Bo Sanders: Public Theology

updating & innovating for today



Liberal & Conservative Christians Must Be Born Again

I was in the pulpit this last Sunday at Westwood UMC and I chose to preach on John 3. It was the first time I have ever engaged that text outside of an evangelical environment.

You can take a listen here [link]. It works to stream it, download it, or get it on Itunes.

I began by addressing an awkward pairing:
– On the one hand, the phrase ‘born again’ has fallen into disrepute and disuse among many believers.
– On the other hand, Jesus is pretty clear that we ‘must be born again’.

Two other aspects that I attempt to overcome with this approach are:

A) We too often read both John 3:3 and 3:16 through a lens of individualism.
B) We have been taught to think of ‘eternal life’ as life after you die.

In order to correct these severely limited and limiting readings, I look at 5 key words/concepts.

  • Kingdom
  • Flesh
  • Eternal Life
  • Salvation
  • Repent

Continue reading “Liberal & Conservative Christians Must Be Born Again”

ABC Final Stretch

I was out of town this week and my friends Micky and Callid took care of S and T over at Homebrewed. You can read their articles linked below.A-Atonement

I wanted to take this opportunity to clarify a couple of things before we make the turn toward the final series of letters.

  • Respond to questions about the Book of Revelation
  • Flesh out my answer in Micky’s video about Salvation
  • Explain why I went with ‘theopoetics’ instead of other (more famous) T words

I will do this in reverse order. Callid (and a few FB friends) were questioning the selection of ‘theopoetics’ over words like trinity, theosis and theodicy. We covered trinitarian matters in P is for Perichoresis. While I love the Eastern notion of theosis (becoming like God), this series is really focused on concepts that we need to engage going forward in the 21st century.

I am a big fan of theosis and love those who embrace/reclaim this ancient notion. They are often paired with both mystic appreciation and a commitment to spiritual disciplines.

Theodicy (the problem of evil) is a big one. After the events of the 20th Century – specifically WWII – there can be no doubt about the centrality of evil and human nature to any theological consideration.

  • Where is god in all of this?
  • Why is our experience so different than the ancients?
  • Is it technology?
  • It is society?
  • Has the world changed?
  • Has God changed?
  • Has our understanding of God changed?
  • Is the world no longer enchanted?

I try to cover this when I talk about The World Come of Age (Bonhoeffer) or what others call The World Transformed (Hunt) or what Kaufman calls The Nuclear Age.

The simple fact is that the 20th Century – between technology and war – changed the world and radically altered what we call society. The reality of living in the 21st century are very different than they were in the 12th – let alone the 2nd. The questions of the 21st century are not answered by repeating inherited answers or by parroting ancient thought.

Farming, hygiene, reading, telephones, banks, travel (airplanes) …. there are thousands of examples of how different our existence is from those in previous centuries. Even the way was imagine our self (identity) and community (belonging) has changed.

So theodicy is a major issue, but I wanted to add something to our theological tool-belt that will help us going forward. Theopoetics is one of the most important ideas – and one of the most vibrant contemporary conversations – that we can engage in. It impacts everything from how we read Genesis and Revelation to how we approach the ancient creeds and how we conceptualize our god-thoughts and convey ourselves in god-talk. That was the thinking behind selecting theopoetics for T.


Salvation:  In her post, Micky shared her video. I provide the opening response and folks had several questions about it.

What we are talking about in salvation happens at 3 levels:

  1. The Life of the Ages. Jesus talked about it and unfortunately it gets translated into English as ‘eternal life’ which people think happens after death and then have to try and explains how it impacts life here. Some say it starts here and carries on and is intensified after you die. The whole thing is much clearer and more powerful if you call it ‘the life of the ages.’
  2. Reversal-Restoration-Reconcilation from Eden. The story of Eden shows us three fractures – from God, from each other and from the Earth. Salvation is a process of reconnection and participation in right relationship and the community of creation. Shalom is the word. 
  3. The Jewish notion of Tekkun Olam. This is the restoration of all things. NT Wright has a famous version of this bringing all things to right.

Salvation therefore impacts everyone and everything. It is not only about a tiny part of you (your soul) after it leaves your body. It is about your body and the earth that it comes from … and every other body on that earth.


Revelation: Folks liked my take on the book of Revelation … but then wanted to know what to do with it. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Enjoy it. Don’t be scared by it. Look into the 2nd century imagery and learn how apocalyptic works as a genre.
  2. Then take that knowledge and examine Jesus’ statements in the Gospels as well as the second half of Daniel.
  3. Mess with your friends who have been sold a Left Behind version of faith with historical perspective.
  4. Give our artists, poets, film-makers and dreamers permission to create political critiques of the 21st century like the author of Revelation did for first two.

Once you are relieved of the notion that Revelation is about the future, you can get down to the series task of examining, critiquing and challenging  the existing structures and systems of our day. Tripp and I chat about this stuff for the last 20 min of this week’s TNT.

I would love your thoughts about any or all of these subjects.

Besides John 14:6

Since John 14:6 is not about other religions … in fact, it doesn’t mention ‘salvation’ either.  So if we can not use that verse either about other religions or salvation (since it is relational and a disciples invitation) then what other verse – or other place – would you start at?

Now I want to follow up on that and begin the different direction. In case you missed it, my argument is based on the fact that John 14:6 is in no way about other religions but is a disciples invitation to follow Jesus’ way and relate to God as Jesus related to God. 

It is predicated on the fact that:

  • He is not talking to a person of another religion
  • He is not answering a question about other religions
  • He is not addressing other religions

 John 14:6 is in no way about other religions.  Having said that, SINCE John 14:6 is off the table … where DO we start in thinking about the question of other religions?

I am interested where you would begin the response if you can’t go to John 14:6 as a trump card. How would you play the hand that you have been dealt?

—— please craft the rough outline of your response before you read mine ——

Here is where I begin : it is a 1-2 punch Scripture and Tradition!  First I go to acts  Acts 17 (in the positive) for the precedent and then I go downstream and find where things have gotten plugged up and dislodge the block that limiting the flow of God’s Spirit.

In Acts 17 Paul walks into the Areopagus (Mars Hill in Athens, Greece) and he says three interesting things to start:

  1. He honors their religious culture “I see that you are very religious”.
  2. He quotes their poets and philosophers.
  3. He includes them in the ‘We’ (both v. 28 & 29).

This should be our model for cross-cultural missions. We honor their religious tradition. We learn their artists and thinkers. We include them in the we.

Unfortunately what has been the predominant modus operandi is a Colonial version of missions that does none of the three.  It disparaged previous religious traditions as paganism, witchcraft, sorcery and superstition. It had no interest in indigenous voices and expressions. It was an us/them – in/out approach.

The second thing I would do is historical. I would revisit and reject the Filioque (Latin for “and (from) the Son”)  a phrase found in the form of Nicene Creed in use in most of the Western Christian churches. It is not present in the Greek text of the Nicene Creed as originally formulated at the First Council of Constantinople, which says only that the Holy Spirit proceeds “from the Father”.

This later change (about 1,000 years into church history) is a disaster for mission. The application has been that the Holy Spirit does not precede the Gospel (preparing the culture) but follows the preaching of the Gospel. Thus when you showed up in another culture, don’t look for where the Spirit has been at work and join in … until Jesus is proclaimed, God is not at work.

Reject the Filioque and recognize that Holy Spirit has proceeded from the Father – equal to the Gospel – and is not limited to only working in kind of a 3rd tier operation. Holy Spirit is a work in every place and with every people, when we show up there we can humbly look around (as in Acts 17) to find signs of the divine activity. Having recognized it we can learn from it, and participate with it.

That is where I would start.

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