At Work & Economics 101 & Public Square & Theology 101

A Former Blackjack Player’s View of Faith, Work, and Economics

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Mark Treas

Editor’s note: This is a follow-up interview to a previous blog post, Card Counting Christians and…Value Creation?

Five years ago, Mark Treas and his business partners started TorchPrep, a standardized test prep program for high school students in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. The founders say they were driven to start TorchPrep by their genuine love for teens and obsession with cracking systems. But before TorchPrep launched, Treas was focused on cracking another system: blackjack.

Treas was featured in the 2011 documentary Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians. The film follows the rise of a Christian blackjack team,“The Church Team,” made up of worship leaders and youth pastors. But as one of the card-counting Christians, Treas finds himself in a moral conflict near the end of the film as he struggles to see how playing blackjack for a living truly adds value to his community.

The biggest issue I ran into…regarding the nature of what blackjack is, as a Christian I think that that whatever we put our hands to do should bring out more value in the community. It should be left better than when I found it. My problem with blackjack is, it in itself doesn’t actually do anything.

Rather than creating wealth, Treas realizes that by taking money from casinos, he was really only transferring wealth. The question of value creation becomes a point of wrestling he cannot come to grips with, so he decides to leave the team. He leaves because he believes that as a Christian, he is called to work for more.

After blogging about the documentary, I followed up with Treas for an interview. During our discussion, he  explained what “working for more” means by outlining his view on work, which is rooted in the four-chapter gospel: Creation, Fall, redemption, and restoration.

  • Creation: “Before [mankind] fell, we were honored as stewards over the handiwork of God. His design was one in which our hands were meant to steward and further his cause of the Garden. Beauty. Peace. Provision. Fruits of the Spirit stuff.”
  • Fall: “[Humanity’s] great gift, stewardship, was cursed, and it birthed toil. By the sweat of our brow we live. As it is, I spent most of my conscious hours away from my children. Away from my wife. Away from my garden. Away from my friends. Our work is laborious and lacks our passion. Our hands are more like slaves than artists.”
  • Redemption: “Redemption brings things back to how they are meant to be. I believe that toil is redeemed when the work of our hands is in sync with the desire of our hearts. In this, we find satisfaction.”
  • Restoration: “When it is all said and done, my mission is to have left my city better. […] Maybe that’s it in a nutshell.”

His conviction, that as a Christian he is called to steward his God-given gifts and passions towards value creation, drove him to start TorchPrep. He says,

My whole life has been spent gathering people, and speaking to people…I’m also obsessed with strategies. I love finding and cracking systems. I love talking to teenagers because of their pliable state.

Treas allowed God to use his genuine fondness for high schoolers and talent for cracking systems towards a business venture that truly creates value in the lives of thousands of students enrolling in his ACT prep courses.

TorchPrep’s mission is to change kids’ lives. We just do it via training them to beat college admissions tests. Our system is super thorough, and effective. But more enjoyable, a huge part of our work is to provoke students to as bigger, deeper questions…to ask the terrifying word that humans hate: “Why?”

And TorchPrep does change the lives of thousands of high schoolers in big ways. Treas says it can help them get into a better college, win scholarships to avoid college debt, and “develop an innovative, creative, and strategic approach to both education and life as a whole.”

He is inspired by passages in Scripture like 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12:

And to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

According to Treas,

We ought to work hard with our hands…and keep to our own business. This strikes me as a gentle, consistent, and satisfying way to live.…I’m [also] struck by the teaching in the Scriptures that if you speak, you ought speak as an oracle of God. And if you serve, you ought serve with all the strength God has given you.

Treas’ work is a testimony to practicing good stewardship over our God-given strengths and passions in order to work to add value to our communities, and to leave the world a little better than the way we find it.

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