Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today



The End of Evangelical Eschatology

Is the Evangelical’s fascination with the End Times their undoing? Could this be the apostasy?

In this video I outline my journey with End Times theology (eschatology) and share a ‘thought experiment’ that I have been doing with my Evangelical family and friends (min 8).

Watch the video and let me know what you think.

Feel free to comment below, on Youtube, or on Facebook.

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Is Evangelicalism Over?

Lots of people are asking “is this the end of evangelicalism?”

The answer is ‘yes’ but maybe not for the reasons that you are thinking of.

Enjoy the video and let me know your thoughts.

Response to Evangelicals and Race

I wanted to respond to the feedback I got on the video “Why Evangelicals Can’t Do Critical Race Theory”.

There were clear themes to the feedback in all 4 issues that I raised and to the thesis I proposed that Evangelicalism has become a set of conclusions.

  1. Individualism
  2. Scholarship
  3. Marxism
  4. Diversity
  5. Evangelicalism

Individualism: Why does it have to be an either/or issue. I am excited about this consensus. However, if you view of personal sin keeps you from addressing larger issues of systemic racism and structural injustice then it is a barrier.

Scholarship: I am thrilled that there are some PhD students and new faculty hires who engage in Critical Race Theory. I just hope that their insights will be received by the institutions when it comes to hiring practices and funding issues.

Marxism: It turns out the ‘cultural marxism’ is not just a boogeyman but a red herring. My suspicion is the it more about Foucault then about Marx. (Yes Foucault was a marxist for time). It is the legacy of discourse analysis and the genealogy of power that has disseminated into our entire culture in the 21st century.

Diversity: There was wide acknowledgement both of evangelicalism’s racial diversity (a good thing) and that it hides behind this diversity to not deal with other issues of justice such as LGBTQ inclusion and (for us more specifically) Critical Race Theory (CRT) in issues related to recruitment, funding, empowerment, and training.

Evangelicalism: Those who did not like my thesis that evangelicalism has become nothing more than a set of conclusions (or a constellation of convictions) could not provided a better definition of contemporary evangelicalism in N. America. My assertion that is has migrated to become a bounded set with heavily policed boundaries may not be a generous or broad as some may desire but until someone points to a clearer framework for understanding the changes in the evangelical movement over the past 50-70 years then my assertion has merit for consideration.

Let know your thought and we will keep the conversation going.

Follow Up: Critical Race & Evangelicals

In the follow up video we talk about:

  • Conclusions & Convictions
  • Individualism
  • Scholarship
  • Marxism

Conclusions & Convictions: if ‘believing’ the right things is a prerequisite for belonging, then you are not free to ‘ask the question behind the question’ and follow the path wherever the inquiry takes you. You must arrive at the predetermined conclusions or you are not evangelical. This is because the nature of evangelicalism, whatever it has been in the past, has become a set of conclusions (homosexuality, the Bible, Jesus, salvation, hell, end times, etc,)

Individualism: Evangelicalism was born in the Enlightenment and thus the individual is primary when it comes to piety, salvation, and holiness. It is part of why Evangelicalism is so deeply wed to consumer capitalism which was born at the same time. One odd manifestation of this personal holiness (individualism) is called “double insulation”.

Scholarship: The previous two obstacles limit the type of scholarship that Evangelicals can participate in – which is why they have go to other fields (chemistry, Russian poetry) to find people to speak against Critical Race Theory. The problem with this is that if you are not a practitioner who employs CRT then you are only on the platform to speak against something that you have a limited understanding of.

Marxism: The specter of the Cold War looms large in Evangelicalism still. Russia was the enemy so any reference to Marx brings up ‘guilty by association’ thoughts of communism, dictatorship, atheism, Stalin and Lenin, and the slaughter of millions. Marx’s solutions proved to be faulty (wrong) but his analysis (diagnosis) of the problems of industrialized capitalism have valid critiques that have been integrated into different types of Christian theology around the globe.

The categorical dismissal of the ‘Masters of Suspicion’ – Freud, Darwin, Nietzsche, and Marx – is a cynical scare tactic that still really works. It is the simply (one line) dismissal of each of them by evangelicals that concerns me.

Freud: I don’t want to have sex with my mother.

Darwin: I didn’t evolve from a monkey.

Nietzsche: God is not dead.

And scaring people off from CRT by associating it with cultural Marxism is a false-flag type of dog whistle that unfortunately still works.

Watch the 10 min video and let me know what you think.

Retiring from Evangelism

I am done trying to convert people from the old ways – it is time to live into the new ways.

Nearly 20 years ago I attended the Billy Graham School of Evangelism and even over the last 10 years, as my faith has changed, adapted, expanded, and evolved, I have labored to help those who wanted a bridge to a new kind of faith.

In the past, I have held a deep sense of obligation to help those who were asking questions to get a sense of how things were assembled … or for those who were in transition to find a landing spot for their new conviction.

I didn’t want anyone to get left behind. We live in a time of constant change and fluid social settings. I always tried to account for various perspectives and to give a generous a framework as I could imagine.

I am satisfied that I have done that well.

No longer will my primary concern be explaining the faith and providing access points for those who want to understand. I have left a substantial bread-crumb trail for those who are looking to migrate.

Starting in 2019 my primary concern will be professing faith that works in the 21st century and postmodern context.

I am retiring from evangelism and moving to profession – from apologist to professor.

It takes a lot of energy to account for and attend to the various perspectives and then to frame them and present them in a way that any genuinely interested person could gain access. It has been a wonderful 10 years and it has been a very formative experience.

I will now put my energies toward a constructive and innovative project where my primary concern will not be translating or explaining for those who believe a different way … but professing a forward-leaning faith for those who are interested.

I am done trying to convert people from the old ways – it is time to live into the new ways.

Here is the upside: because Protestantism (in general) and Methodism (in particular) provide me an already assumed structure  – complete with content, praxis, and institutional frameworks … I will be free to play off of the as-is always/already and put my energy into the:

  • Playful
  • Irreverent
  • Creative
  • Poetic
  • Whimsical
  • Melodic
  • Critical
  • Ironic (and at-times)
  • Transgressive

I am moving from being a builder who feels obligated to provide a constructive apparatus for those who are migrating and need a completed faith that they can live in (which is now available), to an artisan or song writer or analyst.

This is a big shift for me.

I have spent the last 10 years honoring, explaining, translating, and mediating between the Evangelical world of my upbringing and the new constructive, philosophical, and diverse approaches of the late 20th and early 21st century.

Those who have wanted to make the migration have largely done so – I leave them to be the new translators, practitioners, and guides. Evangelicalism has changed even more than I have in the last 10 years. It has become something in its contemporary manifestation that I barely recognize from my youth. [1]

I have thought about this long and hard. I am at peace with this change. I am confident of the timing. The reality is that Evangelicalisms is a closed-system (or what system theory would call a ‘bounded set’). It is has its own borders, its own gatekeepers/guards, and its own internal logic.

I will still be available to help those who are genuinely asking for clarification but I am retiring from the business of attempting to convert anyone.

I want to thank you all for the support and feedback during this journey. If you unsubscribe, I bless you and wish you well. If you choose to continue on, buckle up … some changes are in store.


[1] Evangelicalism (and its charismatic offspring) has its own operating system (based on inerrancy) where the Bible becomes a science text book, a history book, a counseling manual, a financial spreadsheet, an explanation of world religions, a road-map to the future, and guide the end-times/afterlife . The evangelical operating system is incompatible with nearly any other program that you might seek to run. It is an all-or-nothing- machine.

Skinny Jean Fundamentalists

Broderick Greer, who often writes insightful and sharp critiques on his twitter feed, set off an interesting conversation with his tweet:

“The evangelicals with instagram hipster aesthetics and churches that meet in theatres know EXACTLY what they’re doing: Misleading otherwise-progressive urbanites to adopt fundamentalism in skinny jeans, accompanied by a drum set.”

The conversation took a non-sequitur turn when subtweeted:

“I have personally been duped by churches where the pastors wear traditional stoles with crosses on them, only to find out years later that no one on the pastoral staff affirms the resurrection.”

The opinions that flew in response to her were varied and fascinating.

I have three quick reflections on these tweets that I would love to hear your response to.

First, in my year out of church ministry I had a chance to go to different church services each Sunday. I would mix it up between Evangelical and Mainline congregations mostly. Sometimes I went to multiple churches on the same morning. It was an eye-opening experience.

Perhaps the most interesting trend I saw was that the more conservative an Evangelical church was – the more fashionable the clothing style. It was odd enough that I would comment on it to my students (I was a visiting seminary prof.) They were well aware of this pattern.

Turns out that lots of non-LGBTQ affirming churches dress really hip.

I first noticed the trend about a decade ago, ever since the Mark Driscoll led Mars Hill Church in Seattle was so over the top at it. At first, I thought that maybe it was more pronounce here in the Pacific NW (I live in Portland) but then I asked friends around the country and it is actually probably even worse east of the Rockies.

I now understand why nearly everyone who visits a church has scouted the website first. Rock-n-Roll evangelical churches may say “all are welcome” but if they are not open-and-affirming or don’t support women in ministry … eventually it will come out.

Second, I am not sure how ‘progressive’ is being used in this current debate. When I use progressive (as in ‘Bible Study for Progressives’) I mean that:

  1. History has progressed and the present is not the same as the past.
  2. The arc of history is long and there is a trajectory towards justice.
  3. That trajectory is more inclusive and empowering of formerly marginalized and disadvantaged people and groups.
  4. The future is not found in reclaiming a romanticized notion of the past.

In this sense, I’m not sure that ANY of these ‘hip’ evangelicals would qualify as progressive. Broderick is Anglican so maybe Rock-n-Roll evangelicals are progressive when it comes to worship innovation?

How do you understand ‘progressive’?  I want to make sure I know what others are hearing when I identify as a progressive.

Third, I am amazed how any conversation about ‘the’ resurrection – both for and against it – presume a literalist physical view. The result is that both views miss the point of resurrection entirely.

The resurrection is one of my favorite topics because the either/or options that most people have been provided after the Enlightenment seem to be a real barrier. The conservative versus liberal arguments about a physical versus spiritual resurrection seem to focus on the probability and provability of a resuscitated corpse and sound dangerously close to gnostic notions of body and spirit.

The gospel narratives, on the other hand, point to a Jesus who had a glorified body post-Easter.  It could both walk through walls (for miraculous entrances) but was solid enough to make breakfast on the shore for His disciples. It bore the scars of Calvary so that (doubting) Thomas could touch His side where the spear had entered but different enough that He could be mistaken for strangers at first. He was neither a zombie nor a ghost – we have completely missed the point of Easter: glory.

Resurrection created an Easter people who live into hope, possibility, justice, imagination, and second chances. Life ruptured death. Christ penetrated history and split it in two. Hope overcame darkness.

New life rose up on the other side of this life. This is the proleptic moment. We know the future of every human and of all living things: New Creation.


I look forward to your thoughts.


Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

End Times prophecy was a major focus in the first half of my ministry. My call to ministry came in 1991 and I was immediately caught up into cold-war epic readings of Biblical prophecy in the Old and New Testament (as we called them back then.)

I had them all memorized. I subscribed to End Times magazines. I watched weekly TV programs that read the news in one hand and the Bible in the other.

I was trained and ordained in a denomination that has the 2nd Coming of Christ as one of its 4 major themes. As a young pastor, I would lead weekend seminars to help people understand the timelines of our times,  complete with wall-charts.

If you are not familiar with this sub-culture of Christianity then you may not understand some of the news happening right now. You may look at the Evangelical support of the current President or the zeal over what is happening in Jerusalem right now and wonder what you are missing.

Last night, I got to hang out with some of my favorite conversation partners. This year we went through the ABC’s of Faith in Sunday school and 3 themes kept coming up:

Genre: Genre is by far the most important thing about the Bible that many people who claim to be ‘Bible-believing’ don’t know. Nothing matters more than genre when it comes to reading the Bible.

Simply stated, one must read a poem differently than history, prophecy differently than a gospel, a letter (epistle) differently than apocalyptic literature. When people claim, “the Bible says …” it can be a bit of a misnomer.

It would be like reading a newspaper and taking the weather forecast, the police report, the comic section, and the opinion column as A) equal and B) literal.

Revelation: I love the book of Revelation. I study it all the time. I am inspired by it and challenged by it and am constantly referring to imagery within it.

The only thing I dislike is what most people do with the book of Revelation.

  1. It is not a book about the end of the world.
  2. It is not a book about the 21st century.
  3. It is not a book that should terrify or intimidate us.

The early audience for that book would have taken great consolation and comfort from it. The sad thing is that we should be writing things like the book Revelation for our time – but don’t because we think that John’s letter is about our time!

Y2K: this event is emblematic of the apocalyptic mindset. As I said earlier, I became a bible-believing Christian during the cold-war era. Communist Russia was our biggest threat and ‘Christian’ bookstores and TV shows were filled with very specific projections about how current events lined up with biblical prophecy.

Not understanding that apocalyptic literature in the Bible is a critique of their time and that era’s order and a hope of future deliverance makes us vulnerable to panic in ours.


Now here is where things get wonky. You may think “so what – charismatics and evangelicals ignore genre and read things out of context – big deal.” But you are missing an important extra ingredient! The longer these things don’t come to pass the more that some have begun to work on them behind the scenes in order to help them come to pass.

The longer these prophecies go unfilled (in their reading) the more effort they put into helping fulfill them.

In my next post, I will tell you how a misreading of Daniel 9 “the prophecy of the 70 weeks” means that the Muslim ‘Dome of the Rock’ in Jerusalem is a major focus because eventually (according to prophecy) that temple mount has be returned to its former (and future) function for the Jewish people.


You might think that this stuff sounds silly, but I am hoping to let you see behind the scenes to how consequential this way of reading the Bible is to our current world. Imagine if you thought that all of this long-expected stuff was going to happen in your lifetime and that God has fore-ordained it (or at least foreseen it) before the foundations of the world. The Bible, seen this way, is a history book written before hand by an all-knowing all-powerful God.

Hopefully that helps you understand the evangelical support for the current President and this move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem. It’s not trivia – it deadly serious.

What I Learned (Evangelicals)

A couple of weeks ago I shared what I had learned about Social Media and about Education in the past 2 years. I was scheduled to post this reflection about Evangelicals when a big story broke about a famous pastor and I decided to see what became of it before I waded in.

Yesterday there was a terrifying comic in the Sunday papers that compelled me to finally publish this reflection.


In 2016, I got an amazing opportunity to move back to Portland (from LA) and take an appointment as Visiting Professor of Theology at the seminary I had graduated from in 2010. I also taught a week-long intensive at the seminary in NY that is a part of my former denomination. I preached at Evangelical churches in 3 states and attended numerous churches. It was quite a year.

I was born and raised Evangelical. I was trained and ordained Evangelical. I love Evangelicals and I talk weekly to Evangelical pastors around the country. While my faith journey has emerged into quite a different expression, I am still conversant with and sympathetic to my former-tribe.

Here are some observations for your consideration:

  • They are really into the Bible.
  • They use coded language.
  • LGBTQ issues both terrify and annoy them.
  • Membership is a moving target.
  • They focus on the Supreme Court.
  • They can smell danger.
  • They don’t get Critical Theory.
  • They struggle with Identity Politics.


Evangelicals are really into the Bible. If you are not a part of this tribe then you may not realize just HOW into the Bible Evangelicals are. It’s not just that they like quoting the Bible, the actually think in the Bible. There is a joke that ‘versification is verification’ – which basically means that if you can put a Bible verse behind a point (Romans 12:1-2) that will validate it.

I’m not sure that non-evangelicals understand HOW big a deal the Bible is inside the Evangelical sub-culture. If you don’t give this point its proper weight, you might not understand much of what else follows.

[Side note: I prefer the Wesleyan Quad which has scripture first but not alone. Prima scriptura not Sola scriptura. That is followed by Tradition, Reason, and Experience in that order.]


Evangelicals use coded language. Due to its nature as a bounded set, evangelism can use words and phrases as a sort of short-hand or insider linguistic. I noticed it back when I was an insider but it became quite obvious that I had been out of it for 6 years.

It can be little things like “I just feel like God said …” to vouching for someone who “loves the Lord”.  It can also be big things that require a double-coding. It turns out that ‘liberal’ is really a code for not believing in ‘biblical authority’ which is actually code for being open and affirming of LGBTQ issues.


LGBTQ issues both terrify and annoy Evangelicals. I cannot overstate how many conversations I had about same-sex marriage and LGBTQ issues. It is a massive deal in every corner of Evangelicalism.

Homosexuality terrifies them because they want to be seen as loving but the way that they read the Bible makes them seem hateful (quoting here – not my words). I can’t tell you how many members and pastors of Evangelical churches I heard say either “we want to be open but not affirming” or “I just wish this wasn’t such a big issue – it comes up all time but I just want to preach the gospel and not talk about this. Sexuality is just one aspect of our life that has gotten blown out of proportion and is now the biggest or ONLY thing people want to talk about.”


[Side note: I too find it sad that this is such a big issue to my Evangelical friends. It is really not that hard to read the Bible in a way that is inclusive and open. I figured out how to be open and affirming even as an Evangelical. If anyone wants it, email and I will send you the essay ‘An Evangelical Defense of Same-Sex Marriage’.]


Membership is a moving target. Very few people can tell me what it means to be an Evangelical. There is no sure litmus test or doctrinal statement. There is very little agreement. Evangelical academics try to utilize Bebbington’s (historic & British) definition but it does not fit the American context nor the 21st century. Somebody quipped that it basically means that you liked Billy Graham.

Here is the danger that most people are missing though! Evangelicalism is not a process – it is a conclusion. Unlike Presbyterians who can say ‘I am Presbyterian and I disagree about this XYZ’ … Evangelicalism IS the agreement.

It would be like saying, “I am a New Yorker who lives in Oregon” and New Yorkers saying, “then you are not a New Yorker”. You try to defend yourself by saying, “I was raised in NY, it is in my blood, I have the accent, I carry all the values … I just migrated to Oregon.” Nope. That is not how membership works. You can’t say “I am an Evangelical who just believes XYZ…” without being told, “then you are not Evangelical”. Membership is about territory and current residency.


Evangelicals focus on the Supreme Court. I was teaching during the election year. Thank God I was not on social media that year. One thing I constantly have to convince my non-evangelical friends is that most Evangelicals don’t actually support this man in the Oval Office and his terrible behavior … he is just a means to an end.

The Supreme Court is the end game. Many Evangelicals are nearly blind in their obsession with it. You have to understand: in their mind, they are just 1 judicial appointment from a 40-year plan to overturn Roe v. Wade. This is all about Supreme Court Justices. This is why when non-evangelicals pull their hair out and yell about his immoral behavior and hypocrisy of the Religious Right … they are screaming at the wind. That punch will never land – you are swinging at shadows. There is no there-there. You have missed the bigger end game.

You don’t have to agree with me but I hope that you believe me. It has nothing to do with the President. Politics are corrupt anyway. This is about something much deeper. I talk to my friends who voted for him and this is about the Supreme Court.

Evangelicals can smell danger. When I spoke of ‘coded language’ above, I noticed an interesting inverse as well. It is not just what you say .. but more what you don’t say. Look, I don’t listen to Christian radio or shop at Christian bookstores. I don’t go to churches where we sing Hillsong and Matt Redmond worship choruses … and it shows.

I am not exactly sure how it is so obvious that I am progressive but I might as well be a smoker who thinks that spraying cologne on will cover the smell. I stink. I was on my best behavior – I wanted a full-time position. I watched what I said at every encounter. I bit my lip when I needed to … but there was a glaring absence in the sort of things that were missing.

It’s not that I did anything wrong  per se …  If you have never been in an isolated community or closed environment then you may not know what I am talking about.

The phrase ‘guilty by association’ or ‘your reputation proceeding you’ comes to mind. The reason I include this point is that, of course, they were right. I just don’t know how they knew they were right. Like garlic leaking out of my pores … I smelled liberal.


Evangelicals don’t get Critical Theory. Systemic analysis is not built in to Evangelical thought. In fact, because they are so focused on personal piety and individual experience, systemic issues are often outside their scope of concern.

Admittedly, Critical Theory is rooted in some pretty secular and post-modern philosophies. Since Evangelicals think in the Bible (see earlier) they are grounded in a religious language-game and pre-modern worldview that seems incompatible (to them) with systemic analysis. Evangelicals prioritize personal sin and issues of the heart. They have not developed tools to explore the thing-behind-the-thing that Critical Theory is based on.

I only bring this up because …

Evangelicals struggle with Identity Politics. I did my PhD course-work at a school that has been addressing issues of race, gender, class, and sexuality for over 40 years. It is baked into the very essence of the place. It saturates every aspect of the institution.

For Evangelicals, it is a recent add-on that is causing some compatibility problems. For a group that is in the midst of figuring out women-in-ministry, colonial missions, capitalist prosperity and disparity, personal responsibility, and marriage roles … adding racial diversity to the mix can seem overwhelming (at worst) and clumsy (at best).  How do you add gender and racial diversity without it being tokenism and at the same time ensure that you come to the previous historical conclusions that determine membership and belonging?


Those are my reflections. I would to hear your thoughts, questions, and concerns. I know that this is a rough season for Evangelicalism but I am hoping for a fruitful conversation about a group of people I love very much but no longer camp with. I am like the brother who comes home from journeys abroad with trinkets and treasures.

Z is for Zebra (understanding our opponents)

There is a great danger – especially in 2018 – of not understanding the thought and convictions of those you disagree with.

I was taught to refute evolution. From 5th grade Sunday School, through youth group to Bible college and into my early years of ministry. It was a cornerstone to evangelical apologetics.

I did not understand evolution well, I only learned how to combat it.

Zebras and their stripes were a popular example used to refute evolution (along with the human eye and other things). If the stripes are for camouflaging a herd of zebras from

predators … then the first striped offspring would have actually stood out from the heard and thus been an easy target.

This is an example of getting ahead of oneself without fully entering into the school of thought one is trying to combat.
We saw this same problem with Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron’s banana conversation [watch the video here:].

You can’t simply start with where we are and extrapolate backwards from there.

You have to understand the primary concern:
• Science has a commitment to the process.
• Apologetics has a conviction of the conclusions.

We can’t pretend to honestly engage in asking questions if we begin with the assumption of the answers. That will always result in coming out with twisted conclusions.

Admittedly, scientists have been baffled over the zebra’s stripes for a long time. Recently some strong studies1 has have shown that the stripes are not about camouflaging herds from large predators but about flies. {Link here}

The region where zebras dwell has a breed of flies called tsetse that are legendary in their viciousness. Scientists have historically known that flies have an aversion to landing on striped surfaces. The zebra’s striped pattern acts then as a natural deterrent. This leads to greater health with less blood loss and therefore greater vitality which benefits reproduction – passing on those key genetics to offspring.

It turns out that zebras stripes are not about herds camouflaging from large predators but about individuals deterring small pests.


This means that the initial zebra ancestor to have that genetic variation would have benefited and thus that attribute would be more likely to be passed on to the next generation.

The apologetics argument I learned is flawed and would not refute the point it is intended to.

That is the first problem with not fully entering into an idea well enough to understand it – there has to be a commitment to the question not just a conviction about the conclusion.

The second problem is that much of the suspicion from creationists about evolutionary thought is based on the hard and cold version of survival of the fittest from a century ago. Many don’t know of newer strains of evolutionary thought that incorporate cooperation, mutuality, and emergence thought (see O is for Open & Relational).

Evolution has evolved in the past 30 years but many creation apologists prefer to takes pot-shots at the straw man caricature of Darwinian schools of the past. They have perfected taking swings at shadows of where the theory used to stand.

As we wrap up the ABC’s series, I wanted to acknowledge that not only has Christian belief evolved and adapted over the centuries but to encourage you to embrace these historic adjustments.

The gospel is itself incarnational and the universe is evolutionary. Those two things go together beautifully. The gospel is good news and is constantly in need to be contextualized to new times and new places. The scriptures are inherently translatable and come into every language and culture. This is one of the unique aspects of the christian religion (K is for Kenosis).

If evolution is true of the universe, Christians should have no need

to avoid or refute it. We can embrace evolutionary thought wholeheartedly.

Christians should, after all, be people who love truth.

If we want to contest certain aspects of the evolutionary theory, we should at least understand its claims thoroughly so that we can do that well.


This is the final week of the ABC series for Sunday School. See preview here

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