From A Distance

It would be hard to find someone more predisposed to the Christian religion than I am. I grew up going to church every Sunday, and I didn’t hate it. In fact, by the time I was in my late teens, I was certain God had “called” me to devote my life to the service of the church and the gospel. That is what I have done. I have been ordained in three different denominations, and I have friends in virtually every major tradition of the church from the fundamentalist right to the progressive left.

I have looked at the church from almost every imaginable perspective. I’ve seen the best and the worst, things that make me proud and things that make me ashamed, things that make me smile broadly and things that make me weep uncontrollably. I’ve seen the church be a place where people experience joy and delight, and I’ve seen it cause intense pain and do grievous harm. Continue reading

The Dream Must Never Die

In his first address to the nation as president, following the resignation of Richard Nixon, who had been forced out of office by the Watergate scandal just ahead of likely impeachment, Gerald Ford opened with these words: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”

I was a twenty-four-year-old fundamentalist pastor at the time, and like everybody I knew, I had voted for Nixon when he was elected to a second term in 1972. I had followed the Watergate hearings on TV, sort of, and I knew that all the “chattering class”—politicians and news analysts especially—regarded the matter as a constitutional crisis with the potential to destabilize our government, weaken our economy, and jeopardize our international influence. It would be years, however—after I managed to disentangle myself from that intellectually restrictive thought system—before I would understand just how serious the crisis really was and how much of a national nightmare it had really been. Continue reading

On The Threshold Of A New Year

Over the past decade, I have made a lot of changes in what I believe about life and faith and how I evaluate truth claims and worldviews. Like so many others in similar situations, I changed my mind about essential matters when I found that, at the most crucial times in my life, my previously-cherished beliefs simply did not work for me; they promised far more than they delivered.

When I looked more deeply, I found that the superstructure of my belief system crumbled because the foundation on which it rested was riddled with cracks. In philosophical terms, my presuppositions were flawed, so the conclusions based on them turned out to be flawed as well. You don’t have to agree with my assessment here; I’m just putting it out there. Continue reading

Incarnational Christianity

You say your church is doctrinally orthodox, and you recite the Nicene Creed every week? I don’t care.

You say that, in your church, people speak in tongues, make prophetic pronouncements, and experience other manifestations of supernatural power? I don’t care.

IchthusYou say your pastor is a brilliant orator, an exciting motivator, and a wonderful teacher? I don’t care.

I don’t care how many members are on your roll or how much your congregation has grown in the past year. I don’t care how many were “saved,” sanctified, filled with the Spirit, baptized, confirmed, commissioned, or ordained in your services last week. Continue reading

Who Do You Think I Think God Is?

I am the first to admit that I don’t fully understand the concept of prayer. I do pray, and most of the time I feel better because I have prayed, but when I stop to consider what my praying implies about God, I am a combination of confused and embarrassed.

Do I really believe that the God who created the universe is not going to heal somebody or intervene in some situation or open some door of opportunity unless I ask God to do that? Or do I believe that God will allow a calamity to unfold unless a certain number of people beseech God to stop it? And if so, what is that number? At what point does the volume of prayer and the number of people praying about a particular matter reach “critical mass” so that God is required to respond by answering those prayers in the affirmative? Continue reading

The Road to Someplace Beautiful

The Road to Someplace Beautiful
Chapel Address by Eric Kouns
Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Harrisonburg, Virginia
November 10, 2015

[Note: If you’d like to hear this address as it was delivered at EMS, click here.]

Whenever a man of mediocre intellect is invited to address an audience in an academic setting—a pseudo-scholar who wants to foster the pretense of erudition—he will often begin his talk by referencing an obscure quote by a nineteenth-century existentialist philosopher.

I think it was Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish existentialist, who once observed that…

We  live our lives looking forward, but we understand our lives only by looking back.

I would call that either profoundly self-evident or self-evidently profound. But it’s true, in any event. Continue reading

Going Dark for a Month

In late September, I announced that I was going to publish a blog post each day during the month of October. I had undertaken that very discipline one year ago and found it to be both gratifying and exhausting. I attempted a similar schedule during Lent this past spring but ran out of steam before the end of that 40-day marathon.

I am today suspending my blogging for at least a month. This will be my last post until sometime in November. The reason for this decision is not that I have nothing to say. I had already drawn up the schedule for all 31 posts. Rather, I decided to “go dark,” both here and on Facebook, because I want to extract myself from any further conversation that relates to the 2016 presidential election.

I did not address issues related to the presidential race, either here or on Facebook, during the 2012 campaign. I intended to follow that pattern this year as well. Then, last winter, when most of the country still thought the entry into the race by one well-known reality-TV personality was a joke, I made a few comments to that effect. As his candidacy became more and more likely, while at the same time more and more unthinkable, I posted my thoughts on that matter fairly frequently.

I can’t say that I regret anything I said, since I spoke only to matters of the candidate’s lack of character and qualifications for the presidency. I did not engage in partisan political activism. Still, I have reason to believe that my comments in that sphere diluted the impact of my posts on other, more substantive, issues. Readership of my blog has taken a nosedive in recent weeks.

There has never been a more divisive figure in American politics in my lifetime than the Republican presidential nominee. His influence on the American psyche has been corrosive and destructive. It will take decades to recover from the damage his candidacy has inflicted on our nation.

Here’s my prediction. I think there is a real chance the Republican nominee will drop out of the race before the election. If he does not, he will lose by a significant margin. In the process, the Democrats will regain the majority in the U.S. Senate. But November 9 will not bring the end of this sordid and painful chapter. The Republican nominee will claim the election was rigged, and his supporters will use that as a reason to de-legitimize the new president. The pain will continue.

I need a break from this. For that reason, I am going dark for the next four weeks. I’ll pop back on Facebook from time to time for personal items. For example, I’ll be speaking in chapel at Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, VA, on November 10, two days after the election. I’ll come back with some reminders as that date gets closer. It will be a quick trip to Virginia, but we hope to see some old friends—as well as some new ones—while we are there. The chapel service, which begins at 11:00 a.m., is open to the public.

And then, I will be back with blog posts after mid-November. At least that’s the plan at this time. If that changes for any reason, I’ll let you know.

I do appreciate all of you who read my posts, here and on Facebook, either regularly or from time to time. I hope you’ll find that this time away will serve to enrich the quality of what I write when I return.

Oh, in case you are wondering, my movement away from conservative evangelicalism and toward a more progressive understanding of how to follow Jesus continues unabated. It has cost me a good many friends, but it has given me immense peace of mind. No second thoughts there.

See you in November. Peace.