Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today



Besides John 14:6

Since John 14:6 is not about other religions … in fact, it doesn’t mention ‘salvation’ either.  So if we can not use that verse either about other religions or salvation (since it is relational and a disciples invitation) then what other verse – or other place – would you start at?

Now I want to follow up on that and begin the different direction. In case you missed it, my argument is based on the fact that John 14:6 is in no way about other religions but is a disciples invitation to follow Jesus’ way and relate to God as Jesus related to God. 

It is predicated on the fact that:

  • He is not talking to a person of another religion
  • He is not answering a question about other religions
  • He is not addressing other religions

 John 14:6 is in no way about other religions.  Having said that, SINCE John 14:6 is off the table … where DO we start in thinking about the question of other religions?

I am interested where you would begin the response if you can’t go to John 14:6 as a trump card. How would you play the hand that you have been dealt?

—— please craft the rough outline of your response before you read mine ——

Here is where I begin : it is a 1-2 punch Scripture and Tradition!  First I go to acts  Acts 17 (in the positive) for the precedent and then I go downstream and find where things have gotten plugged up and dislodge the block that limiting the flow of God’s Spirit.

In Acts 17 Paul walks into the Areopagus (Mars Hill in Athens, Greece) and he says three interesting things to start:

  1. He honors their religious culture “I see that you are very religious”.
  2. He quotes their poets and philosophers.
  3. He includes them in the ‘We’ (both v. 28 & 29).

This should be our model for cross-cultural missions. We honor their religious tradition. We learn their artists and thinkers. We include them in the we.

Unfortunately what has been the predominant modus operandi is a Colonial version of missions that does none of the three.  It disparaged previous religious traditions as paganism, witchcraft, sorcery and superstition. It had no interest in indigenous voices and expressions. It was an us/them – in/out approach.

The second thing I would do is historical. I would revisit and reject the Filioque (Latin for “and (from) the Son”)  a phrase found in the form of Nicene Creed in use in most of the Western Christian churches. It is not present in the Greek text of the Nicene Creed as originally formulated at the First Council of Constantinople, which says only that the Holy Spirit proceeds “from the Father”.

This later change (about 1,000 years into church history) is a disaster for mission. The application has been that the Holy Spirit does not precede the Gospel (preparing the culture) but follows the preaching of the Gospel. Thus when you showed up in another culture, don’t look for where the Spirit has been at work and join in … until Jesus is proclaimed, God is not at work.

Reject the Filioque and recognize that Holy Spirit has proceeded from the Father – equal to the Gospel – and is not limited to only working in kind of a 3rd tier operation. Holy Spirit is a work in every place and with every people, when we show up there we can humbly look around (as in Acts 17) to find signs of the divine activity. Having recognized it we can learn from it, and participate with it.

That is where I would start.

>Rob Bell Wins

>I watched the live- webcast of the Rob Bell interview about his new book “Love Wins”

you can watch the video of the event here

Here are two quick thoughts on it:

1) We are not having this conversation in a vacuum
2) rob bell is up to something

we are not in a vacuum and the context of this conversation is post-enlightenment / post-christendom. That means a couple of things:
a) everyone has their own bible
b) most people can read it
c) evangelicals do not have Popes or councils to make decisions on this kind of stuff 
d) for Reformed folks (Piper, Driscol, Keller, etc) the bible just doesn’t say what they need it to say for this thing to be air tight.

SO – we have a couple of issues!
The BIGGEST issue is that we take passages like Matthew 7 (which one of the white women in Rob’s audience asked about) where Jesus says “wide is the road that leads to destruction” and we THINK that it is about Hell. It is not. We have been taught to read the bible wrong. We trade one word for another all the time.  I wrote about that here.

THEN – some one like Rob comes along and calls that into question (he is up to something) and people FREAK out.

Matthew 7 isn’t about hell. But we got so comfortable thinking that it was … now we are uncomfortable with how comfortable we were.

I’ll give you another example: Paul never mentions hell. In any of sermons (Acts) or letters. It is not there.  I wrote about its absence here. 

Here is another one: Revelation – which is not to be read literally – teaches (even to those who DO think it is literal) that hell is not eternal. Even in that scenario hell is temporary and is emptied into the lake of fire. They are not the same place or for the same purpose.  read Revelation 20:14-15.

But since many believers don’t know that… we end up asking “wait! if there is no hell … then why are we even doing evangelism or missions”. The answer is that we were doing them for the wrong reason. Some of it was colonial … some of it was worse. 

We should do evangelism and we should do mission – but not because of this understanding of hell.

So – I am not saying that Rob Bell is right. I am not saying that everyone will be saved. BUT the reality is that many have not taken these passage seriously.  Passages such as:

Colossians 1:20 “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Romans 5:10 “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

2 Corinthians 5:18 “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation”

What did YOU think?

>a hellish week


Well this backfired! Last week was “hellish” and I was so excited to tackle the subject that I re-arranged the next month of posts to get to it!  

We were having a wonderful conversation here about it last week and then on Friday, the Rob Bell “Love Wins” rumors started and I researched all weekend and followed the buzz. I was all ready to go to town in this week’s post. Here is how it was going to start:
Do you need to believe in Hell to follow Jesus?
Do you need to believe in Hell to be a Christian?
Do you need to believe in Hell to go to Heaven? 
Is there a difference between following Jesus, being a Christian, and going to heaven?

The answer the that last question is “yes” there can be a difference between those three.  
This is a very tricky set of questions and I want to be careful with how we chat about it.
Let me say right up front where I am on the issue. 
  1. I do believe in an existence called “hell”… mostly because of the verses in the Bible.
  2. I do not believe that it is necessarily what has been pictured in Dante’s Inferno or what has been described in Fire and Brimstone sermons over the years.
  3. I am not sure that all the humans souls that I was taught would go there will end up there.
  4. I am not convinced that Hell is only a place after you die.
  5. I do not think that the Gospel is to get you to pray one prayer, one time, so that one part of you (your soul) will not go to hell after you die. 
I was off to a good start. 

I read posts by Rachel Held Evans, and by Tony Jones , a whole bunch of conservative blogs and then this one on hell
I was rounding the corner – I was going to talk about how Hebrews 9:27  “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” does not settle the matter in a single verse.
I was going to try and connect with historical views of Biblical words and concepts that have so much variation and how exciting it can be to think outside of the one dimensional “Heaven and Hell” we have been given to see that God’s love and God’s justice are not two different things.
I got in Facebook debates where I said things like 

“ It comes with a deep misreading of the NT texts and especially the Apocalyptic literate of books like Revelation. but that is for another conversation…  as far a Bell’s book goes: what if he comes out and says that God’s love seethes in a holy judgment against injustice and burns away our sin and shame in the end? That would be cool.”


I am not a universalist. I am not saying Rob Bell is right. I am not saying that Love Wins. I am simply saying that A) maybe it is not as cut and dried and we have been told and that B) maybe we missed the good news of the Gospel and think that it was the suit & tie preachers say through the microphone.

I talked to friends and family on the phone about it. Then I rounded the corner into the week and …  I just petered out.  I start my new job this week. I have several projects coming due at school and with different partnerships I have been developing… and I  just don’t feel like constructing the smorgasbord I had planned on. I am just not feeling it. I lost the steam. 
I mean – I could say again that I think it is odd how the Apostle Paul never – not even once – in all of his letters or sermons in Acts – uses the word ‘hell’ and that it does not seem to be a motivating factor for him for preaching the gospel or for the work of salvation.  
I could reiterate the verses about Christ’s work of reconciliation that seem far more relevant this week than they even did last week when I used them.

  • Colossians 1:20 “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

  • Romans 5:10  “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

  • 2 Corinthians 5:18  “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation”
I could go a number of directions with it… but in the end I guess I will just put it out there and see if anybody has an aspect of this that they are especially interested in talking about?  
… otherwise I will just wait for the “Love Wins”  book to come out at the end of march and we can take it up then. 

>a couple of (quick) things

>I am running a day behind.  Between the Rob Bell controversy and getting ready for my new job …

so here are a couple of things that you may want to look at in prep for tomorrow. Our topic will be “Do you have to believe in Hell to go to Heaven?”

So here is the Rob Bell video

Here is a blog series that I am doing for Hombrewed about the new Brian McLaren book.

Here is something that I wrote about ‘Perfect Theology‘ (hint: there is none)

see you tomorrow!

>Friday Follow up: thoughts on following

>What a great week of discussion! After honing this down a bit, I wanted to post it and get some thoughts:

In John 14:6, when Jesus says  “I am the way”  – that Jesus’ way is the humility that we see in John 13 (washing the disciples’ feet)

When he says “I am the truth” – that Jesus in the revelation of God.

When he says “I am the life” that it is Jesus’ life that reconciles ALL things to God.
I get that from verses like:

Colossians 1:20 “and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Romans 5:10 
“For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

2 Corinthians 5:18 “
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation”

When he says “no one comes to the Father but through me” – he is saying ‘everyone who comes to God comes through me’. Jesus reconciled ALL things to God.

This is built on the previous understanding that:

In was in response to Thomas asking about “where you are going”. Thomas would not have had the concept of the after-life that we have. He was a first century Hebrew.

So Jesus says ‘it’s not about the way to where I am going – I am the way’. Jesus is clearly not talking about “life after you die”. 
When Jesus says “no one comes to the Father” – IF we think that the Father lives in heaven (3 tiered Universe) , then we think that Jesus is talking about Heaven only he is saying ‘the father” . So the Father = heaven.
But I don’t believe that ANY of that is what is going on in that passage!
Just think about these 4 ideas:
  • the word Hindu does not appear in the Bible. So the Bible has nothing to say about Hindus. If we do… then we are INTERPRETing things that are in the Bible and APPLYing them to Hindus. 
  • as a 1st century Hebrew, Thomas was not asking about our concept of heaven.
  • Jesus was not talking about “life after you die”
  • Jesus was talking about a KIND of relationship with God (the way he had) before you die. 

Instead, it was an invitation to a caliber of connection with God that is only found in Jesus’ way (servanthood) and Jesus’ life (that reconciled all things to God). 
Now, some have asked about the possibility of this verse being about both the relationship here and also affecting eternity.  I could go with that… as long as we begin by acknowledging that it is not primarily or even initially about eternity.  
That passage in John 14:6  is about how we live now (Jesus’ way), the radical impact on our whole existence (Jesus’ truth) and  the entrance to that (Jesus’ life).  

>Who Gets In ?

>They say to never judge a book by it’s cover. And this is true. Sometimes the cover is completely underwhelming for the quality of what is inside. Other times the cover is seemingly the best part. I have read two book in the last 5 years that were both wonderful and I think that their titles are the best two subtitles of any books I have heard of.

The First is Crunchy Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right-wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America (or at least the Republican Party).

The second is a Generous Orthodoxy: Why I am a missional + evangelical + post/protestant + liberal/conservative + mystical/poetic + biblical + charismatic/contemplative + fundamentalist/calvinist + anabaptist/anglican + methodist + catholic + green + incarnational + depressed-yet-hopeful + emergent + unfinished CHRISTIAN

It also happens that both of these books touch on something that I want to touch on here: phenomenon and attitude.

Crunchy Cons came at a perfect time in my life. My wife and I had been trying to live a different way for a couple years. We had tried to get away from the cycle of credit card debt, eating factory farmed meat and things like that. It turns out that we weren’t the only ones! In fact this book is about how people all across North America had been making some of the same adjustments and coming to some of the same convictions that we had. The interesting part is that there was no manual, no spokesperson, no school that was preaching or teaching how to do it. It was a phenomenon- a spontaneous movement of like minded people all seemingly making the same changes at about the same time. It was amazing to read and to learn that we weren’t the only ones. It was a unique migration — if you will.

A Generous Orthodoxy was a similar story.

Two years ago I made a list of some groups and Christian schools of thought that I hoped to have a conversation with and dialogue about the direction that the church could go. I had grown tired of the partisan arguing between denominations and dogmas of my youth. I knew I wanted to go a different direction. I made this list and said somehow we need to frame the conversation in a way that both Pentecostals who believe that every one who is filled with the Spirit can speak in tongues – and Dispensationalist who think that speaking in tongues died at the end of the apostolic age (when the apostles died) can both be in the conversation.

I’m tired of one group saying that the other group aren’t Christians
or real Christians.

I wanted to have a dialogue between those whose roots go back to the 18th century and John Wesley in England who believe in free will – and of those whose roots go back to the 17th century and John Calvin’s Dutch and Swiss context who don’t believe in free will.

It was a long list.

Six months ago I was part of a conversation between a group that believed not just in the virgin birth but in the immaculate conception (which, for those of you who don’t know isn’t about Jesus Conception but Mary’s conception because later it was thought that she also needed to be conceived this way in order to be without sin otherwise she would have passed it on to Jesus) and another group who believed that Jesus was the Messiah and was sinless but did not believe in a virgin birth for him – that is something that was added quite a bit later. It was added they said because of the belief in that day that sin came through the father’s seed in the sex act and so there needed to be no semen in order for Jesus to have been sinless. There was a third group that was saying it didn’t matter either way – that the virgin birth was not essential for what happened on the cross and in eternity. The first group said it was essential for it was in the Bible and if you don’t believe it then you don’t believe the Bible – that you can not just pick and choose what to believe and what not to. the second group pointed out that the Prodigal Son of Luke 15 was in the Bible and that it was not literal. It was a parable too.

SO you can see that this is a real pickle. I think that the conversation about the virgin birth is a really good conversation. But it’s not going to work if it causes one group to say that the other group isn’t Christians and for the other group to say that the first group are not real Christians but mindless sheep following blindly superstitions of the past.

Part of the problem is that, for so many of us, we no longer have the structures of the past to decide who’s right. We don’t live in an age of the state sponsored church and the church sponsored state. It was easier (in one sense) when to be German was to be Lutheran, or to be English enrolled to in the church of England, were being Dutch meant you were part of the Dutch Reformed Church or for Russians the Russian Orthodox Church. That list could go on and on but you get my point.

So who is going to decide who’s in? The optimist in me hopes that this post-denominational era give us the opportunity to erase some of the old battle lines. The pessimists in me is afraid that we are more fractured than ever before and there is no venue to have this conversation and no unifying authority. Obviously I believe in the power and presence of Holy Spirit. Only the gentle dove is not coercive but invitational, not dominating but participatory and relational. I don’t know what that means to the conversation.

And that is scary. Because there are some big things on horizon!

I was part of a conversation between a group who says that homosexuality is a biblical sin. The other group was saying that those six verses sprinkled throughout the Bible are not about sexual orientation but about an act that we would all still be against.* There was a third group saying that as we explore the human genome, if it turns out that sexual orientation is genetic we are going to have to change how we be those six verses.

Now my only point in all of this is that we can’t afford to have one group saying that the other group, because of this belief, is not Christians and are “out” of the conversation. I am hoping for a construct and a framework so that all three groups get to be “in” the conversation.

This would be the case for those who believe that the world was created 6-10,000 years ago in 6 – 24 hour periods. It would also include those who believe that every ancient tribe had its own origin stories that were told as these epic poems and that what we have recorded in Genesis is simply the Hebrew’s version of it. We would also include those who are agnostics on the issue and say that it isn’t one of the criteria for a relationship with Christ and his Church.

This would be the same for those who believe that we live in the End Times and that Jesus is coming back soon. It would also include those who think that apocalyptic writing was part of a lost genre and that it was a political view of the Roman empire and it has nothing to do with our time – that there is no end of the world. We would also include those who say that there’s no way we can know so let’s not make it an issue.

This would enable people who think that the Bread and the Wine actually become the body and blood of the Lord to take communion with those say that it remains Bread and Wine but that we take it by faith to be those things – as well as – those who say that the Bread and the Wine are symbols that remind us of the broken body and spilled blood. Then Jesus’ prayer in John 17 could be heard and all three groups could be ‘one’ at the Table of the Lord.

My hope is that like “Crunchy Cons” that I am not the only one and this is instead a global desire to move in a direction and that like “a Generous Orthodoxy” we find this attitude.

to listen to the Podcast of this click here

* If you study household codes of the time, you will see that it is what we would call ‘statutory rape’ or something similar that we have legal words for. Remember that things are often lost in translation and that homosexuality is the English word that comes with it’s own baggage. The Hebrew and Greek words are different.

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