Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today



X is for X-Ray (modified)

X is for X-ray

Something a little different this week.

What happens when our technology exceeds our ability to understand it?

Is there a danger when technology goes beyond the scope of most human’s understanding?

Let’s start in a different place and then come back to those questions.

100 years ago, we were engaged in what would become World War I.

I am fascinated by the changes that have come in that 100-year period.

The transition from the 19th to the 20th century houses a fascinating and rapid shift in both politics and technology (to name just two fields).

The buildup to World War I is a study in what seems like not just a different time but wholly different world at points. Like learning the geography of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth or the kingdoms and families in The Game of Thrones, the world before the great war seems alien.

You have to get up to speed on such things as the Habsburg Dynasty and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Eschatology is an interesting entry point to this conversation. At the beginning of the 20th century, Post-Millennial views were the overwhelming position for protestant churches and denominations. The optimistic view of human progress and societal transformation brought an expectation of ushering in the Kingdom of God and a reign of peace and prosperity that would fill the whole earth. The horrors of the war brought that to an end. There was no ‘war to end all wars’ and by the end of the 20th century (the Christian Century) Post-Millennial views were as a rare as telegraphs.

The beginning of the 20th century also saw seismic shifts in technology. The telephone, the airplane, vaccines and the radio mark the era.

The X-ray illustrates the point as well as any other from this era.

The ability to see into the human body is remarkable. It transforms not just how we practice medicine but how we conceptualize the human body.

I read a passage a while ago, which I can now not find, where an author wondered how the apostle Paul’s writing would have changed if he had been able to take a trans-Atlantic flight or if he had seen that famous picture of the earth as a little blue marble as seen from the moon.

Which brings us to the question at hand as we begin to wrap up this series:

If technology and medicine, communication and psychology, economics and politics – and every other field – get to (and are encouraged to) advance, evolve, adapt and transform … why is religion so bound to the thinking of the pre-moderns and the ancients?

There is something peculiar about religious thought that needs to be examined. I understand those who want to conserve the tradition – I don’t agree but I understand the conservative impulse.

I prefer an approach that is incarnational and contextual. I see christianity as embodied (in-body) in a time and a place. Our faith must be re-calibrated, re-formed and re-membered within our cultural context.

Faith, like language, does not happen in a vacuum. It is inherited.

There is a given-ness to faith. We receive what is handed down.

But faith is also in-acted and em-bodied.

This is a delicate dance to both honor the tradition and express in our time and place the truth of what was passed on to us.

The 1500’s had both Copernicus and William Harvey. The former told us that the earth revolved around the sun, the latter that the heart was responsible for blood circulation. In science, the telescope and the microscope changed everything.

We live in the nuclear age. The Xray, the nuclear bomb and the microwave are just the tip of the iceberg. I have not even touched on TV, cell-phones, no-fault divorces, Christian-Mingle websites and credit-card giving machines in the pews.

Why, when every area of our lives from medicine to politics to economics to psychology is updating and evolving … why would religion insist on holding to the cosmology, metaphysics and epistemology of the pre-modern world?

When we get sick, even conservative/traditional folks will take an aspirin and get an x-ray.

The Christian faith, based on the story of incarnation, is designed to be embodied in a time and place. To hamper this process of adaptation and adjustment is to not only miss the point of the entire story but to worship an idolized moment in the development of its trajectory.

I would love to address the previously enchanted world (though we must avoid supernaturalism) and the concept of second naiveté – but here is what I really want to leave you with:

The gospel is designed to be (in)carnate and (em)bodied. We have no fear of losing the gospel’s essential character by appropriating it to our time and our place. We live in a world come of age. It is time for a response to the nuclear era or our technology is in danger of outsizing our theology.

F if for Fideism (modified)

How do we know what we know about god?

There was a medieval theory about this which said that every word represented a concept which represented the reality it was trying to talk about. This triangle theory of knowledge was very popular and deeply formative to the way that we think about and talk about matters of faith.

So the triangle is: words – concepts – reality

Then, as always happens, somebody tried to simplify it and flattened it to be more of a straight line. Words represent the realities that they talk about. It was a case of over-simplifying to the point that the theory fell apart. Then a battle broke out: some became really aggressive in their critique and criticism while others became really defensive in their attempt to preserve The Faith.

Some groups tried to rescue the idea by being more nuanced and elaborate. Other continued to double-down in simplistic and literalists understandings. Some alternative schools of thought sprung up to try and get out of the either-or all-or-nothing game altogether.

Fideism is one of those alternative approaches and it is both tempting, and thus, a potentially dangerous development on the religious landscape for our lifetime.

Fideism: The view that matters of religious and theological truth must be accepted by faith apart from the exercise of reason. In its extreme, fideism suggests that the use of reason is misleading. Less extreme fideists suggest that reason is not so much misleading as it is simply unable to lead to truths about the nature of God and salvation.

  • Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Kindle Locations 552-554).

Fideism has been around for a long time but it has taken on a new tenacity recently. There are several new schools of thought that we will cover in a moment, each of them has an element of ‘you won’t fully understand until you believe’ or ‘what we have (or have been given) is a self-contained unit and really only works if you play the game by its rules”. 

The 19th Century was a tough one for ‘reasoned faith’. Those bastions that survived into the 20th Century were not left unaltered. In fact, since WWII the effect of those descended from who Paul Ricoeur dubbed ‘The Master of Suspicion’ – Freud, Nietzsche, and Marx (some add Darwin) –  has grown and intensified.

Another way of saying this is that the fields of psychology, philosophy, sociology, and science have deeply impacted the way that faith and religion was understood in the latter half of the 20th century. It is almost as if the pressure created by the work of these Masters of Suspicion was building up in the 19th century and was unleashed with the events of the early part of the 20th century. 

The two merged into a storm of doubt and decline that has yet to end in our current situation. 

Think about how much changed from just 1900 to now .

From Pentecostal revival that started in 1906, to the great depression, the World Wars, the Civil Rights movement, television, Watergate, Vietnam, the Cold War, cable TV, Monica Lewiski, Y2K, September 11th, the internet, and the first iPhone in 2007. In that 101 years from the Azusa Street revival to the iPhone … think about how much psychology, sociology, philosophy, and science changed and changed how we think about things – how we conceive of them, interpret them, and participate in them.

Understandably, part of ‘reasoned faith’ is that it had to adjust and modify. It had to account for new data (scientific and sociological) and, more importantly, it had to stop playing by its own rules.

The rules of engagement changed. Faith no longer got a free pass. The ‘church’ was no longer running the uni-versity. Fields like science had grown up since the Copernican revolution were no longer afraid of the church – and began to act like they were running the show now.

Psychology asked why we did things. Sociology questioned the venue in which we did them. Philosophy examined what was behind those things in the first place. Science explored the means by which we did them and expanded our ability to do them.

Not only had the rules of the game changed, the game itself was changing.

Modern Christianity had to choose between:

  • Fight
  • Flight
  • Concede
  • or Adjust-Adapt-Evolve

A subtle form of this impulse toward fideism is simply to speak of ‘Non-Overlapping Magisterium”. Science and reason take care of their areas and faith takes care of its area.

Those who take this impulse further retreat into what Wittgenstein would call ‘private language games’. They take on a formal defense of the given-ness of faith say that faith doesn’t have to be reasonable. Those two things are just speaking different languages and that science of reason doesn’t even have the ability to understand what faith is doing. That is why neither can even provide a critique let alone a correction. Religion is thus except from an investigation-integration from outside.

I would argue that what we believe in private has massive implication for how we participate in the public arena. In our present societal unrest what folks believe in private really does impact how that participate in public.

I have found it very useful to multiply the categories from 2 to 4 so that we talk about the:

  1. Private
  2. Personal
  3. Public
  4. Political

It is helpful to expand the existing categories to reflect more of how actually think about and engage in matters of faith and politics.

This is why we have to care about fideism. I understand the desire to preserve the past and stake out ones territory for the given-ness of the tradition. It is a way of protecting what is deeply valued and – let’s be honest – in grave danger.

Those who are attracted to fideism look at the evolution of their religion and the disappearance of treasured practices and think “I don’t even recognize this contemporary mutation as the same thing that we inherited from those who came before!”

… and that might be true. But we live in a world come of age and The Faith both needs to and is bound to change.

Here are what seem to be the 3 biggest temptations for modern Christianity:

  • to concede
  • to attack
  • to retreat


Faith as a public matter has never been more challenging. The easiest response is to both personalize ones faith and then make it private. This is a two-step dance but either is dangerous on its own.

Personalizing faith is a natural response for an Enlightenment Individual. We major in ‘self’. We have cultivated the ability to think in ‘me’. This is a novel development in religion and some argue that it is against the very nature of religion! The purpose of religion is to bind us together in practice (re-ligio) or reconnect us as a belief-community.

The second step is to internalize one’s personal faith. In liberal democracy, no one cares if you believe something – just keep it to yourself. Don’t put it on someone else. Your personal practice in there or over there is one thing … just don’t make too big of a deal about out here. Out here we have a civil expectation of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If your religion helps as a means to those ends, fine. If not, it might become an issue of you infringe on someone else right. Go ahead and practice your ‘tradition’ on your own time but just keep it down when you’re out here in public.

The modern expression of Christianity has responded to this two-step dance in many little ways – my favorite of which is consumeristic-accessorization. The bumper sticker on my interal-combustion automobile and the fashionable yet ironic message T that imitates a popular ad campaign are just two examples. It allows me to allude to a Bible verse (I am not of the world after all) while participating in a capitalist system that goes unquestioned.


To counter the personal-and-internal compromise noted above, an aggressive and external coup has been attempted. The memory of Christendom has fueled a political response to take back power and ‘return to our roots’. The rise of the Religious Right (and Moral Majority) of the past four decades is perhaps the most high-profile example. It is, however, just the latest incarnation of this impulse.


The fond (and white-washed) memories of days gone by and yesteryear fuel an anger at what is seen as a disintegrating culture and a slouching toward Gomorrah. The resulting Culture Wars and political animosity have a fundamental problem however:

Ever since the Constantinian compromise in the 4th century is has been difficult (if not impossible) to get the Bible to say what one needs it to say in order to justify a claim to power.

A religion founded on the teaching of a marginalized prophet and incubated in persecuted minority communities does not lend itself to being in charge. An incredible amount of selective editing, creative hermeneutics and mental gymnastics are required to make it fit. At some point a voice comes along and points out that ‘this is untenable’.


The above two responses are both simpler and more obvious (and thus more popular) than our last response. The retreat is more subtle and sophisticated. There is great concern about a school of thought that seeks to move the Christian tradition toward an “autonomous and protected location”.

A seductive temptation is found in an attempt to preserve former (historic) expressions of the faith behind linguistic fences (insulated language games) and communities that become isolated silos. These “are really retreats into forms of fideism or ‘protective strategies’ that seek ways of interpreting theological discourse so as to preserve its unique status.” [1]

Those who follow this line of reasoning contend that theology is not properly about ascertaining indubitable truth claims about God or reality, nor about fathoming the depths of human subjectivity; rather, the task is to analyze and explicate the fundamental claims about reality and human life that have emerged within a specific tradition, so that believers might more fully appropriate and live out of their tradition’s vision of reality.

It becomes a:

“self-enclosed historical community; its method is interpretive, not critical; and its goal is to aid in the internalization of central claim, not the critique or reconstruction of that which we have inherited.”

You can see the attraction of the retreat! By privileging “revelation” or the “given-ness” of the tradition, one is afforded the space to preserve and defend an inherited system which immune for outside critique and thus preserved in its ‘as is’ status.

This romantic preservation and reclamation mistakenly – and perhaps intentionally – defends and protects manifestations and consequences that we not only need to move on from but that it is impossible to return to.

[1] The Post-Liberal work of Lindbeck and the Radical Orthodoxy camp of Milbank and MacIntyre are in danger of this.

A is for Atonement (modified)

We begin our journey through the ABCs of (modified) Theology with A is for Atonement.

Here is the PDF: A is for Atonement (modified)

We touch on:

  1. Christus Victor
  2. Ransom Theory
  3. Penal Substitution (Satisfaction)
  4. Theosis
  5. Moral Exemplar
  6. Scapegoat

Enjoy this overview video. It is not too late to join! Go to the A-Z Overview and signup

Comment below and let me know your thoughts.

Why (modified) Theology?

Introduction to (modified) Theology

mod·i·fy.  /ˈmädəˌfī/


  1. make partial or minor changes to (something), typically so as to improve it or to make it less extreme.

transform (a structure) from its original anatomical form during development or evolution.


(especially of an adjective) restrict or add to the sense of (a noun).


Our Contemporary Situation

We live in a rapidly changing world. In fact, it might be said that we have entered a new era where change is not just incremental and predicable, like it was in the past, but is now exponential and erratic – even random. The sheer amount and rapid rate of change has created a collective disorientation and what can feel like wide-spread chaos.

These changes affect almost every area of our lives, from technology to politics, and from the weather to real estate prices. In fact, it is almost impossible to think of anything that is not in the midst of rapid change. In this environment, some people hold up religion as the one thing that should be constant, dependable, and predictable. These people say things like, ‘God never changes,’ or ‘Jesus is the same yesterday today and forever,’ or ‘there is nothing new under the sun,’ and use these aphorisms as an excuse to not question inherited assumptions, doctrines, and dogmas.

The reality is, however, that religion – Christianity included – is experiencing a time of rapid change which is forcing an era of overlapping crisis, decline, anxiety, and adjustment. In her book “The Great Emergence,” Phyllis Tickle says that this is a fairly predictable 500-year cycle in human history. Society revisits its priorities and structures to correct the bad (or outmoded) and embrace or adapt to the new circumstances.

This can feel destabilizing, but I want you to consider that this might all be a good thing. The current environment of exponential change and perpetual transition may be a wonderful opportunity to do some much needed updating and innovating. Christianity in the 21st Century may need more than a minor tweak or some fine-tuning. This tradition that we have inherited may require some structural changes and a whole-hearted redress of some fundamental flaws. Acknowledging, accounting for, and attending to theological concepts from the past will be a major piece of our theological task in the 21st Century.

Why Modified Theology? 

One of the changes that is most notable in our era is the addition of modifiers to nearly every noun. The use of these phrases is not a secondary issue nor an incidental change. The evolution of our language to include so many of these modified nouns points to an important change in the structure of our society. Consider the fact that a modifier can so powerfully alter the anchor word or concept that it radically transforms the subject or changes the meaning entirely. Examples of powerful modifiers are everywhere:

  • Post-Modern
  • Social Media
  • Identity Politics
  • Organic Vegetables
  • Online Dating
  • Community Gardens
  • Emerging Leaders
  • Custom Countertops
  • Unisex Bathrooms
  • Global Markets
  • Democratic Socialism
  • Independent Bookstores
  • Asian Americans
  • Mega – Churches
  • Ex-vangelicals
  • Sub-discipline

Modifiers play an important role in our era because ours is an age of specialization. The upside of specialization is that many things can be customized, tailored, or retro-fitted to be more useful, appropriate, and productive. The downside is the trend toward fracturing, fragmenting, and division. The stress of this trend is evident in our politics, our families, our communities, and even in our denominations.

In the medical field, specialization has been embraced for the positive. We have moved from having generic doctors to having general practitioners and a plethora of specialists from proctologists to orthopedists, pediatricians to oncologists, obstetricians to optometrists, and surgeons to internists. We have benefitted from this specialization through having access to professionals with increased levels of expertise in whatever ails us.

In theology, on the other hand, specialization has been utilized to minimize and marginalize those who have traditionally been unrepresented or underrepresented. Whether feminist, black, decolonial, queer or any other number of perspectives, a modifier was applied to these minority theologies to label them as special interests and silo them into their own sidelined conversations.

Times are changing, however. Everyone is about to get modified. As I said in my recent book with Randy Woodley:

“In the new landscape, no one gets to claim a privileged place on tradition or legacy alone. Everyone gets modified and everyone has to explain what their project is all about. There are no free passes and no one gets to be “regular” or “normal.” We are all up to something, and we each take our turn qualifying our project and justifying our approach.”[1]

This is a positive development. No longer is there a ‘standard’ or ‘normal’ theology by which other theological perspectives must be measured. This legacy theology will itself be modified, as ‘traditional’ or ‘conservative’ or ‘establishment’ or ‘European’ or ‘complementarian.’

The addition of modifiers is not the only significant change today. You may have also noticed the multiplication of plurals. This is a noteworthy development because it is more than just adding an ‘s’ to the end of words. It is a recognition that there is multiplicity at work. It is an acknowledgement that our reality is inherently diverse and that, to be accurate and account for the complexity of most topics, a single view will not suffice.

You will notice modifiers are often used in conjunction with plurals when it comes to theological concepts. This is intentional as the fields and disciplines within theology are not only increasingly specialized but inherently diverse. The emergence of Feminist theologies, Postcolonial theologies, and Liberation theologies is a massive and extremely consequential development. It is in this combination of modifiers and plurals that the implicit is made explicit: that there is not just one stream of thought in these theological schools. They do not speak with one voice, they do not always agree, and they are not monocultural. There is not just one type of feminist theology or postcolonial theology or liberation theology. This is one of the best developments of the past 50 years!

The domino effect is that the entire discipline of theology is impacted. As I mentioned, what has been traditionally seen as standard in the field of theology must be modified as well. We must categorize these inherited approaches as Catholic theologies, 20th Century theologies, historic theologies, evangelical theologies, etc. This is more accurate and thus more illuminating. It is a wonderful and helpful development from which every discipline now benefits – even if they view it as an imposition and inconvenience. The rules of the game have changed and now everyone must play on a more level and inclusive field.

The Surplus of Meaning

Why do I like this development so much? I subscribe to a theory put forward by a thinker named Paul Ricoeur called “the surplus of meaning.” In any symbology as rich as that found in the Christian faith, there is bound to be an overflow of meanings and interpretations. Think of the richness of the sacraments, full of imagery, ritual, and ceremony. There is no single understanding of something like the Lord’s Supper that explains or contains its full meaning. That can be seen just in the sheer number of different names it is called. There are layers of meaning that get to different facets of the sacrament when it is called the Table of the Lord, Communion, Eucharist, or Mass. There is an overflow of possibilities and a multiplicity of interpretations and applications. Theological concepts are layered in complexity and richness. We cannot hope to explain or illuminate them with overly simplified or one-dimensional understandings.

More on this in PDF : ABCs (modified) Introduction

Moving Forward

From the very first chapter of this book, A is for Atonement, you will see my conviction that we must recognize and celebrate the multifaceted nature of our theological concepts in order to even begin to understand their full richness. I start by exploring the five most prominent views of the atonement that have developed in history, acknowledging the complex nature of the topic. Then, as with most topics we will cover, I highlight a contemporary view that seems to deal with the flaws of the historic understandings. The ‘surplus of meaning’ approach allows me appreciate what the traditional understandings were attempting to do while celebrating the multifaceted, complex, tiered, and layered texture of the topic. Atonement is the perfect place to begin because, unlike so many other subjects, neither the Bible nor the creeds have taken a clear stance on ‘the’ right way to view it.

Then, as with all of the chapters, I explore another word that begins with the featured letter (adiaphora in this case) that both compliments and ties into the main concept of the chapter. Sometimes the complimentary word will get as much attention as the title topic. My hope in pairing these concepts is to give you new strategies for cultivating a theological understanding that is fertile and fruitful for your life of faith and your community in this new landscape that we find ourselves in. The world has changed and is rapidly changing. Our theological understandings cry out for updating and innovation.

People are fond of the saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” That saying has never been less true than it is today. Now, it may be more accurate to say, “the more things change the more momentum they pick up and the more they seem likely to keep changing.” I am delighted that you have decided to join me on this journey of grappling with and celebrating these changes. I hope that you will find these chapters to be a helpful resource for your theological project and understanding. After 12 years of blogging and podcasting with this approach, I know that it can be challenging, disorienting, empowering and even liberating all at the same time.

If you find yourself discouraged, lonely, or afraid of where this road leads, please do not hesitate to reach out to me via email or social media. I also invite you to join the online community that will be formed around this book. It will be a good place for conversation, clarification, and comradery on this journey.

Sign up for the learning cohort that starts next week on the ABCs of (modified) Theology

[1] Decolonizing Evangelicalism: An 11:59 pm Conversation. p 48

A-Z in (modified) Theology

In just a couple of weeks we begin the journey through the ABC’s of (modified) Theology!

The schedule is below this intro video.

Mondays at 4 and Thursdays at 3 pm (PST)

Aug 24 & 27

Why modified theology and our contemporary situation

Aug 31 & Sept 3

A is for Atonement (also Adiaphora and Apophatic)

B is for Baptism (and the Body) more than a metaphor

Sept 10

C is for Christology  (and Constructive Theology )

D is for Deconstruction  (and Death of God)

Sept 17

E is for Empire (and Evangelical)

F is for Fideism (and Feminist)

Sept 24

G is for Genre (and Globalization)

H is for Hermeneutics (also Heaven and Hell)

Oct 1

I is for Infallible, Inerrant, & Inspired

J is for Justification (and Justice)

Oct 8

K is for Kenosis (and the Kingdom)

L is for Liberation (and Logos)

Oct 15

M is for Metaphor (and Metaphysics)

N is for Neoplatonism (and Narrative)

Oct 22

O is for Open & Relational (and Orthodox)

P is for Perichoresis (and Post-Colonial)

Oct 29

Q is for Quest for the Historical Jesus (and Queer Theology)

R is for Revelation (and words that begin with ‘Re’)

Nov 5

S is for Salvation (and Second Naivete)

T is for Theopoetics (and Technology)

Nov 12

U is for Universalism (and Ultimate Concern)

V is for Vatican II (and Voluntarism)

Nov 19

W is for the Word of God (and the Wesleyan Quad)

X is for X-ray (and Xenophobia)

Nov 26

Y is for Y2K (and Youth Ministry)

Z is for Zebra (and Zionism)

How To Get Involved: You can either email or let me know on the Public Theology FB page that you want to be a part of it and you are in.

Now – If you can give $13 dollars – $1 for each week  or $26 – one for each letter of the alphabet or whatever you can do, that would be great.  If not, don’t worry about it – I want everyone who is interested to be involved in this conversation.



Venmo: @Bo-Sanders-4

Please comment below or email with any questions or clarifications that are needed.
I hope that you will consider coming on this journey with me.

Art by Jessi Turri

ABCs of (modified) Theology

I want to invite you on a 13 week journey this September, October, and November.

It is part book club, part theology class, and part crowdsource experiment.

Six years ago I developed the ABC’s of Theology and it got a great response. I have had fun teaching it several times and even re-blogging it once since then. I have recently modified it and would love to invite you to engage these topics with me in a live real-time dialogue through the 26 units.

You don’t need a theology degree – or any degree- to be a part of this. My hope is that anyone who is interested in such things can join in and that I will break down any lofty concepts into digestible bites.

So here is the basic idea:

  • For each letter of the alphabet I have picked 2 or 3 concepts that form a complimenting and contrasting lesson that opens up a dialogue about some core-concepts in contemporary theology.
  • Each week will cover 2 letters so that we make it through the whole alphabet in 13 weeks.
  • I will email you the PDFs a week ahead of time so that you can prepare.
  • I will make an intro video to each letter (and topic) to invite wider conversation.
  • Those who are available will meet for one hour a week via zoom and give a lively 30 minutes discussion to each letter. Email reflections will also be integrated.
  • I will take that conversation and modify the PDF accordingly.
  • At the end of the 13 weeks, the 26 PDFs will be assembled as an eBook that you will receive for free.

Why ‘Modified’ Theology? We live in amazing time when everything is being tweaked, updated, renovated, remixed, sampled, customized, and retro-fitted. Theology is no different. The last 50 years have seen a wonderful growth in modified theologies: Feminist, Liberation, Black, Contextual, Postmodern, Latin American, Indigenous, Womanist, Asian, African, Reformed, Neo-Orthodox, Radical, Radical Orthodox, Queer and every imaginable combination.

What used to be called ‘normal’ theology is now required to be modified as well. What used to be called regular theology, is now European, or White, or Classical, or Patristic, or Traditional, or Western, or Enlightenment, or American, or Fundamentalist, or any number of helpful clarifications.

Every theology is a modified theology. We never start in a vacuum and we never start with a blank slate. There is a givenness to theological reflection because it comes to us as a gift.

Ours will be doubly modified. I will modify the original PDF to reflect what I have learned in the past 4 years and it will be modified again after our zoom & email conversations.

The Schedule:

Sept 3 – A & B

Sept 10 – C & D

Sept 17 – E &F

Sept 24 – G & H

Oct 1 – I & J

Oct 8 – K & L

Oct 15 – M & N

Oct 22 – O & P

Oct 29 – Q & R

Nov 5 – S & T

Nov 12 – U &V

Nov 19 – W &X

Nov 26 – Y & Z

Topics (and sub-topics) :

A is for Atonement (also Adiaphora and Apophatic)

B is for Baptism (and the Body) more than a metaphor

C is for Christology  (and Constructive Theology )

D is for Deconstruction  (and Death of God)

E is for Empire (and Evangelical)

F is for Fideism (and Feminist)

G is for Genre (and Globalization)

H is for Hermeneutics (also Heaven and Hell)

I is for Infallible, Inerrant, & Inspired

J is for Justification (and Justice)

K is for Kenosis (and the Kingdom)

L is for Liberation (and Logos)

M is for Metaphor (and Metaphysics)

N is for Neoplatonism (and Narrative)

O is for Open & Relational (and Orthodox)

P is for Perichoresis (and Post-Colonial)

Q is for Quest for the Historical Jesus (and Queer Theology)

R is for Revelation (and words that begin with ‘Re’)

S is for Salvation (and Second Naivete)

T is for Theopoetics (and Technology)

U is for Universalism (and Ultimate Concern)

V is for Vatican II (and Voluntarism)

W is for the Word of God (and the Wesleyan Quad)

X is for X-ray (and Xenophobia)

Y is for Y2K (and Youth Ministry)

Z is for Zebra (and Zionism)

How To Get Involved: You can either email or let me know on the Public Theology FB page that you want to be a part of it and you are in.

Now – If you can give $13 dollars – $1 for each week  or $26 – one for each letter of the alphabet or whatever you can do, that would be great.  If not, don’t worry about it – I want everyone who is interested to be involved in this conversation.




Please comment below or email with any questions or clarifications that are needed.
I hope that you will consider coming on this journey with me.

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.

Is Christianity Inherently Conservative?

Is the Christian religion inherently conservative? The answer is ‘no’ but you could be forgiven for thinking so. I am rarely discouraged. Yesterday I had a free hour so I googled ‘new books in theology’ and sank as I went from list to list.

Christianity, it appears at this moment, has no future.

98% percent of the books that I looked through were in some way related to the past – or worse – past oriented. We are a backward looking people as Christians.

This has been a terrible and ominous realization that I have come to over the past 15 years:

Christianity appears to be inherently conservative. It wants to conserve the previous structures and expressions.

We are in a period where the Christian religion is primarily past-oriented instead of present-centered and future-motivated.

I am always astounded at the number of spiritual/religious/theological projects that start with “Re-“

  • Revisit
  • Reclaim
  • Restore
  • Return
  • Renew
  • Reform
  • Renovate
  • Reframe
  • Redefine
  • Remember
  • Recall
  • Re-imagine
  • Re-present
  • Reinforce
  • Revive
  • Reexamine
  • Redeem
  • React
  • Respond
  • RetreatIMG_7802

It is as if we think that God worked better (or only) in the past and if we could only get BACK to that … then things would be better.

Make Christianity Great Again in a very real impulse.

I have also been looking at the phenomenon in our culture as a whole. Books such as:

Consumed Nostalgia: Memory in the Age of Fast Capitalism

Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past

The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap

So this impulse seems to be prevalent within our society but it is especially heightened within many churches and traditions.  I get it. I used to really buy in to in. I wanted to have an “Acts 2” church, to get back to the Bible, and to do what Jesus did.

My change began when I bought into this idea of an ‘incarnational’ gospel that translates the gospel (good news of God’s love) into every language and in every place. Translatability is one of the unique aspects of Christianity that sets it apart from other religions.

The next step was looking at the radical changes throughout history and noticing that God seemed to work in every new era, in every new place, and with every new technology. Just start with the printing press and Luther’s protest(ant) reformation, the introduction of radio in the early 20th and the TV in the second half of the 20th century … up through today of people tweeting about how we need to ‘get back to’ and ‘reclaim’ the truth.

The third step was notice the irony of romanticizing the ‘Eden’ of the early church (as if there was only one) in an age of Christian radio stations, bookstores, schools, TV preachers, Study Bibles, megachurches, and the religious right. This romantization is somewhere between a mental imaginary and a commodity fetish.

The forth step was studying history and realizing that there was no ‘simple’ or ‘pure’ or ‘perfect’. It was always messy, complex, contested, and evolving.  The creeds, the councils, the early canon, and even the Acts of the Apostles reveal this.

The final step is confessing that with the advent of capitalism, Christianity is being consumed. It is a product (or production) that is marketed and purchased by ‘church shoppers’. From the parents who pay extra to send their kids to Christian schools to disenchanted evangelicals who convert to Catholicism-Anglicanism  or Orthodoxy, there is a component of consumerism that saturates the entire enterprise. [1] We are sold a distinct brand of religion.

As I travel, and as I get to talk to people from all over, I try to present a vision of the church or christian spirituality that is present-embracing and future-oriented. Some people are open to it but many people are really resistant. The resistance seems to be rooted in a different understanding of the past. A past that I do not want to return to and whose inconsistencies and injustices I do not want to repeat or reinforce. I want to learn from the past in the present, a

Is Christianity inherently conservative. Not exactly. It is for many folks right now. It might seem that we are in a conserving pendulum swing or at least that the brand of Christianity that is most visible (or loudest) is past-oriented. That is not the fully story however.

There is a kind (or type) of stream within Christianity that is socially engaged (present-oriented) and aware of the past enough to make corrections in the future. I hope to be a resource for people who are interested in a non-conservative approach to Christianity.

Next week I will talk about the dangers of reinforcing and repeating the past.



[1]  I get why people convert and I am not judging that. It is the absence of the capitalist component that concerns me. If there is no awareness of this facet of the ‘looking for a better brand’, then one might presume that it was only about ‘truth’ or ‘tradition’ or something more essential or substantial.

Top Ten Theologians

Here are the 10 theologians who have influenced me the most:

Randy Woodley (Shalom and the Community of Creation)

Bonnie Miller-McLemore (Practical Theology, Web of Meaning)

Sheila Greeve Davaney (Theology at the End of Modernity)

James Cone (The Cross and The Lynching Tree)

Wolfhart Pannenberg (Prolepsis, The Ontological Priority of the Future)

Elizabeth Johnson (Quest for the Living God, She Who Is)

Schreiter & Bevans (Contextual Theology)

Richard Twiss (We Dance Our Prayers, Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys)

Elaine Graham (Transforming Practice, Public Theology in a Post-Secular Age)

Paul Tillich (Ground of Being, Courage To Be)

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