Jon Foreman and Kierkegaard

Cast of Characters

Søren Kierkegaard: a 19th century Danish philosopher from Copenhagen who decried the state-run church of Denmark.

Jon Foreman: a 21st century musician who is the lead singer, guitarist, and principle songwriter of the band Switchfoot.

Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard was an interesting man. He used everything from satire to pseudonyms to relate to the world his views on life, Christianity, God, people, and faith. He is most well-known for the assault he mounted against Christendom. Now it must be understood that Kierkegaard was no atheist. His beef was not with the theology of Christianity but with the Danish government’s control and regulation of the Danish State Church. He believed that such a state-church relationship ruined individuals and corrupted the true gospel of Jesus Christ.

Even a cursory glance over the history of the church will reveal that any time the state controls religion there is corruption whereby political maneuvering replaces ministry and saints are made subject to governmental agendas.

On this week’s episode of the RELEVANT podcast (a weekly show produced and distributed by the editors of RELEVANT magazine) Dylan Peterson interviewed singer/songwriter Jon Foreman backstage before a show. Peterson is a fan of Søren Kierkegaard and was pleased to find that Foreman is as well. Peterson asked Foreman what draws him to Kierkegaard’s work?

In his answer Jon Foreman likens himself and his position to that of Kierkegaard. Foreman believes that the church in modern times “becomes a business” with its CD’s (which is interesting coming from a recording musician) and magazines (which is interesting since he was being interviewed by a Christian magazine editor) and “trinkets” such that the church today has become commercialized and institutionalized to such a degree that it is like the state-run church in Denmark in Kierkegaard’s day.

Now every organization, regardless of its nature, will at times be run like a business. A church administrator who is charge of using his parrish’s funds wisely must employ some economic and financial techniques and I say “what’s wrong with that!?” That is just good common God-given sense.

I believe Foreman is wrong when he makes such a link. Kierkegaard looked at the state-sponsored church and saw meaningless formality and a people void of a relationship with the Creator. Foreman criticized the church for using commercial means of evangelism and proclamation (CD’s, magazines, etc.). I believe that is the duty of Christians to take dominion in the name of Christ such that it is Christians who excel at music, literature, business, and every other endeavor because they are operating with excellence for Christ’s sake. Are we there yet? Oh no. But if we are not to use every means to propagate the gospel then what are we to do? I do not understand the link he is trying to make between the Denmark State Church and modern American Christianity.

Let’s have a show of hands. Who else is tired of “when in doubt, diss the church” Christians? It grates me almost as much as denomination dissing. Almost.

Believe me, I will be the first to admit that modern American Christendom has its problems. I believe too many Christians are irresponsible concerning their own faith (i.e. they do not seek to grow but expect a pastor to push them forward). However my first instinct when I hear church-dissing is “what have you done lately?” Really, when was the last time you heard Jesus or God mentioned in a Switchfoot song? Sure there are some veiled allusions to the Deity (such as the song “Stars”) but certainly no gospel.

I would say that if Jon Foreman thinks something stinks in Denmark (no pun intended) he should check the bottoms of his own shoes first. We all should. Stop complaining and start acting. Me? I know the issues the church has and I want to help eradicate those problems so that the Bride of Christ can look more like Christ’s bride. However 90% of my work to that end will be figuring out the best way to pry out this plank that has wedged itself firmly in my eye socket.

Josh H.


9 Responses to “Jon Foreman and Kierkegaard”

  1. 1 Chad
    February 19, 2009 at 12:27 pm


    Very insightful article. Just wanted to give you a heads up though. Cameron did not do the interview, it was Dylan Peterson. Thanks for listening!

    Chad from RELEVANT

  2. February 19, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    @Chad: oopsy. Sorry about that. Thanks for catching my error.

    And I’m honored that you stopped by. I am a fan of RELEVANT as well as the podcast. You guys keep it up.

  3. 3 Chad
    February 19, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    Hey man, no problem!

    Thanks for the support and I love how you are starting discussion about this. Thank you for bringing attention to the podcast. If anyone is interested in listening, they can visit http://www.relevantmagazine.com and there is a picture of Jon Foreman at the top right of the page. There is a link to the podcast from there.

    Josh, keep up the great work brother! Hope you are well and blessings to you.

    grace and peace

  4. 4 Ryan Cruce
    February 20, 2009 at 1:47 am

    I agree with you, Josh. Switchfoot hasn’t had a good album since The Legend of Chin, anyway. Well, their second one was ok.

  5. February 20, 2009 at 8:31 am

    @Ryan: Chin was a good album. Learning to Breathe as pretty good. That’s around the time I started listening to them. They lost me after that though.

    Hey, have you the album “Arigato!” John Davis? It’s really good. He was the singer for Superdrag. He’s a christian now and is making some dang good indie music.

  6. 6 Sven Van Valkenburg
    February 20, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    Is this smoak or hot air? It seems your understanding of S.K. is a bit superficial to say the least. Furthermore your technique with using part of a sound bite from the J. Foreman podcast is the old classic straw man argument. Contrary to Chad’s complement which followed. There’s nothing here. It seems that you used a brother (JF) to publicly bash him without taking the time to truly listen to the rest of the interview, to listen to all of Foreman’s songs, and to read Kierkegaard.

    Foreman goes on to talk about the most essential element of S.K. which was his existentialism. But even that is brief. There was no intent on his part in trying to be S.K. He only answered a question about who has influenced him. It is obvious from his songs that he is greatly influenced by SK: themes of aloneness, leap of faith and decision, Angst, and living in the now.

    But for all of that oversight on your part I would not have bothered to respond. It was your cowardly kick in the shins that caused me to take you on. That passive-aggressive shot about the gospel and “Stars” was not even the subject of the interview or your article. It seemed you had it in your mind to say it as you ran out the door.

    First of all love is the mark of a Christian, not whether they preach as well as another. 2nd, SF has always been a pre-evangelistic rock band, picking themes that relate to all humanity. What’s wrong with that? It sounds like your a biblicist so surely you believe in 2 Cor 3:6, that all don’t have to be preachy. Read Charlie Peacock “At the Crossroads” to understand the invitation to Christian artists to write about all of God’s world and interface with the world in a way that prepares them for the gospel. Listen to the long list of speakers that line up at the Q and Catalyst to teach us about entering culture:art, music, entertainment, sports, education, technology, and government. (you can see you should’ve left the passive aggressive kick out).

    3rd, it is this kind of petty back stabbing (the kick in the shins) that causes the world to despise believers. They imagine that we have way too much time on our hands (it seems we do) and that we are far too uninformed but still judgmental in our attitude. (Read Unchristian).

    4th, you have obviously not listened to the blatant worship that exudes from Foreman’s solo EPs and have not listened to the gospel poetry of many of SF’s songs. It’s fine if you personally prefer a more direct, preachier style. But do we all have to be the same?

    5th, it seems you used (or should I say misused) someone’s fame to launch your own “important” thoughts. Understandable, but now that you are in the public eye as well (your blog), someone has to keep you accountable. Josh H., “you are no relevant.” Sharpen your thinking and your writing please. People (who make up the body) are at stake.

    Finally, Why quote a verse at the end of your diatribe that explains what your entire blog is about: taking specks out of someone else’s eye. Not once in your article did you try to take the log out of your own eye. You spent the entire article doing what Someone important said we shouldn’t do.

    Listen to the podcast again. As brief as it was, it seems your defensiveness for the church is unnecessary. There was nothing said in the podcast that was as harsh about the church as you were in defending it. The church needs constant prophets and critiques to keep us in line. But when we tear down individuals needlessly that also is attacking the church. Unless you consider Foreman an infidel.

    Holding you accountable for sloppy and cowardly journalism (blogging).

  7. February 20, 2009 at 8:36 pm

    @Sven: Let’s all take a deep breath. Love is indeed a mark of a Christian so let’s show some. I did listen to the whole podcast. Twice.

    Let me address a few things before I get to your points. I am not a journalist. I did not start a blog in order to be one. I started a blog so that I could talk about what was on my mind and if others wanted to read and chime in then this gave me the forum for that to happen. So in that regard I am glad you showed up. However do feel that you or anyone else needs to hold me to any kind of journalistic standard. This is not Fox News.

    Now let me say that you don’t get very far with people (esp. strangers) by flaming them in your comments…or by insinuating they are unchristian.

    And I don’t believe we have ever met yet you seem to make some very strong statements about my character. I never tried to quote Foreman out of context or pretend to be an expert on Kierkegaard (though I might know more than you give me credit for…again you don’t know me). I simply used Jon’s remarks as a springboard to talk about something larger which I apparently did not articulate properly.

    I’ll take your issues point by point.

    “First”: I never said anything about being preachy. I just think that some artists are too shy about the gospel and it is my opinion (that’s the operative word here) that they are so because being too outspoken about faith usually means fewer record sales. I’m not insinuating anything about Switchfoot or their motivation because I don’t know them. I’m just saying how it looks to me. A guy can do that on his own blog.

    “2nd”: I don’t know what a “biblicist” is but yes I know that different folks have different giftings. But it is the call of every Christian to make converts and disciple them. Yet God has called each one to do that differently. But none of this was the point of my article, but I thought I’d address it anyway since you brought it up.

    “3rd”: Who’s backstabbing? Have you never disagreed with anyone? I am not judging the man; I am disagreeing with his assessment of the modern church. For example he said that churches are run like businesses and I say “Yes, because sometimes they have to be.” Disagreement, not shin-kicking. You are disagreeing with me but I do not think you would call yourself a shin-kicker, am I right?

    “4th”: No, I have not listened to Foreman’s solo music that is why I did not address it. I only mentioned Switchfoot’s music in passing and I listened to all of their music on the “Learning to Breathe” album and prior albums. After that they became too commercial for me. Maybe I should have left that part out since it was not conducive to what I was wanting to say. Once again, this post was not an attack on Foreman, I simply used his remarks about the church as a starting point for something I was already thinking about.

    “5th”: Never said my thoughts were important. They are simply my thoughts. I have every right to share them (and I do not have to be a journalist to do so). I chuckled when you said I was in the public eye. Friend, I have about 10 regular readers that I know of. Maybe more and they just don’t comment. I’m not exactly famous nor would I call The Smoak House (which is a reference to where I live) a large-scale journalistic outlet. The idea is absurd.

    And this has nothing to do with Foreman’s fame. RELEVANT didn’t even have to do the interview for me to write this. I was already thinking about this and would have written about it anyway. You are obviously a fan of Foreman and something about my disagreement with him stung you. I’m sorry but I simply do not see things they way he does. Why does that make me a “passive-aggressive” backstabber? And I didn’t even disagree with him on everything he said.

    You need to keep me accountable? Sven, I started this blog as a personal journal. Nothing more. I have a handwritten journal here at my house as well. Would you like to come and look it over to make sure there is no shoddy journalism in it? I mean, really. When I post about a funny conversation my wife and I had are you going to check it out to make sure I quote her properly and to your liking? Get a grip, man.

    “Finally”: Diatribe? No shin kicking there.

    Let me quote a couple of the statements I made:

    “Believe me, I will be the first to admit that modern American Christendom has its problems.”

    Modern American Christendom includes me, Sven.

    “I would say that if Jon Foreman thinks something stinks in Denmark (no pun intended) he should check the bottoms of his own shoes first. We all should. Stop complaining and start acting. Me? I know the issues the church has and I want to help eradicate those problems so that the Bride of Christ can look more like Christ’s bride. However 90% of my work to that end will be figuring out the best way to pry out this plank that has wedged itself firmly in my eye socket.”

    I admit that I am part of the problem. As are you. As is Jon Foreman. We all are. We need the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification. Yet you say that I have ignored the “log” that is in my own eye. I do not think I have. That was the point, Sven, of my writing this.

    Perhaps the article was poorly titled. I only meant that things are not as bad for Foreman as they were for Kierkegaard. That is why I talked about the Denmark State Church.

    And since you don’t know me then I need to let you know that I have had to listen to a lot of church bashing and denomination bashing where I live and in the circles in which I socialize. I don’t like it. I agree with you, I think Christians take potshots at the corporate body too often. And I thought the bit about Foreman should check his shoes was clever. I thought I was being witty. I did not mean to sound as though I laid anything at Foreman’s feet. That’s the downfall of the written word. It is so easy to be misunderstood. I was just indicating that he, myself, all of us can do more to be more Christlike and to represent Him to the world more effectively in our ministries, jobs, and personal lives.

    My only crime is taking issue with something Jon Foreman said and daring to write my personal opinion where others could read it. Suddenly I’m on trial for bad journalism. sheesh. Let me say again, I used his remarks about the church to springboard into a conversation about church dissing. Badly done? Well, you decide.

    I am glad though that you commented because I will now be much more careful about what I say and how I say it in the future. I will try to be clearer and more to the point.

  8. 8 sven Van Valkenburg
    February 21, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    Thanks Josh,
    I realize I came on strong. I think just as you are tired of the church bashers (I am as well) I am even more weary of the Christian bashers. I have admired SF from afar and happen to know that usually there is more money in blatant Christian “Jesus” songs performed in churches than there is in the mainstream.But also believe that the blatant stuff is only listened to by Christians. Which valid, as long as we know that it is the choir performing for the choir. We must be careful of judging others motives, public or private. I think that our Lord warns us of that.

    But once again, I realize that was not the substance of your article and would not have responded except for what I called the shin-kicking, at the end of your article. I think we both agree it was distracting. If you want to read more on that issue it has been discussed ad nauseam in other places.

    And yes the title was misleading.

    Thanks for having the courage to start a blog. This needs to be applauded, just as SF, needs to be applauded. It seems that we shoot at anyone who climbs above the crowd to try to make a difference. Sorry for landing on your chest with both feet in my zeal.

    Thanks for responding,

    P.S. “Unchristian” is a book, not you.

  9. February 21, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    Thanks for being understanding, Sven, and for allowing me to explain myself. I’m glad to have had this conversation with you.

    “Unchristian” by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons? Looks interesting. I think I’ll check it out. heh, I’m just glad you didn’t mean me! 😉

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