Shared Belief: The Problem of Pain

Part of Shared Belief, a series responding to Alisa Childers’ article on progressive Christianity and atheism.


#2: “They May Have an Unresolved Answer to the Problem of Evil”

To put it simply, the problem of pain is as follows:

God is:
A) Ominpotent (All-Powerful)
B) Omniscient (All-Knowing)
C) Omnibenevolent (All-Good or All-Loving)
But pain, evil, and suffering exist.
Therefore, at least one of the attributes to God must be false because:
A) An all-powerful God would have the ability to prevent pain.
B) An all-knowing God would know that pain exists and how to prevent it.
C) An all-good God would desire only what is good and pleasant for the world.

For many, as Childers points out, this problem is a major impediment to theistic belief. Alt-rock band Modest Mouse voices this doubt with agonizing beauty in their song “Bukowski” making the bold claim “If God takes life, he’s an indian giver,” before continuing:

If God controls the land and disease,
Keeps a watchful eye on me,
If he’s really so damn mighty,
My problem is I can’t see,
Well who would want to be?
Who would want to be such a control freak?
Well who would want to be?
Who would want to be such a control freak?

In theology, attempts to defend God from the apparent contradictions in the problem of pain are called theodicies. Continue reading “Shared Belief: The Problem of Pain”

Shared Belief: Scripture, Fact, Truth, and Authority

Part of Shared Belief, a series responding to Alisa Childers’ article on progressive Christianity and atheism.


#1: “They May Adopt a Belief That the Bible is Unreliable”

Here we come already to the first instance demanding nuance. What does Childers mean by “unreliable”?

She cites to authors like Rob Bell (former megachurch pastor) and Rachel Held Evans (Episcopalian lay person and author) and their writings addressing discrepancies between the historical record and Scripture. In these instances, “unreliable” means “not always 100% historically factual.” (I’ve addressed this topic before — see here.) Rob Bell, at least in his early days, compared biblical historicity to springs and bricks. He writes: Continue reading “Shared Belief: Scripture, Fact, Truth, and Authority”

Shared Belief: Fundamentalists, Progressives, and Atheists

Alisa Childers, a self-styled apologist and frequent contributor at The Gospel Coalition, has written an article on links between progressive Christian theology and atheism. In particular, she highlights three beliefs that “some” progressive Christians “may” hold in common with secular humanists. While Childers attempts to add shades of nuance with her modifiers of choice, the tone of her essay is clear: progressive Christianity leads to heresy and, in time, out-right atheism.

Childers sites to famous former Christians: Bart Campolo (son of the pastor/scholar Tony Campolo), Bart Ehrman (biblical scholar at the University of North Carolina), and Michael Gungor (former Christian rock star). These non-believers left Evangelical Christianity (patent pending) for more progressive parts of the Church before rejecting the faith entirely.

Citing the younger Campolo’s claims, Childers warns that progressive Christianity will see a mass exodus towards “full-blown” atheism in the coming years. She then lists the three shared beliefs that map the route from progressive theology to atheism: Continue reading “Shared Belief: Fundamentalists, Progressives, and Atheists”

To End All Wars

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month — today, we mark a century since the end of World War I.

It was called the “Great War” and the “war to end all wars,” but the aftermath suggests otherwise.

In the first industrialized war, we saw the terror of the modern age fully unleashed. A war that stated with horses ended with tanks and planes.Poisonous gasses, automatic weapons, aerial warfare — these “advancements” unleashed hell across the various fronts. Technology prolonged what would have been a months-long imperial skirmish into a years-long horror show in the trenches. Continue reading “To End All Wars”

Etiology and the Polis

A Pastoral Epistle on Origins Stories, the Polis, and the Common Good


As we approach the end of the 2018 midterm elections, my mind turns towards our founding myths, stories which explain why the world is the way it is. Among theologians, we call these stories “etiologies.” Among superhero fans, we call them “origin stories.” Either way, they set out to explain key aspects of some thing or some one’s identity. They ask common questions:

  • Who are we?
  • Why are we here?
  • How did we get here?
  • Why does the world look the way it does?
  • What does it all mean?

Consider the creation narratives in Genesis — one a poetic ode to divine power and created order as God speaks the cosmos into being over seven days, the other showing God as a tender gardener who literally sculpts humanity — Adam from the soil, Eve from Adam’s flesh. Both myths shed light on who God is — the poet with power to speak the world into being or the loving craftsman. Continue reading “Etiology and the Polis”

Come So Far, So Far To Go

jesusappearstomarymagdalene-17thcentury
The Risen Christ Appears to Saint Mary Magdalene

It’s remarkable to sit back and think about this past summer and the historic wave of women elected to the episcopacy within the ELCA. In less than fifty years (forty-eight this month), the mainline Lutheran tradition went from not ordaining women to going six-for-six on new bishops.

Let that sink in: fifty years ago, women were not ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Now, they make up just over a quarter of  our Conference of Bishops.

As the Religion News Service reports, the percentage of women in ministry is on the rise across mainline Protestantism. Continue reading “Come So Far, So Far To Go”

A View from El Camino

The Camino de Santiago, or the Way of Saint James, is a centuries-old pilgrimage route which traces its way across western France and northern Spain before ending at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The path wanders through countryside and small towns, and the cathedral features a massive thurible used for blessing the large crowds that gather in the cathedral. The town of Santiago is connected through legend with Saint James the Greater (much in the same way that folk mythology connects Joseph of Arimathea to Britain). Emilio Estevez’s movie The Way follows a group of pilgrims as they make their trip to the cathedral, and it’s well worth a watch.

The Camino has been on my bucket list for a few years now, and I have been following the adventures of Fr. Eric Hollas, a Benedictine monk and cyber-scribe from Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN (another place near to my heart) as he makes his way towards the legendary resting place of Saint James, the son of Zebedee. His posts offer a quick glimpse, in word and picture, into the life of a pilgrim walking the Way of Saint James. Fr. Eric recorded a few trips over the past year, including to Lourdes and a Germany monastery. Reflecting on his time in Lourdes, he wrote: Continue reading “A View from El Camino”

Marriage, Divorce, and Jesus

This past Sunday, Jesus covered quite a bit of ground. Too much ground for one sermon, really. He hit on points of marriage, divorce, gender, and children. Any one of those topics could have been a book, let alone a fifteen-minute homily.

And because this week’s texts have been used as a cudgel to bludgeon rather than as a balm to soothe the afflicted, it’s important that we spend more time with the text.

Luckily, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Here are some highlights from other preachers. Continue reading “Marriage, Divorce, and Jesus”