Mark Beuving

Mark has been serving in pastoral roles for nearly 20 years. After a decade in various teaching and administrative roles at Eternity Bible College, Mark is a pastor at Creekside Church in Rocklin, California. His books include Resonate: Enjoying God’s Gift of Music and the New York Times bestseller Multiply: Disciples Making Disciples, which he co-authored with Francis Chan.

The Church’s Tone & Emphasis Problem


The Church has a tone and emphasis problem, which ties in to our PR problem. We are often speaking the truth, but we seem to have forgotten what it means to do this in love. Though I hear many evangelicals explain that they are “speaking the truth in love” they seem to be taking it to mean “I will say whatever I need to say to you in whatever tone I need to say it and that in itself is a loving act.” In other words, it’s loving to make sure people know what’s right; I don’t have to worry about being loving as I dispense that truth.

This is our tone problem. And actually, many times we are spouting our opinions—in many cases our unearned opinions–and calling those God’s truth. When we do this, we’re neither speaking the truth, nor doing so in love.

I’m old enough to have seen Christians get really worked up and focused on whether or not Christians are allowed to drink and whether or not Christians are allowed to listen to “secular” music. I’ve seen Christians advocate at full volume and with all of the self-righteous piety of a Puritan preacher that courtship and homeschooling are the only non-sinful options (I’m exaggerating, but only slightly). I’ve lived through periods when the Church’s biggest battles were over partisan politics—with many instances of churches bringing literal political candidates to “preach” in their pulpits. Lately we’re caught up in wokism and anti-wokism. We’re losing our minds over the prospect of women preaching. This list will never stop growing.

Let’s step back and take a breath for a minute. What does God call us to do in this world? Is it possible we’ve raised up as primary some issues that were never meant to be?

“We seem to be taking ‘speaking the truth in love’ to mean ‘I will say whatever I need to say to you in whatever tone I need to say it and that in itself is a loving act.'”

In Miguel de Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote, the eponymous hero fights boldly and bravely. No one can hold him back from what he knows is right. He disregards the protests of enemies and friends alike when they tried to dissuade him from his mission because he knows what’s right and he will boldly stand and defend truth and justice. The problem, of course, is the very thing that makes Don Quixote a comedy. Don Quixote is utterly misguided throughout the entire novel. In the book’s most famous episode, when Don Quixote attacks the ferocious giants terrorizing the country peasants, he’s actually attacking a row of windmills. With deep conviction. With full self-righteousness. But he’s utterly deluded.

I fear that this is a decent parable for the modern evangelical church. We’ve been brave. We’ve been bold. We’ve applauded for each other when we’ve fought the culture wars and said the things that are really difficult but important to say, such as correcting a minimum wage retailer who dares to utter “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Few could accuse the evangelical church of lacking passion or not standing up for what we believe in.

The problem is that we’ve often been fighting like Don Quixote. Under the banner of being biblical we’ve often been jackasses. Under the pretext of being Christlike, we’ve often failed in the very things that Jesus said were the most important: loving God and loving our neighbors.

“Here’s a helpful rule of thumb: If you find your theological convictions making you less like Jesus, then something is off.”

I’m not suggesting that we grow soft on biblical truth. I want to stand firm on everything Jesus stood firm on. But I want to be careful to say the things that Jesus said in the way that Jesus said them. I want to hold those truths in such a way that I actually look and act and feel to other people like Jesus!

Here’s a helpful rule of thumb: If you find your theological convictions making you less like Jesus, then something is off. If you can’t live consistently with your beliefs in such a way that your life looks like Jesus’ life, then you’re missing something.

I am a conservative American Christian. There are very few areas where I have come to disagree with the Christianity I was taught growing up or even with my very conservative seminary training. But I have come to see numerous areas in which some aspects of that theology were wrongly emphasized, or held with a sinful level of certainty, or wielded like a weapon rather than borne in love and grace. And I have also seen many of my brothers and sisters (and also myself) turn to other battles that we have never been called to.

So I am continuing to try to live in that journey of pursuing the words, works, and ways of Jesus. It’s not enough to quote chapter and verse. We have to quote chapter and verse while also living in love and embodying the grace that God so readily extends to everyone around us. That is the journey of Jackass Theology. And I’m deeply thankful for a growing group of people that are on that same journey with me.

The Church’s PR Problem


The Church and Christianity in the broader sense both have a major Public Relations problem. I doubt you’ll disagree. My question is this:

Have we earned the negative reputation we’ve acquired?

Barna has been watching this for decades. In their book UnChristian, David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons track the perception of Christianity from 1996, when 85% of people who did not identify as Christian held a favorable view of Christianity, to 2007 when that percentage dropped to 16%. The number of “non-Christians” who viewed the role of evangelicals in society as favorable in 2007 was 3%!

In that same 2007 study, they found that 85% of young “outsiders” (their technical term to describe people who don’t see themselves as “inside the church”) saw Christianity as hypocritical. Perhaps not surprisingly, 47% of young churchgoers agreed! 57% of “outsiders” said that Christians are quick to find fault in others. Only 16% of young “outsiders” believed that Christians consistently show love to the people around them. Along the same lines, Kinnaman and Lyons found that many young adults perceive Christians and the churches they belong to as being more devoted to self-preservation than world restoration.

These numbers are bad. I’ll address some of their more recent studies in future posts, but trust me, our PR problem hasn’t improved.

“Barna tracked the perception of Christianity from 1996, when 85% of ‘non-Christians’ held a favorable view of Christianity, to 2007 when that dropped to 16%. Have we earned the poor reputation?”

(Some get dismissive of studies like this, but let me assure you that Barna does its homework. And they love the Church. AND, Kinnaman does not believe our task is to make Christianity more popular or Jesus more palatable. He says outright: “Softening or reshaping the gospel is an utterly wrong response to the objections people raise” (UnChristian, 33). He simply wants us to understand the reputation we have garnered and ask ourselves if that’s what we want.)

So back to my question: Have we earned the negative reputation we’ve acquired?

Here’s my take: yes and no. I’ll start with no. I could list for you hundreds of names of Christians who are loving, compassionate, and who contribute positively to the world around them. These people are not any more (or less) hypocritical than the average person who fails to be all that they aspire to be. Think about it: The average unchurched person believes that people should be treated with dignity but still gets snappy when service is poor at a restaurant. He or she also believes that we have a responsibility to care for the environment but has a hard time making the sacrifices necessary to reduce their carbon footprint. We don’t typically call this person hypocritical, but it’s not that different than someone who aspires to live like Jesus yet continues to fall short. So there’s a sense in which this broad brush dismissal of Christianity and Christians has not been earned, at least by the majority of Christians I know.

But also yes, we have absolutely earned this reputation. I look around and I truly do believe that we have been collectively more invested in self-preservation than the good of the people around us. I think that we Christians have been very judgmental on certain issues. It’s not that we hate the people around us (I suppose there are always exceptions), it’s that we have failed to consider the tone we use when we speak about certain people. Or how our actions and words affect real people. How did Christianity get a reputation for being horrible to the gay community? I’d say that in many cases, we earned this reputation by being horrible to the gay community. (No, I don’t believe it’s wrong for us to disagree with someone’s lifestyle. Nor do I believe it’s wrong to tell someone that we believe that they are engaging in a sin. But I do believe we have earned a reputation for being judgmental by the way we’ve done this and by an almost complete lack of love towards the people in this community.)

My contention is that while I can point to hundreds of really amazing and loving Christians, even these people can sometimes be jackasses in the name of Jesus. I feel confident saying this because that statement is autobiographical. We have come to collectively hold an un-Jesus-like posture on many things, and we’ve all individually misrepresented Jesus in a myriad ways. All of this contributes to the poor reputation of Christians and churches.

So yes and no. But also, whether or not we’ve earned our reputation for being judgmental and hypocritical and unloving, I do know this: we currently have this reputation and we have to live with it. We’re not going to help anyone by arguing that people shouldn’t be viewing us as judgmental. Here’s reality: they see us that way. So what will we do about it?

That’s our goal in addressing Jackass Theology. We want to help the Church move back into the ways of Jesus.

I don’t think we can instantly shake the poor PR we’ve been building for a long time now. But that’s not the point of Jackass Theology. The point is to ask what Jesus wants for his church. Let’s not negate the words of Jesus by dismissing biblical teaching. No, let’s hold the words of Jesus tightly, but also pursue with greater intensity the works and ways of Jesus. I believe we’ve lost sight of this.

Some would argue that we need to stop caring about truth. You won’t find us doing that here. We need to change, but not like that. I believe our PR problem has come from mishandling the words of Jesus by divorcing them from the works and ways of Jesus. If you want to see what that looks like, I invite you to join us in this journey of addressing Jackass Theology.

Tozer’s Brass Knuckles


A.W. Tozer, who lived between 1897 and 1963, wrote a revealing description of the theological climate at the time and gave an inspiring alternative. I’ll include his words below and then briefly explain why I think we desperately need Tozer’s words today.

“We who are the fundamentalists and the ‘orthodox’ Christians have gained the reputation of being ‘tigers’—great fighters for the truth. Our hands are heavy with callouses from the brass knuckles we have worn as we beat on the liberals. Because of the meaning of our Christian faith for a lost world, we are obligated to stand up for the truth and to contend for the faith when necessary.

“But there is a better way, even in our dealing with those who are liberals in faith and theology. We can do a whole lot more for them by being Christlike than we can by figuratively beating them over the head with our knuckles.

“The liberals tell us they cannot believe the Bible. They tell us they cannot believe that Jesus Christ was the unique Son of God. At least most of them are honest about it. Moreover, I am certain we are not going to make them bow the knee by cursing them. If we are led by the Spirit of God and if we show forth the love of God this world needs, we become the ‘winsome saints.’” (A.W. Tozer, Whatever Happened to Worship?, Camp Hill: Christian Publications, 1985, 10-11).

I find Tozer’s metaphor of “beating on the liberals” with brass knuckles descriptive and helpful. Please notice that Tozer is not calling for an embrace of liberalism. He clearly disagrees with the theological liberalism he encountered. What he’s doing is lamenting the conservative, or as he self-described, the fundamentalist response to that. Had he and his fellow conservatives been standing up for truth or calling for a return to the Bible? Not so much. They had grabbed their brass knuckles and had been attacking those they saw as only enemies.

Here’s something I found fascinating in this description. Look at the way Tozer described the “liberalism” of his day: “The liberals tell us they cannot believe the Bible. They tell us they cannot believe that Jesus Christ was the unique Son of God.” This is what liberal meant then (pick up a book on twentieth century philosophy—this type of theology was and is a whole thing). But note carefully that this liberalism is very different than what I see most conservative evangelicals spitting on as “liberal” today. At this cultural moment, I most often see the term “liberal” disdainfully applied to: churches that “overemphasize” grace or unity, churches that allow women to preach, Christians that take a stand against racism or who try to care for refugees and immigrants, Christians who consider themselves democrats, etc.

My point is that when you look at Tozer’s definition of liberal, the issues we’re seeing as indicative of liberalism are pretty minor. I guess I’m basically calling us wimps. If this is all it takes for us to dismiss someone as liberal, we’re not very thick skinned. But notice this: Tozer is calling us to be “winsome saints” with his more intense, more historically heterodox version of liberal. How much easier should it be to treat those currently deemed “liberal” with grace and love? On a similar note, by our current definition of “liberal,” Tozer’s argument here for being “winsome saints” who emphasize the love of God would be dismissed as “liberal,” despite his self-description in this quotation at a fundamentalist!

I also love that Tozer says our hands are calloused from the brass knuckles. In other words, we’ve handed out a ton of wounds, but we ourselves have been altered in the process. Our “opponents” bear the wounds, but we bear the callouses. Here’s his explanation of what it would look like for us to begin living as “winsome saints”:

“The strange and wonderful thing about it is that truly winsome and loving saints do not even know about their attractiveness. The great saints of past eras did not know they were great saints. If someone had told them, they would not have believed it, but those around them knew that Jesus was living His life in them.

“I think we join the winsome saints when God’s purposes in Christ become clear to us. We join them when we begin to worship God because He was who He is.”

His answer is Christlikeness. His call is for us to worship. When we do, we find it easier to lay down our brass knuckles and to begin treating the people around us in ways that make us look more like Jesus rather than less.

How the Church Can Help a Deconstructing Generation


Last week I wrote about the elephant in the room of most evangelical churches: Gen-Z and Millennials are persistent in deconstructing. If you haven’t read that yet, it may be helpful to start there.

In this post I want to offer some thoughts on what we as the Church can do to help those who are deconstructing. Rather than demonizing them and kicking them in the butt on their way out the door, I suggest we care for them, listen to them, and learn from them. I’m convinced that the way we respond to this deconstruction movement will be vitally important for what comes next.

I can see in myself and in the generations just above me (I’m part of a group that has recently been given the unfortunate title “Geriatric Millennials”) a desire to fine tune the faith, get all of our doctrine and practice just right, and then hand that complete setup to the next generations with the warning: “Don’t touch anything or you’ll mess it up.” But as Søren Kierkegaard warned his generation, every generation must begin again for themselves. A generation can’t ever fully “inherit” what their ancestors figured out. Because faith must be wrestled with. It must be owned. If Gen-Z and Millennials were to simply take the churches, doctrines, and practices from their ancestors without making any adjustments, taking great care that they must do everything just as instructed by their predecessors, that would be living in a dead, lifeless faith.

Throughout history we can see generation after generation swinging the theological and ecclesiological pendulum back and forth. One generation overemphasizes doctrinal certainty, so the next pushes the pendulum back toward experiential encounters with God. Inevitably they push the pendulum too far, so the next generation must push it back again. We’re tempted to see the goal as getting the pendulum in the precise center so that all future generations can stay balanced without redoing the hard work of centering the pendulum. But it’s not about answering all of the questions and establishing all of the doctrines with precision. It’s about each generation taking ownership and exerting all of the effort required to swing the pendulum. That’s the work of faith, and each generation will have to do what it must to pursue a meaningful encounter with Jesus.

This means that the churches, structures, practices, and emphases that Gen-Z and Millennials create will likely look different than the ones we’ve grown used to. Is that okay? If it’s not okay, we’re likely to end up with churches that resemble religious museums in which every important thing is behind glass—to be admired and viewed but never touched and certainly never used for any new purposes.

To my fellow Geriatric Millennials and to the generations who have come before me, I urge us all to pray for those coming after us. Let’s not let them simply come after us. Let’s learn from them now. Let’s hear their concerns and have honest conversations. Let’s do what Francis Schaeffer modeled so well and offer “honest answers for honest questions.” I’m certain those younger than us can help us deconstruct some things that REALLY need to be deconstructed. I’m also certain that those younger than us can use our humble and reciprocal mentorship. We can help them see why the Bible means so much to us and help them avoid throwing out the baby with the bathwater. In return, they’ll likely help us see that some of the things we’ve considered to be “baby” are actually “bathwater.” And vice versa.

“The churches, structures, and emphases that Gen-Z and Millennials create will look different than the ones we’re used to. If not, we’re likely to end up with churches that resemble religious museums.”

I encourage all of us to be praying for the future of Christianity. There are some ugly things in our churches, and some beautiful things as well. The current season is ripe for building something new and exciting. The current political landscape doesn’t give me much hope for seeing something new and life-giving emerge. But the Church ought to be different. I believe God will break through some of the negative trends and do something powerful. I trust the Spirit of God to move and lead people who believe differently than I do. And I trust him to move and lead me. He has something exciting ahead, I’m certain of it. Let’s go there together, with tons of humility and a passionate pursuit of Jesus and everything he’s calling us into.

Faith for the Deconstructing


The elephant in most evangelical churches across the country is that many Christians are “deconstructing.” This development is being talked about in some spaces, but many Christians are still unaware (a reality that has sad implications) or dismissive about the trend. Deconstructing means something a little different for everyone experiencing it (either first or second hand), but in general, it refers to growing disenchanted with at least some of the beliefs you grew up with. And, this trend seems to be most prominent among Millennials and Gen-Z.

I want to start with a strong word of affirmation: if you’re deconstructing, I don’t doubt that that’s a good thing. That may be a surprising thing to hear a pastor say, but as John Mark Comer points out, many elements of our faith NEED to be deconstructed, and Jesus himself led people in a version of deconstruction (“You have heard that it was said, but I say to you…”). Did you grow up believing that anyone who questions a hyper-literal six-day creationist reading of Genesis 1 and 2 is caught in a satanic agenda? That should be deconstructed. Were you taught to hold your nose at anyone who sins in ways that differ from the ways you regularly sin? Deconstruct that.

I’ll go a bit further. Have you found yourself questioning God’s existence or goodness? Have you been doubting how the Bible can be considered God’s word and fully accurate? Do you wonder on occasion or regularly if Jesus actually cares about what you’re going through? If you answered yes to any of those questions, chances are you’ve been pressured by the culture of shame and fear we cultivate in many churches to simply keep silent and pretend to yourself and to everyone else that you don’t have those questions. But I’m here to tell you that if these questions are forming in your mind, you should find healthy and safe ways to ask these questions legitimately. To wrestle with them in earnest. Don’t let anyone make you feel unspiritual or immature for asking questions like this.

If you’re feeling like you’re not allowed to be disappointed when your prayers go unanswered and apparently unheard, or to question what you’ve always been taught, I encourage you to read Psalm 44 slowly and carefully. Pay attention to what’s being expressed and consider the fact that these questions, complaints, and accusations are recorded IN Scripture AS Scripture. That’s a big deal. Don’t try to be more biblical than the Bible. If the sons of Korah are allowed to wrestle with God like this in the actual Bible, then so are you.

“The elephant in most evangelical churches across the country is that many Christians are deconstructing. If you find yourself deconstructing, I doubt that’s a bad thing.”

I also encourage you to think carefully about WHAT SPECIFICALLY you’re questioning and WHAT SPECIFICALLY you find yourself rejecting. If you’re turned off to the concept of church because you see tons of churches covering up child abuse, sexual abuse, and institutional bullying in order to protect their reputations or their leaders—well, so am I. But I’m here to tell you that the Church will be better off if you’re able to work with us to weed these things out of the Church rather than walking away. (But also: if you need to walk way, walk away. You don’t need to stay in a place where you’ve experienced abuse just out of some vague sense of obligation.) If you’re skeptical of Christian teachers ignoring the genres of the Bible and using selectively literal interpretations of certain passages (say, for instance, the book of Revelation) as a test of who is in and who is out—I’m with you there, too. (Here’s a guide I put together years ago for reading the Bible in light of its literary genres—a practice that could sort out a lot of what is dividing us these days.)

You might be afraid of being too honest with yourself, afraid of where you’ll end up if you let go of too many of the things you’ve held onto. I empathize on that front. I find some comfort in this regard in the fiction writing of Flannery O’Connor. She was a Catholic who wrote in the mid 20th century. Her stories are jarring, sad, and often violent. Yet she insisted that her faith was running throughout all of her stories. Often her characters would speak against Jesus (like Hazel Motes, who passionately preached “the Church of God Without Christ.”) But Flannery insisted that these characters were not godless. She said that their virtue lay not so much in their firm faith, but in the fact that they were never able to fully leave Jesus behind. She described Jesus moving between the trees in the backs of their minds. Or to borrow a phrase from the poet Christian Wiman, Jesus was like a thorn in their brains that they could never fully ignore.

Perhaps that’s all you’ve got left. You know your beliefs are not what they used to be, but you also can’t bring yourself to leave everything behind. Maybe you’ve given up on the Church but you’re still drawn to Jesus. I can say with confidence that that’s not nothing. And actually, it’s a lot. A faith that has been dismantled, stripped of distraction, and honed down to its essence has got to be better than an intact system that is problematic and easy to discard. That kernel of faith may be just the building block to begin from.

I’d encourage you to build in honesty with people who are willing to engage you in honest conversation. However, don’t just hash it out completely on your own, or only with a bunch of disillusioned people. See if you can find some people whose faith you respect, even if you don’t intend for your faith to look exactly like theirs. Don’t stop asking questions. If you deconstructed by allowing yourself to ask questions, don’t pretend you’re not still drawn to Jesus, Scripture, or some idealistic version of Church that you have yet to see in real life (if that is indeed the case). Let that same impulse to question and dream draw you back to some version of reconstruction. You don’t have to rush, and you should be honest, but it’s too easy to pull things apart without ever doing the hard work of putting something back together. I don’t want to be dismissive of what you’re experiencing, but I know we will all be better off if this deconstructing generation finds a way to put in the hard work of helping us swing the pendulum of what Christianity is meant to be.

For more on that, and on what the existing Church can do to help a deconstructing generation, I’ll write again next Monday.

Kierkegaard’s Unforgivable Sin


In one of Søren Kierkegaard’s later works, For Self-Examination, in which he took more direct aim at what he saw as the deficient Christianity of his day, he asks us to consider the following parable.

There was a king who issued a command to all of his subjects. This was a big deal and everyone knew it. They all responded to this serious situation like this:

“A remarkable change comes over them all: they all become interpreters, the officers become authors, every blessed day there comes out an interpretation more learned than the last, more acute, more elegant, more profound, more ingenious, more wonderful, More Charming, and more wonderfully charming.”

If you want a sense of how seriously everyone took the command, just look at the mounting piles of literature exploring the command from all angles. People even began writing reviews and critical pieces on this initial body of literature. Everyone was busy with the king’s command.

And yet.

“Everything became interpretation—but no one read the royal command with a view to acting in accordance with it.”

Does that sound familiar? They took the command seriously. How so? Not by obeying it, but by writing about it and discussing it.

Keep in mind that Kierkegaard was writing to Danish Christians in the early 1800s. This is a recurring problem for Christians. We take God and his direction for human beings and for his church so seriously that we write books, commentaries, and blogs. Then we start writing books, commentaries, and blogs on those works. Ironically, there are (really helpful!) commentaries on Kierkegaard’s works as well. No one can accuse of us ignoring God’s commands because there’s a huge body of literature in which we work to get. it. right.

And yet.

Do we imagine that when Jesus told us to love our neighbors he wanted us to write a bunch of books or blog posts about that statement rather than—hear me out—actually loving our actual neighbors? There are many commands in the Bible. But we have a tendency to write, preach, and group-study about them rather than simply obeying them. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t write, preach, or do group studies. It’s simply to ask a more fundamental question: why did God tell us any of this in the first place?

“We take God and commands so seriously that we write books, commentaries, and blogs. But is this what it means to take his commands seriously? Do we find ourselves putting his commands into action?”

Kierkegaard finishes the parable by speaking about what the king can and can’t forgive. The king actually turns out to be very gracious. He can probably forgive the fact that people weren’t obeying the command. Even if the people all got together and signed a petition asking the king to be patient with them as they failed to obey the command or even asking him to abolish the command because it was too hard to obey—even then the king could probably forgive them.

But for Kierkegaard, there is an unforgivable sin here: The people decided on their own what it meant to take the command seriously. In other words, when they chose to act as though taking the command seriously meant producing literature and discussion rather than obedience, this was when they went too far.

I’m convicted and challenged by this parable. I need to hear it. Pick any command in Scripture: love your neighbor, weep with those who weep, pray for those who persecute you, preach the gospel, outdo one another in showing love, etc. Maybe we’ll decide to take it seriously. But we also have to allow the king to determine what it means to take it seriously. In Kierkegaard’s parable, you could devote your whole life to the command (by becoming an interpreter or author) and yet never have engaged the command itself. May this not be true of us.

Let’s step outside of the loop of endless commentary and discussion, step away from our apparent need to police each other’s literature on any one of these commands, and take any of these commands that God gives us seriously in the way he desires. By obeying.

Francis Chan’s New Book on Unity Is His Most Important Yet


Francis Chan is releasing a new book on April 1: Until Unity. I’m saying it’s his most important book yet, and I know how big of a statement that is. Crazy Love has been hugely influential in helping so many recover from Lukewarm Christianity. Forgotten God has helped many conservative Christians—including myself—rediscover the person and the power of the Holy Spirit. But Until Unity is hugely important in a way that I think will have an even greater impact. Here’s why.

This book starts with Francis doing what many of us have done recently: He lifts his head, looks around, and observes the staunch and growing divisions in so many areas of our society. While it’s pretty gross out here in a lot of spaces, Francis is most grieved with the division within the church.

Of all people, Christians should know the importance of unity. As we’ve been saying for a while now, if you start talking about unity these days, you’re immediately dismissed as liberal, or as fluffy, or as someone who doesn’t take the Bible seriously. But Francis overturns all of those lazy and inaccurate accusations. How? By simply listing some of the many Scriptures that directly call for unity. How, he wonders, can someone who insists on taking a literal interpretation of Bible passages about avoiding division and preserving unity be condemned as unbiblical? There is a sense in many branches of the church right now that anyone who disagrees with you about something you consider “biblical” can and should be dismissed and warned against. But Francis in effect argues that because there are many biblical commands to be united, to avoid slander, to not be quarrelsome, etc., the case could be made that the person who is insisting on pursuing unity is the biblical conservative.

Until Unity is certainly not a plea to ignore doctrine. Francis is as strong on biblical truth as he’s ever been (which is very strong). Honestly, I’ve never met anyone as prone to take Scripture at face value and to respond in obedience to a literal interpretation of the Bible as Francis is. This includes passages like “sell your possessions and give to the poor,” which is a passage that his critics tend to dismiss as figurative or situational. Rather than dismissing doctrine in order to find a light weight version of unity in the church, Francis calls us to a deeper theological unity.

We all have things we are passionate about. That’s as it should be. A lot of disunity comes because we’re passionate about these different areas. What if we could acknowledge each other’s passions and stay united around the gospel itself, around the mission that Jesus gave us to make disciples, around the strongest emphases of Scripture? Why should we expect to agree with every member of our churches on every matter of doctrine? Unity amidst diversity is actually something we should strive for, and Francis paints a compelling picture of how this should look.

In one of the strongest sections of the book, Francis unpacks Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that his followers would all be one—in the same way that Jesus and the Father are one!—and that this unity amongst Christians would serve as evidence to the world that Jesus really was sent from God. Francis notes all the strategies and efforts we make to help people see Jesus for who he really is, meanwhile we all ignore the one strategy that Jesus actually gave us: be united and people will believe that Jesus was sent from the Father!

While we may be prone to see the divided nature of the church as a point of sadness, an inconvenience, or a source of frustration and pain, Francis calls division what it is: sin. He calls us throughout to repent of the pride, selfishness, and lack of love that leads us into increasing disunity.

If Jackass Theology makes you nervous, I understand. We really are trying to call everyone to take Jesus and Scripture more seriously by loving as Jesus loved, but to many this has sounded like a call to disregard Scripture. If that’s you, I highly recommend you read Until Unity. Francis makes a compelling case for a literal reading of the biblical commands to be united. And he goes to great lengths to help us understand how this works out in practice. He even talks about the friendly fire he’s received when the Christian community has attacked him over the years.

I’m certain this is his most important book yet. It will draw you deeper into Scripture and help you live more fully in the love of God that comes to us through Jesus.

Lame Duck Politics & the Kingdom of God


Now that the election is over, we can get back to the real work of politics. I don’t say that to disparage what happens with presidential elections, it’s obviously hugely important. But as I’ve been arguing, we must keep politics in proper perspective.

With the election of Joe Biden, Donald Trump has become what’s known as a lame duck president, meaning that he’s still technically “in power” but is limited in what he can accomplish because his administration is coming to a close.

That’s actually a perfect illustration of what our human politics are actually like.

James K. A. Smith argues that we should view politics with greater nuance than siding with either Republicans or Democrats. We should not think that politics are unimportant, nor should we imagine that all of our problems have political solutions. Instead, he calls us to view our political engagement in terms of an overlap of kingdoms. Yes, we have human governments and authorities. And yes, God’s kingdom rules over all. While we’re sometimes taught to separate these powers (a separation of church and state kind of argument) and keep politics out of religion and vice versa, Smith calls us to acknowledge that Christianity has political ramifications and makes political claims, and also that political leaders make religious claims and carry religious implications.

Here’s how it works:

“It’s not that ‘secular’ authorities have full authority over a limited jurisdiction; they have only delegated authority for a time” (James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Reforming Public Theology, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017, 159).

So how do we get to work politically now that the election is over? Not by moving back into a siloed world of religion while we let politics take its course. Nor by getting caught up in party politics. Instead, the call now—as always—is to be drawn so closely into the words, works, and ways of Jesus that he shapes every area of our life, including our public life together (which is what politics are ultimately about).

Smith quotes the Anglican ethicist Oliver O’Donovan on the way the first Christian stood up to the insanely harmful Roman political leaders of the first few centuries: “The church addressed society and it addressed rulers. Its success with the first was the basis of its great confidence in confronting the second… Christ conquered the rulers from below, by drawing their subjects out from under their authority.”

This means that those early Christians didn’t base everything on who gained or lost power in the empire. It mattered, of course, whether the ruler was actively killing people for their faith or whether they were allowed to live in peace. But the early church got busy showing regular people who Jesus was and helping them discover all of the implications of his life and death on their behalf. O’Donovan is saying that this effort was so effective that eventually the Roman leaders had to face that their political power was being undermined by the faith commitments of individual people.

I’m not saying that we need to only worry about individual souls and not politics. What I’m suggesting is that we take a deep breath now that the election is over and get back to the real work of (1) introducing people to Jesus’ revolutionary love and (2) doing whatever is in our own limited spheres of power to help the principles of the Kingdom of Christ become reality in the here and now (read Matthew 5–7 for what those principles entail).

“The governing authorities matter, but all of their power is delegated from the only one who has true authority. And their authority is a temporary, relativized, lame-duck authority.”

Smith, a Canadian, gives the example of taking international flights from Toronto to the U.S. When he goes to the international gate, there is an overlap of jurisdiction. He waits for his flight on Canadian soil, but he’s gone through American security protocols and uses American dollars in the terminal. He’s sort of in American jurisdiction, but if there were an emergency, Canadian authorities would respond. These are the strange overlapping dynamics we experience in terms of the kingdom of God and governmental authority. There’s ambiguity, there’s overlap. The governing authorities matter, but all of their power is delegated from the only one who has true authority. And their authority is a temporary, relativized, lame-duck authority. How that authority gets used matters, but we ultimately owe our allegiance to a God who exceeds their authority and who is working in this world in ways that are far more powerful than anything a government can come up with.

So let’s continue following Jesus and his kingdom. As O’Donovan says, God has no spies. Instead, he sends prophets to speak truth to power and to call every person and every area of society to bow the knee to Jesus’ kingship. That work matters whether our candidate is in power or not. It matters whether it’s an election year or not. And that’s work we can stay busy pursuing even during a human transition of “power.”

Love Your [Political] Enemy


I know everything is crazy right now. Some of you are partying harder than you have in four years. Some of you are angrier, or more confused, or more fearful, or just sadder than you’ve been in four years.

It’s crazy how we can experience the exact same thing in such different ways.

I don’t know exactly what needs to be done right now. I can’t help you all that much in interpreting this cultural moment. I’m still very uncertain myself. But there is one thing I know. Jesus gave us some powerful and unambiguous instructions that we all need to hear. I won’t offer any commentary or explanation, though I’m sure both are warranted. I’m just going to copy and paste Jesus’ words. I don’t do so to shame Republicans or Democrats or those who have no clue what they are. I’m pasting these very old words here because humanity has never done a good job of following them. But we desperately need them.

“Please take a minute to read Jesus’ words, and another minute to ask him how these words could sink into your heart and shape your life in the days and years ahead. We need this.”

Please don’t skip over this now that you know I’m just pasting a Bible passage. Please take a minute to read Jesus’ words, and another minute to ask him how these words could sink into your heart and shape your life in the days and years ahead. We need this.

Luke 6:27–38:

“I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

“If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

How Will You React to the Completed Election?


The election is on November 3: decide now how you’ll respond. On one level, it doesn’t seem like any of us knows what to expect when the election is over. On another level, we all know exactly what to expect. There’s going to be division, gloating, outrage, cries of injustice and rigging, anger, joy, mourning, celebration, and so much more. That’ll be the case if we find out on November 3 who wins. It’ll only be intensified and mixed with more accusations and angst if the election is undecided for days, weeks, or months after election day.

So how are you going to respond to all of this?

If you’ve been the Political Jackass, you’ll either find your hopes dashed or realized. You’ll either fall into anger, lashing out and explaining how ignorant and idiotic the Winner and his supporters are, or you’ll launch into a triumphant euphoria, realizing that everything is going to be okay now that your political goals are likely to be achieved.

I’m sorry to state it so bluntly, but both responses are stupid. Both stem from a jackassery wherein our hope is not most fundamentally in Jesus but in a this-worldly system of gain and triumph that is transparently an alternative religion. We use religious terminology for our political jackassery, which reveals the idolatry at the root of our political polarizations. It’s not that we can’t be principled voters who stand in conviction. I’m arguing that if we’re pledging allegiance to a political party or a candidate, then our allegiance is not ultimately in Jesus. If we’re pledging allegiance to one nation over another, our faith is somewhat shallow. Does that sound harsh? Consider this:

Matthew Bates frames faith as allegiance in his book Gospel Allegiance, and I think he’s right to do so. So pledging allegiance elsewhere is at least close to putting our faith in something or someone other than Jesus.

“How will you respond to the completed election? Decide now. There’s no reason to be surprised by the fallout of this thing.”

If your allegiance/faith is in a candidate that wins, you’ll be over the moon thrilled to the point that it will either manifest in relief, gloating, or some other form of euphoria. If your allegiance/faith is in a candidate that loses, you’ll be devastated to the point that it will either manifest in anger, depression, or some other form of dysphoria. But if your allegiance/faith is in Jesus, then the results of an election couldn’t possibly rock you very deeply.

If your faith/allegiance is primarily in Jesus, then your response to the completed election will have more to do with your feelings of compassion for other people than about your political goals being achieved or dashed. Win or lose, you’ll see people’s laid-bare hopes and disappointments as an opportunity to disciple them toward Jesus and all of the healing and hope that he offers.

So how will you respond to the completed election? Decide now. There’s no reason to be surprised by the fallout of this thing. If we renounce Jackass Politics now, we can be perfectly poised to help other people counterbalance in the wake of the coming train wreck and find ways to move forward together in a beautiful hope.