Catholic, Quaker, Evolution, Apocalypse: final TNT for ABCs

We finish with a BANG! Callid and Bo conclude the ABC’s of Theology series with: W-WordofGod

Thank you for all of your feedback and encouragement.

A special thanks goes to Jesse Turri for the artwork for this series!!!!

You can find the Unfolded narrative podcast here.



Z is for Zebra

I was taught to refute evolution. It was a cornerstone to apologetics.Z-Zebra

Zebras and their stripes were a primary example used to refute evolution. If the stripes are for camouflaging a herd of zebras from predators … the first striped offspring would have actually stood out from the heard and thus been an easy target.

This is an example of getting ahead of oneself without fully entering into the school of thought one is trying to combat.
We saw this same problem with Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron’s banana conversation. You can’t simply start with where we are and extrapolate backwards from there.

  • Science has a commitment to the process.
  • Apologetics has a conviction of the conclusions.

We can’t pretend to honestly engage in asking questions if we begin with the assumption of the answers. That will always result in coming out with twisted conclusions.

Admittedly, scientists have been baffled over the zebra’s stripes for a long time. Recently some strong studies has have shown that the stripes are not about camouflaging herds from large predators but about flies. The region where zebras dwell has a breed of flies called tsetse that are legendary in their viciousness. Scientists have historically known that flies have an aversion to landing on striped surfaces. The zebra’s striped pattern acts then as a natural deterrent. This leads to greater health with less blood loss and therefore greater vitality which benefits reproduction – passing on those key genetics to offspring.

It turns out that zebras stripes are not about herds camouflaging from large predators but about individuals deterring small pests. This means that the initial zebra ancestor to have that genetic variation would have benefited and thus that attribute would be more likely to be passed on to the next generation.

So the apologetics argument I learned is flawed and would not refute the point it is intended to.

That is problem #1 with not fully entering into an idea well enough to understand it – there has to be a commitment to the question not just a conviction about the conclusion.
Problem #2 is that much of the suspicion from creationists about evolutionary thought is based on the hard and cold version of survival of the fittest from a century ago. Many don’t know of newer strains of evolutionary thought that incorporate cooperation, mutuality and emergence thought.
Evolution has evolved in the past 30 years but many creation apologists prefer to takes pot-shots at the straw man caricature of darwinian schools of the past.

As we wrap up the ABC’s of Theology series, I wanted to acknowledge that not only has christian belief evolved and adapted over the centuries and encourage you to embrace these historic adjustments. The gospel is itself incarnational and the universe is evolutionary. Those two things go together beautifully. The gospel is good news and is constantly in need to be contextualized to new times and new places. The scriptures are inherently translatable and come into every language and culture. This is one of the unique aspects of the christian religion.

If evolution is true of the universe, christians should have no need to avoid or refute it. We can embrace evolutionary thought wholeheartedly.

Christians should, after all, be people who love truth.

Artwork for the series by Jesse Turri 

You may also want to check out earlier posts about technology, the Bible and specifically genres within the Bible.


This Pope is even good for Protestants

I love this new Pope!  Not because I agree with everything he says or does – nor should I. I’m not even Catholic.

Not a week goes by without someone asking me about the new Pope. Every time he reaches out to some unexpected soul, I am going to get asked about it. Pope

A kid in a wheelchair – did you see that?

A Muslim women – what do you think of that? 

A prisoner – is that like a normal thing or … that just him? 

It started on the day of his election. I got a call from an Australian radio station that wanted to have me on to get a non-Southern hemisphere perspective. [you can hear the audio segment below] I thought it was pretty random at the time (they had seen my blog-post earlier that day where I said it would be a game-changer).

It was not to be an isolated incident. Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t ask me about the new Pope.

Last week I was watching a football game at a sports-bar. A couple from out of town sits down next to me. A little chit-chat reveals that I am a local but not originally from here.

How long have you lived in LA?  4 years.

What brought ya?  School. I am a student. 

What do you study? It’s called Practical Theology – it’s like a mix between sociology and religion. 

Oh yeah? What do you think about this new Pope?

This is literally 2 minutes into the conversation.


On the TNT that will come out this evening, our third caller asks about the Pope and Marxism … we never get to the fourth call.

[ side-note: On our 2013 Review show Tripp’s pick for moment of the year was during that game Au Contraire Mon Frere where he (in contrast to Tony Jones) said that the new Pope was the real deal.]

I have irreligious friends on Facebook that will email me an article about the Pope and ask what I think.


Why do I bring this up? Well, for over a decade I trained and loved being an ‘evangelist’ and ‘apologist’. I loved giving a reasonable presentation of the faith. I trained others in how to ‘give an answer when asked about the hope that is within you’.
Though I have emerged as a different kind of thinker, the delight of a stranger asking a question about something related to faith never goes away.

Here is the thing: I have spent hundreds of hours preparing to answer questions that people just don’t ask anymore. In apologist circles we were talking about the shift we were experiencing before the events of September 11, 2001.  Since then, it has been monumental. The world is very different than it was 40 – even 30 – years ago.

In an age of Facebook, smart phones and global terror … people are just not that interested in the stuff that I was trained to answer. They are asking a different set of questions.

That is why it is so notable that somebody – every week – is going to ask me about the Pope. So it seems to me that it would be a good investment of time – if you are someone who, like me, is evangelistic or apologetic at all – to keep an eye on the activities of the Pope. I might go as far as to say that it would be a better spend of time than watching another ‘debate’ between creation and evolution …

Who knew that a new season in the Catholic church would open doors for Protestant ministers?  I get to both talk about all the good things that he does which provides an opportunity to distinguish my own expression of the faith in issues of women’s ordination, human sexuality, and economic matters.

I would love to hear your thoughts, concerns, corrections or questions. 


Branded From Birth and the Web of Meaning (2/2)

Some of the best feedback I got last week, when talking about Social Costructivism being my philosophical orientation within my chosen discipline of Practical Theology, came from WrdsandFlsh

Responding to my sentence:  “I do not believe in the autonomous, selective nor the pre-institutional self. I am a social constructivist who believes that we are socialized, groomed and conditioned from day 1.”,  She said:

Your social constructionist theory fits well within Serene Jones’ theology of sin. We are given “scripts” form the time we’re born. Those scripts teach us consumerism, racism, patriarchy, etc. So we are indoctrinated into sin in our very language. We are shaped before we have a knowing self into the language, patterns, etc of our families/communities. And, that includes being shaped by the societal institutions of sin.

I think there is much to explore in the idea that we can never get back to our “pre-conditioned” selves. We are always indoctrinated (for lack of a better term) into the communities in which we are raised.

So, my question to you as a Pastor and not as a researcher, is to say, how do you live theology differently with this in mind? (As opposed to study theology).Perichoresis

I am always honored when someone asks about translating a theological idea into pastoral practice. It is literally my favorite thing in the world – next, of course, to reflecting on the perichoresis. 

 Four things come to mind initially: 

  •  the first is a joke I got from Peter Rollins
  •  the second has to do with expectations
  •  the third deals with authority
  •  the last addresses translation



A man walks into a lawyers office to inquire about legal council and asks “How much does a consultation cost?”

The lawyer informs him that the fee is $200 for three questions.

Surprised, the man asks “Really?”

The lawyer says “Yes. Now what is your third question?”


Rollins used this joke to reflect on the nature of ideology: we find ourselves deep in the midst of it before we realize that we are even in it.

One of the most helpful things that we can do for people as pastoral leadership in the church is help them to realize the nature of inherited beliefs and assumptions. Through our preaching and counsel we can illuminate the nature of ‘what we are caught up in the middle of’.

While I tend to try and steer away from technological analogies for humanity, this is my one exception:

When people come to us they are often  wanting help to fix A) a glitch with the program they are trying to run or B) a problem with the hardware.

Rarely do they want to address the operating system that underlies the problem. We assume the operating system ( the ideologies and assumptions behind that which we can see)  and either want to fix the program we already use or to download a better version of it.

Getting people to examine the operating system that is in place is difficult because it is a much bigger undertaking than simply tweaking the program or trading out some hardware.

If  what they are using was working they probably wouldn’t come to us – we wouldn’t even know about. Like a medicine woman or a computer repair person we see people when something is broken. Being prepared with how to access the operating system–and not just fixed the program that is running on it–is a gift we can offer people.


Expectations:  I have told this story before but it is illustrative for this point.

A man in my congregation would lose his job at the big factory in town on a seasonal/semiannual rotation. When the economy was in a rut, he remained jobless for quite a while and his family was devastated that God had let them down.

We prayed as a congregation, as we did for everyone, for his employment. It dawned on me, however,  during this period that we might be better off addressing the systemic problem of how the major employers in our area conducted themselves.

 In many circles the way we pray exposes a gap in our understanding. We are fine to pray for people personally and to focus on their individual piety/spirituality (mirco) And to trust in the heavenly/divine of some transcendent realm (macro).  Where we are negligent is in the connective element of systems, structures, and institutions.

The work of folks like Walter Wink on The Powers is essential here.

We do people a great disservice when we neglect this essential component and allow people to conceive of themselves and their lives as individuals – and then jump right to the heavenlies. That enlightenment notion of self and society is deadly both to the soul and Christian community.

christian unity


Authority:  Whether you have a hierarchical model of pastoral leadership or a more egalitarian/communitarian conception, we each have a role to play. That role comes with some level of authority over a sphere of influence.

By first understanding, then articulating a better understanding of concepts like original sin (see part 1 of this post),  we recognize and account for the fact that we are all caught up in a web of conflicting desires and motivations. This acknowledgment is essential for the way one conducts her or himself in Christian community and especially leadership within the community.

The people that we interact with and give direction to are as multifaceted, complex, complicated, conflicted, irrational, and erratic  as we ourselves are!  Knowing and confessing this at the beginning and in the midst of every interaction will necessarily cause us to temper our propensity to be prescriptive and formulaic.


Translation:  In the previous post ‘Wrestling with Original Sin”  some fairly elaborate notions of human and societal makeup were put forward.  Contemporary work in the fields of sociology, psychology, and neuroscience ( just to name a few)  have radically altered the way that we understand and thus talk about what it means to be human and to participate in human social organization (society).

A significant gap forms for Christians who’ve been look to the Bible for direction if they do not account for this. One gift that a Reflective Practitioner  brings to a community is the ability to translate divinely inspired pre-modern notions in spiritual direction into the 21st century.

By helping people to understand the reality of the gap between some portions of our sacred text and the lived realities of modern society, we can bless people with the opportunity of insight and clarity. It helps no one to give old answers to new questions and call it being faithful. Being faithful is a willingness to up with new answers to new questions in a way that is informed by the way that the traditional answers were offered in response to questions within that historic context.

This is why I have little interest in the old ‘essence’ or ‘substance’ debates around notions like depravity. They just don’t work anymore. We waste a lot of time and energy trying to convince people or convert people to a pre-Copernican world view.


Those are the four things that came to mind  in response to your comment.

I would love to get everyone’s feedback on my 4 and to hear what you might add or substitute. 



Wrestling With Original Sin (1/2)

The conversation has been lively this week. It has been uncharacteristically defused: some on Facebook, Twitter, email and some here at the blog.

What follows in the next 2 posts is an attempt to address a theme that emerged out of that vibrant conversation. 

We have 3 good contemporary interpretations of ‘Original Sin’ on the table for discussion. I will call them:

  1. Evolutionary
  2. Realist
  3. Web -Networked.*


Evolutionary Types might talk about our ‘conflicted desires’ or ‘contradictory impulses’. This has been my favorite way to talk about what the ancients were attempting to describe with the idea of ‘original sin’ in the past. Something is wrong and we know it.

Even the Apostle Paul touched on the idea in Romans 7 by acknowledging that we don’t even do the good that we want to do! That is really saying something.

Evolutionary Types are fond of pointing to the conflicted nature of modern men to A) raise their offspring in a stable environment (like the mutually-beneficial social arrangement of marriage)  B) that is in conflict with another biological yearning to spread their seed far & wide to make more offspring. That is the most brute and easiest example.

Admittedly, this is not a very ‘christian’ perspective in some people’s estimation but I think that it illuminating.

  • Q: What if original sin is nothing more than what is going on at the ‘hard wiring’ level underneath the religions language?


Reinhold Niebuhr is famous for an approach called Christian Realism. He said some really interesting things about sin.

Aurthur Schlesinger Jr. says Niebuhr “emphasized the mixed and ambivalent character in human nature – creative impulses matched with destructive impulses, regard for others overruled by excessive self-regard, the will to power, the individual under constant temptation to play God in history. This is what is known in the ancient vocabulary of Christianity as the doctrine of original sin.”

James Cone summarizes this way:

“Because human finitude and humanity’s natural tendency to deny it (sin), we can never fully reach that ethical standard.”

He was speaking of love and justice. Cone comments, “Since Niebuhr saw justice as a balance of power between groups, whether classes, races, or nations, he saw it always in a state of flux, never achieving perfection in history.”

  • Q: What if original sin is better thought of as a deadly combination of human limitation and the natural tendency to deny it? 


A web approach can be heard from thinkers like Terry Eagleton in ‘On Evil’ and was suggested by Bo Eberly (also know as ‘Bo East’).

Eagleton on Original Sin:

“There is a sense in which freedom and destructiveness are bound up together. In the complex web of human destinies, where so many lives are meshes intricately together, the freely chosen actions of one individual may breed damaging, entirely unforeseeable effects in the lives of countless anonymous others. They may also return in alien form to plague ourselves. Acts that we and others have performed freely in the past may merge into an opaque process which appears without an author, confronting us in the present with all the intractable force of fate. In this sense, we are the creatures of our own deeds. A certain inescapable self-estrangement is thus built into our condition…

This is why original sin is traditionally about an act of freedom (eating an apple), yet is at the same time a condition we did not choose, and one which is nobody’s fault. It is ‘sin’ because it involves guilt and injury, but not ‘sin’ in the sense of willful wrong. Like desire for Freud, it is less a conscious act than a communal medium into which we are born. The interwoven of our lives is the source of our solidarity. But it also lies at the root of our mutual harm…

Original sin is not about being born either saintly or wicked. It is about the fact of being born in the first place. Birth is the moment when, without anyone having the decency to consult us on the matter, we enter into the preexistent web of needs, interests, and desires-an inextricable tangle to which the mere brute fact of existence will contribute, and which will shape our identity to the core. This is why in most Christian churches babies are baptized at birth…they have already reorder the universe without being aware of it.”

He goes on:

Original sin is not the legacy of our first parents but our parents, who in turn inherited it from their own. The past is what we are made of. Throngs of ghostly ancestors lurk within our most casual gestures, programming our desires and flicking our actions mischievously awry. Because our earliest, most passionate love affair takes place when we are helpless infants, it is caught up with frustration and voracious need. And this means our loving will always be defective. As with the doctrine of original sin, this condition lies at the core of the of the self, yet is nobody’s responsibility. Love is both what we need in order to flourish and what we are born to fail at. Our only hope is learning to fail better. Which may, of course, prove not to be good enough.”

  •  Q: What if the doctrine of original sin is addressing a tangled web of human desires and destinies that lies at the core of every self but for which nobody is responsible?


In part 2  I will attempt to address how the tangled web of inherited meanings and desires plays out when pastoring – but for now I would like to hear your thoughts on these theories.



* I am not that interested in conserving outdated discussions of ‘essence’ or ‘substance’ and how classical, patristic or Calvinistic understandings of century’s past may have framed it.  But if that is where you are at, you can simply state that and let it stand on it’s own merit. I don’t speculate about the details of ‘an’ original sin even while I am interested in the reality behind the concept. 



Day 14: Going to College with Christians

I have been waiting for us to arrive at Reed College. While I was fascinated with Albania and appreciate the Horse Brass Pub very much, I love Reed. Neighbors & Wisemen

I first learned about Reed through the book Blue Like Jazz which was written by Tony’s friend named named Don – who he mentions in this chapter.

It rocked me. 

One of the reasons it impacted me so much was that I lived in upstate NY at the time and we had a Reed. Our college was called Skidmore and it had much the same reputation in our town.

When I would go to our area’s pastor breakfast, my fellow ministers would make many of the same disparaging remarks about Skidmore that Tony mentions about Reed.

Evangelicals have an odd relationship with colleges like this. Whether it is the free-thinking, the critical scholarship or the permissive lifestyle of many students – these kind of colleges are seen as something between mission fields and combat zones. They represent a threat.

It was through Blue Like Jazz that I figured out that I had inherited a terrible allergy. My heart was wrong. My attitude was wrong. My approach was wrong.

I instantly changed my perspective and we developed a wonderful relationship with many Skidmore students. I’m not sure how much we changed the campus – but I was changed greatly by my relationship to the campus.


When I moved to the Pacific NW for seminary, the town that I lived in and pastored in had a Reed. Evergreen State in Olympia Washington played the same role for us that Reed played for the christian community that Tony represented. We were able to connect with an amazing young man who was a student at Evergreen and I would drive out every Sunday morning and most Wednesdays to pick him up for church.

 I’m blogging my way through Neighbors and Wisemen for Lent. If you want to catch up on the previous entries [click here]

I am fascinated with this pattern. What sits behind it, for me, is an awareness of a massive shift in american Christianity in the 20th century. After the Scopes Money Trial in the 1920’s, conservative Christianity lost much favor in the public arena. In the court of public opinion we had won that trial but lost much respect and influence.

The result was that conservative Christianity retreated into its own self-made institutions. You see the rise of Christian colleges, Christian radio, and eventually even Christian bookstores, Christian TV, and other manifestations of products tailored to those who wanted to consume Christian goods.

In an open capitalist market it is easy to see why this happened. The assault from the outside world led some branches of the family to pull back into their safe bubbles and develop an animosity to the outside world.

Eventually we got what came to be known as The Culture Wars. 

If you want to read a fascinating book, look into The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Here is a spoiler alert: the Evangelical mind was neglected in lieu of the Culture Wars. We are still suffering for it.


So when it comes to these radical College expressions, they are something to be resisted and even combated. I think that we are worse for it. The culture is worse for it. Our scholarship (or lack thereof) suffers because of it.

That is why I am so happy that Tony is taking us onto Reed’s campus.

We have some growing to do. We have some repenting to do. We have some bridges to build and we have some lesson to learn.

Ring the bell – school is about to start!  


I’m glad that we are on this journey together.
I would love to hear your experiences of this kind of combative mentality
or your what the culture wars look like in your area. 



I Could Not Be Less Reductive: Love, Sex and Faith

It has become quite clear over the past several years that the source of many arguments in my life and in our culture ordinate with a desire to reduce things down to their simplest components or lowest common denominator. Over the past decade I have really embraced a complexity model of things. I can illustrate it with two examples:

  •  The foundational thinking of Josh McDowell and Ravi Zacharias – the apologetics school I had been groomed in – began to ring hollow in a number of areas. Through that process, I came to see the advantage of conceptualizing reality as a web, anchored in several locations, rather than a building resting on one key foundation.

The foundationalist approach is scary in a shifting culture. What used to seem rock solid is in danger of falling like a house of cards if even one element is moved or compromised.

  •  I moved from a magical ex nihilo understanding of 6 day creation (it was not the theologically sophisticated one you might be familiar with) but could not buy the cold darwinian evolution that had been so demonized in my camps.  Turns out that both a fairly reductive. It wasn’t until I discovered emergence thought and the interplay of elements that I was able to move beyond the simple either-or option of creation vs. evolution.

 This move away from the reductive becomes important in three key conversations: love, sex, and faith. 

 Love – when I talk with other youth pastors or teens from other youth groups, I am frequently surprised with just how often a reductive approach is taken on the topic love. “Is love an action or an emotion?” Sometime a third option will be given: “or a decision”. 

Its not that the answer to the question is that consequential. That is easy enough to deal with. It is the thinking behind the question that is so dangerous! Of course love is an action, it comes with feelings and creates more feelings and we make decisions about that at every step along the way. Its easy enough to side step the either/or trap … what concerns me is why something as grand and essential complex as love has to be reduced down to a single element? What is the driving influence there?  It is bigger than just getting christian teens to not ‘give into their emotions’ or to show their love for God and the world by putting it into ‘action’ whether they feel like it or not.  There is something else behind that reductive move.

Sex – I am truly shocked by how often a reductive maneuver is employed by those who are a little more conservative than me when the topic of sex comes up. “While sex may be pleasurable – in the end, it is primarily about procreation” my debate partner will say. “In fact, God probably made it pleasurable so that we would want to do it more.”

I object to this live of reasoning strenuously!  Sex is about a whole myriad of things.

Our sexuality is about pleasure, connection, expression, intimacy, power, procreation and drive.  It certainly is not about just one thing.

Look, I know a heterosexual couple that can’t procreate. They have a very healthy sex life. I know another couple who did procreate (twice) and are finding that it is significantly impeding their sex life.

Sex in the 21st century is not just or even primarily about procreation. Even heterosexual couples who can procreate have sex that does not result in pregnancy.

 Faith – I have heard voices as disparate as Slavo Zizek and Martin Luther pull a reductive move when it comes to faith. Zizek has said on more than one occasion that he would like to see good deeds done for no other reason than that they the right thing to do – good on their own merit – and not because the one who does it gets anything out (like an altruistic sense of satisfaction) or believes that she will be rewarded for it in the next life. This reminds of Luther’s early wrestling with loving God (If I only love God for saving me then I have loved God for the wrong reason and it is not love worthy of God … etc.)

 I don’t get this at all!  It seems to me that whether you believe in a God (I do) or whether you subscribe to a social construction theory of morality (that as social mammals it benefits us to benefit others in a series of non-zero and reciprocal relationships) that both are best understood as essentially complex webs of meaning and relationship.

Let’s take the God road for a minute. If there is a God who wants me to do good things, then it stands to reason that I may be made in such a way that I both enjoy doing that good and benefit from it. That does not take away from the goodness itself, it is just distributed to several factors of befit. Why is it only truly a good deed if I get nothing – not even satisfaction – out of it. Even if I do something anonymously for which there can be no reciprocal or social benefit, I’m not allowed that simple satisfaction of knowing I did something good?  So the only truly good deed is done with emotional distance and internal steel?  That is bogus! It seems to me that even without God in the equation, that reductive move is limiting and harmful, even self-defeating.

A far better approach would be embrace the social locatedness of human existence and to recognize the collective pot of goodness to which we both benefit from and contribute to. A pot of common-wealth that is both relational and substantial that has made us who we are – we have been molded, shaped and groomed by it – and to which we participate that can benefit others as well as be rewarding for us.

Doing good is complex and it is essentially complicated. We don’t need to break that down and diagnose it as much as we need to embrace it and pour ourselves into it.

In the end, I see this impulse toward the reductive to be not only limiting to thought but detrimental to joy. I think we are missing out by not embracing the multifaceted and layered complexity of love, sex and faith.

-Bo Sanders 


People Do Change Their Minds

Recently I was reading an article by Richard A. Muller called “The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic” in the NY Times. Muller is a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and is the author of “Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines.” Muller begins by saying:

Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

Muller ends by saying:

 Science is that narrow realm of knowledge that, in principle, is universally accepted. I embarked on this analysis to answer questions that, to my mind, had not been answered. I hope that the Berkeley Earth analysis will help settle the scientific debate regarding global warming and its human causes. Then comes the difficult part: agreeing across the political and diplomatic spectrum about what can and should be done.

This made my think back to an article that I had read a month ago by Kevin DeYoung entitled “Why No Denomination Will Survive the Homosexuality Crisis”. DeYoung basically says that we are all talking past each other and that there is no way that conservatives, liberals and those want a compromise can ever get along or agree.

His conclusion is:

 “My plea is for these denominations to make a definitive stand. Make it right, left, or center, but make one and make it clearly. Insist that member churches and pastors hold to this position. And then graciously open a big door for any pastor or church who cannot live in this theological space to exit with their dignity, their time, and their property. Because sometimes the best way to preserve unity is to admit that we don’t have it.”

 I feel for DeYoung. He is in a tough ecclesiastic place. But … I have to respectfully disagree. After all, people do change their minds. 

Here is the odd part of this conversation: Things are not static. People are not givens, and views are not set in stone. Things change.

Now there is a caveat.

What I would want to bring to attention is that in both the issue of climate change and homosexuality (and I would add emergent evolution) the migration is not symmetrical. The movement is predominately one way traffic.

I don’t think that the issue of LGBT rights is as much of a forgone conclusion as some others. I do not think that it as inevitable as I ofter hear. I think that there is a lot of hard work ahead to educate, to protect and to actually legislate.

But here is why I am hopeful. Having a friend who is gay is how so many young people report changing their minds on the issue. It’s amazing – knowing someone who is gay, being a friend is a powerful influence. That element paired with advancements in science bringing greater explanation are major reasons for hope.

People who grow up in Bible believing churches, have a gay friend and figure out the need to read the Bible different on that issue. But rarely does the migration happen the other way. Somebody is ok with their gay friends, then reads the Bible and says “hey I think that this 3,000 year old understanding of sexuality is more accurate than what scientist, sociologist, and psychologist are telling us today.”

That is why I am hopeful. Not because it is inevitable. Not because ‘gay is the new black’. No – I am hopeful because the movement is almost exclusively one way traffic and because having a friend can be such a powerful influence.

In both climate change and evolution – people do change their minds. Mostly based on science. But in the realm of human relationship, there is nothing like a friend.*

So I would like speak against Mr. DeYoung’s proposal and put forward a counter-proposal:

I make a motion that we give it time. That was don’t initiate a parting of the ways. That we live in the uncomfortable tension and let God sort it out as God’s Spirit works within us, among us, and all around us. That we acknowledge the plurality of perspectives and we don’t make this a terminal issue to the relationship. 

Can I get a second? 





*p.s. I know that somebody is going to come on and post that their is someone at their church who ‘wants out of the gay life style’ and that reinforced their previously held view.  The thing is that within the construct of a church culture where one is told to ‘pray away the gay’ (to use a common phrase) is it the same kind of friendship I am talking about. If you are the ‘healthy’ or normal one and you are wanting to change them … it’s not exactly a symmetrical mutuality.  When someone is under shame from the institutional frameworks of the church, they are not free to be the kind of friend who who is most likely to change one’s mind.



Killer Apes Won’t Save the Planet

The Summer philosophy group that I am a part of is reading The Faith of the Faithless by Simon Critchley. It is an wild, tour-de-force type of work that spans genres and categories. This past week it broached something that touched a nerve for me.

 The most extreme expression of human arrogance… is the idea that human beings can save the planet from environmental destruction. Because they are killer apes, that is, by virtue of a naturalized version of original sin that tends them towards wickedness and violence, human beings cannot redeem their environment.

Furthermore, the earth doesn’t need saving… The earth is suffering from disseminated primatemaia, a plague of people. Homo rapiens is ravaging the planet like a filthy pest that has infested a dilapidated but once beautiful mansion. In 1600 the human population was about half a billion. In the 1990’s it increased by the same amount.
This plague cannot be solved by the very species who are the efficient cause of the problem … When the earth is done with humans, it will recover and human civilization will be forgotten. Life will on on, but without us. Global warming is simply one of many fevers that the earth has suffered during its history. It will recover, but we won’t because we can’t.  – p. 110

This reminded me something that an old podcast interview with Michael Dowd first awakened me to. Dowd is the author of Thank God for Evolution and he has an incredible knack for articulating his unique perspective.

Dowd talks about the power of participating in a narrative. His assertion is that we are participating in the wrong narrative! If we think that humans are the crown achievement of a project that began about 10,000 years ago and was finished in a 6 day period … a project that humans were give dominion over – then we live one way. [often this dominion is mis-interpreted as domination and has resulted in everything from unchecked capitalism to environmental policies such as “drill baby drill” for instance

Dowd has this theory that humans who living under this narrative are participating in the earth as a cancer does in the body. Cancer is a biological part of the body. It is made up of the same matter that comprise the body that hosts it. But cancer is under the impression that the body that hosts it is a rival to be overcome and defeated. The cancer cells rally together to take over the body. They eventually multiply and expand to the point they endanger the very body that not only gave rise to it but that sustains it.

Ever since the Enlightenment and Descartes’ dualism, a certain set of the human population has believed that while humans are biologically mammals that they are not animals. Continuing on that while we originally were apart of the earth, we are above the earth. We are different than the rest of creation. While we came from the earth – from dust we came – we are not dependent on the earth for our very life. [I touched on this at my own blog in Nipples and Bellybuttons and the Imago dei ]

Because christian humans live by the wrong narrative, we behave as a cancer on the planet. In increasing size and exponential growth we consume at greater and greater levels, consuming the very body that gives host to our existence. At some point, the cancer ends up compromising the functions (organs) that give life to the organism in which it lives. Death ensues. We are not worried about because we think Jesus is coming back soon – it is the end times after all (a self-fulfilling prophecy if ever I saw one). *

Humans that are not willing to engage the ideas of emergence and evolution are living by a cancerous narrative that will extinguish the very host that gives it life. Humans that have a short view of history and a high view of their place in the created order behave in ways that are inherently cancerous to the ecosystems that support and sustain them.

 If we don’t wake up and acknowledge that we have been living by a false narrative we will eventually (sooner or later) overtake the host body’s capacity to renew itself and continue to survive and prosper. This 6 day – 10,000 year old narrative is resulting in a cancerous attitude that is killing the planet.

  • If Critchley is right, then we as killer apes can not save the planet – in fact we wouldn’t even care.
  • If Dowd is correct, we wouldn’t even try because we thought we didn’t need to. We would be living by a different narrative.


* The book of Revelation is a political commentary on Roman politics of the first three centuries written in the form of apocalyptic literature. 


Proposing an Alternative to the Predicament

Part 1 of Peter Bannister’s review is here.

Sketching an alternative proposal

What options then may be open to readers who share Clayton’s and Knapp’s concern for a dynamic Christology, but who want to retain a more traditional theological framework?

Here I can of course only offer the briefest of sketches, but you might call my tentative proposal ‘semi-adoptionist’, for want of a better term, drawing on Philip Clayton’s former Doktorvater Wolfhart Pannenberg. What if we retain the pre-incarnate Logos – it is absolutely the Second Person of the Trinity who takes flesh -, but radicalize the kenosis of Philippians 2 by taking seriously the free acceptance by the Logos of subjection to physical and mental developmental processes (from conception to Cross) including all they entails in the light of our limited but real scientific knowledge of human physicality. Jesus as divine Son is united to the Father ontologically throughout his earthly life, but is not necessarily consciously aware of it; the Logos rather ‘starts again from zero’ in accepting the limitations imposed by inherited human DNA, neurological structure, cognitive development, development and obedience to his earthly parents (Luke 2:51-52), having to learn a human religious tradition in its particularity, and the unavoidable reality of spending around one-third of his life snoring (yes, Jesus slept as well as wept!).

In this scenario Jesus is not ‘adopted’ at Baptism or Resurrection in the sense of crossing a threshold between a ‘non-divine’ and a divine nature, but certainly attains to a new intensification of his Sonship in a ‘functional’ sense. He is anointed with the Spirit at Baptism, raised through the Spirit at Easter and exalted as Kyrios  at his Ascension by virtue of having defeated the Powers in his self-emptying death on the Cross.  Appropriating The Predicament’s language of emergence theory, these are real events in Jesus’s life where a new ‘emergent level’ is reached. In this scheme there is therefore authentic becoming without the radical discontinuity suggested by all-out adoptionism. At the same time this ‘becoming’ is not restricted to the humanity of Jesus; as long as we regard Christ as one person and not two and remember that his indwelling by the Spirit, his earthly life is simultaneously the experience of a human being and the life of humanity experienced by God.

To use Irenaeus’s framework of seeing Jesus’s life as a recapitulation of what it is to be a human being, I would like to suggest that the mission of his earthly existence is in some way to become in time, through a life of self-giving love and perfect obedience to the Father, the Son that he is from all eternity.

As to how it is possible to keep the notion of the eternal Son while admitting real development in Jesus’s life, I would suggest that the idea of ‘Sonship’ has two aspects which, while obviously related, are conceptually separable. This was already explored by Pannenberg in Jesus, God and Man when trying make sense of Paul’s affirmation on the one hand of Christ’s pre-existence found in expressions such as ‘God sent his Son’ (Galatians 4:4) and formulations such as Romans 1:3, where Jesus is ‘designated Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead’, which has sometimes been interpreted in adoptionist fashion.  Pannenberg’s position is that while adoptionist language is undoubtedly Biblical, ‘the idea of Jesus’ adoption by God says too little’ and that – quoting Paul Althaus – ‘Jesus was what he is before he knew about it’.

One aspect of the Divine Sonship is filiation, i.e. the Son as the ‘only-begotten’ of John 1:18, a status which obviously cannot be ‘renounced’ kenotically. If we are using the title ‘Son’ in this way, it seems wholly reasonable to assert that Jesus was God’s ‘Son’ even in Mary’s womb. However, once the word ‘Sonship’ is used in its second sense, invested with real content in terms of the outworking of Jesus’s character rather than merely denoting filiation, things look different; if what we talking about is Jesus’s path of self-emptying love, this inevitably requires the trajectory of a life lived. It simply can’t happen by magic.

Being a composer, let me conclude with a musical analogy. Imagine the Son’s eternal Divine nature ‘vertically’ in terms of harmony, as a chord you could strike on a piano or a guitar. Now take those same notes into the world of ‘melody’ where things happen in time, i.e. horizontally, and play them in succession from the bottom up. But don’t dampen the strings of the guitar, and leave the piano pedal down. What happens is that you arrive at the same chord. In our temporally-structured world of earthly existence, it is such a ‘melodic’ unfolding which is the only means of the ‘composing-out’ of Jesus’s Sonship (Auskomponierung in the German technical jargon of which music theorists are just as fond as systematic theologians). Something really happens. But the notes are the same as those of the chord, and the listener’s experience is enriched by the melody. Not only enriched, but hopefully inspired for her own melodic journey through life.

The project represented by The Predicament of Belief  is surely an excellent and important one; Steven Knapp and Philip Clayton deserve our congratulations and gratitude for the considerable service that they have rendered both to the academy and the Church in undertaking it. But I think that I am not misinterpreting the intentions of the authors themselves in saying that their book is best taken as a starting-point and not as a final destination.


To be continued.



Doubly trained in music and systematic/philosophical theology, Peter Bannister is Associate Artistic Director and Composer-in-Association of SOLI DEO GLORIA Inc., a Chicago-based organization devoted to furthering sacred music in the Judeo-Christian tradition. He also co-directs the American Church in Paris’s participation in the John Templeton Foundation’s ‘Scientists in Congregations Ministry Initiative’, and is the author of the Music and Theology blog ‘Da stand das Meer’.