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]

Changing Words to Worship Songs

Over the years, I have grown comfortable making 3 changes to songs that we sing at church.

  •  From blood to love
  •  From father to savior
  •  From King to anything else

Blood To Love

Atonement theories are fascinating and I love exploring different historical approaches to understating what happened on the cross of Christ. My historic understanding is one of the many reasons that I intrigued with how many hymns and worship songs from the past 2 centuries are so bloody. In the past 200 years ‘penal substitutionary atonement’ (PSA) has become the dominant understanding in many protestant circles and our songs reflect it.

It has a simple fix however. Just cut ‘blood’ out and paste ‘love’ in and it amplifies the meaning of the song even better! It does not detract from the meaning of the song and actually amplifies it, making it better.

The love of God is bigger than just the blood that Jesus spilled. There is more to the love of God than the fact that Jesus bled.

Somebody is going to argue this is how God forgives us of our sins … but the truth is that Jesus forgave sins before the cross (Luke 7:48, Matt 9:5, Mark 2:5, etc.). Jesus forgives sins based on his identity rooted in God’s goodness, not our violence. The incarnation not the crucifixion where God to identified with humanity and brought us into a new relationship. (for more read about the victim [scapegoat] on Good Friday)

Example: and old hymn has been remade (Cornerstone) and makes so much more sense with the change, “My hope is built on nothing less that Jesus’ [love] and righteousness”. It is more singable (less distracting) and richer theologically.  It is not just our faith in Jesus but the faithfulness of Jesus by which God’s righteousness is imparted to us. [Here is another way to do it]

Father To Savior

In similar fashion, the change of ‘father’ to ‘savior’ is a significant upgrade. The Bible references God as ‘father’ not only because it was written in a time-period that was heavily patriarchal but because Jesus had a special connection to God he referenced as ‘Abba’ or dad. Here is the problem though, Jesus was not telling us the meta-physical (or ontological) reality about God, Jesus was using a relational metaphor to let us know how he (and thus we) might relate to God as a perfectly-pictured parent.

Jesus’ very identity was comprised of his connection to God and he said things that I cannot say like, “I and the father are one”. Things brings up several issues:

I love my father very much but don’t think that God is entirely (or only) like him nor is my father entirely like God. It is too limiting to confine God to my earthly understanding of paternal pictures.

Not everyone has a great relationship with their father. It is meant to be a metaphor. We have made it too concrete. We have concretized and given substance to something meant to be illusive and illustrative.

Example: In the new chorus added to the same Cornerstone song from our first example, it makes more sense to sing ‘savior’ than father. “Cornerstone, weak made strong in the savior’s love, through the storm, he is Lord, lord of all.” The confession of the early churches is that Jesus is Lord (not Caesar) and so this change is perfect both in our contemporary context and historically.

King To kin

Lastly, King imagery is so antiquated that Christians seems to be the last ones longing for a King. This is especially true of American Christians. The entire point of democracy is that we don’t have a monarchy. I cannot figure out the current obsession with royal weddings and royal babies on this side of the Atlantic. I also don’t understand our worship songs that make it seem like God rules from a far-off land and we are a colony of heaven here on earth. Between monarchy, imperialism, and colonialism I really worry about our Kingdom understanding.

God is here and at work among us by God’s Spirit. God is not high up and far off – that old picture of God was supposed to done away with in Christ’s incarnation. Yet somehow the church of N. America continues to long for a Roman way of ruling the world utilizing military power, coercive governance, and violent hierarchy to rule and reign.

It is almost as if we missed the upside-down, outside-in, anti-imperial, counter-kingdom that Jesus came to initiate. We have reverted to longing for monarchy and imperial rule. It is almost as if we missed the thing Jesus was teaching about and prefer the thing he was interrogating and subverting.

Example: Switch ‘kin-dom’ for ‘kingdom’ in your worship songs or prayers. See how big of a difference it makes to what you are picturing.  Then switch out ‘King’ for ‘Queen of Heaven – Mother of us all’ and expose both the way that you are imaging and imagining the Divine.

Remember – it is just as accurate and as inaccurate to call God mother as father. They are both word pictures and relational metaphors.

Make these 3 changes to the worship songs at your church

  1.  From blood to love
  2.  From father to savior
  3.  From King to anything else

I would love to hear about the difference that it makes – or what underlying ideology it exposes.

A Global Table

One of my favorite aspects of being part of the Methodists is the global communion. Tomorrow happens to be global communion Sunday and I can not wait to preach and then invite people to the table.

My angle tomorrow is going to pair two sets of three:

The first level is directional. After Pentecost, the church spread in at least 3 directions:

  • south to Africa
  • east to Asia
  • west to Europe.

The second level is historic. Coming to the communion table:

  • Reaches back through time to connect us with the saints of the past
  • Wraps around the globe to connect us to our global sisters & brothers
  • Propels us into the future of serving the world that god loves so much

Here is a little video I made to promote this Sunday.

I have been thinking about sacraments lately as I transfer my ordination from a non-sacramental denomination (ordinances) to a sacramental one.

Sacraments are enacted symbols. In this way, they are both signs that point to a greater reality and they are performed signifiers that can never fully reveal or contain the antecedent they are attempting to signify.

Sacraments are both significant artifacts of the church and they are gifts and graces (charis) that both form and inform our faith and practice.

In this sense sacraments and corporate worship are a parable of the kin-dom. Jesus used parables (not earthly stories with heavenly meanings but earthy stories with heavy meanings) to slide underneath the listener’s defenses in order to interrogate the ‘way things are’ to subvert the unjust status quo and turn upside-down / inside-out the listener’s presumptions about the way things are and the way that God wants them.

This is the prophetic ministry of the church – to imagine the world a different way and to image what that looks like to the world around us.

I’m really looking forward to preaching this tomorrow.

Your Kin-dom Come!

Kin-dom language has really captured my imagination. It is a much needed upgrade for the alternate translation of Greek word βασιλεία, (‘basileia’) instead of the antiquated (and problematic) ‘kingdom’.

I have toyed with the idea of leaving such rich and nuanced words/concepts untranslated into English like we do with agape in Greek or selah in the Hebrew psalms. For a while I thought that leaving it untranslated loaned it an air of mystery or exotic foreignness.

Later, I considered novel translations such as economy of God, reign and rule, commonwealth, government as a possible way forward. These concepts, however, convey many of the same associations with the intrinsic hierarchy, coercion, and domination that is incongruent with the love of God revealed in Christ. Jesus brought a counter-kingdom, an anti-kingdom, or even an un-kingdom that is weighed down with the baggage and violence that ‘kingdom’ has picked up through church history.

In the end, I have circled around again and again to the kin-dom of God. It signifies that we are all interrelated (kin) and that as family, we are relationally constituted. Our related-ness is our prominent characteristic. What defines us? Our connection to the divine/transcendent/reality in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).

In this vein, I have found an advocate in the work of Ada Maria Isasi-­Diaz’s “Solidarity: Love of Neighbor in the 21st Century” in Lift Every Voice: Constructing Christian Theologies from the Underside. It resonates with me because both Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6 talk about the inner witness of God’s spirit in our spirit that we have been adopted and are children of God.

David Harstkoetter tells us:

She skillfully argued that the gracious, salvific work of God, through love of the neighbor, entails solidarity characterized by interconnectivity—namely commonality and mutuality. … Yet, rather than describe solidarity as God’s ‘kingdom,’ a term that Isasi­Díaz names as sexist and is in the contemporary context “hierarchical and elitist,” she instead uses the term “kin­dom” to emphasize that the eschatological community will be a family: “kin to each other.”[1]

In the past I have been concerned/critical of ‘the kingdom’ translation. There are so many objectionable aspects to it and I am especially concerned when Americans seem to romanticize the monarchy and the imperial ideal of domination. It seems so ironic! That is why I have dug into what role or function is being accomplished in this romanticized obsession.

Since I have started working on this a couple of years ago, there has been an uptick in King or Kingdom related books in my circles. Tim Keller, NT Wright, Scott McKnight and others have doubled down on this phenomenon.  The more I prayerfully study this concept, the more I understand its appeal to them and the louder that I must suggest that Christianity’s future is not found in Europe’s past.

Jesus didn’t speak English, so there is nothing sacred about the translation ‘kingdom’. In fact, the more one examines the merit of the kin-dom translation, the clearer it communicates the virtue and the loving relational characteristic that Jesus modeled and taught.

I realize that it sets off a potential chain reaction and leads to a set of subsequent concerns and changes – and we can tackle those one at a time as they become relevant – but if this move toward the kin-dom is the only upgrade that we adopt, it is a significant improvement on its own!

May your kin-dom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.


[1] p. 89 in Getting Back to Idolatry Critique: Kingdom, Kin­dom, and the Triune Economy.


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