Evan Jellico and the Left Road Bridge: A Parable

For as long as anyone could remember, the Jellico family had raised corn and wheat on their two hundred fertile acres of Midwest farmland. They marketed their grain through a large cooperative whose elevators were located in the town of Kingston, about twenty miles north of the Jellico farm.

For reasons no one fully understood, the Jellicos—who had adopted many of the most modern agricultural methods to ensure maximum productivity from their acreageMule wagon 2—insisted on hauling their grain to market in a large wagon pulled by a team of strong mules.

In the old days, there had been but one major road from the Jellico farm to the grain elevator in Kingston. Oh, there was a rutty old one-lane road that veered off to the right about twelve miles north of the farm, just south of the river. It did go to Kingston, but it was narrow and winding and generally more difficult. Some people used it, but the vast majority stayed on the main road. Continue reading

Someday I Hope To Love Sundays Again

I hate Sundays. Wait, I should be a bit more temperate and not so indiscriminate with a term I tell my grandson not to use. So I’ll re-phrase. I really, really dislike Sundays with a visceral aversion akin to hatred. I approach this day with a combination of dread and loathing so intense I know it will generate a bile in my inward parts that I can almost taste. Several times today I will wonder why I am gritting my teeth so hard that my head hurts. Then I will remember. Oh yeah, it’s Sunday.

If it were possible to go to sleep on Saturday night and not wake up until Monday morning, I would happily take that option. Sundays are just too disheartening, frustrating, and painful. Continue reading

Here Comes the Sun

Dear Kathryn:

It has been five days since my last letter to you. In that time, you have sent three notes to me, and I wanted to let you know that I received them. Each one posed thoughtful questions with regard to my current views on important issues, and I thank you for sending them.

In response to my two letters in which I tried to answer the question “What exactly is the Gospel?” you asked me to say more about how I understand the term “salvation.” You wondered what I believe was accomplished through the death of Jesus on the cross, and you asked what I now believe about hell as a place of conscious torment and punishment for those who die in their unbelief. Those questions were all in the first of your three recent notes. Continue reading

What Exactly Is The Gospel? (Part One)

Dear Mr. Lough:

You have referred several times to evangelical Christianity in this exchange of emails. You’ve made it clear that, although evangelicalism was the context for your early Christian formation, you no longer share some of the movement’s foundational presuppositions. In your last letter, however, you said something I had not heard before, and it raised a question I’d like to pursue.

You wrote, “Despite my belief that evangelicalism has lost its way and is flailing around in a confused state of self-misperception, I pray for the movement’s recovery of the gospel of the kingdom.” Could you say a bit more about that? Continue reading

Circumstances Can Alter Perception

Dear Mr. Lough:

In your most recent letter, you somewhat sidestepped the question of whether you consider yourself a liberal (just kidding, I know exactly what you meant) :-), but it still raised some additional questions. I pose them now as follow-up, if I may.

First, I know how much it hurt you to lose your job as a teacher, but do you think you would be where you are today if you hadn’t? Second, have you ever considered that you might have formed some of your current positions and opinions as a reactionary response to that unpleasant situation? And finally, when I had you as a teacher, you spoke very critically of a number of well-known liberal scholars and writers. Have you changed your opinion about any or all of them? Continue reading

The Biggest Change I’ve Made (On the Road to Easter, #8)

Dear Mr. Lough:

Thank you for sharing with me your current thinking about the place of the Bible in the life of the Christian and the church. I will need some time to ponder all that you wrote, but I have already found it helpful and thought-provoking. So, let me ask you this. Would you say that your attitude toward the Bible is the area where you have experienced the greatest change in the past ten years? If not, would you care to say what does fit that description?

Peace, Kathryn. Continue reading

The Role of the Bible in the Church of the Future (On the Road to Easter, #7)

Dear Kathryn:

I know you are eager to explore some of the specific topics and issues where my current thinking shows marked change from the positions I held a few years ago. I am too. Before we go there, however, just a bit more about the change in my attitude toward the Bible.

The Bible, especially the New Testament, is really the church’s book. The church produced it, in the sense that real human beings, presumably active in the life of the early church, wrote the documents that have been compiled into the form we have today. They each wrote at a particular moment in history, and their thinking was shaped by the political, religious, and cultural influences of their day. Continue reading

The Subjective Dimension in Change (On the Road to Easter, #4)

Dear Kathryn:

Before I go further in defining the parameters and describing the particulars of the change in my thinking over the past few years, I want to address one other factor that contributes to the process and experience of change: the subjective dimension. Simply put, we never make a significant change in our beliefs or practices until we feel the need for change. We will never take the risks associated with change until we are convinced, rather more instinctually than intellectually, that change is desirable, possible, and maybe even necessary.

At least that has certainly been true for me. I am today open to the possibility of truth in ideas and concepts that, only a few years ago, I regarded with derision and dismissed with prejudice. My thinking began to change when my circumstances changed, and I was no longer bound emotionally to an earlier pattern of thought and behavior. Continue reading

On The Cusp of a New Reformation

The church is unique among human institutions. It is composed of flawed and fallible people, but it serves a divine purpose in a way that nothing else can. The former reality means that it will, over time, suffer the consequences of human fallibility. It will experience imbalance, misdirection, and, sometimes, intentional corruption.

Because it serves a divine purpose, however, we have reason to hope that, when necessary, it can be purged of its excesses and reformed so that it once again serves the purpose of God more faithfully. Continue reading

In Defense of the Critics of the Church

The late Roger Ebert (1942-2013) was something of a hero of mine. In some ways, I identified with him. Like me, he was a portly writer with a good sense of humor who lived in Chicago, my second-favorite city. Mostly, though, I respected him, especially for the Roger Ebertcourage and fortitude he showed while suffering a debilitating and disfiguring cancer which ultimately took his life.

Roger Ebert was a professional critic. He criticized movies for a living, and he was good at it. He was the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. Continue reading