Two of the most popular articles at the Times this week addressed matters of faith. Ben Ratliff covers a story “Plugging in to Make a Joyful Noise to the Lord.“Stanley Fish addresses “Suffering, Evil and the Existence of God” in his regular column. Before addressing the content of these articles, a word on their relvance for church planting.

The first article reveals a music-focused growth strategy for churches. Niche bands are created for each generation from kids to grandparents. While this is not entirely new, the explicit statements made by the pastor give me pause. Should we plant churches based on music style? Does this not lead to the worship of worship? The second article touches on a universal theme–suffering. This is always relevant to church planting. Just ask a planter! Perhaps more insightful are the host of comments on why many NYTs readers agree with the anti-biblical assertions made by Fish and Ehrman. These perceptions of the Christian faith, while often untrue, are nevertheless obstacles to people embracing the true Christ and having true faith. We do well to read consider some of them if we want to connect the gospel to the intellectual and emotional issues of fellow citizens.

Ratliff’s piece focuses on High Desert Church in Ca, examining their praise rock and musical philosophy. Though there is not much new in this article, there are a few quotables: “Tom Mercer, 52, the senior pastor, ‘you don’t decide who you’re going to reach and then pick a music style. You pick a music style, and that determines who’s going to come.’” At High Desert there is a band for every age group from kids (punkpraise) older adults (Classical). Is this a case of musicolatry, savvy church growth, consumeristic worship, or reasonable contextualization? Does exponential growth based on musical preference pay too high a price for mono-generational community?

The theodicy (justification for evil) article by Fish is intriguing more because of the 300 plus comments (which church planters would do well to read) than the actual article itself. This article does summarize two forthcoming books on the subject, one by Ehrman titled “God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question – Why We Suffer” and other by renowned former atheist Anthony Flew “There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind. How, he asks, do merely physical and mechanical forces – forces without mind, without consciousness – give rise to the world of purposes, thoughts and moral projects? Flew identifies conscious purpose in this world. He then posits that a conscious God must be responsible. What God is not a matter he has tackled. Where Flew’s work is steely in logic, Ehrman’s approach is stirring in compassion. Instead of taking the typical philosophical approach, his concerns rise from angst of over suffering he has witnessed. Christians would do well to heed his compassion and look to Christ to emulate it.

Nothing much new in Fish’s questions and assertions regarding the nature of God and the problem of evil. Several things he fails to acknowledge:

  1. God is sovereign and purposeful in the evil that exists (simply points to the absurdity of Adam and Eve story). Man is culpable. This is not antimony; it is compatability. God sovereignly works in concert with human reponsibility to redeem our lives or condemn them. We are responsible and he is sovereign.
  2. Although human culpability for Adam’s Fall may seem like a virus, the fact is that Adam was our best man, with the best set of circumstances, to best represent humanity. If Tom Brady can’t get it done, then I certainly cant.
  3. If an all-powerful God is good, it does not follow that he will not permit evil or suffering. As a not-so-all-powerful parent, I not only permit but mercifully inflict pain upon my son when he reaches for the stove. Pain can be redemptive and redirect self-destructive behaviors.
  4. If God is god, then his sovereign freedom is not a threat to our happiness. If God is the most important person in the universe, and our greatest satisfaction comes from knowing and delighting in him. If he is sovereign and free over evil and all things, then he must use his freedom to harness all things towards showing his god-ness. If indeed he is God and we are not, should we not be in happy and holy awe when he makes his god-ness shine brighter for our enjoyment and his praise, against the dark backdrop of suffering? The theater of his glory includes tragedy in service of eternal glory and human happiness?
  5. God sacrificed himself in order to put death to death and to slay suffering and evil. Christ is the ultimate answer to any theodicy. God is all powerful, all good, and will end all suffering, death and evil for those who hope in him. The promise of a new creation minus any tears is the bright future of God’s good and broken world. The death of his historical, miracle-working, compassionate, transfigured and resurrected Son is the downpayment of his full pledge to redeem and renew all things.