Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today



Degree and Kind

Different in degree or has it become a different kind of thing?

Spelling Bee, Military, Religion, Farming, etc.

This is a follow up to Meaning Migrates.

We live in a time when change is inflamed by globalism, technology, and money.

Meaning Migrates

Everything changes and meaning migrates. Below is a video about the migration of meaning.

Military: from D-Day and the beaches of Normandy 75 years ago to the War on Terror and drones now.
Evangelicalism: from European and British examples over 100 years ago to Billy Graham and now 81% support for Trump.
Methodism: 300 years of historic drift
Farming: from Agrarian society to Agribusiness and Industrial Farming
Masculinity: in just the past 3 generations the meaning of ‘manhood’ has changed.
Politics: from ‘the party of Lincoln’ to the loss of conservatism. Also the ‘death of the Liberal class’.

Our access to truth is:

  1. Partial
  2. Provisional
  3. Perspectival

The result is that meaning is:

  • Contested
  • Mediated
  • Located

What inflames change all the more in our exponential times of cultural conflict are:
Globalization – Transnational reality as a legacy of colonialism
Technology – Internet, Social Media, etc.
Finances – capitalism in the 21st century

Just check out these stories in the news right now:
Climbing Mt. Everest has changed
China has changed global markets
The Mississippi River is being held by technology and money

i Believe the Burnout Generation

There has been lots of discussion about Anne Helen Petersen’s  article “How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation” on BuzzFeed.

I have read and listened to some great responses and would like to weigh in to the conversation.

I was a worked with youth from 1996-2016 and saw a severe amount of change. I have also picked up some new tools as an academic that I hope will be helpful.

Millennial  generation is burned out. We should believe them.

3 insights to help move the conversation along.

  1. media culture and image
  2. consumerism and branding
  3. formed by our upbringing

Here is a short video. I would love to hear from you.

Y is for Y2K

Is the way that the world runs today the way that is has to be?
What would it take for the world to work a different way?
Can you imagine something better than democracy or an economic system after capitalism?
Is society in its final form?

[We are nearing the end of the ABCs of Faith in Sunday School . Listen to previous discussions here]  Expanded PDF : Y is for Y2K (preview)


From 1991-2003, I was taught to read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other – I no longer believe that.

In my short lifetime I have seen so many predictions come and go. I have seen layers and layers of moving onto the next thing a passage means without even acknowledging that 6 months ago we were told it was something different.

I just had a talk this weekend with a denomination leader about how end-times expectations have changed in their lifetime. We talked about young leaders and how different their eschatology is from 50 years ago.

My hope for the next 3 decades is that sincere people of faith get fatigued on this unfulfillingway to read the Bible and this next generation is released and empowered with an understanding of genre that does not leave them susceptible and vulnerable to panic over sensations like y2k and franchises like Left Behind.

The world is in too great a need for really great people to be distracted by thinking that apocalyptic is A) predictive and B) about the 21st century.

Here we have 2 crippling problems to confront – and the problem is that they compound the effect of each other intensely.

The more minor problem is the one that we have touched on above: a loss of the prophetic or our Christian imagination.

The major, and more hideous problem, is something called “final forms”. We live in an era where systems have become so solidified, concrete, and assumed that are assumed to be ends in themselves.

  • Capitalism is the pinnacle economic system.
  • Democracy, while flawed, is superior to all others.
  • Nationalism will never be topped or undone.

They are final forms that, once invented or introduced, are here to stay.

And there is an ominous implication:

  • Christianity is purported to be in its final form.

The faith we have today cannot be reexamined, tinkered with, or questioned. It is written in stone and unchanging.

In fact, it gets worse – true Christianity was found in the early church and the answer to our current problems is to get ‘back’ to that kind of a faith – sort of a ‘make religion great again’ mentality.


Come this Sunday at 9 to hear the rest …   Art for the series by Jesse Turri


Doing Theology in the 21st Century. or why Aquinas is a footnote

We are going to have to agree to disagree about some things. One thing that I would ask (in my generous orthodoxy style) is that we both acknowledge those things that we agree on as well as those we don’t.

The reason that is important is because of something that Phyllis Tickle points out (paraphrase): it is not that former (and maybe dominant) expressions go away, it is that they no longer hold the prime spot and wield the kind of power that they once did. They are all still around however. MP900405058

The interesting terrain that we inhabit in the 21st century is littered with artifacts and occupied by pockets of groups – possible ones that were once in the ascendancy. This is, as I am often saying, the bricolage nature of our cultural/societal environment.

You have methodists who have no idea what the methods were. You have ‘Amish’ fireplace stoves being mass-produced and sold on TV (think about it). You have can still, more tellingly, find actual Amish folks if you know where to look.

Here are two things you need to know:

  1. I come to the theological endeavor as a contextual theologian.
  2. In my context, practical theology and its qualitative methods (interviews, case studies, ethnography) is my chosen approach.

There are several implications of these two things. Unlike Tripp, I don’t do systematic theology.* It is not that I don’t value other branches of theology. In fact, practical theology as a field is in a major renovation, at least in part, in order to join the other 4 primary branches of theology that do their own research and provide their own innovations:

  • Historical Theology
  • Biblical Theology
  • Systematic Theology
  • Philosophical Theology

As my professor Kathleen Greider says:

Practical theologians commonly assert that the primary text of our field is lived experience– diverse persons and communities that are contextually located, inextricably related, and experiencing each other through countless interconnections and interactions.

Almost invariably when I am enduring critique from a conversation partner who is more conservative than myself, it is only a matter of time before they bring up Aquinas. I don’t get the nuance of Aquinas. I didn’t distinguish between the early and late Aquinas. I wasn’t careful to appropriate this or that of Aquinas’ formulations. I didn’t read the right translation of Aquinas. (the same things with Barth and Scotus too) 

What I am saying is that we don’t need to understand Aquinas better or deeper. 

We are to do in our day what Aquinas did in his.

As a contextual theologian I don’t think that is accomplished by obsessing over Aquinas. I’m not saying that we aren’t generous or respectful … I’m saying that Aquinas lives neither where we do nor when we do. He lived in a different context and time.

Call this dismissive if you will but  The Church’s future is not to be found in Europe’s past. I say it all the time.

You may disagree with me about this. That is fine. I’m just telling you where I am coming from since our latest TNT has raised some eyebrows, questions (and hackles) both here and on twitter.

Historic thinkers like Aquinas never saw what I call the 5 C’s of our theological context:

  • post-Christendom
  • Colonialism
  • global Capitalism
  • Charismatic renewal (especially Pentecostalism in the Southern Hemisphere)
  • Cultural Revolutions (from Civil Rights in the 60’s to the ‘Arab Spring’)

Add to those 5 to pluralism, the internet and a growing environmental crisis and you have the 8 things we as theologians need to give great attention and care to. They are the context in which (and for which) we do theology in the 21st century. Go listen to our interview with Grace Ji-Sun Kim if you have questions about this. 

You may want to focus more on the christian tradition (like Augustine or Aquinas) and I would understand that – I view that impulse through a Lindbeckian tri-focal lens. I understand the work you want to do within that cultural-linguistic silo. [I’m having fun in this part for those unfamiliar with my style]

Disagree as we might about the importance of a writer in the 3rd or 13th century – I just wanted you to know where I was coming from and what my focus was.**

 I would love it if everyone would leave a comment and let me know how this sits with you. 


*One implication of that is that when I read systematic theologians I do so though mostly thought trusted secondary sources. Admittedly, I don’t major in primary sources – for reasons I hope are clear in this post. I find scholars who know their stuff like Elizabeth Johnson, John Caputo, Joseph Bracken and Stuart Murray and trust them.

** If you want to read more about my approach check out ‘After MacIntyre’ that I wrote a while ago but never put up on the blog. It will explain my concern about everything from consumerism to hipsters and the radical orthodoxy project.

Maybe the Mayans were right!

In all of the hub-bub surrounding the Mayan apocalypse that came and went without incident, it was tough to resist the funny one-liner on Facebook and Twitter. We have become so calloused against the doomsday predictions that have fueled the religious airwaves, TV broadcasts and book sales of the last 30 years.

I get that. I came to faith during the cold-war in the heyday of characters like Hal Lidsay, Harold Camping and the Left-Behind phenomenon. Y2K was a bust and everyone was holding on for the December 2012 end of the Mayan calendar.  But I’m afraid that in our hurry to make funny quips we may have missed something important:

This actually could be the end of time.

It is similar the snark-fest regarding the Hostess bankruptcy and the end of Ding-Dongs and Twinkies.  Lost in all of the jokes was the reality of unjust labor practices by the cooperate execs of Hostess who, even at the end when massive layoffs could have been averted, continued to pay themselves ridiculous salaries and bonuses.

Hostess stole money from it’s workers pensions to use for things like operations – the whole while paying millions of dollars in bonuses to it’s 19 executives who were leading it into bankruptcy.

We didn’t address the illegal, and unjust practices of the mis-management, I suspect, because  there were just too many jokes to be made about Twinkies.

It appears that a similar scenario has blinded us to the reality of the Mayan calendar.

Never mind that the Mayans didn’t predict an end-of-the-world on the actual day – only that the calendar ended. 
Never mind how the ancient people may have conceived of the cyclical nature of time.
Never mind the odd fascination that descendants of European colonist have with indigenous artifacts from a genocidally exterminated people.

Jokes about the Mayans provided too many punchlines.

The Mayans were made a joke. 

But, like the Hostess bankruptcy, I wonder if a much bigger issue was ignored in the flurry of Facebook snark and apocalyptic themed parties.

What was lost in all the end-of-the-world banter was a sobering look at the realties that we face as humanity and that, if one had ears to hear, would sound an alarming warning signal that the world as we know is in real crisis.

I fear that like the proverbial frog in a kettle, that we have slowly adjusted and grown comfortable in rising temperature of the water and have failed to acknowledge that things might soon boil over.

Just take three areas

  • Economy
  • Environment
  • Military Tensions

Long ago, I left-behind the reading of Revelation that causes so many to live in fear of an impending catastrophe. But I’m not sure that people of faith can afford to grow comfortable thinking that the world we see is in it’s final form. Capitalism, Democracy and Nation-States are assumed to be the as-is realities on the planet.

 Zizek is oft-quoted as saying Christians are fascinated with the end of the world because it is easier to imagine life ceasing to exist on planet earth than it is for Christians to imagine an economy after capitalism.

 Global capitalism has bankrupted itself. The European Union (with countries like Greece and Spain) is in real trouble. The American economy is being exposed with its massive debts and downgraded dollar. China has mixed capitalism in with a form of communism – and a massive population – in a way that leaves most experts baffled.

 The environment is being degridated. It is conceivable that our ground water could be toxified, our warming oceans could cause extinction of the seafood we eat, and our thirst for easy energy (what the Frack are we doing?) could have repercussions that would make the planet uninhabitable for the human species.*

 That is all before nuclear fallout. Tensions is the middle east, America’s admittedly endless war on terror, and desperate global disparity are now more consequential than ever.**

It one takes the failing global economy, the toxification of the environment and the realities of perpetual war – maybe the Mayans weren’t wrong after all.

Maybe we have moved into the end of time.


* The practice of ‘mountian-top’ removal in places like West Virginia coal is instructive about environmental impacts.
** The Isreal-Palestine conflict and America’s role are especially illuminating.

The Church’s Task

In the next 24 hours I will be putting up 4 blogs – taken together, you will be able to tell what I have been thinking about the past month.  I would love your feedback on any of them.

Last month David Fitch tweeted this:

“The biggest task of today’s church is to undermine in its members the blase unexamined acceptance of secular assumptions for everyday life.”

I thought about it all day and just couldn’t be sure he was right on this one.

Now just to let you know where I am coming from:

Put that all together, I have doubts about Fitch’s assertion. Here is why:

I am increasingly suspicious that secularism is both a consequence and a side effect of Christendom. It is the West’s Frankenstein if you will. We made it. Then it took on a life of its own – a life we don’t like very much and which damages our efforts and injures our cause.  I think we have to start there.

I agree with Fitch that there is a ‘unexamined acceptance” and would go even further and say that it results in an assumption that what we see is the way it is. That our current mechanisms of organization are final forms and that the ‘as-is’ structures come with a large measure of ‘giveness’.  Tripp often applies this capitalism, nation-states and democracy. I would tack on both denominations for the church and militarism for US America.

I am just not so sure that our main task is to undermine. Maybe that is where my hangup comes. I am leery of this approach because it seems like we are defaulting the ground rules in the initial move and framing the task in a conceding first move.

I might be naive here but I am just not sure that the church needs to
A) give that much ground initially
B) frame her task in the negative.
I know it’s just so much one can do with a tweet but … there is something there that gives me caution.

So what is my constructive proposal?  I’m working on it.

I would want to frame it more like Stuart Murray does in the book Post-Christendom  and acknowledge that initial concession was early on with Constantinian Christianity. Then Christendom. Then Modernity.  With those three concessions we admit that the as-is nature of existing frameworks for both church and culture are thoroughly compromised and corrupted.

BECAUSE of that. We abandon the recuperation, rehabilitation, reclamation , and renovation projects (and mentality) all together! (all 4 faces of it).

It’s over man.  Let it go.

THEN we start new and in the positive. The 21st century provides fresh possibilities and opportunities IF ONLY we will let go the idea of getting back to something or getting something back. I know we never start from scratch – we never get back to square one. But …

I don’t want to be the undermining parasite ON the big organism. That is too small a task.  I want to partner with God in the healing of world (Tikkun Olum in Hebrew).  I want to participate in the development cosmic good – until then at least the common good. 


PostScript: now that I started down this “re” line I can’t stop coming up with words I want to flesh out further!
Restore: no
Re-imagine: yes
Represent: yes
Re-member: sure
Resurrect: ummmm not really
Reflect: probably

Hipsters and Zombies: the end of civilization

Ballard says in Kingdom Come

Consumerism rules, but people are bored. They’re out on the edge, waiting for something big and strange to come along. … They want to be frightened. They want to know fear. And maybe they want to go a little mad.
– Ballard, Kingdom Come

When we live in a time when like ours, where the as-is structures are assumed and there is a certain giveness to the system, we view them as final applications. Nation States and capitalism are just two areas where this can be seen (Tripp explains this well in the interview).
In this consumerism as culture humans are defined by their external signs and symbols. These become signifiers that form more than our image, they project our identity. It is in this cul-de-sac and the end of the wide road of consuming that the monotony of round and round sameness becomes soul-numbing. You can see why things on the fringes, that lurk in the dark and just below the surface begins to titillate and become attractive.

We are bored.

Alasdair MacIntyre (who asses the situation so well in After Virtue – even though I disagree with his solution) says this about what the church becomes

nothing but a meeting place for individual wills, each with its own set of attitudes and preferences and who understand that world solely as an arena for the achievement of their own satisfaction, who interpret reality as a series of opportunities for their enjoyment and for whom the last enemy is boredom.

Our fractured and contentious societal situation is inflamed by (at least) three cultural elements: consumerism, globalization, and pluralism. The first is the disposition of individuals within a society, the second impacts the proximity of different communities, and the third affects the posture when approaching a disparate series of relationship for communities.

Consumerism is hyperbolized in an examination of Hipster ‘culture’ by Douglas Haddow entitled “Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization”.* Haddow provides a vicious critique when he says:

An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the “hipster” – a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.

It this both the dislocation of generational continuity and the isolation of consumerist aesthetics that are troubling about the brand obsessed and all too self-aware ironic sensibilities that alert one to the incredible disenchantment and disassociation of the youth culture. It is these very same consumerist influences and institutions that give rise to their embodied expression and vague angst that manifests in such irresponsible yet elaborate demonstrations of the Hipster’s intentionally senseless displays.

Ironically, we have more stuff and access to more toys, information, and treats than ever before … but we are soul-numb bored. This is the danger of thinking that what we have is everything in it’s final form. That our representative democracy, that our free-market economy, that our United Nations are the pinnacle and the end of history.

This is why that Zizek quote about living in the end times is so great – that it is easier for most Christians today to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine living in some other economy beside capitalism.

Hipsters and the suburban fascination with zombies and vampires … are trying to tell us something.

* The subtitle of this article says “We’ve reached a point in our civilization where counterculture has mutated into a self-obsessed aesthetic vacuum. So while hipsterdom is the end product of all prior countercultures, it’s been stripped of its subversion and originality. “
Mark Douglas Haddow, “Hipster: The Dead End of Western Civilization | Adbusters Culturejammer Headquarters”, n.d.,

God is in charge of the economy?

I have always been suspicious that what I am about to say was true. If you follow out the way that folks talk about an interventionist God who meddles, tinkers, intervenes and interacts with ‘His’ (always his) creation … then it has to follow that some within that stream will think that God actually runs the economy.

I have met people who think this. I have reported it and based some of my posts on it – only to have it be consistently rebuffed as a case a few superstitious, uniformed or immature people or groups. Then, last week this article by Paul Froese came out in Religion & Politics called “How Your View of God Shapes your View of the Economy”.  It turns out that it is worse than I even thought!

People who look at data and conduct surveys and polls are always looking for variables. One of the wrinkles that has gotten a lot of attention lately why some conservatives – mostly based on social concerns like abortion and gay marriage – vote against their own economic interest.  Why do those who are not benefiting from the current economic structure continue to put forward policies and candidates who reinforce the status quo and hierarchy?

It turns out that even though Jesus says you can’t serve both God and mammon (whatever that is) but what if you didn’t have to make that distinction? What if within the protestant work ethic there was a mechanism by which God was in charge of the economy?

 To put this more concretely, approximately 31 percent of Americans, many of whom are white evangelical men, believe that God is steering the United States economy, thus fusing their religious and economic interests. These individuals believe in what I call an “Authoritative God.” An Authoritative God is thought to be actively engaged in daily activities and historical outcomes. For those with an Authoritative God, value concerns are synonymous with economic concerns because God has a guiding hand in both. Around two-thirds of believers in an Authoritative God conjoin their theology with free-market economics, creating a new religious-economic idealism. Nearly one-fifth of American voters hold this viewpoint, signaling that it can be a major political force.

It is actually a fascinating set of findings in the study (I would encourage you to read the whole article). The search becomes twofold:

  1. Does the willingness of God to fix the economy become dependent on us to deal with our social ills? In other words: does prosperity result from faithfulness?
  2. Believing in this Authoritative God, depending on where you live in the world can lead one to a socialist conclusion or a non-capitalist structure. Why in the US does it mean a unquestioned allegiance to a laissez-faire ideology?

The article explains:

… the United States stands as a clear exception. Americans who feel that “God has a plan” for them and their country are much more likely to think that “success is achieved by ability rather than luck” and that “able-bodied people who are out of work should not receive unemployment checks.” And over half (54 percent) of Americans who think God controls the economy feel that “anything is possible for those who work hard”; in contrast, only one-quarter of Americans who rely on human resourcefulness, rather than God’s plan, feel this way.

Perhaps it is the fervent individualism of American Christianity which makes free market capitalism seem like a Divine mandate. Because evangelicals assert that you alone are responsible for your eternal salvation, it makes sense that the individual is also responsible for his or her economic salvation without government assistance, especially if God is the only assistance you really need.

I am fascinated by this. I have written (and talked on TNT) so often about the implication of this type of evangelical-charismatic-protestant mentality that believes in personal piety (small) and super-structure cosmic spiritual warfare (large) but has no framework for (linking middle)  ‘powers the be’ in systems, structures, and institutions.

If God magically made the world in 6 days, made the Sun stand still, can time earthquakes to get Apostles out of jail and one day will pull back the clouds and ride into to dole out justice and end the whole bloody thing… I guess it makes sense that God is guiding the economy.

This is why I am so passionate about a better way to read the Bible – we need a mature hermeneutic that see the text with its eyes wide open, aware of the world as it is not just the way we want it to be or we used to think it was. Last week I wrote about the effects of Globalization and how it impacts our theological thinking. Global capitalism is no minor issue – how we think about the economy and participate financially as consumers should matter to believers.

I might need to apologize for my sassy tone here – but I truly am interested in your thoughts.

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑