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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Talking it Over: How would you respond to Jefferson?

In January, a video posted on YouTube by college student Jefferson Bethke, went viral - over 18 million views in less than a month. Needless to say, that's no small feat!

The content? A simple poem that Jefferson wrote and recited about how Jesus and religion are not the same. As you might imagine it created quite a stir, even catching the attention of NY Times Columnist, David Brooks (you can take a look at David's column about this video by clicking here).

In my opinion, Jefferson's message needs to be taken seriously by the people of God, but not all agree. In David Brooks' column, he mentions one Pastor's response that you can read for yourself in full, on his blog, by clicking here. You might want to also peruse the hundreds of comments that people made at the end of David's article and at the end of the Pastor's post - they are most interesting.

Jefferson definitely hit a raw nerve, particularly among the young, but he also ruffled a few feathers in the process!

As you watch the video, keep in mind a couple of questions:
How would you respond to Jefferson? Does he have a point? Are his concerns legitimate? Does he make a credible case for taking a closer look at ourselves or do we just write him off, and others like him, as people on the fringe who are overly idealistic and lacking a thorough understanding of Scripture?
As for the controversy this created, do we dismiss the overall truth of his message (i.e. Jesus and religion are not the same) simply because of the way he chose to express himself? Is truth only truth when an "authority" presents it, or is truth itself the authority even when it's articulated by an "outside" source? At what point do we ask if there's a lesson in here for us as the people of God? Why so little discussion among ourselves about ourselves? Why so much about him and his character and the parsing of words?
Finally, for the sake of the Gospel, how might our attitudes and actions need to change so as to ensure that the clarity of our message is not being muddled by the "baggage" that Jefferson speaks of? As important as it is, is it solely an issue of embracing sound doctrine, or could there be more to this matter that we simply "don't get?" If so, what? 
For further thoughts on religious tradition and how it can muddle the unique and radical message we hold so dear, please see my July 2011 posts entitled: "Our Message - Not Like The Others?" and "Assumptions and Absolutes"

Postscript (Mar 2): My good friend over at the Philippian Jailer Blog posted some thoughts on this video today that are worth checking out. You'll find it by clicking here.


  1. Well, Bill, I've been working on this one in my head for a while, and you finally inspired me to post my own thoughts ( I did give you several shout-outs along the way. I think you'll be unsurprised by my conclusions, as they reflect many of our previous discussions.

  2. Hey, Jailer, thanks for stopping by. I posted a reply on your blog but let me make one comment here.

    Jefferson's message needs to be taken seriously by the people of God but it requires a certain degree of humility on our part to do so. I'm afraid that the fact that we are mostly unable to do so only confirms the heart of his message, which to me is regrettable.

    1. Thanks Bill. You note I responded also on my blog. Not sure how much you want transcribed here. Following your example I will provide an extract:

      My sense of the matter is that the danger lies in the opposite direction, that of the bandwagon effect. It's important to discuss what 20 million YouTube viewers are discussing, but it's also important to pay attention to where the bandwagon might be taking you. I think there is room for an evenhanded discussion about the content of his message. Criticism of the church should not be considered out of bounds, but neither should all criticism be accepted uncritically. Humility is important all the way around.

    2. Wow. Well, speaking of humility, Jefferson Bethke has shown me something: