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Is Piper Wrong about Yoga?

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John Piper takes the “better safe than sorry approach” to yoga (my words not his, in his 2015 article on Desiring God). In short, because it is derived from Eastern Practices and because those practices are not rooted in the same things as the Gospel, he personally would devote his time to a different kind of exercise. For what it’s worth, I love John Piper to death. I deeply respect his opinion and I have no agenda to persuade him to take up yoga. But I also feel that the premise of his argument can lay the foundation for a lot of jackassery, so it’s worth talking about.

Full disclosure: I am a pastor. I love Jesus. And I practice yoga regularly. Not even just the Christian version with Toby Mac beats in the background. Some may be surprised to hear that I have yet to contract any evil spirits. At least, not to my knowledge.

FREEDOM seems to me a very KEY emphasis of the Gospel. The Gospel brings freedom from Law and demands dependency on the Spirit of God. Going back to Piper: he denounces what he calls the “maximalist approach to life,” which he defines as constantly trying to get away with as much as possible. I agree 1,000,000% when we’re talking about matters of objective sin (worshipping other gods, adultery, theft, dishonesty). In such cases, who are we kidding? A little bit is too much. And if yoga, or any other lifestyle choice, causes you to worship other deities, stay the HELL away from them!

But if we are afraid that a Spirit-filled follower of Jesus might accidentally slip into idol worship because their preferred exercise practice originated on a different continent, that is a different thing entirely.

“‘Better safe than sorry’ is the mantra of the Pharisee. It’s the ideology behind American churches banning the drinking of alcohol, dancing, and dating.”

This “BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY” approach is not as wholesome—or as safe—as it initially appears. Better safe than sorry is the mantra of the Pharisee. It’s the ideology behind American churches banning the drinking of alcohol, dancing, and dating. (Remember good ole’ Joshua Harris? Don’t worry, he recanted 20 years later, so dating is once again an “approved conservative Christian practice.” Sex before marriage is not.)

Behind its wholesome exterior is FEAR. Fear that sin will overtake us. Fear that the Holy Spirit is an insufficient source of discernment. Fear that it’s really not possible to live in the world without becoming part of the world. But Jesus prayed differently in John 17.

The Christian must fear God. The Christian needs a healthy respect for sin, but the Christian also must live a FREE life and a missional life. Those two things together allow for a lot of cultural adaptation (not gospel adaptation, but cultural adaptation).

If Paul was better safe than sorry, Gentiles would not have the gospel. He would have caved to Jewish cultural expectations and it would have remained a Jewish movement until someone was willing to follow the Spirit into the wild, crazy, pagan, Gentile world.

People got drunk at parties in Jesus’ day too, but he still made wine. He joined in the festivities without becoming like his peers. He didn’t stand outside, worried that he might get a contact high, or a bad rep. He went where the people were.

“Jesus didn’t stand outside of the parties of his day, worried that he might get a contact high or a bad rep. He went where the people were.”

You don’t need to stop eating Thai food because they have a Buddha statue on display. You don’t need to stop using the internet because porn exists on it. We don’t need to abandon all social media because it can get saturated with polemical vitriol. You don’t need to stop listening to secular music because the musicians are philosophically misguided.

Humans don’t contract sin by standing next to it. You will never have a mission field if you are always living the “better safe than sorry” life. Just because it can be dangerous, doesn’t mean we need to BAN it. Danger means we must be careful. We must rely on the Spirit of God. But all of life is dangerous, all things in life can steal our affections and heart. So as Jesus said, we must grow up into people who “live in the world, but not of it.”

Lots of people love yoga. So do I. It’s a perfect place to deal with my back issues. I don’t love it for its eastern spirituality. I love it for the people I meet, the relationships I build with my friends as we exercise together. When it’s quiet I pray. I do avoid chanting mantras in other languages when I don’t know what I’m saying, but that’s my choice in the matter.

Should you try yoga? It’s up to you. If you don’t feel comfortable, that’s great. Just don’t hate on me and my Jesus yogis because you read a Piper article once or heard that people can catch yoga demons.

Can Yoga be sinful? Absolutely, if you are worshipping false gods, denying Jesus, or tempted to syncretize eastern philosophy with the Gospel. As with most sin, it is more a matter of the heart.

Romans 14 tells us, “whatever you do, do it will full conviction, to honor the Lord,”

Let’s be careful to not lazily employ the “better safe than sorry” technique, because we don’t understand it, have never tried it, or somehow chose that particular cultural practice to get self-righteous about. If it were up to me, I’d employ the “Better safe than sorry” to NASCAR. But that’s just my opinion.

The Silent Jackass

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“I must make two honest confessions to you my Christian and Jewish brothers, I must confess to you that over the last few years, I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor, or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to ORDER than to JUSTICE, who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension, to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail

The Silent Jackass is one of the most common forms of being a jackass, because it is disguised as civility. Silence seems like peace, but in actuality it is nothing of the sort. I have fallen into this trap for a long time. For years I have observed Social Media vitriol and rolled my eyes at the immaturity and contention. Why the big fuss? Everyone needs to simmer down.

The day after Donald Trump was elected President, I got on a phone call with a group of Pastors from all over the nation for a regularly scheduled cohort meeting. This small group of pastors were from relatively diverse contexts, and many of them were utterly heartbroken over the election, and specifically over evangelical support for Trump. They were heartbroken for their people—the minorities they ministered to, the LGBTQ community they ministered to—who were suddenly afraid that hatred and bigotry would be permissible under this new administration. I sat silent on that phone call, and kept thinking to myself, “What’s the problem? God is sovereign, why are we making such a big deal of this? Presidents come and go.”

The “why are we making such a big deal of this” perspective is one of the mantras of the Silent Jackass. The Silent Jackass thinks that peace in life is free of conflict. “If I just stay out of the fray, I won’t make it worse.”

Don’t get me wrong, in a world of vitrol and finger pointing, sometimes a little silence is welcome. The jackass part occurs when one of two things happens: Either the silent one begins to think they are in fact superior to the vocal ones clamoring for justice and causing a disturbance, or the silent one sees injustice happening, and is too afraid to say something. Both are dangerous.

“The Silent Jackass comes in two flavors. Those who are silent because they fear the repercussions of speaking up, and those who are silent because they honestly don’t see the pain of others. Both are dangerous.”

I see the Silent Jackass as so many suburban white people turn their nose at the protests of the African American community every time there is an officer involved shooting. Suburban white people call for civility. They call for peace. They call for order. (Please hear me: I’m not saying every officer is at fault every time there is a shooting; I’m talking about the lack of compassion and unwillingness to acknowledge the suffering of another group of people.)

As Martin Luther King demonstrated, peace doesn’t come through silence. It requires speaking up. It needs to be fought for. It doesn’t require violence, but it does require conflict and tension.

The problem rests in our definition of PEACE. Peace in the Hebrew Bible is Shalom. It’s physical, spiritual, and emotional harmony with the world, others, and the God who created it all. It isn’t just the absence of conflict. Shalom is an ideal, it will never be experienced fully until God himself restores all things for good.

The forces of the world and the forces of the enemy are constantly fighting against Shalom. They are trying to pull it all apart. If nothing is done at all, like entropy, things just dissolve. It requires the active work of the Holy Spirit and the costly loving response of God’s people to fight against this natural decay.

“The Silent Jackass is fine with things staying the same, or living under the delusion that the necessary changes will happen in silence, without conflict, without needing to get their hands dirty.”

So when Martin Luther King spoke up, I believe it was the Spirit of God in him, crying out for a little piece of Shalom. When we call our churches to LOVE, PEACE, JOY, and HUMAN DIGNITY, we are fighting for Shalom.

The Silent Jackass is fine with things staying the same, or living under the delusion that the necessary changes will happen in silence, without conflict, without needing to get their hands dirty. Let me remind you of how many times Paul was imprisoned for the gospel, how many Christians had to die for the gospel to spread to you and me. Let me remind you that peace doesn’t come from silence. The most beautiful acts of love come from speaking up for another’s injustices.

Don’t be the Silent Jackass. Step up to the mic, you’ve got peace to spread!

Watching Hamilton Like a Jackass

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Two people can watch the same event unfold and share significantly different stories about what happened. This is a commonly understood phenomena regarding eyewitness accounts, investigators have to deal with it all the time. It makes finding out who is right infuriating.

Does it seem strange that two people (or millions of people) can read the same Bible and come away with different conclusions and emphases? It shouldn’t. To be human is to be situated, and to be situated is to see from a very specific perspective.

“It shouldn’t surprise us that we read the same Bible but come to different conclusions. To be human is to be situated, and to be situated is to see from a specific perspective.”

The missionary/missiologist Andrew Walls wrote a lot about these dynamics, because missionaries have to learn to avoid jackassery. Think about it for a minute. You leave your church and culture where your beliefs are clearly formulated and everything is done exactly as you prefer. Then you fly over an ocean and start talking theology and pastoring in a totally different cultural setting. These people love God every bit as much as you do, but they emphasize different facets of God and the way he relates to people. They might not even think to affirm some of the things you consider most important. They’ve never heard of John Piper, Rachel Held Evans, or Francis Chan, so they’re not purposely trying to contradict their teaching, but they definitely do from time to time.

How are you going to respond to this? With grace and understanding? Or like a jackass? In this setting, a jackass insists that the way he understands Scripture is the way Scripture is to be understood. A jackass equates her specific perspective with capital T Truth. A jackass insists that disagreeing on these things means false teaching, possibly damnation.

But Walls says this misses it entirely. He offers a helpful illustration.

Let’s say a thousand people go to the theatre to watch Hamilton. Everyone is sitting in a different seat. Some are seated low, barely able to see over the lip of the stage. Others are seated high with a better view of the stage but without being able to see the actors’ facial expressions. Some are seated on the left and can see a bit more behind the right curtain. When an actor emerges from that curtain, the left-sitters can see what’s happening before anyone else. When something happens on the far left of the stage, however, the low-left-sitters hear the audience’s laughter before they identify the action.

The point is, there’s no such thing as “watching Hamilton.” There’s no view from nowhere. If you’re going to watch the play, you have to choose a seat. And the seat we choose shapes the way we see, experience, and interpret the play to a significant extent. This is important: it’s the same play, but we are connecting to different aspects of it. If someone’s favorite part of Hamilton is the moment when Darth Vader walks onstage, of course, you know they weren’t watching the same play. But if her favorite part of the play is different than yours, then you’re a jackass for calling her out on it.

I’m sure you’ve been able to see where this is heading. I think a lot of our theological battles come down to viewing the Bible from our own specific seats. My theological training happened in a place where John Piper was condemned for sitting where miraculous gifts looked prominent in the Jesus story. Our own seats were so low we couldn’t even see those miracles taking place, apparently. We also denounced R.C. Sproul for seeing a thread in how the story ends (eschatology) that we hadn’t noticed. I brayed along with my camp as we called out these “false teachings,” but man, we were being a bunch of jackasses.

“If we fixate on our specific interpretation of the Bible yet somehow miss the reality that THE BIBLE IS ABOUT LOVE, then we may as well have skipped it. We’re worse off for having read it.”

In this illustration, we don’t need to all agree on every detail or emphasis in the play. But we’re all watching the same play. Some interpretations are wrong, to be sure, but if there’s no room for a different emphasis, a different approach, and a different interpretation here and there, then we are perpetuating jackass theology. And if we fixate on nailing down the authoritative interpretation but neglect the reality that THE PLAY IS ABOUT LOVING PEOPLE, then we may as well have skipped the play. Actually, we’re worse off for having watched the play.

Missionaries have to consider these realities. They have no choice. In the U.S. we seem to have come to a place where we feel free to disregard or attack anyone who sees something different than us. We have to cut this out. The body is meant to be diverse. The whole thing is supposed to be held together by love. We appreciate the play all the more when we discuss it with other people who were sitting on the other side of the theatre.

Preachers N Sneakers: Hypocrisy’s Newest Scandal

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Farewell, Hip Mega-Church Pastors. Most excommunications happen over theology. Now it’s happening over shoes.

The newly minted Instagram account @preachersnsneakers has absolutely exploded over the last 3 weeks: from 0 to 45k followers (as of this moment). Fashionista has already written an article about it in their online mag.

The concept is simple. Take publicly available photos of celebrity pastors and look up the price tag of their shoes. Bam! Lightning in a bottle. The contagious and viral part of the equation is how freaking expensive some of these clothes are. If Rich Wilkerson’s $357 Adidas Yeezys sound expensive, what about Chad Veach’s $2,500 Jordan’s?

Indulgent luxury goods with church funds?! Farewell, Judah Smith, Chad Veach, Erwin McManus, Steven Furtick, and others!

I get it. When I first saw the prices in this Instagram account I threw up in my mouth a little bit. I seriously had no idea that shoes could even be that expensive! I looked at every single post, jaw dropped. But in an effort to fight for a little human dignity, let’s press pause and try for a moment to examine our own perspective. Let’s loosen the grip on our pitchforks just a smidge.

7 quick thoughts:

1) WE create celebrity pastors.

The only reason we know the names of these pastors to be outraged over their kicks is because we have been downloading their sermons and books and thereby making them famous. We make these people celebrities, then scorn them for acting like celebrities.

“The reason we even know who these pastors are so we can be outraged over the price of their shoes is because we have made them celebrities, then we scorn them for acting like it.”

2) They are not all the same.

Everyone on this Insta account may be wearing expensive shoes, but that doesn’t mean we should lump them all together. To be fair, there is a big difference between a $300 pair of shoes and a $2,500 pair of shoes. Some of these guys may be vain, money-loving charlatans, others may not be. But loving our neighbors as ourselves requires us to resist the pull to reduce someone else to a single caricature. We’re free to assume the worst, of course, but that’s not the path of human dignity. It’s the path of jackassery. (I know because I often go down that road.) Like the woman at the well who was ostracized by society and yet humanized by Jesus (John 4), all of these pastors have stories. Jesus would learn them. Will you?

3) We don’t always know where things come from.

Chad Veach replied to the Instagram call out by stating that these things were gifts. You don’t have to believe him, but as a pastor myself, I have been gifted many many things. It is a way that people say thank you. Two years ago a friend of mine shut down his high end men’s clothing store and gave me three bags full of clothes. I didn’t even know most of the brands. I still have no idea what they retail for. If someone snapped a picture of my jeans and told me they were $500, I would be shocked. Now, I’m not saying these guys don’t know what they are wearing, I’m just saying that it is true that sometimes people give their pastors things for free. I live in a beautiful house that I wouldn’t be able to afford, if it weren’t for the generosity of a brother in Christ who owns 50% of it. You could Zillow my house, get outraged over the value, and never know that I have a modest mortgage. No book deals, no scandalous transactions, no celebrity, simple generosity from someone who loves Jesus. We just don’t know.

5) The heart matters.

Wealth is not hypocritical. Success is not to be disdained. Men like Rick Warren, John Piper, and Francis Chan are examples of celebrity pastors who channel their wealth in ways that help others, guard against the perception of luxury, and protect themselves from the deceit of riches. I see a lot of wisdom in that. But in the end, the pastors featured on @sneakersnpreachers answer to God—not for the price tag on their shoes but for their hearts, faith, and service. Only God knows the heart. Great men of God have had money beyond measure and luxury to boot. Think of David or Solomon. Luxury alone does not signal hypocrisy. The heart does. It isn’t fair to judge these people for a single image, or even for a single vice.

6) “Expensive” is relative, and we all get spendy on something.

How much did that big vacation cost you? Do you really need the phone you’re holding in your hand? Does your car really need those upgrades? Couldn’t your house be smaller? Shouldn’t you be eating at home more often? Everyone spends money in ways others think are an absurd waste. I’ve seen broke-ass college students driving Mercedes-Benzes with leases that rival their rent. Just because nobody is scrutinizing your finances doesn’t mean you wouldn’t or don’t fall into the similar indulgences. So lighten up.

7) Everyone wants their pastor to be taken care of, but nobody wants their pastor to make more money than they do.

“I don’t know how much you think a pastor should make, but I’m pretty sure the real standard is ‘My pastor should not make more than me.'”

That’s just plain true. Everyone judges according to what they think is reasonable. Nothing that Americans spend money on is reasonable to the poor in a 3rd world country. Nothing that celebrities spend money on makes sense to the blue collar working class in Nebraska. It’s different worlds, different scales. I don’t know how much you think a pastor should make, but I’m pretty sure the real standard is “Just as long as my pastor doesn’t make more than me.” I’m not sure that’s fair.

My only pair of sneakers were a gift for my birthday 5 years ago: $120. I thought they were outrageously expensive. So I guess if shoe price is the measure of faithfulness, I’m doing pretty good, but don’t ask how much I spent on wood to build a treehouse for my kids.

Here’s the thing.

I freaking love @preachersnsneakers. It’s entertaining and mind-blowing to know that tennis shoes can be absurdly expensive. And I think accountability for those who say they follow Jesus is super important thing. Follow them, read along, have fun. But don’t let it turn you into a cynical jackass. Remember, the Bible’s message isn’t, “follow me and I will make you perfect.” It’s “follow me, and I will make you fishers men.” Even Peter denied Jesus after all, and also led thousands to Christ.

If you love preachernsneakers, hate mega church pastors, or are disillusioned with the church, then I leave you with one remaining thought: This is precisely why humans need Jesus. Sin abounds in the church and out of it!

Oh look…now there 66.3K followers on the instagram account. Religious hypocrisy sells!

If want to spread some human dignity. Please share this article!

When Can I Be A Jackass?

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Since we launched Jackass Theology, the question has come in many different forms: When is it okay to argue with someone over theology? Should we ever confront people with heretical views?

It’s an important question. Here are 5 quick things to consider:

1. Diversity and Disagreement Are Wonderful

Diversity is wonderful. Diversity is necessary. Diversity inherently means that we will passionately disagree. Disagreement is not the problem. No matter how much we try to get others to see from our perspective, many won’t. So disagreement is ALWAYS ALLOWED. In fact, I will say: disagreement should be celebrated. It means that we are exactly as God intended us to be: DIVERSE. Disagreeing with someone doesn’t make us jackasses, it’s how we treat people when we disagree.

2. The Holy Spirit Is Better than Jesus

Those are Jesus’ words. He said that it was better for the Holy Spirit to lead his disciples than for him to continue to lead the disciples (John 16:7). That’s kind of important. If I give you a rule or law about when it is okay to argue and when it is not, without a doubt there will be a million little exceptions to the rule. (Just look in the English language: I before E, EXCEPT after C…) So the minute we make a rule, we then need to talk about all the exceptions, which shows us the shortcoming of law in general. The New Testament is all about how the living Spirit is better than the law, and even better than Jesus being our homeboy. Law is limited. Law can protect. Law can be a tutor, but law is not life.

So when must I confront, wrong thinking? Bottom line: There is no rule. We must come to trust the Holy Spirit in doing our best to be like Jesus in each and every situation.

Turn to Galatians 5 and look at the works of the flesh (jealousy, division, strife, etc.). Compare those to the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.). If love, peace, and joy demand that you carefully and lovingly speak up, and the Holy Spirit is prompting you to say something, by all means, DO IT (Paul did; so did Jesus). But make certain it is because you love the person, and not because they are offensive to you, or because you are putting yourself in a place of superiority. LOVE LISTENS—A LOT. 

3. Jesus Confronted Religious Hypocrisy

Most of Jesus’ confrontations dealt with the fact that dead religion had failed to bring life to the people of God. Jesus confronted all the things that get in the way of our absolute surrender to him and the Kingdom.

A guiding metaphor in the Gospels is that of a tree. Israel was like a tree, once alive, but so much of their religious systems and practices caused them to miss the heart of God, and ultimately the Messiah. Jesus came to prune the dead religion. When he confronted religious leaders, he was bringing new life by tearing down what was dead.

“When you see RELIGION taking the place of SPIRITUAL LIFE, I believe we have a mandate to lovingly challenge the dead things we have allowed to take the place of a vital, passionate, dynamic relationship with God.”

So when you see RELIGION taking the place of SPIRITUAL LIFE, I believe we have a mandate to lovingly challenge the dead things we have allowed to take the place of a vital, passionate, dynamic relationship with God.  (Bruxy Cavey (@bruxy) has a tremendous book on this subject, called The End of Religion. Read it!)

4. Paul Wrote to Churches that Were Losing the Gospel

Paul regularly wrote to churches at risk of losing the Gospel. This is a great model of when to speak up. But the call is to protect the simple heart of the Gospel. Jesus died for your sin. Everyone who believes is included. DO NOT ADD YOUR CULTURAL PREFERENCES TO IT! This is what the Jews and Gentiles did and it created unnecessary rifts. Paul called churches back to the Gospel as a means of restoring unity rather than creating more factions. 

5. “Who Is My Neighbor” Is a Jackass Question

In Luke 10, when a lawyer was trying to weasel his way out of Jesus’ command to love his neighbor, he asked: “Who is my Neighbor?” He wanted there to be an exception. 

“We often ask questions like ‘Who is my neighbor’ or ‘When am I allowed to confront people’ to get out of the high call to love EVERYBODY, prodigal and Pharisee alike.”

The better question is: “What does love demand of me?” Sometimes love demands some difficult conversations. Sometimes love demands confrontation. But in every single situation love demands patience, kindness, and self-control. In every case, love means always hoping, always trusting, always persevering. If you’re tempted to think of this route as a copout, consider Paul’s statement: “love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:8).

We’re All a Little Amish

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Judah Smith recently announced “church in the palm of your hand” in the form of his new Churchome app. We have the technology to easily connect everyone, so why not do it?

I thought of a few reasons. When I first saw Smith’s announcement post, I laughed. Honestly, I thought for it might be satire. How could this be serious? Smith’s video claimed:

“We’re passionate about connecting people with God and each other and this is maybe the most effective platform we’ve ever used in doing so… People can actually build real, tactile relationships all over the world.”

I wondered, “Does he even know what the word ‘tacticle’ means? Or ‘real’?” Right away I saw so many tweets and comments and articles confirming my instincts to shoot this thing down. It was a misguided attempt to be relevant and it’s dangerous.

But then I thought about it a little bit. I talked to some of my friends. I talked to Ryan. And with a little reflection I came to a more profound realization: I’m a huge jackass.

The thing is, churches have historically been slow to adopt new technology. We’re embarrassingly late adopters. But why?

Where would you draw the line with churches utilizing technology? Is it bad for a church to utilize a website? A podcast? An Instagram account? Most of us would say no. But each of these things were slowly and reluctantly picked up by churches.

The same thing happened in the world of education (Christian and otherwise). A few early adopters starting offering classes online, and everyone else mocked them: “They don’t care about students or education, they’re just trying to make a buck.” But then a few more colleges started offering online classes. And then a few more. Now, almost every college offers online classes. But they have found a way to offer real value through a non-traditional platform. Is this the best possible way to do it? Maybe not (though you could make a legitimate argument for it). Is it valuable? Basically every college and tons of students think so.

When radio first became popular, a group of pastors were actually fairly cutting edge in utlizing radio ministries. They saw the potential to reach millions and had a lasting impact because they decided to use that technology to carry the gospel.

When Mr. Rogers first saw television, he was appalled at the way people were using it to degrade other human beings. But he saw its potential, so he dedicated his career to investing in human dignity through this new technology. Here’s the remarkable thing: Mr. Rogers went to seminary because he was going to be a Presbyterian minister. But while all of his classmates graduated and went on to preach thousands of sermons, Fred Rogers started a kids television show. There’s absolutely no way that all of his classmates’ sermons combined had anywhere near the impact of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. He didn’t talk about Jesus on the show, but he utilized technology in a way that embodied Jesus’ mission and message, and he impacted millions of lives. (I can’t watch “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” without balling all the way through—something I have done several times already).

All that to say, I was a jackass for mocking Judah Smith. For one thing, I made huge assumptions. I mocked his use of “real” and “tactile” for app-based interactions, but later I learned that his app can connect you with in-person gatherings. He knew what the words meant; I just made uncharitable assumptions. I think Judah Smith knows what church was designed to be, and I think he sees a way that technology can help to facilitate that.

“If we don’t think Judah Smith can use an app to facilitate interactions, then we’re being Amish. And we’re allowed to do that. But we’re not allowed to be jackasses about it.”

Here’s the thing. We’re all using technology in all of our churches, whether it’s instruments, sound systems, projectors, websites, or whatever. We have just drawn a line regarding how much is too much. That’s a total jackass move.

Think of the Amish: they’re known for totally rejecting technology. But it’s not true. Once upon a time, things like wagons and pulleys and even shovels were new technology. The Amish use all of those things; they just got to a point where they decided to avoid all technology developed after 1800 (or whenever, I have no idea). And good for them. As long as they’re not being jackasses about it.

So the thing is, if we don’t think Judah Smith can use an app to facilitate interactions, then we’re being Amish. We’re choosing an arbitrary cutoff for which technologies are compatible with the gospel. And we’re allowed to do that. But we’re not allowed to be jackasses about it. I was. And I’m sorry.

Why Can’t We Have Rational Dialogue?

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Have you ever made the mistake of trying to change someone’s opinion on Twitter, Facebook, or a blog comment? It’s a crazy trap that so many of us have fallen into. We lay out our best arguments only to be attacked, yelled down, and misunderstood. If we’re not careful, it’s easy to get sucked into responding, which only makes matters worse.

Why is this? Why is it so impossible to dialogue and persuade?

Jonathan Haidt gives a compelling piece of the answer in his book The Righteous Mind. If you have the time, this book is worth reading. Haidt is a great writer. His concepts are convincing and the studies he interacts with are fascinating.

Here’s Haidt’s overall contention: Judgment and justification are separate processes. It’s that simple. That’s a profound statement, but I know it’s confusing. Read the book, but I’ll unpack that a little bit.

We all think we make moral judgments (what’s good, what’s bad) on the basis of carefully considered arguments. In other words, we THINK that we begin with reason and end by making a judgment. But Haidt contends that the exact opposite is true. What happens in reality, he says, is that we make a moral judgment almost instantly, and then we employ our reasoning skills to justify the judgment we’ve already made.

Perhaps that sounds exactly right to you. It explains the “confirmation bias” we all have trouble escaping. I find it extremely helpful in explaining my own actions and those I observe in others. But if you need more convincing or explaining, keep reading.

Haidt describes a study done by Alexander Todorov in which he flashed the images of two faces on a screen in front of subjects who were unfamiliar with those faces. The subjects were then asked which person seemed more competent. What Todorov did not tell the subjects is that the two faces were opponents in senatorial and gubernatorial races. 70% of the time, the candidate that subjects deemed more competent (a judgment they made in seconds) also went on to win the election.

“We think we begin with reason and end by making a judgment. But Haidt contends that the opposite is true: We make an instant moral judgment, then we employ reason to justify the judgment we’ve already made.”

What’s going on here? The participants in this study couldn’t determine anything about the person’s positions, character, beliefs, etc. But they did what people do: they made a snap judgment that determined whether or not they thought that person was competent. And their choice was America’s choice most of the time! The implication is that as much as we believe we’re weighing a candidate’s positions and character, we’re usually just voting for the person we’re predisposed to like (a decision we make instantly).

But once we’ve made a snap judgment, we instantly begin employing our reasoning to explain why we made that choice.

Haidt refers to this process as “the intuitive dog and its irrational tale.” We decide intuitively, then our mental faculties kick in to provide that rationality (which Haidt says is so unlike “rationality” as we think of it that it’s more like irrationality). He puts it more plainly by saying, “intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.”

Our reasoning is less like a philosopher that employs wisdom to decide where we should go and more like a press secretary who has to stand before the world and explain the President’s policy decisions—decisions which she had no role in developing.

Is there any hope, then? Are we all just locked into our own intuitions, completely unable to dialogue or help each other act in wisdom rather than pure intuition?

Haidst sees hope in other studies which show that when a subject is given time to reflect, their rational faculties play a larger role in shaping their judgments. Do you see the implication there?

When we allow ourselves to respond quickly, we’re basing it all on unreasoned intuition. When we slow down enough to reflect, weigh, and consider, we give our rationality a seat at the table in deciding what we should do.

Unfortunately, most of our decisions are made quickly. Our opinions of people are formed in seconds. Our consideration of candidates and character and theological positions are more knee-jerk reactions than carefully weighed conclusions. So we rarely give ourselves a chance to slow down and form a healthy opinion. We just listen to the news station our tribe has taught us to tune into.

The truth is, you’ve already written this entire blog off, or you’ve immediately accepted it. You knew what you thought about it pretty early on. And that’s okay. But it helps to understand the process. And when we recognize the (ir)rational tale being wagged by the intuitive dog, we can choose to slow down. To engage in dialogue. To do some research or ask some questions or—what’s best—get to know some real people. Maybe then we can all have some constructive dialogue about the things that matter.

Baby Cursing & the Downfall of Christianity

4

If you’re sensitive to such things, you’ll notice we’re using a few slightly off-color words and phrases on this site. We’re guessing that for most of our readers, that’ll be a big yawn. If that’s you, carry on. But as pastors, we’re also pretty sure any type of cursing will offend some readers. If that’s you, we’re sorry. We’re not specifically trying to offend you. But we do want to invite you to think about it a little bit.

Will relaxed standards on curse words be the downfall of Christianity?

Sometimes that’s how it’s made to seem. But we disagree. Christianity is facing some pretty big undermining forces, but we don’t think those come in the form of four letter words.

Actually, we’re pretty convinced that the downfall of Christianity is more likely to be all the religious crap we can’t seem to separate from the gospel.

Let me explain.

A decade ago, I read an interview with Bono in Rolling Stone that was filled with F-bombs and Jesus. When I read that article I was inspired by Bono’s thoughts on God, but I was frustrated by the juxtaposition of the F-bombs and Jesus. The two felt mutually exclusive. I even thought to myself, “I wonder if Bono is truly saved?” No joke. I can be such a jackass.



Is cursing a sign of damnation? Is it a sign of liberalism? Do those two things amount to the same thing? Let me quickly say several things that seem clear to me at this point in my life. 



“The things that get me wrapped around the axle are not the things that did it for Jesus. Let’s all chill out a bit and resist the urge to be more biblical than the Bible.”

1. We need to lighten up. It’s not that following Jesus isn’t the most serious thing in the world. It is. At least it is for me. It’s just that the things that can get me really wrapped around the axle are not the things that got Jesus wrapped around the axle. Therein lies the problem. Jesus never asked us to police other people’s words to ensure they would play on Christian radio. Look, Paul said, “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking (Eph. 5:4),” but he also used the impolite word for “excrement, manure” in Philippians 3:8. If you’re speaking Greek the word is “skubalon,” but if you’re speaking English, it’s four letters long and rhymes with hit. So chill out a little bit and resist the urge to be more biblical than the Bible.

2. We need to work on our em-pha-sis. When something is really really really horrible, sometimes we need to EMPHASIZE IT with a strong word (like Paul did)! People can be real jackasses, even in the name of Jesus! That sucks. 



3. We need to undermine religious hypocrisy. This gets a whole chapter in Matthew 23. It’s a big deal. I sometimes think these baby curse words, I even whisper them to my wife and “safe” friends. So why not just say it aloud?



4. Sin is ugly, so why are we holding back? Every time I take a posture of superiority to others, and heaven forbid God, it is really ugly. So we’ve decided to use words like jackass as confessions and laments. If you prefer “mean” or “Pharisee,” no problem. But say them in ALL CAPS. It’s good to denounce hypocrisy and the moralism that blinds us to our need for Jesus. We think it’s better to call out jackassery and religious poop. Either way, we want to get rid of everything that keeps us distracted from Jesus.

5. We need to accept tension. If you don’t know what you think about all this quite yet, that’s a wonderful thing. You are wrestling. Proper wrestling will cause you to ask, seek, knock, and find. Too often, Christians seem to come across as sure about everything. I do. That’s the worst place to be. The place farthest from Jesus. Jesus created a lot of tension, chiefly among the religious. My hope is that if you spend time getting to know us, you will find that we have a DEEP DEEP LOVE FOR JESUS! AND a deep disgust for the religious cultural undertones that undermine God’s work.



I also want to note that we’re not about virtue signaling here. (That’s pretentious speak for: I don’t think I’m better than you because I do some “baby” cursing.) If you read more on this site, I hope you find this to be a place of confession, humility, and freedom. The only rule is that we fight hard against judgment and superiority. We want to be honest and direct. It may be a bit crass from time to time, but humility is a primo value here.


We just want the main things to be the main things. JESUS. We want to love ALL people well, from prodigals to Pharisees. We want the church to be unified—not in theory, but in HEART and SPIRIT. And we would love to kill a little jackassary (ours chiefly) and burn a giant pile of religious poop on the internet’s doorstep. Hopefully, what you will find remaining is LOVE, JOY, PEACE, KINDNESS, and JESUS.