Add an ‘S’ as a test

I started doing this several years ago. It is surprising how often it reveals something that significantly alters the perception of the topic. When a complex topic is overly simplified it actually makes it more confusing and becomes less helpful. Topics that are appropriately complex and multifaceted are not served by being pressed down or made mono.

Two historic examples and then some contemporary ones:

The Industrial Revolution, according to historians like John Merriman, was actually three industrial revolutions.

  • The first was an agricultural revolution which allowed people to grow more, which encouraged a bigger population and thus all the surplus labor that would be needed.
  • The second was inventions that impacted small groups of workers, like the cotton gin.
  • Then came the big one that generally gets all the headlines with big industry and coal burning factories.

The name ‘the industrial revolution’ is a bit of a misnomer that lumps these three together. They actually happened progressively over quite a long period of time.

The same happens with the ‘Protestant Reformation’. Most people don’t know that Luther and Zwingli were kind of up to two different things and that later Calvin came in (initially as a Lutheran) and then there were at least three little reformations. Then there was England’s Anglican movement that was doing its own thing, and the Anabaptists. That is 5 reformation movements.

When it comes to religions, it is often appropriate to add an ‘s’.

When we lump together the Jewish religion or the Jewish perspective, we may be overlooking the fact that there are three huge branches within Judaism, as well as many other splinters. There is a Reformed Judaism, a Conservative, and an Orthodox. They are very different from each other. You also have secular expressions of Judaism (cultural or ethnic).

Islam is the same way – there are over 80 ‘denominations’ of Islam. So when we say “Muslims _____” we may want to be careful and be more specific by adding a plural mentality and saying “some types of Muslims ______”.

Even within Christianity there are God knows how many different kinds of Christianity. So to say that “Christians believe ______” is more than challenging. It may be misleading.

There are several Judaisms, several types of Islams, and multiple Christian perspectives.

Sometimes people say things like “the Biblical Worldview” as if there is only one. There are actually many worldviews that informed Scripture. Certainly the view of those who wandered in the desert in the Exodus story had a different view of the world than Paul the cosmopolitan Roman citizen of Jewish descent. And one can clearly see that what Paul wrote in Romans 13 to submit to governments because they do God’s work was a different worldview than the person who wrote Revelation and called Rome ‘Babylon’ and a ‘whore who is drunk on the blood of that nations’. There are many examples that I could use but the important thing to note is that there are many worldviews in the Bible.

You also see this misnomer in the phrase “the early church”.  Books like The Emergence of the Early Church and The Churches the Apostles Left Behind help expose just how many  competing/complimentary groups were in the mix. What most people mean by use of the phase ‘the early church’ is the proto-orthodox notion of those whose views eventually won out.

It also helps out pastorally. It is so tempting to be prescriptive and formulaic in ministry – whether it is the advice we give or the way that we conceptualize the world and its workings. Let me give just 3 examples from the past month:

  • People have kids for all sorts of reasons. Starting a family can be motivated by several different impulses. Some parents view is as ‘legacy’ issue, for others it is an obligation. For some it is duty, for some it is a ‘gift’. Some parents didn’t know that it was an option not to procreate. For some there is a fascination with making something from your own body (I am quoting here) or seeing what a being that was half-them and half-their spouse would look like.

Dealing with family dynamics and expectations, then, is not a one-size-fits-all matter.

  • The same can be said for abortion. Women terminate pregnancies for so many different reasons. I get upset when I hear opponents of abortion painting with a brush that is so broad that a supremely complex issue gets boiled down to a single point and then used as a battering ram.

Motivations and factors both need to be addressed in the plural.

  • Missions is another topic that requires complexity. It is inaccurate to talk about ‘missions’ and mean one thing.  It is astounding how many different reasons people have for becoming missionaries. It is also significant to clarify the type or kind of missions one is engaged in. At minimum there are 3: compassion motivated missions, colonial type missions, and salvation (anti-hell) driven missions.

There is much more to said on this one (especially historically) but at minimum we need to be clear when we are talking about missionaries that both their drive and their tactics can vary widely. complexity

SO many examples could be used: ‘black’ voters, the female perspective, sexuality/celibacy, American ____, etc. Once you start adding an ‘s’ you will see more and more areas where it is applicable.

When you put this all together you see that just adding an ‘s’ as a test can help address the inherent complexity within an issue by more accurately reflecting its intrinsic multiplicity. We will also discover important themes where it is not appropriate and that will allow us to appreciate those unique topics even more.

I’m interested in your thoughts, questions, and concerns.


Postmodern Suffering on Twitter

Peter Heltzel – protestant activist, friend of Randy Woodley, author of Resurrection City, and upcoming podcast guest – posed a question on Twitter yesterday:

What does postmodernity mean for those who suffer?

Friend of the podcast, Anthony Smith addressed one aspect when he tweeted “black folks been postmodern since 1619. We’ve always rendered incredulous european metanarratives.”

I have been thinking about how one would possibly address that question in 140 characters. Here is what I came up with:

4 things postmodernity undermines: colonial certainty, enlightenment epistemology, scientific reductive approaches & capitalist confidence.

I would love to hear what you might tweet in order to answer Heltzel’s question. Answers longer than 140 characters will not be discounted … but responses within the format will be given bonus points.


In case you are wondering about Dr. Heltzel,  he is director of the Micah Institute at New York Theological Seminary. He is quoted in the linked article as saying:

“Corporate leaders, Wall Street financiers, real estate developers and insurance executives are already in conversation. We need to improvise with the religious traditions in our faith communities to create the conditions through which we can collaborate for justice as we build a deeper community.”

I’m looking forward to his visit to the podcast.

For a Church to Come with Peter Blum

Peter Blum is the author of For a Church to Come: Experiments in Postmodern Theory and Anabaptist Thought. He chats with Callid for a conversation about how post-modern thought inform and interacts with the Christian tradition and the Quaker/Mennonite/Anabaptist persuasion.  Blum_Peter

We have 3 copies of Blum’s book to give away! Just go to the main page and click on the Speak-Pipe link on the right hand of the page. Leave us a message and your name will be put into the Randomizer XP4000 (one of Tripp’s Lakers hats) and 3 winners will be selected.


*** If you enjoy all the Homebrewed Christianity Podcasts then consider sending us a donation via paypal. We got bandwidth to buy & audiological goodness to dispense. We will also get a percentage of your Amazon purchase through this link OR you can send us a few and get us a pint!***

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Subverting the Norm LIVE and in 3-D

This is a ruckus selection of audio from the HomeBrewed Christianity live event at the Subverting the Norm 2 conference last weekend. Rushmore_Poster_rev0

It begins with Barry Taylor and the Band then moves on to 4 toasts offered in honor of the 4 faces on our Mt. Rushmore style Radical Theology poster for the event. Hegel, Tillich, Derrida and Caputo are toasted by Kirsten Gerdes, Tripp Fuller, Jack Caputo and Peter Rollins.

Tony Jones sat in for Bo Sanders in ‘the Practical Seat’  and you will be able to hear how wild things got as the evening progressed.  There was also a contest between Tripp’s two new brews: the Caputo Decon-structor Ale and the John Cobb #Faniac Ale.

If Radical Theology is something that interests you, make sure to sign up for the Summer Reading-Video Conference with Tripp and Pete called “High Gravity”.

Leave us some feedback about this episode by using the little microphone on the front page in the ‘Speak Pipe’.

Our Theology Starts 100 Years Ago: an experiment

I want to throw something out and see if it has legs. I will be playing a character today – feel free to play along! 

My great-grandmother was born into a world that no longer exists in many ways.

I’m preparing a presentation for the Subverting the Norm Conference. I have been reviewing a book called Modern Christian Thought and I am haunted by the reality that there is something significant about the late 19th and early 20th. One-Room Schoolhouse

The world changed 100 years ago. The changes weren’t just technological and societal. The changes were in areas that deeply impact the realms of belief and the way that we live out faith in community.

As a constructive theologian who is getting ready to present to a group of radical theologians, I keep circling around this idea:


The way that we think about theology and engage our faith has been fundamentally altered in the last 100 years.  

I am tempted to say that we would be far better off if we just started theology at the turn of the 20th century.  In some ways, the way that we all approach the christian faith begins about 100 years ago.

  • Radio was becoming a technology for mass communication. Somewhere between 1909 and 1920 the medium emerged. 1920 sees the first public stations.
  • TV didn’t exist yet.
  •  Women didn’t get the right to vote until 1920.
  • 100 years ago – World War 1 had not started.
  • The Great Depression is almost 2 decades away. That is important because it wrecked 2 things that ruled up until that point in the American psyche: 1) the myth of perpetual growth & prosperity 2) the illusion of independence and not be inter-connected with other nations.
  • The 1906 Pentecostal Revival at Azusa Street was on the move.
  • 100 years the large of majority of American churches were preaching ‘post-millennial’ theology: that we would usher in the kingdom of God through societal improvement. 100 years later almost no one believes that.
  • In 1914 Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic and was arrested. A decade later she would do it again with success since venereal disease had become a reality for soldiers in WWI. By the 1930s legal victories would make contraception normative.
  • 1903 the Wright brother famously took flight. 1909 air travel began to go commercial.
  • 100 years ago the psychology of Sigmund Freud was starting to be popularized.
  • Movies were still a few years away.
  • Vatican II, Nuclear War, and the Internet were not even shadows to be hinted at – and those three have perhaps impacted the greatest number of humans as anything else on the list.

One Downside: 

In fact, there is only reason that I am hesitant to say that we would be far better off to just start theology at the turn of the 20th century. The reason for my hesitation is that matters of racism and the colonial legacy might be lost.

I would argue, however, that these concerns are accounted for in my 100 Year proposal because the implications of African slavery, First Nations genocide, and other historic legacies are so deeply embedded in the current structures that they show up continuously. *

Huge Upside:

It seems to me that those who are most into things from the 13th century (Aquinas) or 16th century (Calvin) or even the 19th (revivalism and holiness) are most prone to the ‘silo mentality’ that has then focused on ‘in house’ matters to the apparent neglect of the culture around them. I know that it is dangerous (and ill-advised) to paint with such a broad stroke but …

There is something self-satisfying when we get fascinated with a historical expression that tends to pull one into a more … I don’t know how to say it … internal place?

It’s not a lot different than when people get really into quilting, or tying flies, or video games. That becomes their big things, takes much of their thought energy and time. But in the end … it is just another thing. Like collecting Precious Moments figurines – it’s not harmful – it’s just not worthy to be the thing.   Like a kid so enthralled with playing in the sandbox being totally oblivious to world around.

It doesn’t pass the ‘so what’ test.


Because the gospel is about incarnation, we are supposed to be the body of christ fully embodied in our time and place. That is how I read it.  So much has changed over the past 100 years that to not put all our energy into the world in which we live is the equivalent of  – at best fantasizing/day dreaming … and at worst to live in denial and prefer the fantasy.

I am growing suspicious that it is that stark.
The consequences are that dire.
The realities of our century are that severe.

It is why I’m growing suspicious that Radical Political Theology may be far more faithful an endeavor than attempts to recover a romanticized notion of something lost.

I don’t want to talk about Aristotle and neo-Platonism one more time. I don’t care about the Greek polis. It doesn’t matter how pre-moderns conceived of substance and essence. I don’t care how the Reformers argued about communion and baptism. It’s time to move on.


* There is no greater danger in them being lost anymore than they are now, nor is there much progress being made by our current approach which is white-washed simply by ‘look, I didn’t own any slaves and I didn’t steal any land – that has nothing to do with me.’ So I’m not sure how much the 17th 18th and 19th century are really helping us in matters of justice. 


Doug Pagitt Radio: what is happening IN religion

I had the honor to be on Doug Pagitt Radio this morning. It was a great conversation with Doug and Victoria that centered about what is happening in religion.Web_Logo_lrg_wTagBubble

You can read the initial blog about religionand postmodern thought here.

Doug has the video on his website and on Itunes.

Here the video of the first segment. Here is the video of the second.


Doug has been on Homebrewed several times. Once talking about his books in the Inventive Age, and once chatting with Tripp about politics (in a post-debate debrief).

Check out Doug’s book on Amazon.


Most the conversation centered around my proposal that there are at least 5 things happening in religion:

  • Experience
  • Formation
  • Event
  • Mystery
  • Potentially Something Real

I would love to get your feedback on the interview. Brew on!   -Bo   [you can keep up with all my past posts on this page]