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Jeff Bethke has a long blog post reflecting on his viral video, that in one month took him from being almost completely unknown to being viewed 19 million times on YouTube, interviewed by Charlie Rose, critiqued by David Brooks in the NYT, featured on Nightline, etc.

Here are a couple of excerpts.

On artists and local-church accountability:

Too many times artists play the “lone ranger” by submitting to no one except for themselves. I hope the people reading this and writing about me understand that with me this is not the case. I am fully submitted and under the leadership of elders at my local church, who I have given full authority in my life to pull the plug on certain poems, lines, and actions. Furthermore I have made a commitment from here on out to submit my lyrics for future poems to my church elders. On top of that I also have older godly men and women outside of my local church who do the same thing but maybe come from a different theological stream. I have spent countless hours these last couple weeks meeting, praying, and gleaning from these leaders in my life. I’ve asked them questions such as “do you think I was wrong?” or “where can I grow?” So I hope whoever reads this understands and trusts the leaders God has put in my life to do their scriptural mandate of protecting and shepherding over my heart because they will give an account (Hebrews 13:17-18).

About the pain of critique and slander:

About the actual critique though, I’ll be honest, there were times after it came out that I just started to crumble. The pain of critiques was too painful. . . . [T]he last couple weeks have been some of the most difficult in my life. Have they been rewarding? Sure. Have they been exciting? Sure. Have I seen God pour out His grace? Definitely! But the tone, words, and down right vitriol from fellow brothers and sisters in the faith have crushed me. I’m a 22 year old dude who has only been out of college 6 months, and who has only been walking with Jesus for a few years. I am beyond thankful to the older godly men who chose to pick up the phone and find ways to contact me privately, before discussing me publicly. I personally had to stop reading and trying to follow the blogs because Jesus showed me pretty quickly it wasn’t healthy for my heart (whether praise or critique). The ones I did come across stung. Some hardly even dealt with my content, but wrote more about my character, my salvation (or lack thereof), my looks, my poetry, etc. Part of me was extremely hurt, while part of me started to really wonder how blog posts fit into Jesus words in Matthew 12:36. Today, we understand that God will hold us accountable for what we speak, but we neglect that judgment a lot of times when behind a computer screen in a room by ourselves. Part of me trembles when I think about the day I stand before the King of Kings and He asks me to give an account for every careless word I’ve ever spoke, facebooked, or tweeted.

And his conclusion:

Lastly, I am thankful for grace. I am thankful that the Cross of Jesus met me where I am. I’m thankful that I don’t have to perform for Him, but rather He has performed for me. That’s the grace that drew me in the first place, and its that grace I cling to daily. How could I not after all He has done for me? He is worthy of all my worship. He is worthy of all glory. I pray to God that through all of this I would grow and pursue Him more deeply, cherish Him more fervently, and love Him more fiercely. This has been a once in a lifetime opportunity and my hope is to steward it well, remaining faithful, and pointing to Him!

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12 thoughts on “19 Million Views Later: Thoughts on Christ, Celebrity, and Controversy”

  1. Yolanda says:

    I think many “seasoned” Christians could learn a lesson about humility from this young man. In this day of words immortalized via the Internet, we all need to think and pray more before we post anything about anybody. The world is watching, and so is our Lord.

  2. Ken says:

    I’m glad for this young man’s willingness to assess himself and his actions, and to submit his public work to the overview of his church’s elders. However, I’m a bit disappointed to see a bit of the Rob Bell criticism tendency: he strongly criticized the largest religion in the world, and basically said that most practicing Christians are wrong (even though he said he’s not judging). But then he can’t believe that would cause an aggressive response. He wanted to be able to have his say, but was surprised that people would have something to say back.

  3. Chris Donato says:

    I did not join the choral cacophony, and, while I appreciate Jeff’s recent thoughts on this, he himself alludes to a critique I’d have if he were listening: Be careful not to straddle your attempts at producing art with heavy didacticism. Or moralizing. It detracts from the art itself (Jeff makes mention that some folks critiqued his “poetry” rather than his content, which I would’ve done, since it seemed to me everybody else was critiquing his content).

    Rhyming couplets do not a poem make. Stringing them together in clichéd cadence with beats in the background doesn’t automatically achieve the level of spoken word.

    I’d suggest to him not to try to teach anybody anything for the next 20 years when crafting his art, and I warrant that he’ll find that he will have taught people much without even knowing it.

    1. “Be careful not to straddle your attempts at producing art with heavy didacticism. Or moralizing. It detracts from the art itself” Why?

      1. Chris Donato says:

        Good question, Heather. Do keep in mind that this is what I’d suggest to him, not necessarily to everyone. The main point, however, is that when the primary import becomes didactic, and the artist is a novice, it will almost always end up boring or clichéd. And what’s more, if the artist isn’t a master in the field he or she is presuming to speak into, then the attempt may also end up shallow.

        I say that it detracts from the art because it goes against the grain of the gift of art itself. Heavily didactic art, to paraphrase Joyce, either pulls the observer toward it in a desire to possess or pushes the observer away with fear or loathing. On the other hand, art that keeps its priorities in check (i.e., art in which the artist gets out of the way) does not pull the observer toward it or push the observer away from it, but rather holds him or her still in aesthetic arrest of the moment (to invoke Joyce again).

        It’s sublime. It has gusto. And, it should go without saying, it can’t be contrived (and heavily didactic art is nothing if not contrived).

        1. “and heavily didactic art is nothing if not contrived” I think this is a very modern concept of art, and I’m not positive I agree. I don’t think I have a coherent reason for this yet, but I’ll think on what you said and maaaaybe get back to you.

  4. Kristin Bolling says:

    The Lord will see you through this tough time. We come to know Christ more through our trials and tribulations. Romans 5 states, “Rejoice in your sufferings!” DO IT! Praise God that you have a greater HOPE than the one this world “promises”. Your heart motive was right. You may have failed in small areas, but if anyone who has judged you is a real christian, they should know better than to be sin seekers. I think your video was on target, maybe not flawless, but we are SINNERS. Nothing we do is flawless. Keep your head held high. You are glorifying our God.

  5. Mr. Bethke is a very young man. It seems like his heart is in the right place. We should be critiquing poetry because we should always read/listen to poetry with our minds alive. We should be examining content to encourage one another or offering helpful criticism to one another. Anyone criticizing Mr. Bethke’s salvation (intimating he wasn’t saved) or his looks was out of line. I never saw that anywhere, but I’m sure he saw it all. That’s ridiculous!

    I think he should continue working on mastering his craft, but going to his elders, or just solid friends who will give constructive criticism is a great idea! I always do this with what I write as well.

  6. Dustin says:

    Really grateful for this line from the conclusion: “I’m thankful that I don’t have to perform for Him, but rather He has performed for me.” Concise, powerful, and insightful.

  7. Daniel F. Wells says:

    I think Bethke was hurt that the critiques were so largely off-base, and some were ad hominems. Though he stated clearly in his poem that he “believes in the church, believes in the Bible, believes in sin”, critics claimed he was anti-church and anti-Bible.

    Seriously, of all of us confessionally Reformed folk (and I am one), who would submit the product of their vocation to the oversight of their local session as Bethke is doing? Could it be that Bethke has a higher view of the authority of a session than some confessionally Reformed folk?

    Now…that would be the subject of a great poem/rap.

  8. Am I the only one deeply grieved by his lumping together of Protestants and Catholics?

    I got to a PCA church and I know for certain if I said something such as ““My question to Protestants, Catholics, and anyone who loves Jesus is – can we celebrate that? Can we celebrate God furthering His kingdom and His church? Can we celebrate the evidences of His grace, and Him pouring out His healing and redemption on lost and weary souls?” I would be placed under Church discipline.

    Hello? Am I the only one that see’s that Catholics and Protestants can work together for the sake of His Kingdom and Church?

    I understand he’s now in the top tier of Christianity and above rebuke from anyone unless they have a book and 10,000 followers on twitter, but he just set the Church back hundreds of years…

  9. Mark V says:

    The key statement for me is “I’m a 22 year old dude who has only been out of college 6 months, and who has only been walking with Jesus for a few years.”

    It sounds like he’s pleading some ignorance when it comes to the finer details of theology, which means he probably shouldn’t be teaching theology. But that’s what he’s trying to do in the video.

    James 3:1 – “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”

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Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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