Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today



Why Pray

Prayer has been a topic of conversation lately. I came up with 7 reasons to pray – and two clarifications.

1 Prayer opens me to the direction and flow of the universe

2 Prayer binds my heart to the lives and realities of people in my community

3 Prayer allows me to walk in the paths of those who have gone before me

4 Prayer contributes goodness & intention to the outcome of concern

5 Prayer allows God’s holy spirit to form, inform, and conform me to the divine image

6 Prayer opens moments (occasions) to truth, beauty, and goodness in which the miraculous can happen

7 When we partner with divine will in ways that lead to greater flourishing and both human & non-human prospering we participate in a potentially transformative activity

If will allow me to touch on 2 other aspects (outside this scope) there is an element of phronesis (embody wisdom or enacted knowledge) that the practice of prayer cultivates in us and in our communities. This is of course outside a transactional-interventionist view.

Secondly, there is aspect of ‘habitus’ where we are formed as people (and communities) of character through our participation in this discipline – which (side note) Jesus did & asked us to do.

Enjoy the video below and let me know your thoughts.

Power of Practice (sermon notes)

Your body is not just a suitcase that carries your soul around.

Your body is not an automated shell that your brain tells what to do like a computer inside a robot.

Your body informs your experience and shapes your behavior.

 Much of what you think, or even believe, about the world is because of the interactions of your body.

This is why what you do with your body matters. Your behaviors and routines inform and form you. They give shape to your day and thus your week and ultimately your life.

Annie Dillard has said it this way,

“How we spend our days, is of course, how we spend our lives.”

To the outside world, I appear spontaneous and even impulsive. But that internal permission in rooted in long hours of discipline and practice that frees my up to be spontaneous in the moment. The behind the scenes preparation is rooted in a deep commitment to values and practices. I move the chairs in the sanctuary every week – because I have been thinking for months about what that gathering should look like!

Your daily routine functions in a similar way. Your weekly patters both form and inform you as people of faith.

The life of faith is comprised (made from) your participation in a community of faith.

This is the liturgy of life.

One of my favorite old-words is “phronesis”. I have talked about it before – it means embodied wisdom or enacted knowledge. It is a wisdom that you have down inside of you, embedded in the cells and muscles of your body.

If you do an activity, even if you have not done it in a while – like riding a bike again – there is set of “know-how” that has been formed through practice.

This is the case with playing a musical instrument, or caring for a child, or playing a sport, or doing a hobby.

My favorite example is teaching a teenager how to drive.  Now you, if you have been driving a while, can day dream, change the channel (and all sort of other things) and still end up at your destination … sometimes not even thinking about it on the primary register of your brain. That is phronesis – the way home is embedded in your muscle memory.

Teenagers do not have phronesis. Everything is happening on that primary register at the front of your mind! Hands at 10 & 2, turn on the lights, shoulder check, shift into reverse, etc.

This is the power of practice. You are moving an activity, an expertise, a knowledge down from the front of your mind into your body. Routine and practice go hand in hand.

The liturgies of our lives shape who we are and both form and inform our view of the world.

The book that we are reading “Liturgy of the Ordinary” encourages us to be intentional about our mornings. Instead of slogging through and mindlessly stumbling our way to the kitchen or the shower – to add a moment of intentional pause and prepare for the day.

I want to encourage you try it. To change up the routine this week. Whether that is her suggestion to make the bed and take a moment of silence (prayer) first thing in the morning, or to read something nourishing in the morning before your check your phone or turn on cable news …

Like I said at the beginning: Your body is not just a suitcase that carries your soul around.

Your body is not an automated shell that your brain tells what to do like a computer inside a robot.

Your body informs your experience and shapes your behavior.

 Much of what you think, or even believe, about the world is because of the interactions of your body.

This is why what you do with your body matters. Your behaviors and routines inform and form you. They give shape to your day and thus your week and ultimately your life … especially your life of faith.

Follow the whole series here [Sacred Everyday]

Embodied Wisdom Enacted Knowledge

You have a wisdom deep inside of you that you might not even know how to access.

I want to introduce (or remind) you to an amazing concept: phronesis

Here is a ‘7 min sermon’ on the idea and a short explanation below.

I love this concept so much.

An interesting way to access it is by using the famous formulation of:

  • known knowns (things we know that we know)
  • known unknowns (things we know that we don’t know)
  • unknown unknowns (things we don’t know that we don’t know)

Then Zizek reminds us that the 4th quadrant would be “unknown knowns”!!

There are things that we don’t even know that we know … and this is why we need to know about phronesis.

Another way of approaching the idea is to focus on the kind of knowledge that is produced:

  • phronesis (practical wisdom) in contrast to the modern fascination with
  • theoria (theoretical knowledge and thinking) or
  • techne (technical knowledge and thinking)

A helpful analogy can be found in learning to play a musical instrument:

“Playing the flute, Aristotle observes, has value and fulfills its purpose well before the music stops. This is especially the case with ethical conduct and political activity, an ongoing process of deliberation that requires practical wisdom (phronesis). In contrast, (he) viewed building a house as poiesis— satisfactory only when the construction process is complete.” [1]

Unfortunately, after Aristotle poiesis got subsumed into praxis and was reduced into the binary that we have inherited today in the classic split between theory and practice. The final, and perhaps most popular, of these concepts is habitus.

The habits of faith form a character in you through repetition and spiritual practice.

You have a wisdom down inside of you.
It operates on a lower register than your immediate thoughts.
It is not just head knowledge.
It is deep inside of you – down in your bones.
Learn to trust your gut and follow your heart.

[1] Cahalan and Mikoski, Opening the Field of Practical Theology, 305.

Statement of Belief (so far)

Transferring my ordination has been an interesting and rewarding process. I was originally ordained more than 16 years ago but my leave of absence has expired and since I am out of relationship with my former denomination (neither serving nor worship with them), I have decided to transfer to the United Methodist Church.

Here is my ‘statement of belief’ so far …

Convey your personal beliefs as a Christian.

I believe that the church is the body of Christ on earth. When Jesus ascended into heaven it was with a promise of a visible return. Jesus promised that we would not be left alone and that another would be sent. Shortly after (roughly 50 days) the Spirit of Christ returned at Pentecost. Holy Spirit power came to the gathered and created the church – not ex nihilo (for this is not how god works) butbringing something new out of that which was.  The new creation was a revolution in religion! God’s presence was no longer contained in one place (like the holy of holies) but the veil had been torn in two and god’s Spirit had come out into the world.

Holy Spirit power and presence is the fulfillment of a long-anticipated prophecy that god would pour out god’s self on women and men from every place and of every generation. They would become witnesses to god’s goodness for every tribe and tongue – to the ends of the earth and to the end of the age. The church then, is inherently both pentecostal and incarnational. She is pentecostal because she is called, birthed, and empowered by Spirit. She is incarnational because the central story of the gospel that she proclaims is that the logos (wisdom of god) became flesh and dwelt among us. God is not distant nor disapproving of humanity – but took on human flesh to heal the brokenness, bridge the divide, forgive the trespass, reconcile the animosity, and model a way to live fully human.

I believe the gospel is simple but that its implications and applications are profound, complex, and consequential. The gospel: is the good news that god loves the whole world and provided for us in Christ something that we cannot provide for ourselves.

The church proclaims this good news, in word and in deed, when she serves those in need, gathers for fellowship and worship, tells her story, examines the scriptures, engages new ideas, confronts injustice in all its forms, and breaks bread together. In the same way that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine, the church is both sacred and secular, both holy and enfleshed, both sinners and saints simultaneously. How this can be true is a mystery of grace.

One further mystery is that the church is simultaneously rooted in the past, empowered in the present, and a foretaste of a future kin-dom of new creation.  She is a remnant of the past and a driving force for a proleptic telos of things to come while fully expressed in the context of her current culture.


I am a committed Trinitarian who finds the picture of perichoresis (the divine dance) the most beautiful, helpful, poetic, and powerful way of addressing the conception of a transcendent, eternal, divine being that the early churches called the godhead. Christians in this sense are not strictly monotheistic like the other Abrahamic religions of Judaism and Islam, nor are we polytheist like the Greeks and Romans, nor pluralists like so many other traditions.


As a contextual theologian, I believe that the church has both a permission and a precedent for this is the model of Jesus and the early churches. The New Testament is, in this sense, a set of tools and case studies of how this work looked in its time and in its place. The assignment is “to say in our language and in our era the kinds of things that they said in their language and in their era”. History has progressed – good and bad – so that our understanding, our cosmology, our metaphysics, and our view of history have been impacted by the two millennia of church and world history. We cannot simply parrot what they said in rote mimicry or in the original languages of Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. The gospel is infinitely translatable and is meant to be contextualized into every language and into every culture in every era.


The practices of the church are ancient and have come to us as inherited artifacts. They are both a gift to us (an inheritance) and an assignment. The legacy of christian practices is their embodied nature. Our bodies matter to god as much as our thoughts and beliefs. The embodied nature recognizes the inherent worth of our human existence and sets our experience as a valid location of divine revelation and theological reflection. Phronesis (embodied wisdom) holds an idea that there is a knowledge in our bodies that is accessed by practice and is enacted at a performative register. We have to do the things that we believe and we come to believe and understand the things that we do.


The Wesleyan quadrilateral is perhaps the most profound and useful framework that I have ever encountered. The great thing about the quadrilateral is that it improves greatly on the Anglican tripartite formulation or scripture, tradition, and reason by adding a fourth category of ‘experience’. This was a novel innovation of Wesley and the early Methodists that radically transforms the entire paradigm. By adding the fourth category of ‘experience’, in removes belief from the realm of the abstract and speculative and grounds belief in the concrete and located existence of in/carnated human embodiment.

The other genius aspect of the quadrilateral is that it has a pronounced sequence to it. It begins with scripture because we are never starting from scratch, creating in a vacuum, or making it up as we go. Tradition is next because there is a given-ness to the Christian faith. Like the English language, it comes to us as a gift that we are patterned by before we then come to utilize it to express our true feelings and convictions. We are first acted upon by the tradition/grammar/language and then we use our agency as actors to act within the socially constructed relations of culture. The third category is ‘reason’ because we don’t want a faith that is unreasonable or belief that is unreasoned. Last comes ‘experience’ because all the theory, scripture, and traditional practices in the world is ultimately impotent if it is not a part of our lived experience as a community.


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 would love to hear your thoughts, questions, and comments.

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