has Jesus, Che, Bob Marley, Mother Theresa or Satan on it. The important thing is that we bought the shirt and reinforced the system as it is without asking who made that shirt or how in the world it only costs $10.

We say lofty things about Jesus. Jesus’ teachings were done in a way that undermined the established order and called into question the way things were.

The calling of the Christian is not to con/serve some former notion of a romanticized past – but to incarnate the life of God by the spirit of Christ in her time and in her place.

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Yesterday I talked about the problem of the past and tomorrow will be part 3 of this series.

The Problem With The Future Is Its Past: Theology

Part 1 of a 3 part series I’m doing this week on Homebrewed

The Future Of Christian Theology was purchased with great anticipation. I had read David Ford before and appreciated his innovative and insightful perspective.

Gordon Kaufman’s Theology For A Nuclear Age has probably been the most influential book I have read outside my reading for school. Most of my reading for school is in Practical Theology, Post-Colonial Studies and Critical Race Theory. I am a big fan of going forward so The Future of Christian Theology was an exciting proposition.

Ford does an amazing job. In raising up the 20th century as the most prolific and creative era of Christian Theology he is masterful at articulating the diversity and accounting for the plurality in communities represented. I love his emphasis on Pentecostal, Liberation, Feminist, and Post-Modern approaches. He does a wonderful job addressing global-regional diversity as well as the full denominational spectrum.

Yet when it comes time to highlight the legends of the 20th century, in order to avoid perpetually reinventing the wheel, he picks the following six legendary theologians to lift up:

  • Karl Barth
  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • Paul Tillich
  • Karl Rahner
  • Hans Urs von Balthasar
  • Henri de Lubac

Lists can be fun – they can also be telling.

Around here we might want to supplement the list with John Cobb, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jurgen Moltmann or the Niebuhr brothers. Students at my former seminary might want to add Stanley Grenz. All of these have written prolifically and systematically.

Those who wanted to branch out from Systematic Theology might add voices like James Cone or Gustavo Gutierrez. Somewhere else you might get Stanley Hauerwas and John Howard Yoder. Even in my master thesis on ‘contextual theology’ I utilized Robert Schreiter and Stephen Bevans.[1]

The trend is clear and problematic. That men do theology is not the problem – if only men are seen as doing theology, it is a problem. This stems from the habit of calling some theologies ‘particular’ or classifying them as “theology +” (race, gender, sexuality, etc.). We have inherited a long history that loves to compartmentalize, categorize and then control who is qualified (and who is not). MP9004065481-196x300

This situation results in classifying Feminist theologians in exactly that way: with a modifier. The result is that you have plain theology and particular theology, generic theology and specific theology, regular theology and something-other-than- regular theology.

The works of Rosemary Radford Ruether, Elizabeth Johnson, Sallie McFague, Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and Bonnie Miller-McLemore get qualified within a sub-discipline.

The future of theology has got to be better than its past in this way.

I have 3 suggestions for moving past theology’s past.

 1 – Get rid of the category – and very notion of – ‘particular theology’. It is all particular theology. There is no universal or timeless theology. All theology is contextual theology. It all comes from a time and place and utilizes the constructs of its era. The fact that we have not recognized this truth in the past is part of the problem.

2 – Or add modifiers to every theology. Pannenberg wasn’t just doing theology – he was doing German, 20th century, white male theology. You can see, however, that this might become a cumbersome and laborious way to proceed … which brings me to my third point.

3- Christian theology is not Identity Politics – it comes from and represents a community. Every time we adopt and adapt another way of doing things we compromise the central Christian reality that there is no ‘us/them’ – there is no ‘they’, it is all ‘we’. Christian theology is born out of and can only be done in community. Inherited notions of the ‘individual’ or the ‘autonomous self’ are both false and hurtful and need to be left behind as we move forward.

Yes, every author and thinker must be socially located, but while any specific author can be classified by their race/gender/class or geography … the future of theology is not about the social location of any particular voice but the community that formed them and in-forms their contribution to the greater whole.

When listening to podcast with Grace Ji-Sun Kim (coming out Thursday), it is not enough to say that she is doing Korean-American, Feminist, Liberationist Theology … she is doing Theology. She is a part of the Christian community and her work is the future of theology – as is mine – because she and I are part of the same global Christian community. Her work and my work are related in Christ.

I might employ methods from my field of Practical Theology but that doesn’t mean that Grace’s work is not practical.

This is how language both helps and hinders us. Her work and mine might come from different perspectives and be in-formed by different experiences – and it is all theology.

The future of theology is not to be found in individual voices but in collaborations and connections that form community.

The way that we have talked about theology and particular theologies in the past is going to be a problem in the future.

If Randy Woodley wants to locate himself and his work as Native American Contextual Theology because it brings some corrective to the past oversight and omission – that is wonderful. It becomes an important and illuminating distinction. It is not, however, merely a particular theology : it is theology.

Bring out the modifiers! Biblical, Historic, Systematic, Philosophical, and Practical are the Big 5 historically. Fine! Just as long as we are clear that no one is doing ‘plain old regular theology’.

In fact, Randy’s work is the future of theology. We are all socially located and contextually particular, which is why there is no ‘plain’ theology and ‘particular’ theology.

It is all particular theology in the same way that it is all theology.

The mistake of the past was thinking that there was ‘regular’ and ‘specific’. In reality, it is all specific. Which means that we are all ‘us’ and we are all contributing to the future of theology – together.

The trick is not to say ‘we have one of these theologies and one of these types of theologians represented’ – the change is to say that ‘in all of these we have theology’. Without ‘these’ we have something less than theology.

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[1] One sees the problem even in the critics of theology when theologian Paul Ricouer talks about the ‘masters of suspicion’ in Marx, Nietzsche and Freud – a list that I would expand to include Feuerbach, Wittgenstein and Foucault.

Sex Isn’t Simple

I’m back on the blog and have several posts coming in the next 48 hours to get caught up

Sexuality and spirituality were on my mind ahead of last month’s Level Ground Film Festival.

I am very aware of the cultural conversation that continues to circle around marriage equality and issues related to legal matters. As a pastor and theologian, my concern is more specifically focused on people’s understanding and engagement of sexuality and spirituality. [1]

If someone were to ask me what was the single biggest thing that would make a difference in how we approach matters of sexuality and spirituality … I would have to say that the reductive impulse to simplify sexuality is the main problem.

Sex and sexuality are not simple. [2]

When we attempt to reduce sex and sexuality down to single thing or try to squeeze it into a simplified category we make a massive error.

Sex, sexuality and spirituality are all inherently complicated and complex. [3]

How one is embodied in one’s own skin, how one conceptualizes of that in-carnation, who one is attracted to, and how one participates in that attraction are at least 4 separate issues. It gets more complicated from there.

Sexuality and spirituality are two areas where complexity and diversity are actually a good thing!

It is a fallacy of misplaced concreteness when we attempt a reductive move to simplify sex/uality down to one thing – especially if that one thing is the biological.

The unfortunate thing is that those attempting the reductive move too often attempt to reduce the purpose of sex down to procreation.

Sex is about so much more than procreation. [4]

Sex is about intimacy, expression, sensation, exploration, and experience/experimentation.

Sometimes it results in pro-creation … but, more times than not, it doesn’t.

Sexuality has an aspect that is emotional.complexity

And one that is physical.

Then there is the aspect that is psychological.

There is one that is social.

And one that is spiritual.

Sexuality is personal … and private … and (to a certain degree) public.

Not to mention the part of it that is political.

Our sexuality involves all of who we are and em-bodies so much of our identity.

It even entails part of our capacity to engage the world around us and the social constructs that we are caught up in and by which we are acted upon daily. [5]

In one sense everything is sexual, even how much money we make … in the same sense that is it political. This is why our inherited enlightenment categories do not work anymore. The reductive impulse is failing us. Things need to be recognized as complicated and part of the emergent reality.

Sex/uality is never about one thing.

We do a great disservice to all that Creator god intended for us when we reduce sexuality down to pro-creation.

We ignore all that the evolutionary process has encoded us with (and for) when we boil our sexuality down to a single act with a single purpose.

The more I have studied and listened and considered the challenge for the church in the matter of sex and sexuality in the 21st century, the more I am convinced that it is the reductive move that hampers and limits our capacity to explore and engage the issue in a way that would lead to life and health.

I would want to confess 3 things:

  • Sexuality is a gift of God and is a good thing.
  • Any view of sex that begins with secrecy or shame should be viewed with suspicion and interrogated accordingly.
  • Reducing sex and sexuality down to a single aspect is both misguided and dangerous.

Sex/uality is complex combination and collaboration of elements including (but not limited to) the physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, social, private, personal, communal, and political.

One way that the church could bless the culture in the decades to come is to resist the temptation of the reductive explanation and to instead provide an understanding that is complex (even complicated). The more diverse the areas being engaged (and examined) the better!

We need sex/uality to be more – not less. The temptation to reduce and simplify is a false construct. The reality is that human identity is inherently complex – and that is a good thing.

Sex, sexuality and spirituality are but 3 aspects of that rich complexity.

We need more spiritually minded exploration and even theological examination of our humanity … not less.[5]

Sex and sexuality are not simple – any spirituality that attempts to make it so is both limited and, in the end, false.

I’m looking forward to tonight’s conversation and the followup when we release the podcast audio tomorrow.

________________

[1] We have wonderful snapshots of different historical takes on the role and purpose of sex in Biblical passages like Genesis, the Song of Solomon and some of the New Testament epistles.

[2] I am saying that things are complicated as a straight, middle-class, white, cis-gendered male in a Western culture. It doesn’t take much listening to figure out that if even one of those elements was different, let alone two, things becomes increasingly layered.

[3] In full disclosure, for those who prefer letters, I am a big fan of the Q in LGBTQ. Just FYI.

[4] As someone who has been married for 21 years and is childless, I have an admittedly different angle on that whole line of ‘reasoning’.

[5] I have found great help in those reflecting on the work of [linkMarcella Althaus-Reid’s ‘indecent theology’.

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