Sociologists have identified two kinds of problems. First, there are tame problems. Tame problems can be straightforward. They can also be ridiculously hard. But tame problems always have a clearly stated, well-defined goal, and once solved, they stay solved for good.
Then there are wicked problems. Not wicked as in evil, but as in untamable and tenacious. Wicked problems are like a moving target. They can never be fully solved, because they involve differing definitions of the problem. Poverty, racism, human origins, climate change, and sexuality are all wicked problems, problems that are perceived differently depending on who you talk to.
And so, wicked problems tend to divide people with very different ideas about what qualifies as a solution. There is no silver bullet. Wicked problems simply can’t be tamed, and the church is not immune. Wicked problems tear at the fabric of community, causing fragmentation, alienation, and mistrust in the very place where division and disunity should never be.
Can faith survive these wicked problems, or is an all-out culture war the only option?
Wicked problems will never be solved on this side of Heaven. But if we rely on Christian virtues as we discuss these matters, we’ll find that God has given us everything we need to make progress on these important conversations.
- Have you or your church faced something that you would call a “tame problem”? How did you solve it?
- Have you or your church faced something that you would call a “wicked problem”? How did you handle it? How was it different than dealing with a tame problem?
- What are some wicked problems facing churches today? How does your church typically respond to them?
- What are some characteristics of a culture war? If the church addressed divisive issues in a different way, what would that look like? How do you wish churches would respond?
- Is it realistic that God has already given us everything we need to deal with wicked problems? What has God given us that might help us not only navigate them but glorify God as we do?