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

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

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

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

A Fear of Geese

Dear Kathryn:

I’d like to pick up where I left off in my last letter, if I may, and to do that I’m going to draw on a blog post I published a year and a half ago. It’s pertinent, especially in the current political climate. I hope it’s also helpful.

The nineteenth-century Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard once said that being subjected to verbal criticism on a regular basis—what he called the martyrdom of ridicule—is much like being trampled to death by geese. Continue reading

I Don’t Want to Die Alone

Dear Mr. Lough:

Thank you so much for your last two letters in which you shared a thoughtful and heartfelt response to my question about how you would define the gospel. The more I have thought about what you wrote, the more I appreciate not only what you shared but also the courage it takes to change your mind about such important matters at this point in your career.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not suggesting that you are old or that your ministry is over. I only mean that it is unusual to observe such dramatic change in perception in anybody, much less someone who has spent a lifetime in pursuit of a very different vision. Continue reading

What Exactly Is The Gospel? (Part Two)

Dear Kathryn:

I’m sure that my last letter raised more questions than it answered with regard to the way I define the term “gospel” these days. For that reason, I wanted to get this follow-up letter off to you with dispatch.

I don’t mean to suggest that everybody gets to define the word for himself or herself. What I do mean is that it’s possible we have not fully understood the meaning of the word in its original context in the New Testament, specifically in those first four books that we call “the Gospels.” 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