Bo Sanders: Public Theology

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Religious Right

God Loves Who?

Our Left – Right politic divide creates problems for understanding and living in God’s love.

God loves us AND them.

I have been thinking about Identity Politics in the Gospel of Luke.

Identity Politics are great for politics – everyone should bring their whole humanity to the table and should vote according to their social location.

While Identity Politics are great for politics, it is not great for community.

It exposes that the Left is just the inverse of the Right – and neither is the gospel.

The gospel of God’s love transcends and even subverts our current political divide.

Check out the video and let me know your thoughts.

The Pornography of Fundamentalism

Normally I try to be as generous, welcoming and irenic as possible. One of my favorite slogans actually comes from my venerable partner Tripp Fuller at Big Tent 1 when he said that the ‘tent’ should be big enough for every former incarnation of our self … but I was never a fundamentalist. I flirted with being one in Bible College but never converted.

This past week I was flying back across the country after visiting my family and I was rummaging through my Ipod to see if anything caught my attention. I stumbled on an old Slavo Zizek lecture. As with all Zizek lectures he wandered through almost every topic under the sun – but two caught my attention: pornography and fundamentalism. I want to try and connect them here.

In a pornographic movie, the dialogue is secondary. It is merely window dressing. Think back to your younger years – before you were a christian. The dialogue is a thinly veiled, contrived scenario to get the actors into the same space. It is little more.

 A handyman comes over to a lonely women’s apartment to fix a hole in the wall. She says something about another hole that needs attention.

You get the idea. The dialogue is superfluous to the real intention. It is poorly written and even more poorly delivered. The dialogue is a facade, it is merely intended to set up the main activity. It allows for the suspension of suspicion so that one can enter into the fantasy. 

 Dialogue performs the same function for Christian Fundamentalists.

Don’t misunderstand me – I am not saying that the verbiage of fundamentalists is insincere or disingenuous. It is not. Fundamentalist believe it with all their heart. What I am saying is that the words in church perform the same function as dialogue in porn. The words that are spoken are secondary to the main activities: nationalism, militarism and capitalism (some would add patriarchy).

When I was in Bible College I used to set my VCR to record TV preachers while I was at school. I loved listening to preachers. I wanted to be one and I modeled myself on the famous ones. I even sent money to folks like Chuck Swindoll so I could get their tapes and listen to them over and over.

The more I read the Bible, however, the more I realized that something was wrong. At my evangelical college we studied the historical context of the Old Testament and the Ancient Near East. We even touched on some Roman legal stuff for the New Testament –  while avoiding things like Empire for the most part. [Jesus’ message was spiritual after all, not political.]

I started getting a pit in my stomach when pastors would shoe-horn modern issues between the lines of scripture. It made me nervous when they would draw a direct line from ancient Israel to modern America. My fallout actually came in two parts:

  • Step one was simply (but quietly) objecting to the lack of translation or conversion between Old Testament Israel  which was a theocracy and America which was democracy … and a pluralistic one at that.
  • Step two was the vehement (nearly venomous) push-back I got when broached the subject.

It was in the vicious rebuffs that something grotesque was exposed. The words that were spoken – while important and delivered with conviction – were secondary to the real driving influence and aim. The real engine is nationalism, militarism and capitalism. Those are the real gods of American fundamentalists. The christian verbiage is the fiberglass body. It is important, visible and gets most of the attention but it is not what is driving the machine.

Like dialogue in porn, it is only utilized to get the players into proximity with each other. It is only used to set up the main (real) activity.

Ask yourself these 3 questions:

  1. Why are voices raised, fists shaken, and teeth gritted when fundamentalists talk about God pouring out love for us in Christ and salvation being found in ‘the way, the truth, and the life’? Why doesn’t the medium match the message?
  2. Why is there unquestioned support for modern Israel regardless of their atrocities and unjust behaviors?
  3. Why is it permissible to be so aggressive with people who disagree with you on issues like who is allowed to be married (a civil union) by the state?

The reason that the medium doesn’t match the message is because the real message is not found in the words. Like dialogue in porn, it is only meant to set up the scenario for the real activity. Spend all the time you want on analyzing it or the logic behind it, but it is like capturing fog. It is a temporary holder for the main event. In fundamentalism’s case, that is nationalism, militarism and capitalism. Don’t get distracted by the christian verbiage or the message of Jesus – you will only be frustrated and baffled. No, there is something else driving this machine.  Just ask questions, even quietly, and you will hear where the real priorities are.

I know that normally I am not this critical,
but as you will see in the following posts,
we have a real problem on our hands.

Why this matters so much is covered in part 3: It’s a Sign.  

The Nine Nations of Evangelicalism

One of my all time favorite books is The Nine Nations of North America by Joel Garreau (published in 1981). [summary article here]
His theory was that by any measure of culture, there were at least nine of them in North America. As someone in the newspaper industry in the 70s and 80s, he was commenting on how things worked and what priority is evident where.

The three most important ideas for our conversation are these.

– The Nine Nations are broken down as  New England (including the Maritime provinces), Quebec, the Foundry (the rust belt), Dixie (the Southwest), the Island (centered in Miami), The Breadbasket, The Empty Quarter (around the Rockies), Mex-America (in the southwest) and Ecotopia (on the Pacific coast).

– The borders dividing the United States, Canada, and Mexico nearly disappear when one re-examines according to  values, money, lifestyle and other factors. A person in Calgary, Alberta has far more in common with someone in Denver, Colorado than she does someone in Ottawa, Ontario.

– There is no such thing as the Midwest. It doesn’t exist. Chicago is the western boundary of the Rust Belt (the Foundry) and west of it is the Breadbasket. Chicago is a border-town and not a Capitol. The concept of the midwest has no actual base in reality. The cornfields of Ohio and the wheat-fields of Kansas are part of two different systems.

Earlier  this week I blogged about the definition of Evangelical. I think that we are in danger of the label ‘evangelical’ being as undefinable as the ‘midwest’ is geographically. We need to re-conceptualize how the landscape really looks and develop a better map that  reflects how things actually function.

In this diverse group called ‘Evangelical’ we have a large and varied collection of groups that may qualify: Conservative, Fundamentalist, Holiness offshoots , Charismatic, Pentecostal, Anabaptist traditions , Congregationalist, Free Church folks, progressive protestants who attend Mainline churches , and potentially some Neo-Reformed perspectives, etc.

I suggested starting with Bebbington’s definition (4 emphasis).
My Hope: is to updated these 4 a bit with a more progressive emphasis – or more a generous perspective.

New Life – expectation of transformed self and community
Bible – I follow N.T. Wright’s ‘ongoing play’ narrative analogy here [How can the Bible be Authoritative]
Activism – faith in Christ should be emboddied and proclaimed to impact /transform culture
Cross Centered – the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus is central to the Christian message.

My Fear: is that they will be replaced by four other issues that will become the new litmus test for this unspoken imagined orthodoxy.

  • Biblical Literalism / Inerrancy
  •  Substitutionary Atonement Theory
  • Anti-abortion stance
  • Anti-homosexuality

If the latter set of four prevail then I am afraid that evangelicalism will become as unclear and unhelpful as the Midwest is in geography. It would become a generic area absent of any real coherence that fails to provide any continuity and thus lacks any real constituents. It would become a citizenship not worth having and which provides no tangible benefit for its citizens.

I look to Mark Noll and Stanley Grenz as examples of the historical and theological richness of the Evangelical tradition. If it becomes merely political, then perhaps the title deserves to fade into irrelevance and to be abandoned. I pray that is not the case.

Who is evangelical anymore?

I saw two interesting bits of controversy this past week. I wasn’t necessarily surprised by either of them but I was disturbed by the way they overlapped. The first item was a post as part of a series at Pangea (on Patheos). This one was reeling over the evangelical credibility of C.S. Lewis. Apparently his views on the subject of hell were a little too open-ended and remind some self-proclaimed watchdogs of the views in a recent controversy surrounding you know who and his book.

Over the past decades there has been an increasingly contentious debate about the invisible boundary of evangelicalism. Apparently some have become so concerned that even historical figures who were previously safe (even adored) are in danger if their views are found to be too loose for the contemporary conservative backlash.
I was only mildly concerned by this whole line of reasoning. Then, I found out that this past Sunday, the NY Times called Michelle Bachman the evangelical candidate in the Republican primary pool.

So my question is:

  • what are the criteria that we are using for this public label of evangelical whereby the quintessential embodiment from the past century (C.S. Lewis) is out and tea-party candidate Michelle Bachmann is in?
  • who is in change of making these determinations?
  • what are the demarcations that signify whether someone is “in” or “out”?

This is something that I care deeply about as a Methodist minister (UMC) who is the son of a Methodist minister (Free Methodist) we are both proudly Wesleyan in theology. I think that whatever definition we use it should at least be inclusive of our most historical marquee figures and flagship franchises.
I like to use the definition from British Historian David Bebbington as a starting point. We should at least establish a historical framework. [here is an interview with evangelical scholar Mark Noll where he talks about it]
The four keys are:

conversionism: new birth and a new life with God
biblicism: reliance on the Bible as ultimate religious authority
activism: concern for sharing the faith
crucentrism: focus on Christ’s redeeming work on the cross

Admittedly, those four emphasis take on a different tone and tenor in each generation. They take on different manifestations in each generation. The presence of these four however is a stabilizing theme that runs through the many historical maturations through the centuries and around the globe. These four themes also hold together whether ones utilizes a bounded-set mentality for marking boundaries or a center-set framework to encourage a shared focus.

I celebrate these four themes and find them even amongst my more progressive friends. They could say these four things with confidence:

  • Relationship with God changes you personally internal and your relationships (external) .
  • The Bible is central as the Christian Scripture and sets both the agenda and the example.
  • One’s faith should both be shared (relationally) and will consequently impact the world around you.
  • God’s work in Christ is what illuminates and inspires the life of the Christian – Christ revealed God is a unique and significant way. Jesus’ way is to be our way.

This kind of faith is something that I am inspired by and find deep fulfillment by participating in. I am nervous that a reactionary period of retrenchment by the religious right , moral majority, or other politicized conservative groups would see evangelicals like myself and C.S. Lewis pushed out and figures like Michelle Bachmann made central.

>Weekend Roundup

>I put up the podcast (and transcript) called “Big Concern(s)” this past Tuesday and there have been two developments in the conversation that have caused me to think.

The initial post was about three things that I think will most impact the Church in the next 50 years.

Generations: I am talking about the WWII & Boomer generations passing away & retiring (respectively)

Race: There will no longer be a white majority by 2048.  Black, Asian and Latino charismatic and evangelical churches mean that it will be true of the church before it is true of the culture.

Location: the Urban- Suburban – Rural divide looks to become a real gap. What does that mean for ‘doing’ church and ‘being’ the church?

Here are the two things that came up that caused me to think:

 a) Most of  the ‘chatter’ than I hear on the christian Radio, religions TV and the internet would lead me to think that the popular BIG 3 when it comes to religion are : Politics, Heresy or Pluralism. I have been forced to think about why  those are not my three.  I have come up with some initial answers but I will save them for a January Podcast.

b) Several people brought up the Gender and Sexuality issue. No doubt they have a point. As odd as this may sound, I am actually going to lump those in with Politics in my scenario that I am proposing.  I think that partisan politics and sectarian religion (denominational divisions) are going to drag homosexuality and the abortion issue out – front and center. So I will deal with that there.

Another interesting thing that I wanted to pass along: I found this really good article on JFK, Mitt Romney, and Sarah Palin in the Washington Post.  It is worth a read to think about Religion in the public sphere. [link]

I’ll see you Tuesday for the new Pod! 

>Religion in America


I am fascinated by what is going on right now in Global culture and in North America.  There is great research behind what Robert Putnam is saying.
    His take on the Culture Shocks from the 60’s, the after-shock reaction of the Religious Right in the 80’s and the current reaction to this by the young ‘nones’ is eye opening. There is a shifting and a settling happening that is noteworthy.
This is not simple stuff.  It is complex and it is multi-layered.  The part that is most intriguing to me is the trough that is forming – the gap between the far right and the far left (with few left in the middle).  
    This is an emerging theme that is showing up in many arenas.
    It is the collapse of the Bell Curve logic and in our era, and it is an increasing trend. The Trough is showing up in church attendance, political involvement, and views on marriage.

Here is his article from the LA Times two weeks ago.
Here is the rundown of a talk that he gave last week:
Here is the video of that interview:

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