Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today



Silent Saturday

5 min Good Friday reflection

See the sermon notes below on Has Von Balthasar

I grew up without much pageantry around Holy Week. We were holiness evangelicals and we kept things pretty simple and minimal.

I have grown to like some of the liturgical elements of Easter week. The palms of Sunday, the meal of Maundy, Good Friday’s Tenebrae and of course the anthems and colors of Easter Day.


I still never knew what to do with Silent Saturday. The creeds say that Jesus descended into hell. The Bible says that Jesus preached liberty to the captives – I have also heard this translated that he proclaimed victory over the evil powers. In church history it often gets called ‘the harrowing of hell’ which sounds more like something from the shire in the Lord of The Rings.

Then a couple of years ago I found this catholic theologian named Hans Von Balthasar.

[ Book: Dare We hope that all shall be saved (side note: turn toward ‘beauty – and away from self)

The vision of suffering love and its power is Christ on the cross]

He talks about suffering love and the power that is seen in the moments when Christ is on the cross. This is the beginning of a theology of Holy Saturday : The day when Christ is dead – that is to say the day when God is dead.  The eternal 2nd person of the trinity is a dead man.

Von Balthasar says that we get the death of Christ wrong when see him as a conqueror descending into hell victorious. We have over-emphasized the aspect of his ‘rescuing’ the Jewish patriarchs

And we need to really embrace that his dead among the dead.

Think about that: the is a victim, scapegoated and railroaded, beaten and battered. Humiliated and made into a spectacle to intimidate future rebels. Hung up like a warning sign on the outskirts of town to alert everyone as to who was in charge. There was not just one cross that day – there were at least three. There would have been dozens that lined the road into the city. Rome crucified hundreds of conquered rebels and would be revolutionaries. He hung between to bandits that day (thieves is too mild a translation).

 He was dead among the dead.

He felt abandoned by God – separated from his source of life, identity, and direction.

[von Balthasar thinks that christ descended into Sheol (not the place of punishment called Gehenna) and after his resurrection when he brought so many with him, that what was left was Gehenna. Sheol would have been the Jewish understanding that Jesus had at the time. Also translated ‘the pit’- not a place of punishment, not the afterlife, there is nothing there but being dead. ]

He went to the place of the dead. Sank to the depths of death. He enters into the pit.

More dead than anyone. More dead than any sinner. As the author of life, he was the most kind of dead.

This was thought to be good news of a sort. Every person who dies descends into this place – goes down in to the pit – and finds Christ already there.

Christ awaits you in death. More dead than you are. More forsaken than anyone ever. More abandoned than you. More separated from God that anyone has ever experienced.

It is in the separation from God that every human is embraced. Into that vacuum the dead are held in Christ.

We find a brother in death. We are not alone in the pit. We have a advocate in the midst of our suffering.

The author of life died a death and became the most dead – now doubly dead, lives to advocated for us – our great high priest – whose name is love – suffered death to the depth of despair.

I want to share this with you during this difficult time of isolation and distancing because the teaching on Holy Saturday says that you will never experience greater suffering, separation, or despair than the one who died and is ahead of us in death. You will never be more dead, more abandoned, more forsaken, more despised or rejected than one who goes ahead of you.

You are never alone and there is always one who can sympathize. Christ has gone ahead of you and lives to interceded on our behalf.


Lessons from Luke (ImBible Study)

Reading the Bible through a progressive lens is so much fun!  I recorded a video about what we have been learning by reading through the Gospel of Mark.

Join us this Wednesday at 7pm for a lively (and irreverent) time of reading the gospel.

It is not your average Bible study!  Join the zoom here:

The 4 layers of our ‘surplus of meaning’ and 3 surprises from the Gospel of Luke.

We ask the text 4 Layers of Questions:

  1. What would the original audience have heard?
  2. What has the text come to mean in history?
  3. What do we do with the text now? (application)
  4. What is the most the this text can mean? (future horizon)

Three themes that emerged in Luke:

  1. Jesus uses ‘Dog Whistles’
  2. the Bible reads differently for those on top or the underside
  3. Parables are not allegory

Hope They Serve Tacos In Hell

I am speaking at a ‘theology on tap’ event this evening hosted by the local Lutheran congregation. I agreed to do it and then I was informed the this month’s topic is the afterlife.

I had planned on wearing a “I hope they serve tacos in hell” T-shirt to the event. Unfortunately, they were sold out of them in my size [which makes you wonder about big guys being really invested in the cause].

I made the mistake of telling some friends and coworkers about this plan and it did not go over well. At first, their resistance came from the fact that a pastor and theology professor might be sending mixed messages by seeming  to endorsing hell.

Then I realized that we were coming at this from completely different directions. Here is my two-fold logic on the issue:

  • If there is a hell, it is probably going to be a pretty bad place – by the very nature of what it is. I just think that for as bad as it is going to be, it would be nice if there was something good in the day!

This just seems like a kind and Christian heart of compassion to me.

  • There is a chance that I am going to hell. I don’t mean that in an “I deserve it for what I’ve done” sorta way. I just mean that statistically I have run the numbers. If the Mormons, or the strict Catholics, Hindus or any number of other groups turn out to be correct, I could (statistically speaking) end up in that group’s version a bad place.

If that is the case, I would like to know that I get tacos from time to time.

This line of reasoning is slightly tongue-in-cheek but I have found it to be an amazing litmus test. I have actually been shocked at now almost no one has thought about the fact that they could end up in a place other than the eternal penthouse.

I’m really looking forward to tonight and I will let you know how it goes.

>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).  

>New Year’s reservations

>There are going to be some changes for me and Everyday Theology in 2011. I am now in a PhD program and I have been trying to get a job. I have been able to get a couple of small part-time jobs for January-February, two of which will affect me publicly and privately.

My two gigs are with Religion Online [link] and Big Tent Christianity [link]. I am very excited about both, the first will impact me long-term, the second will be big in the short-term.

Here are the three changes to Everyday Theology in 2011:

  • Everyday Theology will continue to be a weekly Podcast about the everyday implications of what we believe as Christians in the 21st century. I will put up the transcript  every week where comments and questions can be posted.  I love this conversation!
  • I have several other projects which I will manage through my other Facebook account. You can participate with those other projects at Lead From the Fringe (my ‘quick thoughts’ blog) and Ethic Space and Faith (where I am an ‘Admin’ and sometimes author). 
  • In a PhD program, your time is spent a little differently than as a full time minister. My thought life and book selection are different and the expectation of how I interact with the material is consequently changing. I will need to adjust the content of the podcast a little bit in order to take advantage of the reading that I am already doing and also to practice the discipline of engaging current and historical authors and thinkers.  

Some of you may know but, a couple of years ago I left a church that I loved very much and I did not know what going to Seminary would mean or how I would be able to bridge the gap with my new direction. It went better than expected and Everyday Theology has been a wonderful conversation to help me think through what it looks like to have a progressive christian faith in the real world.

The final thing I want to say is that I faced a big decision in the past months. I have taken great effort (and pride) in not being reactive, argumentative or inflammatory. I read a book almost a decade ago that impacted me radically. The book was called The Argument Culture and the author, Deborah Tannen, got to the very root of this damnable  way that we conduct ourself in the west (especially North America including Canada).

Perhaps the biggest change for 2011 is the change that I have decided to pass up. I decided that I just don’t want to contribute to the argument culture and I certainly don’t want to be one of those christians who attack and criticize other christians (as much as I can possibly help it).   So here is a story about why that decision has been so difficult.


I exist mostly in a progressive (not a capital P) christian context. That is what I would say is my community. Most of us have ‘emerged’ (not capital E) from a predominately evangelical-protestant- with charismatic leanings type heritage.

In my circles I have always assumed and heard that when public characters like  Jerry Falwell sounded off on Hurricane Katrina being a punishment from God for the people of New Orleans – that most people rolled their eyes and knew that he was such a marginal expression that he should not be taken seriously.

or when Franklin Graham said that Islam (as if it were one thing) is a terrible religion filled with hate – that people knew he was not a spokesman for  Christians (as if we are just one thing).

or when Mark Driscoll says that he could never worship a Jesus that he could beat up – that it carried about as much weight as a WWF wrestler mouthing off to get pumped up before a match, pulsing with vibrato and testosterone.

But apparently that is not the case.  

Moving can be a  powerful experience to encounter new perspectives.  I recently moved A) regions of the country B) from a Masters program to a PhD program and C) from a school with ‘Evangelical’ in it’s name to a school that is widely known for being wildly liberal.

The weird part is that I have never heard more about hell. Honestly, it comes up several times a week in a variety of conversations and settings. There seems to be a collective obsession with who is going to hell and who gets to say who goes to hell. I have heard more about hell in the last 6 months than the last 6 years combined.  It’s almost as if there is a collective trauma that has happened by so many people telling so many other types of people that they are going to hell. The people that I hang out with take great offense at being told that they are going to hell by our more conservative brethren.

SO here is the moment when I got some clarity:

In our readings for a class, the names Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham, and Pat Roberson  came up as the 3 examples of American Protestants .  Two weeks before this class  I was at a huge event at the LA Country Library for a global conversation between two nationally known authors – and these same three names came up.

It caused me to stop and think, “Wait – I thought that everyone knew that there were alway those marginal voices in any group – that there are clowns at every circus…” but they are not spokesman for the cause. They don’t speak for me and my circles.

So when our class presenter referenced this part of the reading (a mention that was noticeable because it was not the central focus of the reading) I perked up.  The presenter said that they are a public face of Christianity – that when people who are not Christians think of Christianity , that is who they think of.

If this were true, I would have to change my approach.

I assumed that when people say Pat Robertson – Jerry Falwell – Franklin Graham they thought “affluent white male christian TV personalities”.   I didn’t think that they thought “all Christians”.

When a group like the Gospel Coalition forms with people from that exact same demographic (only this time with a Calvinist bent) – I thought that people just saw a bunch of dogmatic guys from Reformed backgrounds… I am starting to reconsider that.

Lest you think that I am I being too optimistic or that I am being too naive…  I have an agenda – I am trying to figure out if the Big Tent vision of Christianity is big enough to include those who think that there is a very small tent that they are not only IN, but are in charge of .

I have been giving everyone the benefit of the doubt that they knew that there is not just one type of Jewish (Orthodox, Conservative, Reformed, etc.) – that there is not just one type of Christian – that there is not just one type of Muslim – that there is not just one type of Atheist…  that the world is very nuanced!   Does everything just get boiled down to a soundbite?

At that point, I was thinking that maybe I need to become more aggressive and more confrontational.  Now I think that we already have too much of that and have decided to just stick with this M.O. and be who I feel called to be. I can not be responsible for the big picture or determine the outcome. All I can do is play the role I am suppose to play and bring my best to the table.

I hope that you have a wonderful NewYear and I am looking forward to the ongoing conversation in 2011.

>words of God in the Bible


    I stumbled into an interesting conversation a couple of weeks ago and I have been mulling it over in my head. I have mentioned it to a few colleagues of mine and it turns out that I am not the only one who is perplexed by it. 
    The issue in question is the reading of the Bible where one word is automatically substituted for another. 
[Examining the issue invariably brings up other issues so I will try to stay focused and maybe for this first round of conversation will only examine some sample Bible verses.

Matthew 7
    I am continually shocked by the number of people who quote Matthew 7:13-14 to me BUT change the words!! (this is to cram it into a paradigm where it does not naturally belong)
13″Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
    I find myself asking people all the time “why do you swap ‘destruction’ for Hell and ‘life’ for Heaven ? What is that thing you do where you always jump to the end and then read it backward? Is this some kind of destination fascination and is that why we try to fast forward the journey?
    Why when the text says “destruction” do we automatically switch it to ‘hell’  and when the text says “life” we automatically switch it to ‘heaven’ ? 
    My point is that I do not think that Jesus was talking about something after you die.  If you read it in context, I think that he is talking about how you live before you die. **
John 3:3
    This is probably one of the most famous passages in the Christian New Testament. There are two things that are intriguing to me about how we read it.  The first is that we take it out of the story that we find it in. We remove it from the narrative of a conversation where Jesus is using ‘riddles’ to lure his conversation partner in so that they will ‘bite’. The second thing is that once we have the ONE sentence out of it’s context we convert it to be a universal principle. 
    That is quite the process of mental gymnastics and we seem to do it almost on auto-pilot. 
    Jesus says to this religious professional “no one can see kingdom of God,unless he is born again.”  (or born from above)
    Somehow that has become ‘No one can go to heaven after they die unless they prayer the sinner’s prayer once in their life – to confess and repent of all their sins and ask Jesus to be their personal Lord and Savior.’ 
    Really?  Do you think that is what Jesus is talking about?  A) when the text says “Kingdom of God”  why do we swap it for ‘Heaven after you die’ ? B) when the text says “born again”  why do we trade it for ‘pray a prayer to be saved’ ?
John 14:6
    as in the John 3 passage, John 14 happens in a conversation where Jesus’ dialogue partners are having trouble understanding what he is saying.  
    Jesus is talking about how his father’s house has many rooms and how is going away to prepare a place for them.  Thomas says ‘we don’t know where you are going and thus we don’t know the way’. 
6Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
    Now, I hear this verse quoted probable 5 times a week. It is usually in the context of ‘why no one is going to heaven unless they believe in Jesus’. 
So my question is this: are we sure that is what Jesus is talking about?  
    Why when the text says “Father” do we read ‘heaven’?  What if Jesus isn’t talking about where you go after you die but is instead talking about the kind of relationship that you have with God before you die?   What if he is saying (and if you read John 14-15-16 where he talks about the coming of Holy Spirit as an indwelling of the Spirit of Christ you will see this) that this relationship that he has with the Father through the Spirit is one that is accessible only by coming through him? 
    What if Jesus is not thinking at all about why Hindus won’t be in heaven, and is only addressing how the disciples might come to know that Father like Jesus does (which , if you read the book of Acts you will see the work of Holy Spirit to do). 
2 Timothy 3
We might as well just address the nature of the text as long as we are looking at the text.
15and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
    This verse is thrown around quite liberally by conservatives who use it to define words like ‘inerrant’ and ‘infallible’ when it comes to their view of the Bible. 
    I just want to point out two things: 1) the two “I” words are not in 2 Timothy 3 – we read them in   2) The scripture that they would have know from infancy was the Hebrew or Jewish Scripture (what we call the Old Testament). 
    In fact, 2 Timothy 3 is quite clear that scripture is useful and here are the things that it is useful for… is that not good enough for us? 
    “But it is God breathed!!”  some might object.  But as my good friend Dan points out to me – so was Adam… but as we all know Adam was not infallible.  (we read that story at the beginning of the Hebrew Scripture).
    I am afraid that we are not reading the text and letting it speak. We are reading into the text what is not there and putting words in it’s mouth.  
    I have said before that no one reads the Bible literally  [link] and I think that is more true than ever.  No actually thinks that we need to be born again.  We all know that needs interpreting. 
    People who think that they read the Bible literally are fooling themselves and have been sold a brand of Christianity that is somewhere between a system and a construct. What I am afraid of is that once you have been groomed for long enough to automatically substitute one word for another, you lose the ability to see that it is a problem. 
**  a new friend sent me this note “regarding your Matthew 7:13-14, if one travels the land (of Israel), one discovers that the “roads” and “gates” of the Hebrew culture are small and narrow, and the “roads” and “gates” of a Hellenized culture are wide, easy to travel, broad, and traversed by thousands, if not millions of people.”    Jesus wan’t talking about life after you die.  He was talking about how you live before you die. 

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