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Mark Beuving

55 POSTS 62 COMMENTS
Mark has been serving in pastoral roles for over 15 years. After a decade in various teaching and administrative roles at Eternity Bible College, Mark now works with Ryan as an associate pastor in Sacramento, 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. This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links. There are costs associated with running the blog. These links help to cover overhead.

Costumes, Kierkegaard, & Human Dignity

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In his incredible book Works of Love, Soren Kierkegaard was concerned that we neglect to love our neighbors because we focus on the dissimilarities between us. We are like actors in a play:

“Here you see only what the individual represents and how he does it. It is just as in the play. But when the curtain falls on the stage, then the one who played the king and the one who played the beggar, etc. are all alike; all are one and the same—actors. When at death the curtain falls on the stage of actuality…then they, too, are all one, they are human beings. All of them are what they essentially were, what you did not see because of the dissimilarity that you saw—they are human beings.”

This excellent illustration cuts in two directions. First, it speaks to the way we view other people. We see successful businessmen, gifted speakers, homemakers, professional athletes, homeless people, white or blue collared workers, etc. We notice skin color and gender, confidence and awkwardness.

But Kierkegaard would have us understand that these outward dissimilarities are nothing more than roles we are called upon to play. The differences are there, but the time is coming when the curtain will fall, and the man who played the king will sit down for drinks with the man who played the beggar. And they will sit together as equals, for they are not king and beggar in reality—these were roles they assumed on the stage—they are nothing more and nothing less than actors. People. They are equal.

We would do well, then, to look past the outward symbols of dissimilarity when we encounter another person. We should look deeply into her eyes and recognize the gaze of a fellow human being. This allows us to view the other person as a neighbor. (“Neighbor,” by the way, is an important concept for Kierkegaard. I will inevitably write about this before long.)

“The dissimilarity of earthly life is like an actor’s costume…each one should have the outer garment fastened loosely so that in the moment of transformation, the garment can be cast off easily.” —Kierkegaard

Isn’t this the way it works in our neighborhoods? There is no hierarchy on my street. When I stand on the sidewalk with my neighbors, we don’t relate to each other as realtor, professor, pastor, programmer. We are simply neighbors. We spend much of our lives on adjacent lots. We leave our jobs and head home to talk and play in the street without once deferring to one another’s professional titles. The roles we play and the costumes we wear are irrelevant; we are able to love one another as equals.

The conversations I have on my street are a taste of humanity stripped of its dissimilarities. If only we could see everyone in that light. If only we could stop playing games and simply love.

But this will also require us to see the other direction that Kiekegaard’s illustration cuts. Kierkegaard would have us look to ourselves and remember that we, too, are only actors, regardless of how important (or insignificant) a role we believe ourselves to be playing:

“We seem to have forgotten that the dissimilarity of earthly life is just like an actor’s costume…so that each one individually should be on the watch and take care to have the outer garment’s fastening cords loosely tied and, above all, free of tight knots so that in the moment of transformation the garment can be cast off easily.”

Do you have some level of power in this life? Don’t hold it too closely. Don’t take yourself too seriously. You have been called upon to play the role of an executive or a teacher or a supervisor or a day laborer. But that role does not define you. Make no mistake that one day your costume will have to be removed. Better to wear the costume loosely so that you are prepared to step back into the role of human being as soon as the play ends.

It’s difficult to see other people as neighbors when we see ourselves as big shots. Likewise, it’s difficult to interact with people as equals when we see ourselves as supporting cast at best.

So play your role well. Give it everything it deserves. But don’t forget that the stage only extends so far. Don’t lose sight of the curtain—it is going to drop. And there you will stand. No longer the king. No longer the beggar. But an actor. A neighbor. A human.

Kierkegaard & the Cure for Jackass

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The 19th Century Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard is without question one of the most influential thinkers in history. If that statement surprises you, it’s because his thinking comes to most of us indirectly through many currently-influential voices. He’s the philosopher equivalent of the bands who influenced the Beatles, who in turn influenced every musician you’ve ever enjoyed.

But he doesn’t do much direct influencing of modern readers because it takes a lot of work to dig into. For one thing, he wrote a ton of books, and those books tended to have many hundreds of pages. But to make matters exceedingly irritating, many of Kierkegaard’s books were written under numerous pseudonyms (Victor Eremita, John Climacus, Anti-Climacus, Hilarius Bookbinder, etc. etc. etc.). Some of these pseudonyms seem to represent more nearly than others what Kierkegaard himself believed, but it’s impossible to be sure.

Kierkegaard would play games with these pseudonyms. He would release two books by two different pseudonyms on the same day, or within a couple of weeks of each other. While he was producing these works, he would be sure to be seen in public frequently so that no one would suspect him of being the author of these works (a bit of theatre that worked for a time, but not for long). These books would offer different points of view on Christianity, philosophy, ethics, and society. Kierkegaard also published many books under his own name, but it still takes a lot of brainpower to untangle the relationship between this Kierkegaard and the pseudonymous authors of Kierkegaard’s other books.

Because of these bizarre methods, there’s no consensus on what Kierkegaard himself actually believed, no universally agreed upon “theology of Soren Kierkegaard.” We only have different camps of scholars who tend to hold the same general view of how it all fits together.

I’m tempted to think of that as a frustrating loss. But I’m realizing that it’s not. It’s actually a gift.

How can I possibly claim that this quirky, controversial, confusing philosopher could be the cure to jackass? Because the kind of reading that his books require would make us all better citizens by dismantling our biggest hurdle to mutual understanding.

When I first started reading Kierkegaard’s works, I read them as I read any book. I was in search of “Kierkegaard’s theology.” I wanted to know his views on things. When I do this with any author, I get a feel for their positions, and then I decide whether or not I agree with Calvin or Piper or Wright or Lewis. My thinking is binary (good author or bad author), and my mind is typically made up on a snap judgment rather than careful consideration. But this is actually unhealthy. Because I actually agree with and disagree with all of these authors.

“When you read Kierkegaard, you’re never quite sure where he’s heading or what it means to ‘agree with Kierkegaard.’ With each argument you must decide what you think. “

Why do I feel compelled to side with some authors and against others? Wouldn’t it be healthier to learn from each author and pull the most helpful parts from each? Isn’t it most important to walk away better informed and inwardly transformed as a result of wrestling with important concepts? How does it help me to be able to “agree with John Piper” or whomever, as though it’s all or nothing? Really, it just makes us all that much more divided. Encamped. Partisan.

But Kierkegaard’s bizarre style won’t let us get away with this. You have to think for yourself. When you read Kierkegaard, you have to engage with his actual arguments, because you’re never quite sure where he’s heading and you rarely get a clear picture of what it means to “agree with Kierkegaard.” You have to decide, to “judge for yourself” (to use a Kierkegaardian phrase). With each pseudonym; each book; each paragraph, sentence, and argument, you must weigh and decide what you think.

It’s infuriating. And exhausting. And healthy.

Our political climate is so polarized. You’re republican or you’re democrat. You’re pro or anti whomever. You’re pro this or anti that. We deal in sound bites, in memes. Your response has to be instant. You have to be outraged or impressed within seconds, and if you don’t make a social media statement right now then you’re siding for or against someone or something bad or good!

Don’t you hate it? Isn’t it ugly? Don’t you feel in your bones that we need something better, something more sustainable?

What we need, I submit, is a Kierkegaardian reading of everything. Take your time. You’ll have to decide, but don’t simply follow the party line. Do your homework. Weigh each comment, each argument, each moment on its own merits.

Judge for yourself.

Kierkegaard also rails against indecision, so you do have to make up your mind. Deciding is important, but you’re not allowed to decide by default, by following your tribe’s voting guide. If we could all retrain our habits of engagement in light of Kierkegaard’s infuriatingly inefficient approach, perhaps we’d learn to understand each other better, to renounce the “hot take.” We would then develop wise, patiently-formed, true-to-the-depths-of-our-soul convictions, and we could hold hands and walk away from the echo chambers we’ve been told to pledge allegiance to.

If you want to start on a super healthy journey, I encourage you to read some Kierkegaard. You can do it. I recommend you start with his masterpiece: Works of Love.

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.

What Is Jackass Theology?

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What is jackass theology? The concept may sound funny or edgy or irreverent or descriptive, depending on where you’re coming from. But we assure you, jackass theology is exceedingly common. We’ve all participated, though most of us are unaware of it. Simply put, jackass theology is what happens when we hold our theological convictions in such a way that we act like, well, jackasses. And that’s shockingly easy to do. Jackass theology happens when ideas, rules, and “being right” supplant love, joy, peace, and basic human dignity.

Theology itself is not the problem. Theology means “the study of God,” and God doesn’t make people into jackasses. The problem is the way we hold our theology. It’s the way we explain it, the way we use it to divide from others, the way we use it to beat other people up. For those of us who claim to be followers of Jesus, this is inexcusable. Jesus, if you recall, said that the two greatest commandments—the two statements that summarized all of the Old Testament—were love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself.

How do we go from Jesus insisting that loving other people is the most important thing to using Jesus’ teaching to ostracize and exclude?

Not many of us are doing this on purpose, but we’re all doing it. Making jerk moves in the name of Jesus. Saying hurtful things on God’s behalf. We don’t get a pass just because this is the church culture we’ve been raised in. Flannery O’Connor said, “Ignorance is excusable when it is borne like a cross, but when it is wielded like an ax, and with moral indignation, then it becomes something else indeed.” She was talking about people who have never put any energy into understanding how art works, and yet do not hesitate to criticize artists. The point works equally well when we co-opt the words of God to fight against other people without taking the time to understand the heart of God.

Let’s be clear: if your theology is making you less like Jesus, then something has gone catastrophically wrong.

“How do we go from Jesus insisting that loving other people is the most important thing to using Jesus’ teaching to ostracize and exclude? When our theology makes us less like Jesus, that’s a problem.”

So what are we doing calling this site Jackass Theology? We’re just a couple of pastors trying to help people get closer to the heart of Jesus. We’re using the concept of jackass theology in three ways: as a lament, as a confession, and as a way forward.

LAMENT

As we look at evangelical Christianity today, we see a ton of jackassery. It’s seriously everywhere. Stick with us and you’ll recognize it too. But don’t get too excited, once you start to notice jackass theology, you’ll see it mainly in your own past and present. We just want to help you weed it out of your future. We also want to note that it’s not just in evangelicalism. As I said, it’s seriously everywhere. Republicans, democrats, liberals, conservatives, upper class people, lower class people, etc. etc. etc. Jackassery is part of the human condition, but Jesus shows us what it means to be more.

CONFESSION

This part is key. We talk about jackass theology as a means of confession. Ryan and I are bigger jackasses than most, and we will often share our own jackassery. It’s important that we do this. The moment you point a finger as someone else’s jackassery, you’re guilty of it yourself. The theme passage for all jackass theology is Luke 18:9–14:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Fill in the blank however you want, as soon as you find yourself saying, “God, I thank you that I am not like _________,” you’re being a jackass. We confess our jackassery so we can turn from there and pursue the ways, works, and words of Jesus.

A WAY FORWARD

Ultimately, we’re trying to find and show a way forward. We all start as jackasses, but it doesn’t need to be like this. Jesus is the anti-jackass. Really, all we want to say is that we want to be more like Jesus. The problem is, we all assume that Jesus would do the things we tend to do, even when we’re actually being jackasses. The way forward is the way of Jesus. He invites us to join him, and that’s our heart with Jackass Theology. We want to be more like Jesus. And we’re hoping you’re interested in joining us as well.