Kingdom Voices: Video Edition

On January 10, a spoken word poet named Jefferson Bethke uploaded to Youtube a poem about why he hated religion but loved Jesus.  Sixteen million views later, I think we can safely say that it struck a nerve, particularly with younger Christians.  If you haven’t seen it yet, you can check it out here:

The poem has a lot of good things to say about the nature of Christianity.  It points out that Christianity is more than just a bunch of rules; it highlights the dangers of hypocrisy; and it reminds us that we do not earn our salvation.  All of those points are very true and helpful, and they clearly resound in the hearts of people who have been disillusioned by the hypocrisy of the church.

What is unfortunate to me is that the poem talks about “false religion,” but calls it “religion.”  Now, it’s a poem, and I know that there is such a thing as artistic license and whatnot…but there’s a world of difference between those two terms.  Jesus did not come to abolish religion.  His little brother, in fact, had some powerful stuff to say about religion, as a pillar of the early church.

That’s why I’m so glad that this guy (below) clarified the biblical nature of religion in his own video.  (I tried valiantly to find his name, but had no luck.  We’ll call him, “the priest.”)  Even without his name, I loved what he said so much that I thought I’d put it under the “Kingdom Voices” section of my blog.  Here is his response:

I posted both these videos on my Facebook page, but I decided to post them on my blog, as well, because there is so much to love about this interchange.  This, this right here, is what the generations in the church need to be doing.  We need to be talking to each other.  Each generation has their own strengths to bring to the table.  The burden of the younger generation is to remember to listen to and respect the older generation for their contributions.  The burden of the older generation is to guide the younger without alienating them.  This necessarily includes keeping an open mind when it comes to some issues of theology and ideas about the church.  Also, it means that the older generation needs to be able to speak in a way that the younger generation can hear.  I love the respect that is inherent in the priest’s response.  For one thing, he responds in kind.  I have read several good essays responding to the video, but this man went one step further and responded in the same language as Bethke.  Also, you can tell that he listened very carefully to the poem because their are several call backs.  Both poems, for example, use the imagery of an ocean to describe the church’s work; both use death as a metaphor; both use similar examples involving professional basketball.  There are many more parallels, both subtle and obvious, and what they demonstrate is that the priest took the time to really hear the younger man and to mull over his argument.  Also, while the priest is clear about his beliefs, his presentation is calm and compassionate.  The even-handed tone softens the nature of the interchange; it doesn’t seem like a debate, but like a loving conversation between brothers.  That’s how it should be.

Even more than the presentation of the material, I loved the second poem for its content.  His biblical examples are right on, I think (even though the Judas one is a tad harsh).  And on a practical level, I think that of course, Christianity is a religion.   In terms of denotative, dictionary definitions, that is simply undeniable.  The heart of Bethke’s attack, however, wasn’t on the dictionary, but on the church–particularly, on the flawed, often hypocritical people who make up the church.  And I happen to be madly in love with the church.  It is, after all, Christ’s body.  It is the means through which He chose to bring His kingdom to this earth.  Yes, it is also full–absolutely loaded–with hypocrites and sinners.  I am one of them, for sure.  And sometimes I even question the strategy of using a bunch of selfish, imperfect humans to spread the divine love of God…but then again, how can I question what is clearly God’s will?  Yes, I have been hurt by the church.  I’m sure everyone in the church has been hurt by the church, has been disappointed and disillusioned, probably many times.  That’s what happens among groups of humans.  But the church has also truly been the embodiment of Christ to me, time and time again.  They have loved me, carried me, taught me, fed me, and soothed my hurting soul.  I could never imagine walking away from it.  Frankly, I owe it too much at this point.  I owe it to both the church and to its Head to be the body part I was designed to be, so that I can love, carry, teach, feed, and soothe others.  I could go on about it, but I think I will stop and simply share the lyrics from one of my favorite Derek Webb songs, “The Church.”  You can listen to it here on Youtube.  It’s a beautiful song, and even though some of the images on the video are a little strange, I would recommend hearing it with the music.  Here is the first verse and chorus:

I have come with one purpose 
to capture for myself a bride 
by my life she is lovely 
by my death she’s justified 

I have always been her husband 
though many lovers she has known 
so with water i will wash her 
and by my word alone 

So when you hear the sound of the water 
you will know you’re not alone 

‘Cause i haven’t come for only you
but for my people to pursue
you cannot care for me with no regard for her
if you love me you will love the church

I especially agree with the chorus.  And I know that Bethke ultimately says that he loves the church, and I believe him.  But the responses I have seen on Facebook are very different.  So many people have said that this video explains why they turned their backs on the church.  I cannot tell you how sad that makes me.  I don’t deny the hurt that these people have experienced, and I hate that they had bad experiences.  My prayer, though, is that God brings them back into His body.  After all, we need them!  We need their hearts, their passions, their talents and skills and gifts to help us share God’s kingdom with the world.

That’s why I rank the words of this priest as a “kingdom voice,” even though he and I likely disagree on a host of other theological matters.  I have found that I disagree with just about everyone on a “host of other theological matters,” and yet many of those same people speak truth to me about God’s kingdom.  So I see the “kingdom voices” section as a highlight not of specific people, but of specific words those people have spoken.  And the words of this priest remind us of the obvious fact that you can’t have a king without a kingdom, and that it is not finished here on earth.  We Christians have a mission to live.

What did you think of the videos?  And what is your view of the church?

12 responses to this post.

  1. I agree with the spirit of what each of them is saying, if not all of the particulars.

    We definitely need the Church. It is the body of Christ and therefore the manifestation of Christ on the earth in our current times. However, there are a lot of problems with the Church. While it is sad that people have missed the point of “Jesus > Religion,” I think it does bring up some things that the Church should talk about. Traditions have gotten in the way of love. Pride has made the Church ineffective in many cases. As those in the Church, we need to take note of this and do what we can to make it better. However, we certainly shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. The problem isn’t the Church itself, it’s that we treat our discipleship as a Religion (focusing on routines as in a false religion) instead of as a Relationship (with God, with other Christians, and with those in the world we are trying to save). If it is all about rote duties to check off of our list, we are totally not getting it. Liturgy does have its place, but it is (well, it should be) only a tool. “Going” to church should strengthen us so that we can go out and “be” the Church in the world. I understand throwing out the word Religion in an effort to give emphasis to a transformed life that is led by the Spirit (and to show contrast between Christianity and false religions). However, to me that is neither here nor there. I don’t care what we call ourselves. As long as we are proclaiming Christ and sharing his love with the world, I’m good.


    • I agree that the church should always be open to voices of critique, especially from people who are clearly passionate and Jesus-loving. As such, I think Bethke makes some good points. At the same time, I totally agree with the idea of not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. And also, I think it is really easy to attack fakeness and over-concern for external form. I don’t know a single Christian, from liberal to ultra-conservative, who would disagree with the idea that being fake is bad, or that Jesus came to transform our hearts. Really, Bethke is making some pretty basic points, albeit in a creative, artistic way. The kicker will be whether or not people will actually hear his words and think of them as applying to them. My bet is no (after all, I listened and thought, “hear, hear,” instead of being convicted. I don’t think I’m alone in that).


  2. Great insights and questions, Kim (and I like the way you’ve fixed the place up with this new green look going on here).

    My view of the videos, and of the church as discussed in them, comes together in Ecclesiastes 1:9-11:

    What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
    Is there anything of which one can say,
    “Look! This is something new”?
    It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.
    No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
    will not be remembered
    by those who follow them.

    So much of what is described as being some terrific discovery by a yonger person (and believe me, I made a lot of those “discoveries” when I was younger), can be answered quite graciously by people like the man in the second video so that the church is built up from generation to generation and not torn apart. That’s a wonderful mercy that we receive precisely because we are part of Christ’s body, the Church itself, don’t you think?


    P.S. Jane Hinrichs just posted a guest piece I did over on her blog. I hope you get a chance to take a look over there:


    • I agree that we end up dealing with these things over and over again in various generations. To me it is like having to do the laundry all the time. Because we live in a dying world, we are constantly having to maintain things. This includes taking a good look at the state of the Church at the time and figuring out what we need to fix, like looking in the mirror to see what nose hairs we need to trim. (Um, not that I do that or anything.) 🙂


      • Ha! I love the laundry analogy, Kim, that’s awesome.


        P.S. And as for hairs in unforeseen places, I’ve heard that one sign I’m growing old is noticing less hair on the top of my head and more in my ears. Gross? Oh well, at least I don’t have to feel self-conscious about telling back-in-my-day stories any longer.


    • Thanks, Tim! I totally agree with the Ecclesiastes application. And I have nothing but love for those “discoveries” that we all make. You almost have to make them yourself, you know? You can hear it in different forms your whole life, but when it finally clicks with you…wow. And we inevitably think, “No one has ever thought this before.” So funny:).

      Also, I noticed that you linked over here from her.meneutics. Thanks so much!

      As for the format of the blog, I was feeling the need for a change. I told Greg that I was wanting something more…green. He took one look and said, “Mission accomplished!”:)


      • More green/ mission accomplished! Ha!

        I agree that this “discovering” is all a part of growing in God. It may go hand in hand with the basic notion that we are all God’s children rather than grandchildren.

        And you’re quite welcome for the linkage. I figured it would contribute to the discussion over there if people saw your really helpful contributions here.


        • P.S. Gabby Giffords’s appearance at the State of the Union speech made me think of your blog. There’s an article in there, tying in with 2 Kings 5. I don’t know if you’re interested, but I can explain more by email if you like.

          Hope your day is going great, Kim.



  3. read the post and read all the replies and i agree with everyone, well said…how’s that? 🙂

    i really like the ecclesiastes’ verses. i think we forget that the church and its thoughts and traditions can fall into the “nothing new under the sun” catagory.

    and i like what becky said about “the spirit” of what the two men said. they are obviously passionate about Christ. i am prayerful that their words convict the hearts of the millions that viewed their videos…including me, for that’s where it begins, correct?


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