Saturday, January 14, 2012

The humility of Jefferson Bethke and Kevin DeYoung

Jefferson Bethke is a spoken-word artist featured in the latest video to go viral and spark all sorts of bloggosfury in the process (I googled it, I think I made up that word). His video, "Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus" is nearing ten million views on YouTube alone.

Now I am not going to be offering my opinion or rebuttal to anything he said in the video. To be frank, I haven't even watched the video all the way through (and probably won't). However, several Christian blogging heavyweights have watched the video and graciously responded including Jared Wilson and Tullian Tchividjian, while Kevin DeYoung even dissected it verse by verse. In all honesty, I didn't even read his whole dissection because I felt the whole topic was—as Kevin later described—all "sound and fury signifying nothing". (Side note: that's good stuff, Kevin, someone should put that in a novel or play or something.) But then again, anything drawing that much attention needs careful thinkers offering careful thoughts.

However, Jefferson Bethke actually responded personally to Kevin DeYoung's critique and even gave Kevin permission to share their subsequent back-and-forth exchange. And the thought that Kevin closed with grabbed me more than anything said up to this point:

The actual emails were longer, but these excerpts give you a feel for the tone. I’m immensely grateful for Jeff’s response and feel like I’ve made a new friend in this process. We talked on the phone this morning and had a chance to get to know each other better. We talked about the wonders and trials of the internet and the difficulty in receiving praise and criticism. We both talked about what we could have done differently in retrospect.
A friend wrote to me yesterday and said, “This is a good test for both Jefferson and for yourself. Is he the kind of guy who would be willing to write a critic with humility? And did you write the piece in such a way that the one being criticized would feel comfortable chatting with you?” I hope we are passing that test. Through the years I haven’t always aced this kind of exam.

This is a beautiful picture of the sort of humility that we need more of within the Christian blogosphere. I know controversy and criticism drive the hits up, but when building a following trumps building up the church, this is a red flag that we've run off course. I have personally unsubscribed from blogs that I felt were doing more tearing down than building up, and I pray this blog never falls into that trap. Yes, there are times when hard words are necessary, but I hope myself and anyone representing this blog will always do it in such a way that, as Jeff and Kevin modeled, edification would be the end result. There is a sort of criticism that only tears down and vilifies and there is a sort that invites clarification, edification, and reconciliation. I pray that ours (and yours) is always characterized by the latter.


Unknown said...

Thanks for linking to this and drawing attention to it. These types of responses are something you rarely, let alone on the internet where every criticism is taking so personal and the responses often exasperate rather calm things.

It is great to see guys like Kevin DeYoung offer critics with a serious but gracious spirit. It is even cooler to be allowed to peak behind the curtain as it were, and see such a gracious resolution that leads to fellowship and the encouragement of one another.

Tim B

Unknown said...

I read about this earlier this afternoon. Likewise, I was thrilled by the exchange between 2 brothers. Great stuff.

Anonymous said...

This conclusion is interesting since you didn't even watch the video. Please watch it before making any other comments.
I found it especially interesting that DeYoung praised Bethke for his grace in receiving the critique in the spirit of Acts 18:26, when he himself did not act in the same way. Aquila and Priscilla took Apollos aside PRIVATELY for instruction--not in front of the whole church and blogosphere. Nor did they promote their book in the process.
I will agree that the exchange was gracious and encouraging, mostly from Jeff's side from my perspective. Encouraging to see that in this young, post-modern Christian generation.
Just some thoughts.

Jared Totten said...


I did read the full transcript, so I wasn't unaware of the content. Before I replied to your message, however, I did watch it to give you the benefit of the doubt.

However, I find it ironic that you disagreed with at least some of what I said and felt compelled to leave a public comment rather than sending me a personal email (in the spirit of Acts 18:26). It seems that even you implicitly understand that a public statement (whether blog or video) opens itself up to public comments and correction.

It seems to me that when dealing with something as public and influential as Bethke's video (10 million views) that it is good and healthy for Christian thinkers to offer public wisdom as to how to think about such things.

In short: Public ideas should be dealt with and/or corrected publicly. Personal sins should be dealt with and corrected personally. I think you would find this rule of thumb to be consistent with biblical counsel.