It is popular to blog about viral videos, and since I want to become part of the popular crowd who gets invited to all the cool parties, I too shall write about it. Actually, not really. Rather than discussing the video in detail, I want to talk more about the reaction it got among Christians as well as the concept of criticism. Basically, when it comes to discourse, I have a very simple principle I try to go by: If you’re willing to dish it out, you better be willing to take it. Bethke dished out criticism in his video, and much of it is correct, but it is criticism nonetheless. Criticism was subsequently directed back at him, and thankfully, he seems mature enough to accept it. Many of his newly found fanboys and fangirls, however, did not show such maturity, and threw a hissy fit when guys like Kevin DeYoung critiqued the poem on his blog.
For those who do not know what I am talking about, Bethke recently released a video of him performing Spoken Word poetry, which is basically pseudo-rapping and ranting about society’s problems. I am not sure how recent his video is; I could have sworn I saw it a long time ago well before it went viral on Youtube, but whatever. In any case, Bethke’s poem is about how Jesus is awesome but “religion” sucks, or at least, how “religion” is defined in the poem, which is essentially a legalistic, judgmental way of life that vainly tries to merit enlightenment or salvation. Bethke argues that this is not what Jesus wanted and that he came to “abolish” religion while presenting a new way of life in him. It is not exactly a new concept; Christians have had such cliches for many years, such as “Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship” (remember what the Teacher says: There is nothing new under the sun). However, the creative and blunt way Bethke delivered this message garnered much attention, from believers and unbelievers alike. Some loved the video and thought it to be a devastating critique of the Church; others found it obnoxious or inaccurate and said so, making the former angry, who came up with retorts like “Why don’t you share the gospel rather than try to destroy another Christian’s work” and the like. Isn’t the Internet a fun place?
When it comes to discussion, I use the analogy of entering an arena or a field: For example, if I were to step out on a football field and start hitting people, it is only natural that somebody is probably going to smack me back. Assuming it is a legal, non-dirty hit, it would be positively absurd for me or anyone else to get angry about it. After all, it’s a football field, and I should have known full well what I was getting myself into when I decided to go out and play. Likewise, if I were to present something publicly like Bethke did, especially if it is criticism, then I should be mentally prepared that some people may disagree with me and critique what I say. Obviously, there should be some expected level of intelligence and civility, which is frankly lacking in 99% of Internet discourse (ie: “i hate the church jesus didnt judge so stfu haters”), but if I enter the arena of public discussion, I should be prepared to get hit. That’s the way it goes, and the inability to accept this does not show a hint of maturity.
Bringing this back to the video in question, it is absolutely fair that other Christians have critiqued Bethke’s work to test its accuracy, and no, it is not a waste of time; they are justifiably curious to see how it is portraying the Gospel. Can criticism be directed at the criticizers (and at this blog post, at that)? Of course. If I were to critique DeYoung’s critique, I’d argue that DeYoung did not fully take into account the genre Bethke used in his video. Frankly, Spoken Word is not my favorite form of poetry; I find it a bit corny most of the time, but I do understand that its style is to use heavy-handed language. It’s not exactly a genre that tries to nuance what it is saying. Thus, I found some of DeYoung’s criticisms to be a bit nitpicky or simply inapplicable. It’s a specific form of poetry, not an academic lecture. For instance, it is obvious Bethke’s use of “religion” plays on stereotypes that both Christians and non-Christians have on the word, so DeYoung pointing out that Jesus was Jewish isn’t exactly helpful (I’m fairly certain Bethke already knew that). Expecting a theologian’s precision in this poem is not reasonable, and with that in mind, I really didn’t find too much to complain about other than the corniness level of the genre.
That being said, DeYoung went about his criticism in a fair and civil manner, as befitting a Christian, and not all of his criticisms were bad. Bethke, as linked above, took those criticisms with humility and an open mind, and so should others. DeYoung may have been wrong in some of his criticisms, but he was not wrong to critique Bethke in the first place. Likewise, for those who dislike Bethke’s poem, I’d say that he may be imprecise or wrong on many points but that does not mean he was wrong to point out the church’s flaws in such a medium. Ironically, DeYoung and Bethke have been great examples of how to have a loving, civil discussion among Christians, while it is others who read/hear their material who are reacting immaturely.
Think about the what Bethke is saying and turn around and think about what others’ are saying about it. It is far more illuminating to do that then to hear Bethke’s spoken word and be like, “Ohhhhh snap all those old white Christians just got pwned” and then get mad when someone points out potential problems in his verses. That doesn’t show a lot of critical thinking, to be blunt.