As part of my preparation for part four of our series, Why Follow Jesus? which is exploring why the world's in such a mess if there's a loving God, I have started reading Christopher Southgate's new book - which I first came across late last year on Robin Parry's always-readable blog.
Called The Groaning of Creation: God, Evolution and the Problem of Evil (Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), it is an attempt to create a thorough-going evolutionary theodicy. It is extraordinarily well-written and clearly argued (speaking as one who often finds systematic theology thoroughly opaque and unreadable) and it does what all good theology should do: it's making me think afresh about some pretty basic positions I hold.
For example, in accepting Darwin's theory of evolution as the best explanation for how life arose on earth, Southgate questions whether it's really realistic or plausible for a doctrine of 'the Fall' to be used to account for all the bad things that happen. After all, dinosaurs walked the earth tearing each other to shreds long before people arrived on the scene. And parasites are among the earliest life forms and they live by devouring other forms of life. in other words, predation is part of creation. I'm not sure what I make of this yet... It has big implications for how we read Paul and understand the cross (Southgate, however, believes the cross and redemption to be at the heart of his theology - but I haven't got there yet; his title is taken straight out of Romans 8, of course).
This is challenging, unsettling theology of the very best kind. I have found myself excited and anxious in equal measure as I've read it. But having said that, I will not have time to process this by Sunday so it's unlikely to appear much in my 25 minute reflection on how we speak about God and suffering.