Bo Sanders: Public Theology

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Response to Evangelicals and Race

I wanted to respond to the feedback I got on the video “Why Evangelicals Can’t Do Critical Race Theory”.

There were clear themes to the feedback in all 4 issues that I raised and to the thesis I proposed that Evangelicalism has become a set of conclusions.

  1. Individualism
  2. Scholarship
  3. Marxism
  4. Diversity
  5. Evangelicalism

Individualism: Why does it have to be an either/or issue. I am excited about this consensus. However, if you view of personal sin keeps you from addressing larger issues of systemic racism and structural injustice then it is a barrier.

Scholarship: I am thrilled that there are some PhD students and new faculty hires who engage in Critical Race Theory. I just hope that their insights will be received by the institutions when it comes to hiring practices and funding issues.

Marxism: It turns out the ‘cultural marxism’ is not just a boogeyman but a red herring. My suspicion is the it more about Foucault then about Marx. (Yes Foucault was a marxist for time). It is the legacy of discourse analysis and the genealogy of power that has disseminated into our entire culture in the 21st century.

Diversity: There was wide acknowledgement both of evangelicalism’s racial diversity (a good thing) and that it hides behind this diversity to not deal with other issues of justice such as LGBTQ inclusion and (for us more specifically) Critical Race Theory (CRT) in issues related to recruitment, funding, empowerment, and training.

Evangelicalism: Those who did not like my thesis that evangelicalism has become nothing more than a set of conclusions (or a constellation of convictions) could not provided a better definition of contemporary evangelicalism in N. America. My assertion that is has migrated to become a bounded set with heavily policed boundaries may not be a generous or broad as some may desire but until someone points to a clearer framework for understanding the changes in the evangelical movement over the past 50-70 years then my assertion has merit for consideration.

Let know your thought and we will keep the conversation going.

Believe Different Things Differently

A short video (5 min) about how  progressives and liberals not only believe different things than conservatives and evangelicals … but they believe them differently.

From Missions to Eschatology -they both believe different things and they hold those beliefs differently.

Let me know your thoughts.

Evangelicals Really Dislike Lent

My friend Krista Dalton tweeted last week:

Was told Lent was “stupid” by a fellow Christian at school. Good reminder why I am not evangelical!

I had to fes’ up to her that I used to say crap like that and I repented.

So what is it about Lent that evangelicals hate so much? I have a two-tiered theory. 

The first involves a Theology of Glory. The second is not a cause – it is an effect – but it is born our of strangeness and suspicion.

Theology of Glory

Back in Christian history, back to the roots of evangelicalism in the Protestant Reformation, are two major approaches (if you will). The first is a Theology of the Cross held up by Luther. The second is a Theology of Glory brought forward by Calvin.

I don’t have time to get into all the sorted details, but suffice to say … that the American evangelical church has not just majored in a Theology of Glory but almost to the near neglect of a Theology of Cross.

Here is a really helpful article on the differences:

“Theologies of glory” are approaches to Christianity (and to life) that try in various ways to minimize difficult and painful things, or to move past them rather than looking them square in the face and accepting them. Theologies of glory acknowledge the cross, but view it primarily as a means to an end-an unpleasant but necessary step on the way to personal improvement, the transformation of human potential. As Luther puts it, the theologian of glory “does not know God hidden in suffering. Therefore he prefers works to suffering, glory to the cross, strength to weakness, wisdom to folly, and, in general, good to evil.” The theology of glory is the natural default setting for human beings addicted to control and measurement. This perspective puts us squarely in the driver’s seat, after all.

It’s not that we don’t like the cross – oh we love the Cross – we sing about it (the wonderful cross) and we wear them around our necks!

It’s so bad that Dallas Willard has coined the phrase “Vampire Christians” for us. He says that we love Jesus for his blood and little else. Ouch – that one stings.  Wooden Cross

It shows up in other ways too. We are almost completely ignorant of the apophatic tradition. We are so kataphatic (speaking of God in the positive) that we have no idea that there are other options! We have no negativa or posteri – it is all presence all time.

Look at our worship services. Just ask yourself: what would it take to lift your hands and sing “Shout to the Lord” at the top of your lungs … and then ask if that seems compatible with fasting or Lent.  They are just two different muscle groups. Unfortunately, those who use the one often neglect the other and vice-versa

Strangeness and Suspicion  

I’m not saying that this element causes the unfamiliarity – but once there is alienation this next element adds fuel to the fire. The suspicion is syncretism.

Think about it this way: Lent isn’t in the Bible. Historically evangelicals have been a sola scriptura bunch (don’t look into that too much) and Lent is a foreign concept. It doesn’t’ take long to dig up some dirt on Lent and find out that it has its roots in Egyptian-Pagan worship borrowed by the Roman cults. Isis lost a son for 40 days so we mourn for 40 days and then have Isis eggs that are colorfully decorated is the story that come to me.

So, I’m not saying that explains all of the animosity that evangelicals have toward Lent, but I just wanted to offer up my two-tiered theory.

It starts with neglect and ends with accusations.

It’s same reason that we kinda try on Good Friday … have NO idea what to do on Saturday … but LOVE Resurrection Sunday!


Charismatics, Evangelicals, Singing & the unamed ‘You’

by Bo Sanders

Three interesting conversations have recently merged in my little corner of the interwebs:

  • The Republican presidential primaries have brought to the limelight some very complex subjects like race, economics, and religion that are handled with stereotypical banter, generally at increased volume.

Santorum is an uber-Catholic, Romney is Mormon, Newt wants the Evangelical vote and all of this is contrasted to Obama’s social-justice-Jeremiah-Wright past. The religion aspect of this election year is going to be fascinating.

I point out that in our national militarism mentality and our cultural myth of redemptive violence, that PSA is playing a role in our religious silo that is spilling over in unhelpful and even harmful ways.

The author calls them evangelical – in contrast to pentecostals who speak in tongues – even though I am not sure that the Vineyard (which both of her congregations are) are wholly representative off all the different camps that come under that tent.


Last week I posted that I was ‘worried about worship’ and one of my concerns dealt with the epistemology behind the band-centered worship experience. I said

“ Is this situation inflamed by an epistemology employed by evangelical and charismatic churches? I don’t know how else to say it but …. if you think that you are singing to God (vs. about God) and the God is actually listening to you and evaluating what is going on, then are you more critical of both the sour-notes and distracting ‘self’ behavior or overly elaborate performances?”

As I read the review of Luhrmann’s new book in the New Yorker magazine (“Seeing is Believing” by Joan Acocella) I was amazed at the obvious parallels to what I had attempted to address. Unfortunaly, the New Yorker requires that you subscribe to the magazine in order to read the article… so I can’t just link there for you. If, however you get the chance to pick up the magazine or copy it at the library, it is well worth your time.

Without the article to link to I will just offer a couple of related thoughts:

The three step plan to Hearing the Voice of God (the Father) is exactly – 100% – my experience of being raised evangelical. So many people that I talk to who were/are charismatic or evangelical have this exact same experience [she also mentions there lack of social service, lack of political involvement, and lack of theology]. The thing I still find shocking is that so many of those outside those groups do not know that is what it is like inside, and how often those inside don’t know that this is not everyone else’s experience of the christian faith.

David Bebbington in Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s (Routledge, 1989) did a masterful job of find some common theme that ran through evangelical history. This was a tough job (not always obvious) and has resulted in much debate about if these can even be called one grouping in any coherent sense. I am leaning more and more toward saying that Evangelicalism is not an official membership but is rather a dynamic relation between experience and expression. These two things are facilitated by an epistemology that is more central than any doctrinal or theological markers. Over the last 400 years what has been defining is not the political involvement (it has changed) or what was believed (it has adapted) but the experiential component (enthusiasm) that manifests is a distinct expression.

I have been out of the worship-band culture (Hillsong, Matt Redman, etc) for 2 years. I recently preached at a church with a worship band. What stood out to me so forcibly was the word “You”. I didn’t know why at first but as the service progressed I was struck by how many (all) the songs were addressed to ‘You’. You are holy, you are famous, I need you, etc. It stands in stark contrast to songs sung to God or about God like: a mighty fortress is our God, Oh God our help is ages past, and even Holy is the Lord God Almighty.

I often get to hear Mainliners talk about the alien experience of stumbling upon a christian music station on the radio. I also get to hear visitors to our pipe-organ-hymns-only church wonder about the lack of intimacy and excitement. I think it has less to do with the music style and more to do with the epistemology of singing songs to a ‘You’ and all the assumptions that would accompany that subtle change.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this – agree or disagree

[originally posted at Homebrewed Christianity]

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