Poet Slams Religion but Preaches Jesus.

Via Roger Wolsey
on Jan 12, 2012
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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.


About Roger Wolsey

Roger Wolsey is a free-spirited GenX-er who thinks and feels a lot about God and Jesus. He’s a progressive Christian who identifies with people who consider themselves as being “spiritual but not religious.” He came of age during the “Minneapolis sound” era and enjoyed seeing The Replacements, The Jayhawks, Husker Du, The Wallets, Trip Shakespeare, Prince, and Soul Asylum in concert—leading to strong musical influences to his theology. He earned his Masters of Divinity degree at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO. Roger is an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church and he currently serves as the director of the Wesley Foundation campus ministry at C.U. in Boulder, CO. He was married for ten years, divorced in 2005 and now co-parents a delightful 10-year old son. Roger loves live music, hosting house concerts, rock-climbing, yoga, centering prayer, trail-running with his dog Kingdom, dancing, camping, riding his motorcycle, blogging, and playing his trumpet in ska bands and music projects. He's recently written a book Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don't like christianity


36 Responses to “Poet Slams Religion but Preaches Jesus.”

  1. Patty Smith says:

    His video moves a bit fast for thoughtful reflection. And does remind me of the new movement away from the church and toward a relationship with Christ. I don't find the need to get caught up with this- my need is through action, deeds with no words. In my walk of life, in my work as an educator, in my relationship with my children, my neighbors- to live the life of a Christian. If I let it, it all becomes blury and confusing. So he is nice and all, and I appreciate his attempt to spread the word. But I follow my heart and soul, not some utube wanna-be who speaks way to fast for me.
    Hugs from Minneapolis,

  2. This guy's got something….loved it….thanks Roger….

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  3. Gretchen says:

    Just a thought… your bio draws attention to your book, Roger. 😉

  4. matthewscottwallace says:

    I think what this young man is trying to say is valid, but falls short due to his emotions. The establishment of religion based in ulterior motives has strayed from the origin of its conception (enlightenment/god/source/etc.) Today, it doesn't truly represent spiritual endeavors any more than it represents Jesus. I do think this young poet comes off very angry and aggressive, which is why this video is causing such discussion. Give him time to grow and compassion will set in. Religion is only wrong if you allow it to be. It is personal relationship, based on individuality and universality, not the opinions of the masses, youtube society, or any other body of knowledge.

  5. Becca says:

    Thanks for these reflections, Roger! I agree that we are of like mind (my post on the subject: http://bit.ly/wZrgoH, for those who may be interested).

    I especially like how you point out that Jesus practiced religion himself, and your description of an alternative to substitutionary atonement: “Jesus’ teaching and modeling a way of unconditional loving, compassion, justice, and forgiveness – the way itself being salfivic – not Jesus’ death.” I really appreciate that articulation of it and will have to remember it.

    I too was a little curious about the watches.

    Thanks again for these great thoughts. Blessings!

  6. CynthiaBeard says:

    I also thought that he came across as angry. And he is not alone in being angry with "the church." Lots of people have been burned and rejected by the hypocrisy that exists in many churches. I hope, for his sake, that has he grows and matures in his faith, he can find a community that is more tolerant and accepting, because it can get very lonely to move through life isolating one's spiritual journey the way he seems to be doing (albeit on YouTube).

  7. Roger Wolsey says:

    Updates since I first wrote this blog on Jan. 12th: (I've added the following to the blog)
    1. 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.
    2. Update #2: Here is the church he attends: http://marshill.com/about/what-we-believe
    And his employer: http://marshill.com/about/what-we-believe — Yep, Mark Driscoll's church. : P

  8. Roger Wolsey says:

    …. although there is some question re: his employer. From another source:
    this is what i found: "Jeff Bethke graduated from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon in May of 2011. With a degree in political science, Jeff moved back to Tacoma, Washington to live and work where he grew up. Currently attending Mars Hill Church in Federal Way, Jeff has a heart to carry the life changing Gospel of Jesus Christ to the inner city.
    With the release of his Sexual Healing poem on Youtube, Jeff has been invited to speak at several churches both locally and across the country. He’s passionate about people understanding the magnitude of God’s grace and the freedom it provides from their past. Currently Jeff works for Jubilee Reach, a non-profit community center that exists to be a bridge between the city and the church."

  9. Shane says:

    Hilarious that you judge this young man because of him having links to how to contact him about speaking at churches, while at the bottom of your article it tries to pawn your book. There is no difference. Everything costs money, including getting the Word of God out to people. And if this young man is able to reach those who the "church" has discredited, shunned, and thrown out the door because of religion's time-honored traditions of BS which are nothing but exclusionary, then he has to have money in order to do so, and if a speaking fee pays for him to be able to do that, I'm all for it. But to buy your book so that you can come on sites like this and basically pass judgment on him without actually knowing the facts (i.e. judging his beliefs based on what his church's mission statement is without actually asking him if he believes that as written, not many people actually care (or know) what the individual church writes as their mission statement) is something I would expect you, him, or anyone else who is Christian to be above. Attacking one another does nothing but give the pagans ammunition to say that Christ isn't worth following.

  10. Roger Wolsey says:

    Shane, Actually, there is a difference. Posting a video clip on youtube is free, publishing my book cost me $1700 and I took out a $9,000 personal loan to help me market the book. If, and when, I re-coup these costs, I will be donating the proceeds of the book into The Center for Progressive Christianity and to the Wesley Foundation at C.U. Boulder. I was blogging on Elephant Journal before I wrote my book. I'm not judging him. Though I did state that he his gifted and that "he has chops." I am critiquing the content of his message (his words) and I am questioning the ministries that he supports and is associated with. People should know and care what the mission statements are of the charities they support. Since you apparently don't, please send a donation to http://www.tcpc.org. Thanks!

    That said, what actually turns "the pagans" (what a gross term) off about Christianity is the forms of it that are anti-woman, anti-gay, and exclusvisitic. Sadly, young Jefferson appears to support such forms of the faith.

  11. Roger Wolsey says:

    Shane, but ironically, Jefferson "attacked a fellow Christian" when he posted his clip on youtube that dissed Rob Bell and his book Love Wins. I trust you fault him for that if you fault me. ; )

  12. CynthiaBeard says:

    I think you misread Roger's point, Shane. The irony with this young man is that he is claiming to be pro-Jesus but anti-religion (specifically Christianity), but his bio indicates that he is very involved with a fundamentalist Christian church and works for a Christian organization that "reforms" "troubled" boys.

    I'm also a bit troubled by your statement that "not many people actually care (or know) what the individual church writes as their mission statement." Beyond questioning how you know this to be a universal truth, I would argue that we *should* be involved in these discussions about the missional approach of whatever religious group we choose to affiliate with.

  13. Klint says:

    I do admire your writing skill. This was a fun, thoughtful and well researched post which balanced heavy content with a semi-informal style that made it easier to swallow.

    It seems, though, that your compliments to the artist are rather disingenuous. It comes across as "good job, kid. Now let me make a fool of you with my superior wit and advance progressive theology."

    Related to your progressive theological stance… I'd sincerely appreciate your insight on this comment:
    "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)."

    How does "the way itself being salvific" amount to anything but legalism all dressed up for a generation obsessed with social activism? Can that viewpoint be reconciled with the words of Jesus or the greater narrative of Scripture?

    Thanks for your insight.

  14. Lon says:

    "Jefferson apparently wants certain folks to be in hell." dude, really? that is really an unfair slap to someone you don't know well. do you think this guy came up with the concept of hell? maybe he just has a different understanding of the bible than you do.

  15. Klint says:

    Ahhh… So the issue logically becomes moot. Because being reconnected to god happens regardless of either faith in the atoning death of Jesus or ones pursuit of his lifestyle.

  16. Roger Wolsey says:

    Lon, 1) I qualified it by saying "apparently." 2) Jefferson probably doesn't know Rob Bell well and yet he dissed him.

  17. Roger Wolsey says:

    well, I wouldn't say "moot." Saved persons are about the business of extending love, mercy, forgiveness, mercy, and justice to the broken, hurting people of this world. I wouldn't say that the kids who Mother Teresa helped; the soldiers that Florence Nightengale helped, or the people who Oscar Romaro, Martin Luther King, Jr, or Dorothy Day helped would say that their help was "moot."

  18. CynthiaBeard says:

    D'oh! I gave the wrong link for the employer. Here is the correct one:

  19. Roger Wolsey says:

    I just came across a *very thorough* critique of this poem by a pastor in Michigan. Check it out! http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/

  20. Ash says:

    "Yep, Rob Driscoll's church."
    That's one unfortunate Freudian slip…

  21. Roger Wolsey says:

    Doh! Good catch Ash! I've corrected it to *Mark* Driscoll. (Confusing that they're both involved with 2 different Mars Hill Churches too : p )

  22. Suzette says:

    I am just happy for the fact that this video with it's content which I like…which is where a young person has seen fit to express his opinions about spirituality and not religon…for it is also my beliefe that the is far tooooo much religon and not enough spirituality…ie; rather than going to church every Sunday, or getting down on your knees at the appointed hours…stop hurting each other!!!…I am happy that the tide is changing….new dawn and a new day… Let the young buck express himself with his youthful exuberance…let him not get egotistical with all the viral hits…and if he does….his ego will make him feel like the Pope. An unfortunate fall out from gods grace.

  23. Roger Wolsey says:

    Turns out Jefferson's thoughts may well have come from his pastor, Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church. Mark Driscoll has preached a sermon with that as the title. "Why I hate religion" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WXKT8IPdvzA

  24. CynthiaBeard says:

    Roger, check out this followup. I'm feeling a little less squirmy about the video now. I do still wonder if Mark Driscoll had anything to do with the attention this video has gotten. And I suspect that, say, 10 years down the road, this young man will be questioning the not-always-loving theology that Driscoll promotes.

  25. […] Poet Slams Religion but Preaches Jesus (elephantjournal.com) […]

  26. Roger Wolsey says:

    Seems to me that Jefferson prefers to maintain the antiquated notion of a literal hell and that by extension, he worships a God of wrath (as well as love) who has a need for punitive, retributive justice such that certain people go to hell. If this young man believes that, then it logically means he apparently wants certain people to go to hell. I stand by what I said Joe. Manning up enough for you? Peace.

  27. BrotherRog says:

    BTW, that "KID" is a 22 year old man. He's out of college and making his way in the world. I think you owe him an apology for referring to him as a "kid."

  28. Roger Wolsey says:

    correction: here's the link the ministry he works for: http://thejubileeleadershipexperience.org/

  29. Roger Wolsey says:

    Glad to see that. He does seem humble and teachable. Kudos to him and to the God he loves. : )

  30. BrotherRog says:

    Lemon, I hear your point, but the fact is that what you do (and what Jesus did) is religious. It may be both spiritual and religious, but it is still religious. Religion is not synonymous with legalism (even if that is a form of it). Peace.

  31. […] Roger offers his insights (and some interesting background information) […]

  32. Roger Wolsey says:

    Here's a brilliant video response from a Catholic priest! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ru_tC4fv6FE

  33. […] Poet Slams Religion but Preaches Jesus (elephantjournal.com) […]

  34. Roger Wolsey says:

    Here’s Driscoll talking about how he wishes he could “punch people in the mouth” and “go Old Testament” on leaders in his church. Apparently it was from a sermon he preached just before firing the gentleman who wrote the blog referenced in my post. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YE3FHMTAWHY&fe

    And wouldn’t you know it… here’s a blog that shares about Driscoll’s less than Christian way of handling dissenting colleagues in his ministry. Caution, not for those who wish to remain wearing rose-tinted glasses as they consider Mars Hill.
    “Mark Driscoll’s House of Cards” http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/2012/03/22
    Click the “Joyful Exiles” link at the bottom of it to see the full story.

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  36. Steph says:

    So you are judging this young man by the actions of his Pastor? Well let me enlighten you. When I was 18 my pastor assaulted me. Does that mean I am a sexual abuser? No, it means my pastor was WRONG and needed to step down.
    Insert massive eye roll here. I'm 40 now and agree with much of his feelings.