Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today



Christians have to believe something about Hell, Election and Predestination

On last month’s TNT I said something that I have heard a lot of feedback on (some positive and some negative ). I thought it would be good to continue the conversation here on the blog.

 My assertion was that: If you are a Christian, you have to believe something about hell. It is just not an option to say “I don’t believe in hell”.  The word ‘hell’ is in the English version of the Bible and you can’t just say, as a Christian, that you don’t believe it. You can hold that it was a burning garbage dump in a valley outside Jerusalem that Jesus makes a poetic illusion to … but you have to believe something about hell. 

I would go on to broaden that assertion. I would say that you must believe in predestination, election, and the Book of Revelation.

All 4 of these are topics that l have personally heard people say “I don’t believe in __”

  • You have to believe something about hell.
  • You have to believe something about predestination.
  • You have to believe something about election.
  • You have to believe something about the Book of Revelation.

It is is just not an option to say “I don’t believe in hell”.  Jesus did.  If you are a Christian, you have to hold some belief about it.

Paul spoke of predestination. Election is a theme in scripture. You can’t just say ‘I don’t believe in Revelation’.  You can object to how some people interpret and preach the Book of Revelation … but you can’t ‘not believe’ it.

 Why It Matters: 

I come from an Evangelical-Charismatic background and am now employed at a Mainline church and attend a Mainline school.  I am passionate that thoughtful progressive Christians can not make the same mistake that Liberals made in the past century. By ‘de-mythologizing’ the Bible they undercut the very foundation that the tradition is built on.

It is like sawing the very branch that your a sitting on … on the tree side of the branch! What do you think is going to happen? You are left no place to perch.

I love Biblical Scholarship. I delight in post-modern and progressive theology. I take seriously the post-colonial critique and the perspective of feminists and queer theory. But it does us no good if we know what we don’t believe about something but do not have the ability to present in a constructive way what we do believe about those very subjects.

There is so little value in participating in a community based on a tradition where one does not believe in the very words of that faith’s sacred text.

Why even do it?  I think that is why so many ‘nones’ have just opted out. I actually greatly respect those who participate in the emergent conversation and who are valiantly attempting to update their denomination from within. It is far easier to just walk away from the entire project all together … and many have.

So How Do I Do It? 

Predestination:  Forget about the historical hyper-Calvinist understanding that you ‘don’t believe in”. Romans 8:29 says “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

Who did God foreknow? Everyone.  What are they predestined to? To be conformed to the image of the Son.  Does everyone arrive at their destination? No.

Predestination might be, what some Process thinkers would be called, an ‘initial aim’. It is God’s desire for all. God doesn’t always get what God wants ( see 1Timothy 2:4).

 Election: Karl Barth said it clearly. God elected Jesus. All humanity is involved in that election. All who are ‘in Christ’ are elect.

 The Book of Revelation: You may not like the ‘Left Behind’ / Hal Lidsey / Jack Van Impe interpretation of the Book of Revelation … but you can’t, as a Christian, say that you don’t believe in it.  It’s in the Bible. You have to believe something about it.

The Book of Revelation was a political critique of the Roman Empire of the first two centuries written in the genre of the ‘apocalyptic’. It is not predictive of the 21st century. But we don’t want to throw it away!  What we need, more than ever, is to imitate it and write an apocalyptic critique of our as-it structures, systems and institutions of injustice and our empire. We need a prophetic imagination.

You can’t say, as a Christian, that you don’t believe in this stuff. You have to believe something about this stuff. My suggestion is that we just believe more informed better stuff about these topics. The simple fact is that we are community of people centered about a sacred text and it is simply not acceptable to say ‘I don’t believe in something’. We are free to not believe in some people’s interpretation – but we have to believe something about it. 

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? 

Race and things like Politics

by Bo Sanders 

[I initially wrote this for Ethnic Space & Faith
but thought it would be fun to cross pollinate.]  

Despite what the caller said on this week’s ‘Take Them to Task’ segment from the Smiley & West show said, race is still an issue in North America – not everyone is color blind. In fact, here are four stories that caught my attention in the past couple of days in the areas of politics, music, TV, and sport:

 Politics:  Much analysis is being done – and will continue to be done – about the U.S. Presidential election.  I had heard leading up to November 6 that if Gov. Romney was to win, he would have to do it with the largest percentage of white voters in recent history.

While he did not win yesterday, the ethnic breakdown was stark and is causing much consternation in conservative circles. Whites, and especially Evangelicals, reports say, voted over 80% for Romney. It is almost exactly the opposite (some reports say as high as 93%) of Latino voters went for Obama.

My only point is that if you think that the election of a Black president makes this a post-racial country, you have another thing coming. Race is still an issue and will continue to be an issue as we move to 2048 when Whites will not be a majority in America.

How will we lead? How will we transition? How will we hear new voices? 

Music: You may have seen the uproar over the music group No Doubt’s new video “Looking Hot”. Rolling Stone describes it this way:

The clip for the second single off their long-awaited new album, Push and Shove, featured a Wild-West theme, replete with tee-pees, feather headdresses and smoke signals. After releasing the video on Friday, No Doubt quickly drew complaints for using the stereotypical imagery, with threads such as “Appropriating Native American culture” appearing

The band did apologize and did remove the video.  Continue reading “Race and things like Politics”

I Voted For the First Time Last Week

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

 Here is the background on why I have never voted: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Why I was still hesitating: 

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

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

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

 In the end: 

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

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

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

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

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑