Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today



Book Idea: ABC Topics and Feedback

Now that my book with Randy Woodley is out, I have time to work on a couple of projects that have been on the back-burner.

My main focus is the ABC’s of Contemporary Theology. This started as a series of blog-posts more than 5 years ago. Since then, I have taught it 3 times in 3 entirely different contexts.

I have an editor friend who is going to help me write it and an artist friend who is going to help me illustrate it. I hope that a publisher will want to pick it up, but I am prepared to make it an E-book if I need to.

Here is what I could use some help with: how do these topics sound? Each topic has at least one sub-topic that informs it. I have paired them to form one theme.

Is there anything you would add to this roster of topics in contemporary theology?

The ABCs of Contemporary Theology

Intro: the Surplus of Meaning and our contemporary situation

A is for Atonement (also Adiaphora and Apophatic)

B is for Baptism (and the Body) more than a metaphor embodied phronesis

C is for Christology  (and Constructive Theology )

D is for Deconstruction  (and Death of God)

E is for Empire (and Evangelical)

F is for Fideism (and Feminist)

G is for Genre (and Globalization)

H is for Hermeneutics (also Heaven and Hell)

I is for Infallible, Inerrant, Impassible and Immutable

J is for Justification (and Justice)

K is for Kenosis (and the Kingdom)

L is for Liberation (and Logos)

M is for Metaphor (and Metaphysics)

N is for Neoplatonism (and Narrative)

O is for Open & Relational (also Orthodox)

P is for Perichoresis (and Post-Colonial)

Q is for Quest for the Historical Jesus (and Queer Theology)

R is for Revelation (and words that begin with ‘Re’)

S is for Salvation (and Second Naivete)

T is for Theopoetics (and Technology)

U is for Universalism (and Ultimate Concern)

V is for Vatican II (and Voluntarism)

W is for the Word of God (and the Wesleyan Quad)

X is for X-ray (and Xenophobia)

Y is for Y2K (and Youth Ministry)

Z is for Zebra (and Zionism)


Any additions? Any changes?

Thank you so much for your feedback and help with this.





Decolonizing Evangelicalism Book

It finally happened. I became an author. CASCADE_Template

I am so excited to tell you that the book came out today.

It has been such an honor to write this book in conversation with my mentor and friend Randy Woodley. The title is, “Decolonizing Evangelicalism: An 11:59 pm Conversation” published by Wipf & Stock.

It retails for $19. Right now, you can get it from Wipf & Stock at $15.20, in a week you can get it on Amazon and in a few weeks you can get it from us….in four weeks the hardback version comes out at $39.00. Get ready…

“This book is not for the faint of heart. Fasten your seatbelt and engage in a humble theological conversation which will draw you closer to Jesus as he ‘exposes truth and nurtures life.”

—Terry McGonigal, Director of Church Engagement, Whitworth University

I really can’t express how excited I am.  Please stay tuned both here and at the Peacing It All Together podcast that I do with Randy for the beginning of an timely conversation.

Which Chapter For You?

Which one would you choose?
The first assignment in class I’m teaching this semester:

· If you have watched ‘reality shows’, read chapter 1.

· If you have watched American Idol or other musical competition shows, read chapter 2.

· If you have watched The Matrix or other futuristic dystopian sci-fi, read chapter 3.

· If you are into Star Wars or Star Trek, read chapter 5.

· If you have read Harry Potter, read chapter 6.

· If you are into politics, read chapter 7.

(If none of these apply then read chapter 1 and explain why none of them apply)


Just curious about how many people would pick each one.

Have a great weekend everyone!


The assignment is based on the book “Convergence Culture: Where Old And New Media Collide”.

Practicing Faith

We are gearing up for a Fall series that will stretch from Labor Day till nearly Christmas.

It is based on a book edited by Dorthy Bass called “Practicing Our Faith” (the 15 topics are posted below).

I can not tell you how excited I am to enter into these conversations. Here are the 2 biggest reasons:

First, ours in an age of anxiety. I can sense not only people’s anger, insecurity, and agitation … but their collective fatigue and exhaustion. These are moments in history when our faith really should be making a big difference in our cultural engagement but I sense from many people a confusion and a hesitation around how exactly that should look.

Second, I am increasingly convinced that practicing faith is more important and consequential that what faith you have. Unfortunately, we live in time when believing the right things and subscribing to the right doctrinal formulations is not the primary motivating and organizing factor for action and behavior. As a professional theologian, this pains me to say.


I want to invite you to pick up the book – it is really affordable used or on Kindle. It is even cheaper on Audible if you prefer listening.  There is even a cool PDF of a study guide.

There are several churches collaborating on this project, so there will be lots of great content and conversation around it.

I hope that you will join the conversation. Let me know if you want to contribute to the weekly blog and we will set you up as a partner!

Sept 9              Times of Yearning, Practices of Faith (1)

16                    Honoring the Body (2)

23                    Hospitality (3)

30                    Household Economics (4)

Oct 7               Saying Yes and Saying No (5)

14                    Keeping Sabbath (6)

21                    Testimony  (7)

28                    Discernment (8)

Nov 4              Shaping Communities (9)

11                    Healing  (11)

18                   Forgiveness (10)

25                    Dying Well  (12)

Dec 2               Singing Our Lives (13)

9                      Practicing a Way of Life  (14)

16                    A Way of Thinking About a Way of Life  (15)

If Just One Book …

I read a lot books in the past year. If I was only allowed to keep one of those books going forward, there is no doubt which one it would be. Opening the Field of Practical Theology: an Introduction edited by Kathleen Cahalan and Gordon Mikoski is comprehensive and innovative. It address historic developments, contemporary concerns and even deals with the overwhelming whiteness of the field in a constructive way.

I use Bonnie Miller-MacLemore’s fourfold definition of Practical Theology to address the multifaceted nature of what has become the field:

  1. An activity of believers seeking to sustain a life of reflective faith in the everyday.
  2. A method or way of analyzing theology in practice used by religious leaders and by teachers and students across the theological curriculum,
  3. A curricular area in theological education focused on ministerial practice and sub-specialties.
  4. An academic discipline pursued by a smaller subset of scholars to support and sustain these first three enterprises.

In Opening the Field, Richard Osmer address this complex landscape by outlining/mapping four ‘streams’ that are found within the field – including representative figures illustrating the different approaches/concerns. The four streams are:

  1. the Hermeneutical trajectory
  2. the Transforming Praxis trajectory
  3. the Neo-Aristotelian trajectory
  4. the Confessional trajectory.

Osmer explains that these trajectories work like paradigms in Thomas Kuhn’s sense and that each works “with a very different orientation toward the empirical and human experience.” Continue reading “If Just One Book …”

Four Theological Finds

I am coming out of an intense season of study. In that time I have found four amazing authors that I wanted to tell you about since I plan on referencing thier work a lot in the coming year.

My five qualifying exams were in the following areas:

  • Practical Theology (major field)
  • Religious Education (minor field)
  • Global Methodism (theology)
  • Critical Race Theory: Whiteness (practicum)
  • Social Imaginaries (cognate field)

In all of that reading, there were four thinkers that deeply impacted the direction of my work: Elaine Graham, Bonnie Miller-McLemore, Susan Hekman, and Sheila Greeve Davaney.

Sheila Greeve Davaney takes a critical and constructive approach to Christian theology that incorporates the most contemporary thought from philosophy, cultural analysis, and related fields to express an insightful address of the challenges that the church faces. In works like Theology At The End Of Modernity, Changing Conversations, and Converging On Culture she critiques historical approaches that have resulted in uneven, flawed, and unjust models of theology and church.

She is the writer whose work I highlight the most and I have even purchased a website in the hopes of doing a ‘summer school’ reading group of her work (more on that in coming weeks).

 Elaine Graham is the practical theologian whose work I want to emulate. She is in England and this gives her writing a unique tone from within a post-Christian context. Her books, like Transforming Practice: Pastoral Theology in an Age of Uncertainty and Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Public Theology in a Post-Secular Age are profound and challenging.

A unique aspect is the use of Judith Butler’s notion of ‘perfomativity’. Think of actions and the roles that we play in society like learning a language. The social structures and conventions that we participate in are both reproduced by us (as we utilize them) and they pattern us internally. We are formed by them as we conform to those expectations. She explains:

Practice is therefore structured behavior which follows certain rules or patterns. However, social actors are not unthinkingly rehearsing social conventions but purposefully reproducing them. Thus social structures are ‘reproduced social practices’ that endure to orient ‘the conduct of knowledgeable human agents’. (quoting Giddens)[1]

Graham is very clear that there are powers at work and structures that are reinforced as practices are adopted and transmitted through social relations and activities. Religion, like literature, medicine, and other structured activities, is both embodied and transmitted as we are simultaneously agents and actors within these given forms. “Practice is constitutive of a way of life, both individual and collective, personal and structural.” [2] In this way we both conceive of ourselves as free acting agents and are perpetually aware of the limited options on our menu and sense the perimeters (boundaries) that are heavily policed. “Practice both reflects and reinforces social relations and ideologies.” [3] Ideas come from somewhere, beliefs are grounded in some inherited framework, and practices (even religious ones) have effects both within us as participants and simultaneously reinforce the given structure.

Bonnie Miller-McLemore has written the three things that I quote more than anything else in my discipline of Practical Theology. Her four-fold definition of PT gives shape to the new (and massive) Companion to Practical Theology. She also wrote an article addressing the 5 Misunderstandings about PT that drew responses from far and wide and took up almost an entire issue of the International Journal. Lastly, she is a vocal spokesperson for the move from studying ‘the living human document’ to a more holistic and flexible understanding of ‘the living human web’. I will blog on all three of these next week.

Let me just say that this conception of theological refection was a significant move forward in recognizing the invaluable contribution that examining real lived experience could contribute to theological understanding. Human life is an interlaced, multifaceted, and complex set of connections and influences that are systematically layered with meaning and purpose that formulate a tapestry of significance and experiential material. The web is also living and dynamic – ever evolving and increasingly interconnected. You can see why I am attracted to this idea!

Susan Hekman is not a theologian but she has made a bigger impact on my theology than anyone else in the past three years. For those of you who don’t know, there is a significant fascination in much of theology with reclaiming Aristotelian notions of character formation and civil virtue. This desire makes me supremely nervous and theologically uncomfortable. Folks in this camp look to Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue and its Christian descendants like Stanley Hauerwas. I have never liked it but had difficulty putting my finger on the exact reason why, and until I found Hekman and Graham I thought that I may just have to concede this battle for lack of clarity about the nature of my discomfort. Then I found Hekman’s feminist critique of the reclamation project and I was able to see the depth of the danger that this desire to go back represents for the church. I have only made a tiny bit of my writing about this public so far – but this will be a major theme for me going forward.

Thank you to everyone who has reached out this past year with affirmation and encouragement. I just wanted to whet your appetite a little bit and give you a heads up about what was coming in the next month.

[1] Graham, Transforming Practice, 98.

[2] Ibid., 110.

[3] Ibid., 103.

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!

Bo’s Bookshelf

I like Top 10 lists … and I love books.  These lists of books that have been going around FB lately have been an interesting snapshot to see what books have impacted folks. old-books

Here is my ‘Top 10 Books that have stuck with me’ list and I would love to see yours.


Books that Changed the World (earlier edition) by Robert Downs

The Argument Culture by Deborah Tannen

The Nine Nations of North America by Joel Garraeu

Jihad vs. McWorld by Benjamin Barber

The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone

She Who Is by Elizabeth Johnson

Native and Christian by James Treat

The Death of the Liberal Class by Chris Hedges

What Would Jesus Deconstruct? by John Caputo

Process Theology by Cobb and Griffin


Best Books I have read this year: 

The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America

Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class


Reza Round-Up

The best of what I have found so far. If you know of any other good links please let me know.

I am looking for good reviews and articles as I prepare for Reza Aslan’s visit to Homebrewed Christianity on September 3rd. I am reading Aslan’s newest book Zealot and trying to follow up on its critic’s concerns.

You might want to skip the introduction where he focuses on Reza’s problem with numbers and exaggeration and skip to the meat of the article that starts with the first off-set quote (in maroon).

This combination of overly confident and simplistic assertions on exceedingly complex theological matters, with stretching of truths—numerical, historical, theological, and personal—permeates Aslan’s bestseller. And yet, precisely because Zealot is generating such frenzied controversy, this is all serving Aslan very well. But as it would be wrong to judge Aslan’s book by its coverage, let us turn to its text.

Aslan’s entire book is, as it turns out, an ambitious and single-minded polemical counter-narrative to what he imagines is the New Testament’s portrayal of Jesus Christ.

Nadler aslo laments that Aslan did not consult some of latest work in the field. “The Jewish Gospels – Boyarin and Schäfer are just two of the many serious scholars whose works Aslan has clearly failed to consult.”

This will become a trend in these reviews.

Enns thinks that many of the concerns come from the fact that what the critics wish Zealot was looks more like Dale Allison’s book The Historical Christ and The Theological Jesus.

In the NPR interview he announced once or twice, as if it were a new thought, that there is a difference between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. Yes, and scholars have been writing about that for quite some time, but Aslan’s apparently either/or take on this issue by-passes necessary nuancing

Enns then goes on to point to two other scholarly reviews that are meaty.

  • The first is by Greg Carey over at the Huff Religion page.

Carey is careful with his criticism and concerns – though they are many. After listing some strengths of the book, Carey begins to list its four fatal flaws. He closes with a familiar theme:

Contemporary scholarship is undermining that familiar model. For one thing, Paul was not nearly so removed from the teachings of Jesus as Aslan assert. Paul’s connection to the Jesus movement goes back to within a couple of years of Jesus’ death, and Paul’s teachings resonate with some of Jesus’ most characteristic emphases. Moreover, we find “high christologies” — assertions of Jesus’ divinity — from the earliest stages and from beyond Paul. Daniel Boyarin, a leading Jewish biblical scholar no less, believes that Jesus saw himself as divine. (I mention Boyarin not because I agree with him but because he represents a non-Christian take on these developments.)

So we see a trend there. The next review will make it a recognizable pattern.

Le Donne is thorough and unapologetic about his critique. He opens with a concern about the title of the book itself:

 To be taken seriously on this point, Aslan would have to interact with David Chapman and/or Gunnar Samuelsson.  These scholars represent the most up-to-date researchers on the crucifixion in Jesus’ world.  Aslan cites neither.  If this key element of the book had been researched with more care, Aslan might have had a better chance of overcoming the many other deficiencies of this book.

He lists 10 problems the book has and closes by saying “Without exaggeration, problems like this surface on about every third page.  I’ve only listed ten.”

 I am wanting to have a constructive conversation with Dr. Aslan. We have the concerns covered …  Has anyone else found any good or helpful resources that they can point me to?

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑