Celebrating the Launch of the Faith and Illness Initiative

Celebrating the Launch of the Faith and Illness Initiative

It started as a seed of an idea, as I heard from persons with ongoing, chronic illness after the release of my The End of the Christian Life book. Many of them experience chronic pain, heavy fatigue, and other symptoms, even if their diagnosis is not considered “life-threatening.” Together we wondered: what does their Christian calling look like when the illness does not disappear, after months, after years, after a decade? It is an existential question for me because the gift of life comes along with the challenges of ongoing chemotherapy treatment. And with that, side effects. But the conversations intrigued me, connecting to even bigger questions:  why are chronic illnesses so rapidly on the rise in the United States, and other countries in the modern West today? What does a path of healing look like when one cannot just “take a pill,” as we know in light of the opioid epidemic? What are the particular opportunities and temptations that Christians with chronic illness face in seeking to be ambassadors of Christ in a broken, hurting world?

Fast forward a couple of years…that include exploration with believers living with chronic illness, clinicians, and theologians, and we come to a new multi-year initiative: The Faith and Illness Initiative at Western Theological Seminary seeks to “to discover a theology of vocation and virtue for Christians living with chronic illness.”

In mid-September we were delighted to host a group of scholars, pastors, students, and medical professionals for a 3-day colloquy. Together, we explored a wide range of literature on chronic illness and virtue, from 17th century Puritans to Eastern Orthodox theologians, to current psychological and spiritual reflections on living as disciples of Christ in the midst of ongoing and persistent illness.

Friends, this is just the beginning of a larger conversation. We hope to host a gathering like this each fall for the next 3-5 years, each year focused on a different theme. We’ve just announced the topic and dates for our 2024 colloquy: Chronic Pain and Christian Discipleship, September 16-18, 2024.

I invite you to learn more about the Faith and Illness Initiative on our website, fii.westernsem.edu, and to sign up there to receive more information about dates and resources.

In addition to the small, intensive group, each colloquy will feature public events and virtual reading groups designed for those living with chronic illness and their caregivers. The goal is to promote an interdisciplinary conversation and to provide space for focused theological reflection on this pressing topic.

I’ve included links here to our two public panel events from this year’s colloquy:


I hope you’ll join in the conversation! And I am grateful for the opportunity to continue exploring in this area in the years ahead.

Todd Billings