Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today



Q is for the Quest for the Historical Jesus (modified)

The Quest for the Historical Jesus is a topic that I am both intrigued and frustrated by. You may dismiss this reaction up to my evangelical background but I am like a teenager in the midst of drama. 

“They drive me nuts, I hate listening to them talk! … What did they say? Tell me everything.”

I am both attracted to and repelled by the work and findings of this movement. I am leery of their process, confused by their conclusions, while simultaneously fascinated their scholarship and insight.

Before we go any further, lets see how Justo L. González introduces it:

Historical Jesus: Often contrasted with “the Christ of faith,” the phrase “historical Jesus” is somewhat ambiguous, for sometimes it refers to those things about Jesus that can be proved through rigorous historical research, and sometimes it simply means the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth. The phrase itself, “historical Jesus,” was popularized by the title of the English translation of a hook by Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1910). In this book, Schweitzer reviewed a process, begun by Hermann S. Reimarus (1694-1768), which sought to discover the Jesus behind the Gospels by means of the newly developed tools of historical research. After reviewing this quest of almost two centuries, Schweitzer concluded that what each of the scholars involved had discovered was not in fact Jesus of Nazareth as he lived in the first century, but rather a modern image of Jesus, as much informed by modern bourgeois perspectives as by historical research itself.

Essential Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 1905-1916).

González goes on to explain that much of the quest was abandoned after Schweitzer’s findings but has recently reappeared in a minimalist expression (what are the bare facts that can be validated?).

Another person that I trust, Stan Grenz, is clear about this historical quest – that its proponents think Jesus:

  • never made any messianic claim
  • never predicted his death or resurrection
  • never instituted the sacraments now followed by the church.

All of this was “projected onto him by his disciples, the Gospel writers and the early church. The true historical Jesus, in contrast, preached a simple, largely ethical message as capsulized in the dictum of the “fatherhood of God” and the “brotherhood of humankind.”

Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 1089-1093).

A modern manifestation of this quest is seen in the Jesus Seminar.

I am deeply indebted to those in Historical Jesus research. I never knew any of this stuff (like Empire[1]) as an evangelical pastor. It has been both eye-opening and disorienting (not to mention the spiritual whiplash).

I have problems with so many of the conclusions reached but am at the same time grateful for the depth of engagement and sincerity of scholarship. My faith has been enriched and informed in ways I could never have imagined.

There is just something about the whole enterprise that gets under my skin and rubs me the wrong way. It is possible to be grateful for a pebble in your shoe as you journey?

Even as I write this I am thinking, “I don’t like where y’all  take this… but I need to know what you know. I just want to draw different conclusions than you do.”

This, of course, is the danger of venturing outside your comfort zone.

Why does it get under my skin so much? My agitation stems from three areas:

  1. The reductive maneuver of enlightenment rationale.
  2. The arrogance of assuming that we know more.
  3. The molding of Jesus into our image.

First, the reductive move within enlightment rationale is pervasive in our time. You know that this mentality is being employed when the phrase “nothing but” is used. Emotion and feeling are explained away as nothing more synapsis in our brain. Sexuality is nothing more than hormones and chemicals. Religion is just the projection of our greatest hopes and fears onto the screen of the heavens.

Biology, psychology, sociology, religion and so many other fields are reduced down to their lowest common denominator and summarily dismissed and explained away. I object to this reductive dismissal in favor of a more complicated, nuanced, and emergent exploration of areas of concern by examining the ways that the phenomenon we see are expressions of a complex set of interactions and overlapping manifestations that are mutually impacted by each other.

There is just something suspicious about trying to get behind the text in order to distill the real Jesus away from the presentation (re-presentation) of Jesus in the text of scripture. Which brings me to the second objection.

There is an odd arrogance present in historical Jesus scholarship that dismisses or explains away what we see and hear in the gospel texts. How do we know that Jesus never really said that? I am leery of importing and imposing our modern expectations on an ancient figure. Admittedly, however, the minute I start looking at the four gospels we have in the cannon of scripture I begin to see clearly that the synoptic authors (communities) had different agendas and that John’s gospel is almost entirely novel in many of its aspects. Perhaps my hesitation is because I was raised with a harmonized presentation of the gospel where they were all made to be unified and coherent as one gospel and all differences were dismissed and explained away. I have become very clear that Luke had a very different take on Jesus than Mark – whose text he certainly had and was working off of. The result is that I begin talking of ‘Luke’s Jesus’ which is very different than the image of the cosmic Christ that John is picturing.

Third, it is undeniable that the end product of historical Jesus research often creates a Jesus that is remarkably similar to us. Apparently Jesus is highly moldable depending on which threads in the tapestry of the gospels you choose to highlight and trace. You can get an imperial Jesus, a revolutionary, a capitalist, and even a Marxist one. There is a hallmark version of Jesus who told little boys and girls to be nice to each other and sage-shaman who tapped into the supernatural realm that manifested in miracles from healings to multiplying food to commanding the forces of nature.

In conclusion, work behind the text is difficult but probably necessary. We just want to do it with some humility (especially epistemic agnosticism) and we need to be careful that we don’t make Jesus in our image which seems to dabble in a form of idolatry that should be avoided. Once those three cautions are in place, we begin to engage in a vital and furtive work of excavating and renovating a powerful and important figure of history who has been buried under layers of dirt throughout history.

[1] Beyond the Spirit of Empire – Rieger, Sung, Miguez;  Arrogance of Nations: Paul and Empire ; God and Empire – Crossan , Jesus and Empire – Horsley, New Testament and Empire – Carter

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.


Palm Sunday Sermon

a 6 minute sermon about Palm Sunday – a very dangerous story.

Transcript below the video. I talk about the financial, military, political, and religious layers of the narrative. It is a well known script that we rehearse every year.

If I were to tell you a story about a little girl named Liberty and the story was set in Philadelphia in 1776, you would probably have a head start on what was going on in the story.

Or similarly, if I told you a story about a police officer in Ferguson Missouri in 2014 you might have a clue as to what that story was going to be about.

Today we are celebrating Palm Sunday and it is a story that has layers and layers of the buried meaning that we have to dig through as a 21st-century audience if we want to uncover.

Palm Sunday is doubly distracting because there’s not only is there a cute little colt that Jesus rides in on but there are actual children waving palm fronds. Don’t be deceived however–this story is saturated with dangerous ingredients.

Jesus rides in to town and makes his triumphal entry in what appears to be an unassuming and non- threatening sort of a way. But just keep in mind,  there had to be more going on in the story then first appears because he will not make it out of this week alive. Whatever he was up to was perceived by the authorities to be such a threat that he would be terminated before the week’s end.

So what exactly what’s going on that was so threatening and dangerous? I just want to pull on three threads that are woven into the fabric of the story for our time together this morning.

The first thing we need to do is look at what was going on and the other side of town. It is not difficult to imagine the profound contrast of the Roman appointed ruler riding in to town on an actual stallion with actual soldiers in an actual military parade complete with trumpets.

Jesus was no military general and that was no war-horse with battle armor. So what we call the triumphal entry was really more of a low budget pantomime or charade. It would have looked more  like a satire or lampoon than an actual threat.

But let’s keep digging.

What were those palm leaves about anyway? Well it turns out that they were a very subversive dog-whistle of sorts that harkened back to it time when the Jewish people were not occupied by a military oppressor and actually had their own currency. Archaeologists and Biblical scholars pointer coins that had Palm fronds on them as a sign of independence and liberation.

Let’s be honest, compared to the swords of the Roman centurions, those palm branches were no threat to anyone. Especially in the hands of little children you wouldn’t think that they were to be feared. But here is the thing: they were a reminder of a time when the people were free and the nation was sovereign. These palm branches we’re not just subversive but a secret-song to incite revolt. Even in the hands of little children they were full of violence.

It is in to this powder-keg that Jesus, named for his ancestor Joshua whose name means ‘salvation’, comes riding into town with the crowds shouting, ”Hosanna – Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”. This can easily be heard as a cry for liberation, a freedom song that people who have been under the heavy boot of military occupation and both political and religious oppression sing when they are longing to throw off the yoke of their oppressor.

So we have talked about an economic layer with the coins, the military layer with the swords in contrast to the palm branches, a political layer, and even a historical layer with his Jewish ancestry and even illusions to a messianic expectation of deliverance, salvation, and liberation.

What is the religious layer?

When Jesus rides in, what he offers to ushers in is not just a new kingdom to replace the old Kingdom. It’s not a simple switch from Caesar’s reign to God’s reign. What Jesus is ushering in is an invitation to an entirely different way of being in the world. This is the tragic thing that gets lost in the shifting sands of history.

Jesus’ is vision of the kingdom of heaven (or the kingdom of God) isn’t a Caesar style Kingdom or empire at all! It is a counter kingdom, and un-kingdom, an upside down inside out insurrection of the established order and the status quo. It’s not a revolution or a military coup just so that Jesus can sit on Caesar’s throne–it is instead a vision of an entirely different way of relating to the divine order, your neighbor, and your enemy alike.

Whether the rulers knew it or even the people lining the parade route that day knew it – what road into town that day was of vision of a different way of being in the world: call it a revolution of love, a divine economy, or the kin-dom where all of God’s children can flourish and prosper without fear.

This is the sub-plot of our yearly drama. Every year on this Sunday we rehearse the pageantry of the palms and we have our children process as we enact the narrative of the Prince of Peace humbling riding in on an unassuming donkey.

That is all fun. Just don’t be under the impression that it is tame, or cute, or non-threatening. Embedded in the narrative is a menacing sub-plot. It is an invitation for you and I to imagine the world being a different way. It is chance for us to rehearse a different way of being in the world.

Underneath the well-rehearsed script of the familiar play is imbedded a subversive invitation to wake from our slumber, break out of our routine, and begin to participate in the inbreaking kin-dom of connection and care that undermines the assumed and entrenched ruts of this world in order to rupture the concrete reality of our daily existence.

We are in an unprecedented time in our society. We are caught up in a global pause of social isolation.

Our question for this Palm Sunday is this: when we hit the ‘play’ button again, how do we want things to be different? Can we imagine the world a different way? Maybe ‘getting things back to normal’ isn’t our only option. Maybe there is a different way of being in the world.







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

Transcend Transform Transgress

Something a little different today: here is a reflection that I wrote and below is the video of me trying to present it on the live-stream Sunday morning (with limited success).

I would love to hear your thoughts.

There is a wonderful and often quoted passage in Galatians chpt 3 that I wanted to flesh out a little today.

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

It is important to understand what Paul is saying here and what the possible implications are for us in the 21st century – since this verse has sometimes been used in a harmful way.

In the first century that Paul was writing in, there were 3 divisions of identity (if you will) and this passage addresses them all.

  • Political
  • Personal
  • Religious

Paul is saying that in Christ these divisions are ruptured or transcended. In the political realm, slave and free would have had very different lives. In the personal (gendered) realm, males and females would have completely different rights and obligations. Life would have looked very different. In the religious realm, Jews and Greeks were vastly different categories – especially under Roman religion regulations.

What Paul is saying is that in Christ those categories are complicated, called into question, and transgressed.

It is not that those categories ceased to be or ceased to be important. It is that they no longer were totalizing. They lost their power to be ultimately determinative. They did not completely define or confine you.

This is an amazing implication of the gospel – the good news of life in Christ. You were not the categories that you were born into and that society placed upon you. There was now something else about that transcended those external categories and transformed who you are in the world.

You might be able to say in our day: there is no republican or democrat, no gay and straight, no citizen and immigrant.

This is a very transgressive thing to say! It violates the very categories that we have set up for sorting out who is us and who is them.

Now here is the important part: those categories still exist. It is just that they don’t define us, limit us, contain us, and restrain us.

Transgressive issues can be very powerful. They call into question the entire structure of the inherited system and undermine (or subvert) the very way that we categorize society.

This is why I prefer to talk about transform instead of reform. It is not enough to us and we need to transcend these limitations in divisions. The danger is that we will come in times of great tension and social upheaval, redress when we should transgress.

Those are my words for the day:

  • Transform
  • Transcend
  • Transgress

I have been fascinated over the last several years to watch and listen to the heated debate around bathrooms and who gets to use which bathroom. As somebody who lives between two established communities having been raised Evangelical but now operating in Progressive circles, I have been astounded at the amount of attention and contention that issues of Trans people has received.

In the LGBTQAI+ formulation the T is only 1/8 of the signifier. It is notable that when looking at the millions of people who would identify by this series of signifiers that percentage wise trans people are a microscopic percentage. Not even one percent – a fraction of one percent. And yet, in the social imagination, their presence has drawn overwhelming amount of attention.

This is the power of the transgressive category. The presence of the ‘other’ calls into question the entire system, the whole configuration. It is one thing to be gay or straight, male or female– That’s contentious or confusing is the debate surrounding those to be –it is another thing to call the entire concept of genderization into question.

We live in very contentious times where any issue can you become instantly aggravated an divisive. I have been amazed at the outsized amount of attention that this issues who can use which bathroom has received in both my current liberal circles and in the evangelical circles that I get to visit. There is something very telling about the disproportionate amount of attention that this issue has drawn.

It is telling. And it is a good thing because it questions or interrogates the entire structure. And the structure needs to be examined!

I became aware of how big of a problem our gendered categories were when I moved to LA and I inadvertently picked up some new hand motions. Apparently they were a little too feminine for a large man to be using and people would point it  out to me. When someone would say that they were not very manly, I would protest by saying, “no. I am a man who uses these hand motions–that makes them manly”.

We also categorize colors by gender. It is interesting to know that 100 years ago pink and blue were used in the exact opposite way for baby boys and girls as they are now. In fact both the yellow and purple were acceptable. It was not until the first color addition of the Sears Roebuck catalog in the early 1920s that our current pink and blue category was formalized.

I recently read a story that my friend posted on social media about being confronted by somebody because her male dog had a purple harness.

Listen, if hand motions and colors and dog harnesses can be gendered then the entire enterprise needs to be called into question.

Our gender categories are too overly determined and totalized.

So that brings us back to our text. It is not that there is no such thing as a male and female, Republican and Democrat, citizen and immigrant… it’s that there is a category which transcends, transforms, and transgresses our understanding inherited categories.

I might say to you today that in Christ your identity it’s so much bigger then any of those external signifiers that society places upon you. It doesn’t mean that we are no longer males or females, that we are not Black and white and Asian And Native American, that we are neither gay nor straight–we continue to be all of those things. It’s that they are not final or total in their capacities to define us and divide us.

There is something much bigger about Life in Christ (the gospel) that subverts, undermines, and interrogates the ways that the world has been divided up for us and changes the ways that we are called to participate in the world.

Why Us vs Them

I am preparing to lead a 3-month book discussion of The Church of Us vs. Them by David Fitch for the adult Sunday school at my church.

My plan is to pair the chapter in the book with a different book, school of thought, or historical movement. Some of these include The Argument Culture by Deborah Tannen, The Peaceable Kingdom by Stanley Hauerwas, and the Anabaptist tradition.

Here are the 7 conversations that I hope will come up in the next 3 months:

  1. The church is supposed to be an alternative way of life – a prophetic and subversive witness to the world – that critiques the ways of the world and provides an alternative way of being in the world. She works best as a minority position within the larger culture and is not designed to be in charge or in control of culture.
  2. Neither the Republican or Democratic party can fix the problem of society. The Democrat and Republican parties are two sides of the same flawed coin. They are not the solution to the problem – they are manifestations of the problem.
  3. The church is not a middle way between these two camps (compromise) but it supposed to be a third way (alternative) to their ways. What we call ‘the church’ is so saturated with both Empire and consumerism that it is completely impotent to confront the ‘powers-that-be’ – which crucified the Prince of Peace (as a scapegoat) – and these powers continue to make life worse for most of humanity.
  4. The American ‘church’ is in bed with the systems of this world that reinforce racism, sexism, poverty, and militarism – 3 of those 4 things Martin Luther King Jr. called the ‘triplets of evil’.
  5. There is a way of living, which Jesus modeled for us and taught about, that leads out of the muck-and-mire we find ourselves in and opens up the hopes and potential of a different way of being in the world. That is the good news of the gospel (evangel).
  6. The church has the potential (capacity) to be the most beautiful and profound vehicle (venue) for unleashing human flourishing and peace. She does this by resisting evil, acting in love, and advocating for those who are vulnerable or on the margins.
  7. The kingdom (or kin-dom) of God is actually within reach but the church has compromised and been corrupted by being in alliance with Empire and the systems of this world. What we call ‘church’ is a shadow of what is supposed to be. Us vs. Them thinking is a symptom of that disease.

Here is a quick video (5 min) to introduce the topics:

Let me know your thoughts, questions, and concerns.

Fully Human

What would it look like for you to be fully human?

Is Jesus a good model for that?

If Jesus was less than human because he was actually God in disguise (bad theology) then what do we lose with him as an example (or exemplar)?

I like to ask people a series of questions:

  1. How did Jesus heal?
  2. Was Jesus good at math?
  3. Did Jesus even have diarrhea?
  4. Did Jesus know people’s futures?

The problem with answering “he was God” too quickly is that we make Jesus something less than human or un-human – the opposite of what we are trying to do.

We are missing something vital about the incarnation because of easy answers. This is not trivial because Jesus models for a life that is open to God’s presence in our lives.

The invitation of Christ is to be open to the divine in a way that brings about our full humanity.

Being fully human is a complex web of overlapping and intertwined elements:

  • Family
  • Personality
  • Culture
  • Nationality
  • Religion
  • Sexuality
  • Language

Here is a 10 min video with some of my thoughts about being fully human. I would love your feedback.

Surplus of Jesus

The ‘surplus of meaning’ has become the most vibrant theological commitment for me in the last 10 years. It guides the way that I study scripture and preach. It frames the way that I teach and organize my classes (I will have to write about employing the spectrum pedagogy* down the road).  It compels my approach to different Christian denominations and even posture toward other religions.

I am committed to the idea that within any symbol as rich as ‘christ’, or the communion table, or even the Bible – that they are overflowing with significance and possibility! There is a surplus of meaning within these deep and fertile symbols. Words like multiple, plural, and diverse are just the beginning for exploring the ways that we signify these transcendent concepts.

When it comes to Jesus, this has required a major shift in my thinking. I used to pursue the correct and authoritative view of Jesus. I so wanted to get it right. The problem is that I kept finding really good views and solid perspectives … some of which seemed contradictory or at least complicated. I was not great at complexity so I wrestled to eliminate that Jesus in favor of this view of Jesus.

Here is the beautiful realization that I came to: Jesus is so elaborate, multifaceted, complex, and layered that there is more than enough to go around!

People can find so much of what they are looking for in the person and work of Jesus that it is possible to have many good and solid views re/presented. There is merit is so many of them. Ross Douthat said it this way:

“the New Testament’s complexities [have] forced churchgoers of every prejudice and persuasion to confront a side of Jesus that cuts against their own assumptions. A rationalist has to confront the supernatural Christ, and a pure mystic the worldly, eat-drink-and-be-merry Jesus, with his wedding feasts and fish fries. A Reaganite conservative has to confront the Jesus who railed against the rich; a post– sexual revolution liberal, the Jesus who forbade divorce. There is something to please almost everyone in the orthodox approach to the gospels, but something to challenge them as well.”

Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (p. 178).


Here is the new conversation: with the plethora of ‘stars’ in the night sky, how do you connect the dots in order to form a ‘constellation’ and construct a narrative that is both coherent and compelling?

It used to bother me that there were four gospels and that they didn’t always match. I really preferred the ‘harmony of the gospels’ and was always attempting to eliminate difference – which I thought led to confusion.

Now, I love that there are four gospels in our cannon and that they are each so rich with insight and perspectives. The Jesus that they portray is overflowing with significance, providing a surplus of meaning at every level of interpretation.

Having said that, Douthat provides a severe caution:

“For the various apocalyptic sects that have dotted Christian history, this has meant a Jesus whose only real concern was the imminent end-times; for modern Christians seeking a more secular, this-worldly religion, it’s meant a Jesus who was mainly a moralist and social critic, with no real interest in eschatology. These simplifications have usually required telling a somewhat different story about Jesus than the one told across the books of the New Testament. Sometimes this retelling has involved thinning out the Christian canon, eliminating tensions by subtracting them. Sometimes it’s been achieved by combining the four gospels into one, smoothing out their seeming contradictions in the process. More often, though, it’s been achieved by straightforwardly rewriting or even inventing crucial portions of the New Testament account, as the Gospel of Judas’ authors did, to make them offer up a smoother, more palatable, and more straightforward theology.”


So, while I acknowledge that this ‘surplus of meaning’ approach calls for a level of caution and seriousness, I am far more interested in being a part of this conversation than one that attempts to reduce Jesus to a simpler or more palatable, boiled-down version.

Let me know what you think.


*  Joel J. Heim and Nelia Beth Scovill, “A Spectrum Pedagogy for Christian Ethics: Respecting Difference without Resorting to Relativism,” Teaching Theology & Religion 13, no. 4 (October 1, 2010): 350–70.

The God Revealed In Christ

Who said anything about omni-potent?

One of the difficulties of being both a believer, and for me, a pastor is how much time and energy gets taken up by the god that you don’t believe in. I believe in god very deeply and have given much of my life to teaching and leading people into a fuller understanding of faith in and participation with the divine-eternal-transcendent.

I love and try to imitate Jesus. I guess that makes me a Christian. Which is fine because even if there was no such category as ‘christian’, I would still be fascinated with the phenomenon that gets labeled the spirit of Christ/the spirit of God/Holy Spirit. My attraction to the field of practical theology is to examine the ways that religious communities and people of faith live out their beliefs in embodied practices.

I am really committed to this thing that gets called belief-faith-religion. It plays an important role in my life, in my family, in my networks, in our society, and in our world. I feel the need to say this because I get frustrated at the increasing amount of time and energy that gets taken up explaining what I don’t believe.

God has really gotten out of control in our culture. You say that you believe in God or that you have had a religious experience and suddenly you find yourself defending lofty and foreign concepts like omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, immutability, and impassibility. You get overwhelmed by an avalanche of historical atrocities and are asked to defend classic conceptions of an all-mighty or sovereign god in the face of human evil and suffering. Now there are accusations of hypocrisy, genocide, crusades, sexual abuse, and every manner of discrimination and hate.

All I said is that I like Jesus and the one that he called Abba. What have I been pulled into and am I obligated to adopt/defend all of these other things? Is it possible that the concept of God has gotten out of hand and grown over the centuries into the bloated and oversized thing that is unsustainable and indefensible?

Are we allowed to downsize this whole thing to a more understated and humble version? Someone might ask “you want a more manageable god?”

It’s not that I want to manage god or be in control of god … I just want a conception of god that isn’t so amped up, highly-caffeinated, or on steroids. I was looking at a model in the range of ‘the god revealed in christ’. I find that a compelling vision of god – more servant than Caesar, more nurturing parent than distant monarch.

I feel at times like the person looking for a reliable car but getting stuck with a pushy salesman who is bent on getting me into something bigger, faster, more powerful, and fancier. I just want something that gets there, I’m not sure about all the bells and whistles – nor can I afford the payments on the luxury model.

I’m looking for a place to rest but all the mattresses are king-sized, pillow top, space-age foam, with dual temperature control and animated bi-level posture support. I was hoping to watch the evening news and maybe enjoy a game on the weekend but all the cable packages are premier bundles with 500 channels from 130 countries including an extreme sports package and a 100 gigabyte DVR included with your unlimited data upgrade.

A smaller and humbler vision of god seems like heresy to most folks for whom the whole point of there being a divine being is that it is the biggest and best of whatever it is that you would value. Anything less, it appears, is not even worthy of worship and so it becomes an all or nothing dichotomy where God had better be everything that has been promised or there is no point in believing in God at all.

Like so many other things in our culture right now, religion has been turned up to 11 and you had better like it OR YOU CAN GET THE HELL OUT!

Through the advent season and into the new year, my meditation has been on the incarnation and the amazing reality that the eternal word (logos) became flesh and dwelt among us – emmanuel means that god is with us. For good or bad, god is now eternally bound up in the creatures’ fate. God has not only identified with humanity but has become entwined with humanity.

Incarnation is why our bodies matter to god and why our embodied practices mean as much or more than our ideas and concepts about god. I’m looking for the God Reveled In Christ.*

Tomorrow I want to ask if the classic notion of the big-god was destroyed when we entered the nuclear age. I’m not sure that conception of god survived the explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Like the star over Bethlehem, the mushroom clouds loom over us and divide history from its previous era.


*I understand that G.R.I.C. may not be the biggest or best. I get that when we say ‘GOD’ we are saying more than ‘human’ loudly. I have no interest in projecting all of our hopes and dreams onto the screen of the heavens. I accept that those who hold to the inflated and super-sized Almighty King of the Universe are the gate-keepers and boundary guards of what they term orthodoxy. It has taken me 20 years to get comfortable letting go of their interpretation of the KINGdom but after surveying the theological landscape, I am sure that there is plenty of real estate that does not require certainty as an entrance fee.

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