There’s a good chance you’re one of the 13 million+ people who has seen the video below. If you haven’t, take the next 4 minutes to watch it:
The poet’s name is Jefferson Bethke and there’s no denying that he loves Jesus. He doesn’t stop there: he loves the church, wants to care for the poor, and follow Jesus with his life. I watched another video of him on YouTube speaking to Middle School students. He was honest, vulnerable, and his theology is pretty solid. He’s building a platform, and he’s using it to make much of Jesus.
As you might expect, he’s had criticism from all over the place. The first I saw was shared by a friend on Facebook who hated the video. This blogger totally blasted him from the point of view of a cynic who hates the gospel. That’s to be expected, and I’m not upset at a non-Christian for not liking Bethke’s video. However, I believe many will find it appealing enough to at least ask questions.
Then I saw some criticism that was far more frustrating. A well-respected Christian blogger went through his poem with a fine toothed comb and nitpicked every phrase he said. Any time Bethke said something that was remotely wrong, or could simply be misunderstood, this blogger criticized him – sometimes harshly.
One of his biggest criticisms was Bethke’s use of “religion” as a catch-all word to explain self-righteousness and hypocrisy within the church. Granted “religion” is a neutral word in the Bible, in American culture it works to describe our man-made (and pitiful) attempts to please God with works righteousness. What might seem like sloppy theology here, is actually good contextualization.
I’m all for good theology. I study it in my spare time. I believe understanding the nature and character of God is vital for a believer, and I don’t think Bethke would deny that. However, I also understand that prose is different from poetry.
Prose seeks to carefully define and explain points of truth. Poetry seeks to use the beauty of language to illustrate truth. Both are important and good. In this video Bethke is not speaking as a master theologian through prose, he’s proclaiming the beauties of Christ as a poet.
Apollos, Priscilla, and Aquila
Is the theology in Bethke’s poem perfect? No. I don’t think he would claim it is. However, I think the way some evangelical bloggers have virtually attacked him is more dangerous.
In Acts 18:24-28 a famous new preacher named Apollos pops onto the scene. He was passionate and good. He knew a lot about Jesus, but was missing some critical information. When a couple named Priscilla and Aquila heard him they wanted to help, but they didn’t do it by telling everyone the problems with his theology. They approached him, talked to him, and helped him be more accurate.
What was the result? “He greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Christ was Jesus” (Acts 18:27b-28 ESV).
The Resurgence was the one group I saw respond to him appropriately. First they posted his video on their site saying it was “pretty good.” Then their director approached him, encouraged him, said they wanted to support him, and offered to send him some study materials. What a refreshing response.
I’m praying for God to raise a lot more Jefferson Bethke’s who look for creative ways to make much of Jesus. Men and women who meet culture where it is and bring people to Jesus. I also pray God brings along more people who will encourage and support those Jefferson Bethke’s – instead of criticizing them. Which one are you?