Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today



Is Jesus Kin(g)?

This week’s video asks if ‘Kin-dom’ language is more accurate and helpful than the old ‘kingdom’ idea.

It is an alternate translation of Greek word βασιλεία, (‘basileia’) and can unpacked a number of ways.

Watch the video and let me know what you think.

You can find a short articles here [link] on kin-dom and another video about implications for worship songs here [link]

E is for Empire


“Christian theology suffers from an imperial condition”E-Empire

This is how Catherine Keller begins her chapter in PostColonial Theology.  [Keller podcast]

The people that I know who love, quote, and believe the Bible the most happen to be the least aware of the Bible’s concern with /critique of Empire.

What is fascinating to me is that those who are most unaware of the nature of the American Empire (Imperial reign) are also those who claim to take the Bible the most seriously.

Whenever I bring this up, some who will question ‘How can this be so?” While others will say “What are you making such a big deal about?”

Here is how it works: The biblical narrative details many empires – all of whom have a devastating effect on the people of God.
The Exodus narrative, the Babylonian captivity and the Roman occupation are all examples of Empire. The Bible is through-and-through saturated with imperialism and the disastrous effects that it has on those who are faithful to God.

This is where is gets tough: Moses, Daniel and Jesus all suffered (and subsequently overcame) Imperial regimes. The Bible is saturated with themes of ‘Empire’ and resistance.

The problem is that those who are most imbedded in the Empire (and believe the Bible) are the most unaware of this theme and may have no idea that the Bible that they believe so much has anything to say about the issue what so ever!

If you have never heard of ‘Empire / Imperialism’ then the Bible reads a certain way which allows you to be complicit in the current American imperial impulse and actually believe that you are serving the Kingdom of God by participating in that said structure.

The shocker is when you find out that Moses, Daniel and Jesus were on the underbelly of the beast and were figures of resistance seeking to undermine the established order – the systems, structures and institutions of repression and containment.

It can be eye-opening!~

There is not a single part of the New Testament that is not haunted by the shadow of Empire and Imperial domination.
One might as well not even read the Gospels or the Book of Revelation outside of this lens!!

As long as we are on the subject, it is impossible to talk about the Cross of Christ or Paul’s diatribe in Romans 1 without a thorough understanding of Empire. Take a minute and think about what a cross was – an instrument of intimidation and public terror reserved for those who threatened that stability of the Empire (like sedition).

I might go as far as to say that Empire and Imperial pressures dominate and dictate every facet of the Bible and especially the New Testament.

Here is the shocker: those who take the Bible the most seriously (or least read it the most) may know the least about this aspect of its original context …

… and may be those what are most blind to the current role that their nationalistic government plays in the world.


Think about this: if you do not see the role that Egypt, Babylon and Rome played in the Biblical narrative … by what lens would be able to see the role that post-Cold War America plays in the global War on Terror?

I don’t think that you could.

Here is the bottom line: The people of God have frequently been oppressed and dominated.
Scripture tells us of their resistance and deliverance.
If, then, the people who claim to be ‘with God’ are complicit in the oppression and marginalization of those who claim to be fellow believers ‘in Christ’ … let alone those who come from a different tradition…

… you can see the problem.

Empire dominates everything. Domination is actually the Modus Operandi of Imperial regimes. The methods are predictable:

  • Road blocks
  • Security checks
  • Boarders
  • Prisons
  • War
  • Control

The Bible testifies to this and to the resistance of it. The great irony of history is that so many Bible believing people both don’t know this – and subsequently participate (even complicetly) in the continuation of this oppressive system.
The Bible tells us that Moses, Daniel and Jesus all suffered under Imperial oppression. We need to make sure that we don’t use the Bible to defend or extend any Nationalistic/ Empire ambitions in the world that we live in via the systems that we participate in and support.
For further examination:

Beyond the Spirit of Empire – Rieger, Sung, Miguez [Rieger podcast]

Arrogance of Nations: Paul and Empire – Elliott  [Elliot podcast]

God and Empire – Crossan  [Crossan podcast]

Jesus and Empire – Horsley

New Testament and Empire – Carter  [Carter podcast]

If interested, here is a blog series I wrote about social imaginaries (nationalism)
In case one would think that I made too much out of the absence of this topic in certain circles, it is illustrative that neither Grenz nor Gonzalez – the two resources I am utilizing in the series –  have an entry for ‘Empire’ in their dictionaries. They do however both address ‘Empiricism’ (as in ‘empirical evidence’).

The Pornography of Fundamentalism

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

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

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

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

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

 Dialogue performs the same function for Christian Fundamentalists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ask yourself these 3 questions:

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

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

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

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

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