32 – Earth Has No Sorrow: Dustin Kensrue’s Deconstruction, Review of “The Grey” by Thrice, and Reviews of “Departures” and “Jesus, I Have My Doubts” by Jon Foreman

Psalm

Psalm 32

Ice Breaker

Review of Jon Foreman’s Departures album

I would classify this album as a Type 2.5 album. Many of the songs are solidly Type 3, but there are Type 2 and at least one song I would classify as a “personal” Type 1 (not meant for congregational worship) Lament: Jesus I Have My Doubts.

Before we can fully dive into that song, however, it is important to consider the entire context of that song. This album is a concept album about the year 2020 and how difficult it was for Jon personally, and every song plays a part within the context of the narrative. 

I do not plan on talking about each song, but I will talk briefly about some important ones. I will also post a Spotify playlist that Jon created that includes his own  commentary on each song (but be warned that he makes a pretty disappointing theological comment before “Side By Side”).

The album begins with a very dramatic song (probably the most dramatic song Jon has ever released under any project) called The Ocean Beyond The Sea. It talks about the futility of trying to achieve salvation on your own. The song is very poetic and does not specifically talk about Jesus, so this would be a Type 3 song. 

One very interesting phrase that he uses to talk about salvation is “an elixir for all who grieve”. While this does not offer near enough specificity to accurately conclude that this elixir is the blood of Christ that covers all our sins, within the context of this album, the song sets the stage of dealing with grief specifically. And grief is something that cannot be fully processed without divine help.

The final song on the album is called Last Words. Jon is a fairly private person, but I believe this song is likely a sequel to the early 2019 song Joy Invincible from Switchfoot’s album Native Tongue. Joy Invincible is about processing a difficult medical diagnosis, while Last Words is about processing the death of someone close. From the lines of the song, this individual died of cancer, and from the raw emotion of the two songs, I would find it very difficult to believe they were metaphorical or imaginative. I believe this loss was real.

Most of the songs on this album deal with grief in some way. Each song has at least one line that is completely turned on its head when viewed through the lens of losing someone, but this is especially true in tracks 1-5. In track 6 (out of 12), we land on Jesus I Have My Doubts. We are going to go over this song in great detail in just a moment, but in short, this is a very raw Lament about not understanding God’s plan.

The song reads a lot like Psalm 88. There is very little hope in the verbatim context, but there are some important lines that help us understand that the wound is where the light shines through (see what I did there?).

One very important piece of context to help process this song is track 7, which I believe was placed alongside Jesus I Have My Doubts to be the direct center of the album. The song is called Thanks Be To God. The repeated refrain is “Thanks be to God who delivers me. Christ, Christ alone, come and set me free.” This beautiful song helps us to understand that it is in Christ alone that we can process our grief and still make it out in one piece.

Podcast episode of Jon Foreman talking about the album.

Quick overview of Dustin Kensrue’s deconstruction story

We have talked a lot about Dustin Kensrue on this show. He was one of the Mars Hill worship leaders in Seattle as the front man for a band called The Modern Post. He is also the front man for the secular band Thrice.

Mars Hill, led by pastor Mark Driscoll, was a major leader in the Young Restless and Reformed movement for many years. Their music in a lot of ways had the potential to compete with the Big Four: Bethel, Hillsong, Elevation, and Passion. However, like with all things in this life, sin ruined everything.

Mark was caught stealing money from the church and buying many thousands of copies of his own book so it would hit the Bestseller list. His hope was to start selling even more once it was trending and put all the money back once the royalties started pouring in. He was caught and asked to resign, and that was when a very pesky little church bylaw kicked in.

From the start, Mark had built the church around himself, and had a bylaw included that would force the church to shut down in the event that he died. The leaders of the church understood the spirit of the law was to disband in the event that Mark was ever not the pastor (but he never saw another situation in which that would be possible save for his death), so to avoid legal battles, the church shut its doors.

At this point I am speculating a bit, but I can find it very easy to believe that following a pastor so closely and then finding out that his words didn’t coincide with his actions, it would be very difficult to continue believing his words. It is without question that Mark built his church around Mark all while saying he was building out around Jesus (now, I am not saying he was a false teacher, propagating heresy, or even that he is non regenerate; but I am saying he sinned big time and should never be in church leadership again; but that hasn’t stopped him from still being in public ministry).

Since leaving the crater of Mars Hill, Dustin Kensrue has given up on many of the doctrines that Mark Driscoll taught, namely the inerrancy, infallibility, and Authority of Scripture. Dustin now believes that the Bible is a list of stories written by flawed men that depict their ideas about God given their individual limitations of scope. He believes that the only absolute in this world is change. He believes that God is not immutable and that he changes his mind quite often.

He no longer believes in substitutionary atonement and that Jesus is not the only way to Heaven. He believes that the cross was cosmic child abuse and that God is essentially not an all powerful, all good deity. He says that he still reads the Bible, and that he finds it much more enjoyable knowing that his life doesn’t depend on it.

I hope and pray that Dustin sees the error of his ways and comes back to God.

Article we referenced: It’s Not Enough: Dustin Kensrue’s Turning Away

SIDEBAR: WHAT IS PROCESS THEOLOGY?

A concept of God that rejects His immutability and instead maintains that God changes and interacts with humanity. Adherents claim that it makes better sense of the God of the Bible, yet they deny many of the teachings of it. In Process Theology, there is no omnipotent God, and no immutable God. “The Process God is finite, mutable, less than omnipotent, and via his physical pole suffers alongside of his creatures. This is not thought to be a defect but rather an asset as it allows God to identify with his creatures and experience what happens to them as it happens.” (Feinberg, n.d.) In other words, a god of man’s own making.

For more on process theology, see John S. Feinberg’s writing.

Feinberg, J. S. (n.d.). Process Theology. The Gospel Coalition. Retrieved April 10, 2021, from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/essay/process-theology/

Feinberg, J. S. (2001). No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God. Crossway Books.

Main Topic: The Grey vs. Jesus I Have My Doubts

The Grey: Thrice

 Verse 1
There was a time when I tried to hold the ocean in my fists
 When I mistook the language for the light
 There was a tightness that gripped my soul and bubbled at my wrists
 And choked me within inches of my life 
 Pre-Chorus
 But now I'm letting go
 And I can finally breathe, I can finally breathe 
 Chorus
 And my hands are open, reaching out
 I'm learning how to live with doubt
 I'm learning how to lean into the grey
 'Cause I've had enough of black and white
 I'll find another way and I will lean into the grey
 I'll lean into the grey
 Verse 2
 There was a time when I tried to bind and bottle up the sea
 I tried to hide my heart inside my head
 There was a maze of these vicious lines that cut through everything
 I pulled against them till my body bled 

Grant was reminded of the excellent Lutheran Satire video, Tyler the Ex-Evangelical Quits Swimming.

Jesus, I Have My Doubts: Jon Foreman

 Verse 1
 Jesus, I'm sorry 'bout last night
 Jesus, we both know I tried
 Jesus, feels like the world's in pieces
 I'm sure You've got Your reasons
 But I have my doubts
 Jesus, I have my doubts
 Chorus
 When everything that's right feels wrong
 And all of my belief feels gone
 And the darkness in my heart is so strong
 Can You reach me here in the silence?
 Singing these broken songs
 Looking for the light for so long
 But the pain goes on and on and on
 Can You reach me here in the silence?
 Verse 2
 Jesus, what a week we've had?
 Jesus, has the world gone mad?
 Jesus, feels like the world's in pieces
 I'm sure You've got Your reasons
 But I've got my doubts
 Jesus, I've got my doubts
 Jesus, I've got my doubts
 Bridge
 Are You there? Can You hear me?
 Do You care? Are You near me?
 'Cause I'm scared and I'm weary
 Are You there? Can You hear me?
 Are You there? Can You hear me?
 Do You care? Are You near me?
 'Cause I'm scared and I'm weary
 Are You there?
 End
 Can You reach me here in the silence?
 I have my doubts 

Mark 9:24 – “Help my unbelief!”

Thanks for listening

The Balm of Gilead podcast is a member of the Tech Reformation family of podcasts. If you enjoy the show, please share it with others. We enjoy hearing from you, so join us on the Tech Reformation Slack and let us know what you’re thinking. If email is more your thing, write to us at thereis <at> balmcast <dot> com. Thanks again and we’ll see you next time, Lord willing.


4 Replies to “32 – Earth Has No Sorrow: Dustin Kensrue’s Deconstruction, Review of “The Grey” by Thrice, and Reviews of “Departures” and “Jesus, I Have My Doubts” by Jon Foreman”

  1. Dan M

    You’ve reaffirmed my conviction that people who care about “correct” theology tend to be inveterately myopic bigots. Robert M. Price is right to describe your particular instantiation of theism as belief in God as a “merciless theology professor”. Get over yourselves, please. To quote Jon Foreman: “Put your God badge down and love somebody”.

    I applaud Dustin Kensrue for rejecting the evil death cult that passes for evangelical Christianity, and embracing the radical notion that, hey, being wrong is not a mortal sin, murdering innocent people/animals for ANY reason is unacceptable, and, oh by the way, nobody deserves to burn alive for eternity. That makes him a decent human being. GOD, I hope there IS a God, because I look forward to him/her/it/they compassionately teaching y’all someday what it means to love somebody. Hint: It’s got a lot more to do with being kind than passing a theology final.

    Do y’all even understand the connection here? Dustin and Jon are friends. Jon’s brother-in-law David Dark directly inspired Dustin in writing “Robot Soft Exorcism” on the new Thrice record. Jon and Dustin’s understandings of God cohere a lot more than you’re realizing. Think about that.

    Oh, just to correct another misunderstanding: Jon lost both of his grandfathers in the past year. “Joy Invincible”, while thematically consonant with terminal illness and death, more likely references his daughter’s brush with death in 2013/2014. Now, Jon frequently concocts a pastiche of life experiences into one song, so it’s not necessarily limited to that sole context, but considering the preponderance of lyrical language within the song, he’s clearly speaking to his wife and/or his daughter.

    I wish y’all the best, but I have little patience anymore for people sanctimoniously disparaging others for their failure to conform to your own highly subjective theological interpretations.

    • Bryan J Emerson

      Dan,

      Thank you for taking the time to listen critically through one of our episodes. Also, thank you for taking the time to write out and post your concerns with us. We would like to take your post as an invitation to enter into a conversation.

      Let us start off by saying that none of us (Bryan, Grant, or Justin) know Dustin or Jon personally. We never pretended to. The only things that we know about them are things they have publicly posted online or through their music. We were unaware that Jon’s daughter had dealt with a near fatal condition, nor did we know that he lost both of his grandfathers in 2020. He posted publicly in his commentary of Departures that he lost someone, but he did not specify who. That said, we appreciate the insight you have given us concerning Jon’s personal history and his relationship with Dustin.

      I (Bryan) was worried he lost his wife based on the intimacy of the lyrics of Last Words, and that song both brought me to tears for Jon and led me to pray for him and his situation (and a quick Google search led me to find that his wife was still alive and well). Furthermore, the song Joy Invincible has been of great encouragement to me since receiving the diagnosis that my then unborn daughter had multiple heart defects, a condition that would take her away from me before she was six months old. I will forever defer to Jon’s words as comfort, as I tattooed the line “Hallelujah Nevertheless” to my right arm.

      Having personally gone through the entire narrative from receiving my daughter’s diagnosis to holding her as she died, I have a much deeper connection with these two songs (Joy Invincible and Last Words) than most. I am very confused why you thought it was out of place or disrespectful for me to make an assumption that the songs may have been written intentionally as bookends or that I took such a personal connection to songs released for the public.

      We are also confused by some of the inconsistencies in your post. You told us to stop judging Dustin’s theology right after you judged us as bigots. What gives you the right to judge us as bigots if we don’t have the right to judge Dustin as having wrong theology? What standard do you (or Dustin for that matter) use to determine right from wrong? To whom are you appealing your case?

      You have also painted a picture of a god that we do not actually believe in, and then you judge us for believing in that god. This is a straw man argument. You have also accused us of holding to the gnostic view of secret knowledge. The truth is that we believe knowing theology and knowing God are two completely different things. James 2:19 says “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” Believing in God or having a good mental understanding of God doesn’t make someone a Christian. Also, someone could have a very elementary understanding of God and still be a Christian. We are not worried about passing a theology final, but at the same time, a kindergartener is not qualified to teach college. Our podcast doesn’t exist to call people names or belittle anyone, but there are passages upon passages of Scripture that call us to point out when theology is being taught wrong, partially wrong, or not fully up to the standard of Scripture alone.

      We are confused that you would call our actions “unkind” and then continue to blaspheme God according to the standard that God Himself has given to us. If you have rejected the Bible as God’s standard, then what is your standard? What gives you the right to call our interpretation of Scripture “subjective” when we hold to the earliest creeds and confessions of the Christian faith? These steadfast creeds and confessions hold that being wrong *is* a mortal sin (technically that all humans are born sinners and by nature “wrong”) and that *all* people deserve eternal punishment. The mercy and grace of God is defined by His deep love for His chosen people to save them when He didn’t have to. To take any other stance is to veer from orthodoxy and to adhere to a subjective interpretation (especially if you, like Dustin, believe that the only consistency is change).

      Our podcast appeals to passages like 1 John 2:18-27, where John warned the churches about the people who once called themselves Christians, left the church, and continued to try to teach the church unorthodox theology.

      [18] Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour.
      [19] They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
      [20] But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge.
      [21] I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.
      [22] Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.
      [23] No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.
      [24] Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.
      [25] And this is the promise that he made to us—eternal life.
      [26] I write these things to you about those who are trying to deceive you.
      [27] But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him. (ESV)

      As John warned the church, so we do the same. This is not a practice of being judgmental for the sake of being judgmental. It is an act of obedience to keep the church pure. We take no delight in calling people out as false teachers. We mourn over Dustin’s choices and pray for his repentance. If Jon is in the same theological camp, we pray for his repentance as well. If he has not stayed from the faith, we pray for his perseverance. And know that we also have prayed for you as we write this.

      We would be happy to help clarify any misconceptions you have about what we believe. Again, thank you for listening to our episode on Jon and Dustin. We hope that you will continue to listen, and we hope that you may better understand that our mission is to help and build up the church, not to tear down or be spiteful. We hope that you find the Truth as you seek it with open eyes.

      Bryan J Emerson
      Grant Baker
      Justin Rea

      • Dan

        Hi Bryan,

        First and foremost, thanks for replying; I hadn’t checked your site since I left my comment, and I was curious to see if y’all had replied. I was in an intemperate mood after reading your post, and the tone of my initial comment was a bit more biting than I’d like. So I’m sorry about that. Nevertheless, I stand by my overarching sentiments. I am also interested in further conversation, but we’d have to clarify the scope of engagement first. We touched on a lot of topics in our brief exchange! I’ll concisely respond to some of your more salient remarks, but I’d like to emphasize that if we’re going to continue conversation, I’d like to narrow down the focus.

        I don’t know Dustin or Jon either, besides being a big fan of their work, so my insight was gleaned from online interviews. I’m happy that Joy Invincible means a lot to you! It’s very meaningful to me also; I nearly named my 2020 volume of poetry after that song. So can we agree that we both love Jon Foreman? I took no issue with your comments about that song, my critiques were mostly referencing your remarks about “disappointing theology” on Jon’s part in his “Side by Side” spotify commentary, and the preponderance of your remarks concerning Dustin. Read my comment again. My entire paragraph on Joy Invincible was meant to be educational, to enhance your understanding of its background, and I believe it was written positively and with no intent to disparage in any sense. I believe you may be conflating my critiques on other aspects of your post with my attempts to inform?

        I will not be drawn into a comprehensive theological debate unless y’all really espouse a desire to do so. To that end, I will not be addressing specific remarks line by line.

        First and foremost: I was treating you all like I want to be treated and holding you to MY standard, one which happens to be espoused by Jesus of Nazareth: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. I live by my own standard and code of ethics. I’m happy to delineate my moral framework for you anytime. Of course it’s subjective, and subject to change, just as yours is subjective to the whims and opinions of your favourite deity. I have no doubt that my statement here can be easily construed as a “smoking gun”. “Look at this atheist who concedes that his moral convictions are just his own subjective opinions!” And fine, do so if you must. I just don’t see the point in pretending that we’re not arguing over varying opinions here: my opinion that the ethics of Christianity suck hard and your opinion that they’re the bee’s knees. Appealing to God or creedal articles or the first church members or sola scriptura only abrogates responsibility here; at a certain point, it all boils down to somebody’s opinion, doesn’t it? Fortunately for y’all though, you happen to have an omni-max entity over in your corner to rubber stamp your opinions, whereas I just have little old me! That’s all I have to say on ethics, and that’s a whole entire rabbit hole that’s low on my priority list to travel. (:

        Of course I’m blaspheming! To me, the God of Christianity is worthy of nothing save derision and contempt for his odious caricature of fatherhood. I’m saddened on your behalf that you feel compelled to espouse a faith in which being wrong is a mortal sin, and which all of us merit eternal punishment by default. I’m not strawmanning here, you literally say that’s what you believe! These ideas are at the core of every version of Christianity I’ve ever been exposed to, and they’re utterly toxic. It sincerely breaks my heart that you believe that. You deserve a much better God than the one you believe in! None of you deserve eternal punishment for any reason whatsoever, and none of you are defined by having correct opinions. Think better of yourselves! (:

        Your last couple paragraphs are what I’m interested in focusing our conversation on. I’m very sympathetic to all of you in your attempts to evaluate lyrical content from a Christian framework, even though I now feel that it’s missing the point. When I was a kid, I was raised on Focus on the Family, PluggedIn Online, all these Christian gatekeepers of entertainment content. Why do you think I became so passionate about bands like Switchfoot or Thrice or Anberlin or Relient K? Precisely because they had that endorsement as “safe” by Christian content police, whose assessments my parents trusted implicitly (and also because they happen to rule!). That’s ultimately what really provoked my annoyance initially, because I spent most of my entire teenage life being told what to listen to and consume by (well-meaning) Christians like yourselves, whose theology to trust. I now believe they were mistaken, but I get where they (and you) were coming from. That’s what really interests me, and as far as I can tell it strikes at the core of your blog/podcast’s mission, right?

        Here’s my offer: Wanna have a chat about it? Seriously, I’m more than happy to do a phone/video call with y’all and hash it out politely and in good spirits. It’s easy to lose sight of the humanity of other people over text, a misstep of which I am guilty of here to some degree. If it makes for good content for your podcast, all the better! I have many good friends from similar backgrounds as mine, most Christian, some not, and I know many folks including my own family who would LOVE to listen to a productive discussion about Christian music, theological interpretations of lyrics, etc. I don’t have a huge pull online, but between friends/family and my limited online presence, a podcast like that is absolutely something I’d promote. And we could also nerd out about Switchfoot. I state with tongue in cheek to friends that “Jon Foreman made me an atheist”…and while that’s not at all the full picture, there’s actually a LOT of truth to it! I love that man, and I love his music, and I’d be so down to bond with y’all over our mutual love of Switchfoot, haha!

        I’m actually deadly serious about that offer. I’ve no real interest in some protracted written discussion here in the comments, but if y’all wanna have a conversation sometime, I think that could be great fun!

        Best,
        Dan

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