A Little Farther Down the Path: The Road to Someplace Beautiful

Everybody faces tough times and difficult circumstances in life. For some, the pain seems deeper and more severe than for others, the episodes more frequent. But discouragement, disappointment, and pain—whether physical, financial, or emotional—visit us all at one time or another. Bad things happen to good people as well as to bad, the rain falls on both the just and the unjust, and the only constant in all of this is that nobody is immune.

After a lifetime relatively free of trauma, apart from periodic bouts of near-debilitating depression, things changed for me in 2007-08. The bottom fell out, and it was my turn to walk through some dark valleys. They were horrible, awful, painful years filled with one bit of bad news after another. Continue reading

“I Feel Your Pain”—A Post for Holy Saturday

Dear Kathryn:

With this post I conclude the series of email exchanges into which you and I entered more than a month ago on Ash Wednesday. This is the last day of Lent, the Holy Saturday of Passion Week as it is known in the liturgical tradition. Lent has been a good experience for me this year, owing in large part to the disciplined reflection your thoughtful questions have fostered. I hope you have found the experience equally beneficial.

It seems only right to conclude the series on the same theme with which it began: the need for change in the life of a growing, thinking Christian. Continue reading

Yet Another Place Where I Was Wrong

Dear Mr. Lough:

Okay, here’s a question I have wanted to ask you for some time, even before we decided to do this email series during Lent. I read something that you posted on Facebook, and it surprised me so much that I wrote it down and made a note to ask you about it. Today’s the day to pose that question, I guess.

The Facebook post I’m referring to appeared late last year on December 20. Here is what you wrote:

An odd post, I know, but prompted by several other posts I’ve read today, so it’s time to dispel any uncertainty. I now believe that every position or role of leadership ministry in the church, without exception, should be open to women as well as men.

Continue reading

The Triumph of Hope Over Fear

Dear Mr. Lough:

I found your last letter both informative and encouraging. I also noticed something else as I was reading it, and I’d like to comment on that before we go further in this series.

In the past—and I base this comment on my experience as your student a few years ago—I think your responses to my questions would have been far more… well… for lack of a better word, academic. Frankly, that’s what I was expecting. Something like the lectures you used to give—carefully structured, logical, filled with scripture references to support your point. But that’s not really what you have been doing in your response to my questions, is it? Continue reading

Salvation in the Here and Now

Well, Mr. Lough…

I am more than a little intrigued by the final paragraphs in your last letter, so if that was your intention, you succeeded admirably. As you know, a description of human salvation like the one you summarized there is at the very heart of evangelical Christianity. Aren’t you concerned that raising questions about something as basic as how to understand the idea of salvation and how to relate to Jesus as savior will further weaken your ties to the evangelical community? 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

The Evangelical God Is Too Small

Dear Mr. Lough:

Again I thank you for sharing, in a deeply personal way, some aspects of your life and ministry that I had not seriously considered before. Here’s what I took away from your last two letters. (Read them here and here.)

The course of your pilgrimage and the scope of the changes in the way you understand truth, faith, and Christian discipleship have taken an emotional and psychological toll. And while you readily acknowledge that you are less certain about a lot of things than you used to be, you are clearly okay with that. Continue reading