Welcome to Theological Gadfly

I am a pretty conservative sort of a guy. Chances are you took that politically because in our world the political is everything—the “really real”, the place and space where all the important things happen. But that’s not what I meant. I mean temperamentally. I am not a risk taker. I like the familiar. Simple things. Routine.

At the same time, I am a learner. I like to understand, I mean really understand, not just surface understand. I want to explore new ideas and things. I want to know how and more importantly why. I always want to know why. And I am highly suspicious of anyone who gives or in content with simple answers to complex problems. Because I am committed to finding the truth of the matter. Truth matters. Even when it is not comfortable, or convenient. 

Those two approaches to the world may seem contradictory. In some sense perhaps they are. 

I simply do not believe that change for the sake of change is a good idea. Nor do I believe that the old ways are better just because they are old—they might be better, but we had better do the work to make sure. I try to be an equal opportunity debunker. A theological gadfly.


The image of the gadfly—the small flies that bother horses—was used by Socrates to describe his role in Athenian society. He was the one to ask the difficult, annoying, uncomfortable questions that Athens needed in order to fulfill its role.

We all develop patterns of looking at the world and interacting with it. All of us. there are no exceptions. We see things the way that we do for a variety of reasons—upbringing, temperament, gender, ethnicity (and race which are not necessarily the same thing), socioeconomic status, religion and probably many more reasons. The thing is, most of us are either unaware of the ways all of these things color our view of and interaction with the world or we simply ignore it. On some level we have to, or we would become paralyzed, unable to move or interact. On another, we have to become more aware of these factors. Our world simply demands it. Internet access means that our worlds are smaller than ever before. We are confronted by people and ideas that most would never have encountered even a generation ago.

So what is a theological gadfly? In my use, it is asking those hard and annoying questions through a very specific lens, the lens of faith. More specifically, the lens of Christian faith. The older I get, the more I find that I have twin and competing forces at work within. I am inclined to stay where I am, to look for comfort and familiarity even when I am inherently suspicious of that environment. I don’t want to cause a ruckus even though I am not entirely comfortable with the way things are or the ideas that I hear people spout. Because I know they are not true. Or better, they are not true enough. 

Socrates was not a gadfly because he did not believe in Athens, but precisely because he did. I ask questions not simply to be annoying but to provoke better thinking. Often my questions are actually questioning myself. My ways of looking at the world. My discomfort with both the foreign and the familiar. I believe things strongly and also know that I simply do not know enough, that things are far more complicated than I generally acknowledge. I would like simple answers but am fairly convinced that the simple answers are often wrong. The world is at once far simpler and more complex than most of us recognize or would like it to be.

So think of this little corner of Apollos Watered as a place for the uncomfortable questions. You know, the ones that junior high kids will ask because they have not yet learned “we don’t ask that”, the ones that lurk in the background and keep us up at night, the ones that upset the way we—I—look at the world. Let me be clear, this is not about either self-loathing or dunking on people I disagree with. This is about honest questions to get at the truth. I am, ruthlessly committed to the Truth even though I am all too often not committed to living that way. 

Jesus said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, NIV. capitals mine). John 1:14 tells us that the Word (Jesus) became one of us. We beheld his glory and was full of “grace and truth”.

Far too many Christians these days separate the two. Grace or Truth. They don’t think they do, but it is pretty evident. Christians across theological, denominational, ethnic and cultural backgrounds do this. We give grace to the ones we like and use truth as a club for those we don’t. I am committed to bringing grace AND truth to the questions of our day. I know and am giving fair warning: I will make mistakes and just plain get it wrong. I have no doubt that sometimes frustration and anger will get the best of me, but it is my sincere desire to be full of grace and truth. I claim the name of Jesus. which means I am committed to being and becoming more and more like him. It means that I must exhibit both grace and truth in my own life.

This is a space to ask and be confronted by the difficult questions. Full of grace and truth.

Welcome to Theological Gadfly.

Kevin O'Brien