January 13, 2012

Poet Slams Religion but Preaches Jesus.

It’s not often that a poem goes viral – let alone one by a Christian. And yet, one has.

Accompanied by dramatic background music, young Jefferson Bethke created a video of himself reciting a poem.

Click here to see the text.

Here’s what he says about his poem:

A poem I wrote to highlight the difference between Jesus and false religion. In the scriptures Jesus received the most opposition from the most religious people of his day. At it’s core Jesus’ gospel and the good news of the Cross is in pure opposition to self-righteousness/self-justification. Religion is man centered, Jesus is God-centered. This poem highlights my journey to discover this truth. Religion either ends in pride or despair. Pride because you make a list and can do it and act better than everyone, or despair because you can’t do your own list of rules and feel “not good enough” for God. With Jesus though you have humble confident joy because He represents you, you don’t represent yourself and His sacrifice is perfect putting us in perfect standing with God!

It’s a powerful sermon(ette) in that he plainly tells the truths of the Gospel. It’s a poem because the verses rhyme. But then again, as the Beatniks proved, poems don’t have to rhyme. As someone who has written many sermons and not a few poems, I suppose I could critique his creation.

I could say that it’s the latest in what seems to be a recent trend or fad of Christians waxing poetic behind a microphone in a generally rapping sort of way. I could say that the theology in his piece is far better than that of most other Christian preacher-poets — though he comes from a more conservative perspective than I do in that he clearly embraces the “substitutionary theory of the atonement” which has Jesus’ death on the cross that “paid for our sins” being what it’s all about (as opposed to Jesus’ teaching and modeling a way of unconditional loving, compassion, justice, and forgiveness – the way itself being salfivic – not Jesus’ death).

I could quibble a bit with some of the lines which might imply that one can’t be a Christian if one engages in drinking, masturbation, partying, and the like — as if one runs with that logic too far, one comes to a notion that “Christians have to be perfect in order to be real Christians ” and to a place of judgmentalism – the very thing that he’s trying to speak against.

I could also point out that while his comments about his poem state that he’s seeking to denounce “false religion,” in his poem he actually slams religion altogether. He posits a false dichotomy between “loving Jesus” and “being religious.” Evangelicals love to claim that “Christianity is a relationship, not a religion.” Okay, with a certain lens, and if you squint really hard, we can appreciate that. But come on, Christianity is in fact a religion – there’s no sense in trying to hide or deny that fact. “Religion” comes from the Latin, “religare” which means “to bind together.” It’s practically inter-changeble with “yoga” – which means “to yoke in union.” Biblically, religion isn’t slammed:

Jesus clearly practiced religion

– he went to synagogue & Temple and everything!

…He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”  – Luke 4:16-19

Now that’s my kind of religion! And churches (and synagogues) that are about doing that are engaged in religion at its best — yoking and binding us together in wholeness, authentic community, justice, and love.

And Jesus’ brother James wrote:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. – James 1:27

That said, Jesus and the prophets who inspired him criticized self-righteousness, sanctimoniousness, holy-than-thou-ness, and hypocrisy, and failure to show loving-kindness or justice. So if that’s what the poet is getting at, agreed. Those are to be rejected —

but it’s unfair to call them “religion.”

I could also bring up the adage that good poets should seek to “show it, not tell it” – and he clearly was telling it.

But, nah, I think it’s best to celebrate his gift and his chutzpah and his obvious love of the Jesus who loves and saves him.

I do have a few (as yet) unfounded concerns about all of the promotional stuff found on the “info” section of the Youtube clip he posted. He rightly acknowledges the video staff who helped him but then he goes on to give his “booking info” for how to have him come speak at your church, etc.

To contact regarding booking, speaking, etc email with “speaking request” in subject line for easier organization : [email protected]

Wanna start helping and serving Jesus in a practical way? checkout the company of the watch I am wearing in the video! They give 10-25% of all proceeds to non profits and the bands and faces are interchangeable! http://www.cruxwatches.com

I’m guessing he has a speaker’s fee (again, not verified) and… well, pastors at least are called to share the Gospel for free – and accept offerings if people happen to give any. I don’t know his background but he, and his public, need to know if he’s a preacher or an entertainer.

I also wonder a bit about the “Crux” watches with “changeable faces and wrist bands” that he’s promoting. I didn’t realize poets or pastors did product placements or had corporate sponsors. He claims that a percentage of every purchase of them “goes to various nonprofits.” I think it’d be good for us to learn more about these charities. Turns out there are only two and the self-description of one of them suggests that they’re a fairly fundamentalist sort of ministry that rejects the Catholic version of the Bible, buys into Original sin, and exclusively claims that Christianity is the only way for salvation. It claims that the Bible is inerrant and “authored by God.” Okay, so they’re conservative. No big deal. But if either of those nonprofit ministries teach that homosexuality is sinful, or that women shouldn’t be preachers, or that abortions are always wrong, etc., well, then I’d say enjoy his poem but don’t buy the watches.

But, that’s all in question.

What isn’t in question is that this guy has chops and that God can use him well!

Let’s pray that as his star rises, that he can maintain humility and truly be about loving God’s people
— all of them.


*** This just in: As I suspected, he’s not particularly progressive. Last April he posted a video on Youtube denouncing Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins.” Bell embraces Universal salvation; i.e., that all people will be saved by God’s amazing grace. Jefferson apparently wants certain folks to be in hell.

*** Update #2: Here is the church he attends: http://marshill.com/about/what-we-believe — Yep, Mark Driscoll’s church.
And here’s the link for his employer.

*** Update #3: Turns out young Jefferson’s thoughts may well have come from his pastor, Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church. Driscoll has preached a sermon with that as the title. “Why I hate religion”

*** Update #4: a brilliant video response created by a Catholic priest. Priest got game!


Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist pastor and the author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christanity. He blogs for Huffington Post, Elephant Journal, and Patheos.

Read 36 Comments and Reply

Read 36 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Roger Wolsey  |  Contribution: 12,700