Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today



Is Jesus Kin(g)?

This week’s video asks if ‘Kin-dom’ language is more accurate and helpful than the old ‘kingdom’ idea.

It is an alternate translation of Greek word βασιλεία, (‘basileia’) and can unpacked a number of ways.

Watch the video and let me know what you think.

You can find a short articles here [link] on kin-dom and another video about implications for worship songs here [link]

Your Kin-dom Come!

Kin-dom language has really captured my imagination. It is a much needed upgrade for the alternate translation of Greek word βασιλεία, (‘basileia’) instead of the antiquated (and problematic) ‘kingdom’.

I have toyed with the idea of leaving such rich and nuanced words/concepts untranslated into English like we do with agape in Greek or selah in the Hebrew psalms. For a while I thought that leaving it untranslated loaned it an air of mystery or exotic foreignness.

Later, I considered novel translations such as economy of God, reign and rule, commonwealth, government as a possible way forward. These concepts, however, convey many of the same associations with the intrinsic hierarchy, coercion, and domination that is incongruent with the love of God revealed in Christ. Jesus brought a counter-kingdom, an anti-kingdom, or even an un-kingdom that is weighed down with the baggage and violence that ‘kingdom’ has picked up through church history.

In the end, I have circled around again and again to the kin-dom of God. It signifies that we are all interrelated (kin) and that as family, we are relationally constituted. Our related-ness is our prominent characteristic. What defines us? Our connection to the divine/transcendent/reality in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

In this vein, I have found an advocate in the work of Ada Maria Isasi-­Diaz’s “Solidarity: Love of Neighbor in the 21st Century” in Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside. It resonates with me because both Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6 talk about the inner witness of God’s spirit in our spirit that we have been adopted and are children of God.

David Harstkoetter tells us:

She skillfully argued that the gracious, salvific work of God, through love of the neighbor, entails solidarity characterized by interconnectivity—namely commonality and mutuality. … Yet, rather than describe solidarity as God’s ‘kingdom,’ a term that Isasi­Díaz names as sexist and is in the contemporary context “hierarchical and elitist,” she instead uses the term “kin­dom” to emphasize that the eschatological community will be a family: “kin to each other.”[1]

In the past I have been concerned/critical of ‘the kingdom’ translation. There are so many objectionable aspects to it and I am especially concerned when Americans seem to romanticize the monarchy and the imperial ideal of domination. It seems so ironic! That is why I have dug into what role or function is being accomplished in this romanticized obsession.

Since I have started working on this a couple of years ago, there has been an uptick in King or Kingdom related books in my circles. Tim Keller, NT Wright, Scott McKnight and others have doubled down on this phenomenon.  The more I prayerfully study this concept, the more I understand its appeal to them and the louder that I must suggest that Christianity’s future is not found in Europe’s past.

Jesus didn’t speak English, so there is nothing sacred about the translation ‘kingdom’. In fact, the more one examines the merit of the kin-dom translation, the clearer it communicates the virtue and the loving relational characteristic that Jesus modeled and taught.

I realize that it sets off a potential chain reaction and leads to a set of subsequent concerns and changes – and we can tackle those one at a time as they become relevant – but if this move toward the kin-dom is the only upgrade that we adopt, it is a significant improvement on its own!

May your kin-dom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.


[1] p. 89 in Getting Back to Idolatry Critique: Kingdom, Kin­dom, and the Triune Economy.


Liberal & Conservative Christians Must Be Born Again

I was in the pulpit this last Sunday at Westwood UMC and I chose to preach on John 3. It was the first time I have ever engaged that text outside of an evangelical environment.

You can take a listen here [link]. It works to stream it, download it, or get it on Itunes.

I began by addressing an awkward pairing:
– On the one hand, the phrase ‘born again’ has fallen into disrepute and disuse among many believers.
– On the other hand, Jesus is pretty clear that we ‘must be born again’.

Two other aspects that I attempt to overcome with this approach are:

A) We too often read both John 3:3 and 3:16 through a lens of individualism.
B) We have been taught to think of ‘eternal life’ as life after you die.

In order to correct these severely limited and limiting readings, I look at 5 key words/concepts.

  • Kingdom
  • Flesh
  • Eternal Life
  • Salvation
  • Repent

Continue reading “Liberal & Conservative Christians Must Be Born Again”

I Voted For the First Time Last Week

Seven days ago I voted for the very first time.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to puncture the seal – cross that threshold – and break my long string of abstaining.

 Here is the background on why I have never voted: 

  • In High-school my family moved from the Chicagoland area to Saskatchewan, Canada. After High-school I stayed in Canada to play football when my family moved to NY and I became a dual citizen.

When you come of age outside your culture of origin, you see some stuff within that culture a little differently. Voting (and politics in general) was one of them. I didn’t see its impact locally like I would have if I was a farmer or a school teacher, I saw it through the media circus. Loyalty and responsibility take on a different meaning when you have dual belonging.

  • When I got filled with Holy Spirit and called to ministry I was initiated in a very dualistic form of evangelical charismatic christianity. It was spiritual in contrast to physical. Church in contrast to world. Supernatural in contrast to natural.

I was a zealous young man and so I took it further than most. Many would quote the verse “we are in the world but not of the world”. I would take it further and quote 2 Timothy 2:4 “”No good soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.”  I followed the Lutheran idea of ‘two kingdoms’ (kingdom of God and kingdom of this world) all the way down.

  • When I became Ordained I not only opted out of Social Security (which ministers are allowed to do in their first two years of filing taxes) but I registered with the Government as an objector.

I am a registered objector. I indicated that what remaining taxes I did pay, I did not want them going to pay for wars … and this was before W was in office (!). I would tell people “I am not political. I am focused on the spiritual realm not the physical. The government takes care of people in this way, I take care of people in a different way. Plus, I don’t want my loyalties in the natural realm to limit my ministry to people in the supernatural.”  It actually worked quite well for me for a time. I was very vocal about my opting out of the system and in my congregation was a eclectic mix of New England Democrats and pre- Fox News Republicans.

Here is why I was thinking about voting for the first time: 

  •  I no longer subscribe to the dualism of natural – supernatural, physical – spiritual, or church – world. I have shed my understanding of Luther’s two kingdoms.  I read Jesus’ admonition about “In the world but not of the world” differently now … and all it took was an introduction to Biblical scholarship and some Roman political history. 
  • Randy Woodley was my mentor in seminary and he would ask me to explain my politics to him and then challenge me that it was incoherent and inconsistent. I play my conversations with him over and over in my head. Once you study colonial history (or even 20th century history) you realize that to be silent in the face of systemic oppression and repressive legislation is to become complicit with the injustice and suffering that the God you claim to serve is so opposed to.
  • I read Martin Luther Kings “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”  and realized that I was one of those white ministers he was talking about being disappointed in and let down by.

“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; …Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

  •  The attacks on September 11, 2001 and the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld (and Halliburton) parley into two wars under the false guise of ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ haunts me when I think of how a different administration might have proceeded differently.
  • As one getting their PhD in Religious Education I have become all too aware of the impact of economic and bureaucratic decisions on children’s education. I don’t see how you can know what I know now and not do something so little that can make such a big change for so many.
  • I live in California where we don’t just vote for candidates (which I was still leery about) but we also vote on propositions. Some of these propositions directly impact school budgets and it would be gross neglect to stay silent on them when our public schools are in such desperate shape.
  • The Paul Ryan budget was and is immoral and unimaginable. I was still siting on the fence about voting – even with the whole Tea Party and Occupy movement thing – until Romney’s selection for his Vice Presidential running mate. I have watched the union stuggles in Wisconsin and Chicago, I have listened to the disgusting rhetoric of this latest financial crisis and continueing bailouts of Wall Street and too-big-fail banks… but when Romney picked Ryan … and I had just recorded that interview with Randy Woodley … I was horrified.

 Why I was still hesitating: 

I read Chris Hedges ‘Death of the Liberal Class’ and can not shake the nauseating reality of just how broken our democratic system is. Both candidates are owned by big business and the election (thanks to the Citizens United decision) is a sham.

It seems to me that to participate in a process this corrupt is to somehow be complicit with the immorality and to sanction or validate these compromised actors.

I have gone this long and there is just something in my identity, something about the way that I imagine myself and tell my story that can not conceive of crossing that line – of breaking the seal and entering into this realm. It was the strangest thing to think about.

 In the end: 

Smiley and West is my second favorite podcast in the world (next to the one I am on). No, President Obama did not do so many things that he said he would do the first time (like close Guantanamo) but … he also did some stuff (like health care reform) that was much needed (although I question the for-profit nature of our insurance companies).

I’m still leery about endorsing professional politicians, but in the end I just didn’t know how I can have learned what I have learned about education in the country and not do something that would so greatly impact the young people – and disproportionately young people of color.

After all, I would hate to have the problem of Christopher Reeve that I spoke so harshly against.

 I am interested in any thoughts on my journey and process.  Comments? Questions?  

May your Kingdom Come … to an end

I might be done with kingdom language – not the dynamic of God’s power or God’s interaction with the world – just the word ‘kingdom’ and its imperial implications. It comes with too much baggage, it is so antiquated, and it is masculine in the way that is unhelpful.*
Here are three reasons that we have permission to move on if we were so inclined:

  • Jesus didn’t use the word.

It might seem simplistic but Jesus didn’t speak English and there is nothing magical about the English word ‘kingdom’. The New Testament uses the phrase Basileia Theou. Maybe we should just go back to that. We keep words like ‘koinonia’ and ‘selah’ in their original form so maybe we could just say when Jesus did and let it go untranslated. Then people would have to reconstruct what the concept means without importing all of their preconceived impressions.

  • The age of kings is over.

I can not believe the hysteria that occurred around the ‘royal wedding’ of Prince William to Kate Middleton – especially by Americans. Just the name the House of Commons makes me wince. I am so glad that the Age of Kings is over. Divine Right would be laughable to me … if I didn’t know how much sway it held for so long. Regardless, those days are over and maybe it is time to update our language about God’s ways as well.

  • The power of pronouns.

Even those who acknowledge that the nature of language is symbolic and metaphorical – even those who recognize that God language is not univocal – can get thrown off if one refers to God as ‘She’.  Even those who know that it is only a pronoun that functions as a place holder want to be careful about the antecedent to the pronoun.  This might be a limitation for a move toward a counter-Queendom, a more inclusive Kin-dom or a non-authoritarian Common/wealth.

There will be some obstacle to overcome.
Number one among them will that ‘it is in the Bible’. Let me say two things:
A) I love that it is in the Bible. It was powerful imagery for its day and it says something really important about God.
B) The authors of scripture conceptualized of God’s work in a way that was relevant to their time. Maybe we should as well.

Another problem I see is Christmas pageants. What will be do when we quote passages like Isaiah 9:7 which get translated into english as “His kingdom will have no end”. But I think it would be fine to have passages like this along side the shepherds and the manger (both are virtual artifacts of an agrarian society)  – as long as it was not our primary (or only) way of articulating and conceptualizing the work of God in the world.

One last thing to suggest: Jesus was in a context that was dominated by Empire. He positioned his vision and language in contrast/opposition to it. But is that our predominant contemporary element? I would suggest that in a venue of Global Capitalism  it may be more appropriate and powerful to speak of the Economy of God.

* I always have to clarify that as a man, I am not anti-masculine. I really like being a man – it’s just that only using masculine terms may have been helpful for clarity when Genesis 1-3 was written, it has become unclear and unhelpful. The hegemonic patriarchy of religious language is pitiful to hold onto and especially when it is done in a univocal way.

The Hangover: Rapture edition

Here is a newspaper report and interview with Harold Camping:Washington Post article

The thing that people seem to be feeling bad about is that some gullible individuals got duped. I am sympathetic with the mild compassion. But I think that there is something far more sinister and devastating that we should be piping mad about and are justified in mocking (or at least being cynical about).
I remember in 1988 and 1991 people dropping out of the Bible College that my dad taught at to go home and ‘save’ their family and friends…. also no sense in racking up credits for a degree you are never going to finish!
 Look – until we stop all this mumbo jumbo stuff, the newer folks are going to continue to get duped.

I was shocked last week at how many Christians said things like “well – Camping is mostly right, this stuff will all happen, its just that we don’t know the day or hour.”

SO basically (as it has been presented to me)

Thinking all this stuff will happen on May 21 = crazy.
  • Thinking all this will happen but we don’t know when = acceptable.

I was raised to read the Bible this fantastical way. But I noticed that even knowing a little bit about the 5 centuries before Christ and the 2 after quickly made reading the Bible that way nearly impossible.
Reading the Bible in this ‘dispensational’ way – or what is called the “mountain tops” view of history – is not really faithful to the text or historically accurate. It is based on linear view of time, a literal reading of the text, and sketchy view of history. Continue reading “The Hangover: Rapture edition”

WIKI-sermon help: John 3

My friend is preaching this weekend in a place where they have heard it all before. She has been given John 3 as a text and has asked for some fresh ideas / language about “beginning to participate in the kingdom of God”.

I threw out the following three ideas but thought that a wiki-approach might be really helpful – I am a big fan of the collaborative approach.

  • Look into “prolepsis” as an ancient literary device. Don’t let them tell you it was simply foreshadowing. Wolfhart Pannenberg talks about Jesus as a proleptic event.

So the church is not the kingdom. The church is NOT the kingdom come. The church  does not usher in the kingdom (post-millennial). Only God can bring the kingdom. Continue reading “WIKI-sermon help: John 3”

>Amazed by Mary

>As I go through advent, every year I am amazed again by the faith of Mary. Her confession “may it be unto me as you have said” (Luke 1:38) is breath-taking in its simplicity and profound in it’s content. The place of faith that she must have been coming from astounds me  – and challenges me.

I am especially taken back when I put her within the narrative context of scripture. I don’t know if you have ever thought about, but women don’t fair so well in the Bible on the whole. I’m not even talking about the parts where they are told to  ‘remain silent’ or the ‘submit to your husband’ stuff. I mean the actual characters in the narrative (both in the Hebrew and Christian testaments).

There are a lot of nameless women in the Hebrew Scripture (that’s what we used to call the Old Testament) and it generally does not go too well for them.

There are lots of examples of nameless women: Lots’s wife, Lot’s daughters, Potiphar’s wife, Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11:34), or the concubine of Judges 19, not to mention the “witch” of Endor (in 1 Samuel 28) . If you took just these examples you would get the picture that women are (in no particular order): powerless, short-sighted, faithless, seductive, deceptive, duplicitous, mischievous, and spiritually dangerous.

Even the women that are named are usually not in positions of power  – though they do fare a little better. Tamar, Ruth, Esther, Bathsheba, and Rahab are named and each plays an important part in God’s plan.

  • Tamar is prostituted by her Father-in-law then almost burned for it (this is Genesis 38 – not to be confused with the later Tamar that is raped by her brother and then despised for it in 2 Samuel 13).
  • Ruth is poor and gleaning crops with her mother-in-law from the edges of fields – a type of welfare system set up by God in scripture.
  • Esther wins a primitive (some would say perverse) form of a beauty contest with the grand prize of entering a harem.
  • Bathsheba gets spied on while she is bathing (all the men were suppose to be out of the city), she is brought into adultery, she becomes pregnant, and her husband (Uriah) is assassinated by the man who committed adultery with her (King David).
  • Rahab is an actual prostitute.

Tamar, Ruth, and Rahab all make it into Jesus’ genealogy that appears in the prologue to the Gospel of Matthew!  Unfortunately Bathsheba, for all her troubles, is referenced only as Uriah’s wife (not David’s mistress or by her real name). But that is how it goes for women in the Bible sometimes…

This is what is so amazing to me about Mary. By all accounts she would not have been rich (to say the least), she was young and her situation was scandalous. Poor, young, and disgraced is quite a predicament for a girl. Then she comes out with these amazing declarations of faith!

You have to keep in mind that this happened during a time in history when women’s testimony were not even valid in court!  Which just puts a whole wild spin on the fact that God chose for the women at the tomb to be the witnesses – and to testify to the male disciples (who did not believe right away) about the resurrected Christ!

With that in mind, Mary was asked to be more than a witness! She was to be the container of the uncontainable; the womb of the uncreated. YIKES.

That is why it hits me so hard when I hear her ‘Magnificat’ declaration in Luke 1:46 – 55:

“My soul glorifies the Lord 
 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 
for he has been mindful 
   of the humble state of his servant. 
From now on all generations will call me blessed, 
  for the Mighty One has done great things for me— 
   holy is his name. 
His mercy extends to those who fear him, 
   from generation to generation. 
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; 
   he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 

 He has brought down rulers from their thrones 
   but has lifted up the humble. 
 He has filled the hungry with good things 
   but has sent the rich away empty. 
He has helped his servant Israel, 
   remembering to be merciful 
to Abraham and his descendants forever, 
   just as he promised our ancestors.”

I hear this and I am stopped in my tracks. What kind of world did Mary think that God wanted to make? What did Mary expect God to do with this kid she was to carry?

Is this what the Hebrew prophet was looking forward to in Isaiah 40 ?

Comfort, comfort my people,

   says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

   and proclaim to her

that her hard service has been completed,

   that her sin has been paid for,

that she has received from the LORD’s hand

   double for all her sins.

 A voice of one calling:

“In the wilderness prepare

   the way for the LORD[a];

make straight in the desert

   a highway for our God.[b]

Every valley shall be raised up, 

   every mountain and hill made low; 

the rough ground shall become level, 

   the rugged places a plain. 

And the glory of the LORD will be revealed,

   and all people will see it together.

            For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Is this what Jesus meant when he said “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” in John 10:10 ?

Is this what the Letter writer was saying with passages like 1 John 3:8 ” The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work”?

I am also struck by two things that weigh me down:

  1. If some poet or prophet or preacher was to put this out now, it would most likely be disregarded as a John Lennon style “Imagine” daydream, or dismissed as socialist utopian propaganda or even disparaged as a Liberal agenda.  When you think about the relationship that Jesus had with the priests of his day and the relationship that those priests had with the poor, the immigrant and the outsider – and compare that to the relationship that Jesus had with that same crowd… you can clearly see the he was Mary’s boy!!
  2. I listen to the Religious Media that is so powerfully broadcast on Christian radio and preached on TV by preachers at big churches with big followings and I am haunted by the suspicion that what calls itself Christianity in capitalistic and consumeristic North America is not quite what Mary’s song pointed toward. I am dismayed so often by the conservative Christianity I encounter. It is almost as if Jesus never came.   Even in a ‘Christian Nation’,  Priest, politics, and power …  well , let’s just say it this way:  I would love to hear the kind of things that Mary said coming through the radio and from the pulpit.

This is why Mary mesmerizes me. She ‘got’ something – she knew something – she saw something that allowed her to say something that radically changes the way we look at Jesus and continues to impact the vision of  people who are suppose to speak for Jesus.

Mary challenges us. She inspires us. Her vision projects a world that has yet to materialize fully. Her words frame our expectation.

I think about her words.  I pray that I may see what she called for. I thank God for her and the standard that she sets.  I call her ‘blessed’.

Merry Christmas everyone – today is truly the day of the Lord’s visitation.
The Lord is among us!

to listen to Podcast click [HERE]

>The Kingdom Comes : in 3-D !

>Buried deep in the hot & heavy give and take of this weekend’s conversation – in the fallout of the Friday followup was something that I really believe and don’t want to be lost as comment #10 in a 20 deep running tally.

 I have modified it slightly so that it doesn’t read like an answer but like an idea.

There is a moment when we jump from being two-dimensional drawings in the pages of a novel and we become the real-life Heroes of the Kingdom who live and move and have our being in the Prince of Peace!! This is where we walk in the land of the living and move out of the land of the dreaming (sin) and move beyond the realm of talking (doctrine).   Now we act!

The jump happens because of a simple realization: we are not the world. We are in the world but our power is not from the world. IN FACT – we are the world’s only chance to realize that it is the world!

The people of God being the Church is not the kingdom but is suppose to be a “coming attractions” of what it will be like when God is in charge of all of our lives. The people of God being the Church is the only chance that the world has to see that it is the world… and repent.

The problem is that we are JUST like the world. We make the mistake of saying that we are “Not of this world” thinking that it means ‘meant for another world‘ (which is not the Biblical word or idea) and this mistake then leads to us living exactly like the world while we wait to go the next world.

This is why our credit cards are at the same levels of debt, our divorce rates are the same, we shop for Christmas presents the same, we vote in roughly the same proportions, we own the same number of cars, our teenagers get pregnant at the same rate, … you name it. Those inside and outside the church are nearly indistinguishable by almost any statistical measure – amounts spent on makeup, clothes, or movies. (not that I want to judge anyone of any of those in particular) You get my point.

It is not enough to say “I am just like you – only I believe in Jesus … and so I will go to heaven after I die.”

But when it comes to violence… we are the same too. And this is a travesty! Because Jesus did not participate in the ordinary human violence of his day during the Pax Romana. We have an opportunity to stand up for the right thing in the right way and to show the world that it is the world ! SO THAT it may see it’s reflection in our mirror (as we reflect Christ) and recognize what it is NOT and come to terms with what it IS.
Our truth is the world’s only chance to escape it’s lie -the world is deceived and it lives in a lie.

But when the church is too much like the world then the world does not see and the church has nothing to say. 

It’s time to move from the two-dimensional characters on a page and walk into our 3-D destiny. This is how the Kingdom comes – one life at time making one decision at a time.  The kingdom comes where God’s will is done.

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