Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today



Being A Different Way In The World

What does it mean to be an Easter people?
In what way are we aliens and strangers (1 Peter 2:11)?
Is it possible to opt out of the current ‘Argument Culture’?

You can say “a different way to be in the world” … and that first step is a change in your personal orientation.

The next step is then to talk about being “a different way in the world”, which is a communal commitment and expression.

The emphasis of the first is the “be”.  A different way to be in the world asks us to consider how we approach the world, how we position ourselves, our posture toward the world, and our participation with the world.

  • How we approach the world
  • How we position ourselves in relation to the world
  • How we are postured toward the world
  • How we participate with the world

The emphasis of the second approach is the “way”.  This imagery rings familiar for Christians because Jesus proclaimed that “I am the way, the truth, and the life”. Following the teaching of Jesus is not just a different way to be in the world (though it certainly is), but the church is to be a different way in the world.

  • Forgiveness and reconciliation where there is division and animosity
  • Connection and community are prioritized
  • Peace and ‘shalom’ wholeness are desired
  • Unplugging from partisan politics and consumerism

Sadly, throughout history, the church has often followed the world’s way. It has utilized power, violence, personal gain, and many other worldly-ways to accomplish its work. People have used God’s name to get their way – but they have not always done it in God’s way.

The gospel is not just a different way of being in the world. It calls us to be a different way in the world.

If you don’t like the way that the world works, if you don’t want to be that way toward your neighbor, the stranger, and even your ‘enemy’, Christ offers you another way of being in the world. Then, when a number of us do this together, it provides a chance for others to find a different way – a path that leads to a different place.

Not understanding this has led to ‘the church’ participating in partisan politics. Christians have become a part of the problem and are actually making the situation worse. This happens in Liberal circles, in Conservative camps, and with folks who have opted out of the process altogether because they are disillusioned and don’t want to vote for ‘the lesser of two evils’.[1]

Aligning with the Republicans and the Democrats is failing us. Fox News and MSNBC (or NPR) are not the problem nor are they the solution. To paraphrase the Apostle Paul “neither voting or not voting brings in the kin-dom of God” but right-living, peace and joy in God’s Spirit.  (Romans 14:17) [2]

Cable news and social media are not the way. In fact, this is part of how we have been seduced by the ideologies of our day. Conservatives who want to legislate morality and Liberals who look to identity politics as an end in itself are practicing the way of the world. You can’t legislate morality and identity politics are great for liberal politics but not for sacred community.[3]

Jesus calls us to a different way of being in the world that does not use our race, gender, class, and sexuality as boundary markers. It includes and transcends the categories of identity and belonging (Galatians 3:28).

Likewise, the way is not found in military strength. It is not satisfied by consumerism or credit card debt. It is not found in reclaiming some idealized past or in returning to some romanticized notion from a previous era. It is not about becoming more orthodox in our beliefs or extravagant in our worship and sacrifice.

Once we discover a different way of being in the word (first step) and then collaborate with others to be a different way in the world (second step) then we may choose to partner with or support those elements of political parties that help bring about the greater good. These are the first two steps on a very long journey.

To be clear: I am not an idealist but I am a true believer. I am not after utopia. There is no pure or perfect to be had. Just writing this in English (or any language) is inherently compromised and corrupted. We have been formed and informed by the very words and ideas that we have been given. We are groomed and conditioned from birth in the way of the world.

Christ’s way will never be popular. It will always be a minority movement. It started that way and is perfectly suited to be that way. It does, however, provide a different way for an individual to be in the world and collectively we provide the world a different way than its round-and-round, dog-eat-dog, us versus them, march toward destruction.

Admittedly, I am being foolish here. I believe that there is a different way that isn’t measured in dollars, or troops, or ‘likes’, or members, or votes, or converts, or doctrinal purity, or visibility, or sales, or laws, or nearly anything that can be measured or quantified.[4]

The current way of being the world is being exposed as a rotten tree. We can smell its sour fruit. Its roots in division and deceit are coming to the surface. It can barely stand under the weight of its own burden. It provides no future or hope that the way forward will be satisfying or liberating.

Our hope is to follow the way of Christ, to live in the truth of God’s love, and to live life in the Spirit. If we did this, together, we would open up possibilities that are not even visible to us yet.



[1] If you are going to vote, I would certainly encourage you to vote for less evil. If nothing else we could use less evil.

[2] “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (NASV)

[3] Identity politics is great for politics. Of course someone’s politics should be informed by their social identity and location! What else would it be informed by – ideology?

[4] If you are looking for specifics, step one might focus on passages like the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 and step 2 might begin to look at passages like 2 Corinthians 5:19 in which God reconciled with the whole world through Christ and then gave Christ’s people the ministry of reconciliation. The first step is often personal and the second is always collective.

>Relational Religion

> There are three significant implications for reading the Bible relationally. 

The first has to do with prayer. 
The second has to do with the original sin. 
The third has to do with Pentecost.                  by Bo Sanders

Prayer is a relational thing. We pray for people that we know. This is a good thing. That is how it is suppose to work. We need to be praying for the people that we know.
It is tough to pray for someone you don’t know. Let’s take two examples: letters in the mail and hiring a pastor.  

When a church wants to hire a pastor, they do not hold a prayer meeting and ‘discern’ a name and phone number out of thin air and then call that person and say “God told us that you are suppose to be our next pastor”.  That is not how it works. They look over resumes, they do phone interviews, they call the person in for the weekend to candidate and then ‘discern’ based on relational cues. 

When god lays on somebody’s heart to write an encouraging note, send a gift, or to make a phone call, it is always to somebody that we know. God works in and through relationship. If you want to send a check for $100 to help someone out, you don’t write a random name on an envelope and make up (or pray and discern) an address and then put it in the mail. You send it to someone you know – someone that you are in a relationship with. That is what God leads us to do. 
Can you imagine writing a check to Jackson Bolaliber, making out the envelope to 765 Kings Highway in Jacksonville Kansas and then making up a zip code (98126) and putting it in the mail?  I don’t even know if this person exists. I don’t know if Kansas has a town called Jacksonville. I don’t know if that zip code is even for Kansas or if it exists anywhere.

That is not how it works. That is not how God works. God works in relationship. God lays on our hearts to send encouragement notes to people that we know. To dial phone numbers that belong to people that we are in relationship with. 
Have you ever said “God give me 10 single-digits that make up a phone number of somebody that you want me to call and encourage.”  No.  You call somebody that you know and encourage them. You may even be led to call them because you know of something going on in their life and that they need encouragement.
I’ve said this before, when we pray for the people of Haiti, we are not asking God to fix the situation “from Heaven” – we are a) asking God to send the people that will fix the situation and b) making ourselves available to God for whatever situation God might want to use us in. 
Prayer prepares our hearts to participate with God in God’s world and work. God is relational. Therefore God’s work is relational. And thus, prayer is relational. 
The original sin
I believe in the original sin.  I do not believe in Original Sin. I believe in the original sin, but I do not believe in what has been the dogmatic teaching that children are born full of sin – that the cells of the body are corrupted or depraved and that unless they pray a prayer to Jesus or are baptized by a priest or belong to the right church (which is sanctioned by the State) they are “fallen” and will not go to heaven. I do not believe in that kind of original sin. 
The concern over Substance (corrupted) and Status (fallen) are not the concerns of the Bible and come to us via Greek philosophy (both Platonism and Aristotelean thought).
The concern of the Bible is relationship. That is the power of the original sin – that it broke relationship.  There were three types of broken relationship in the Garden of Eden narrative.  
But before we get to that … and while were are on the subject –  there is no such thing as the fall.   Look it up. The Bible never talks about a fall.  Adam and Eve did not fall.  Humans are not fallen.  If you look up ‘Fall’ in most biblical concordances you will see six verses listed. Not one of them uses the word fall.  It was a concept – a construct- that was added later – because of philosophy.
What happened in Eden is not a fall. It is a breaking of relationship, and it impacted three things. 

The first relationship that was broken was between God and humanity. They were afraid of God and they hid. The relationship was broken. 

The second relationship that was broken was between between humans – some focus on the split between the genders, some on the relationship between husband and wife, I prefer to look at the simple  human to human brokenness. 
The story of Cain and Able illustrated the brokeness of both of these first two levels – with God and between each other. 

The third relationship that was broken was between humans and the earth. It changed from a care – partnership – providing connection to a hostility (the earth to us) and domination (us to the earth). 
Good News: This is what Jesus comes to restore! Jesus heals our broken relationship with God. Jesus enables us to have restored relationships with other humans around us. And Jesus brings us into a new awareness of the earth beneath us.
I draw it this way: the Circle was broken in Eden. Three circles were broken in Eden. Living in Jesus restores those broken circles – repairs the brokeness and reconnects the unity of the circle. 
Living in Jesus connects the circle above us in a restored unity with God. It also connects us to those around us in the circle of community. Lastly, it connects us to the earth below so that we have restored appreciation and partnership with the dust from which we came and to which we will return. 
This is the idea of Shalom. It is peace-restoration-connection-wholeness. Living in Shalom is a circle running North-South above and below and another circle running east-west connecting us to those around.  This is healthy connection, mutual care and edification.
There was an original sin but there is no Original Sin. There was no Fall but there is restored relationship and connection.*
     As long as I am laying it all out I might as well say this: reading the Bible relationally changes everything.  Look at it this way – the Incarnation was Jesus taking on flesh and opening a new way for humanity to to relate to God. Jesus gives us a new relationship with God.
Many people that I know who self-identify as Christian live as if Jesus never came – reverting to a set of rules, regulations, and religious rituals. 
When Jesus dies, the veil in the temple is torn in two. God’s presence comes out into the world. God is no longer kept behind closed doors and God no longer lives in buildings built by human hands.  The Religious presence of God had come out into the world where the Natural presence of God had always been – but this was now in a new way. 
This move came to its culmination at Pentecost and God’s spirit – the Spirit of Christ – who is Holy Spirit now indwells us as the people of God. In the Hebrew Testament God’s Spirit would fill one person at a time (like a Judge or a Prophet) for one task or a specific time. Now, after Pentecost God’s spirit resides in every believer for all time.
God is with us. God is here among us. Christ’s Spirit is at work in the world and is with you – to guide you and use you and change you. 
God wants to guide you. 
God wants to use you. 
God wants to change you. 
This is why God gave Holy Spirit to the world as a gift. We are the people of God. We are the House of God. God dwells in us each of us and among us as a community. 
When you pray, you are not projecting your voice past the heavens and trying to get the attention of a God who lives on the other side of curtain – begging and pleading for God to ‘come down’.  God already came down – and died on a cross – that is when the veil was torn in two and God’s presence came out into the world. God is here with us now. God is at work among us. 
God didn’t write a best-selling book and then retire to the far corner of the universe leaving it all up to us to do what was said in the book. That book is not an instruction manual or a constitution or a rule book. It is a story. In that story God gives his own Son who dies for the world – to repair a broken set of relationship and restore us to right relationship – three new relationships. Then God gives his Spirit to the world as a gift so that we may have a new connection (Shalom) with God, a new connection (Community) with those around us, and new connection (edification) with the world that we inhabit.  
* My mentor Randy Woodley has given me a wonderful understanding of Shalom and he did his Doctoral Dissertation on the Harmony Way understanding of this concept by native American communities. 

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