Sunday, January 15, 2012

Poetry is Not Systematic Theology

Yesterday I saw a video via a friend's facebook wall. It's called, "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus || Spoken Word".  I thought it was DOPE. I'm not surprised that it has hit a whopping 9.3 million views on Youtube! Talk about viral. He uploaded it only 4 days ago.

Refreshing and On Pointe
The guy in the video, Jeff, produced a video of a well-written spoken word that really hit to the core of some major church issues.  I thought it was refreshing, poetic, and on-pointe. And I liked the fact that he presents the gospel at the end.  I checked out his other videos and from what I can tell, this guy's got Reformed leanings (which I personally like). He's got a good head between his shoulders.

A Blogger's Scrutiny
Then today, I see a few people posting up an article on facebook by Pastor Kevin DeYoung from the Gospel Coalition in criticism of Jeff's spoken word:
Does Jesus Hate Religion? Kinda, Sorta, Not Really
I'm sure that any pastor that has the honor of blogging for the Gospel Coalition is smart and has many good points to make. But just because Kevin's got all the "right" answers doesn't make his blog entry right. I read through the article and my heart burned to speak up in Jeff's defense and to affirm his video. If for any reason, as a local church pastor I wanted to clarify to my church members where I stand on it.

A Spoken Word is Poetry Not Systematic Theology
I'm sure everyone, including Pastor Kevin, understands that a "spoken word" is poetry... not systematic theology. So I was a bit irked that he was scrutinizing Jeff's spoken word line by line as if Jeff had written a theology paper! Jeff's main point was not to present a careful exegesis of a Bible passage or a comprehensive theology, that's the gift and calling of guys like N.T. Wright and Wayne Grudem. Jeff's main point was to poetically express our generation's frustration with the religious shells handed down to us in most denominational churches that masquerade as Christianity. Let's face it, there's a lot of "religion" in our denominational churches with the appearance of godliness but with very little power (namely the Holy Spirit or anything supernatural). It's no wonder young people are leaving denominational churches en masse.

Opposing the Religious Spirit
If you read between the lines Jeff isn't rhyming in opposition to "religion" per se but to the "religious spirit"; the religious spirit that the Pharisees were filled with. The same spirit that continues to infiltrate churches today.  I've observed that the religious spirit consists of actual demons.  And in my humble opinion, they're the most wicked of all. They don't just attack from the outside, they infiltrate the church's structures and infect from the inside. Read the gospels again and notice the tone of Jesus towards the religious spirit. The rebuke is vicious and public.

Matthew 23:13-15, 33 (NIV), "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces... You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are... 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?"

Does Jesus hate religion? Well consider this: he calls the religious leaders of his day "hypocrites" four times in chapter 23, then calls them sons of hell (huios in the Greek), serpents, brood of vipers, and then implies that they will not escape being sentenced to hell!  Think about who Jesus is talking to.  He's not talking to the Hindus, Buddhists, and Mormons of his day.  He's talking to the religious leaders of institutional and cultural Judaism who sat at the places of honor!  That's the equivalent of our seminary graduates, Bible scholars, and pastors of today. I'm not implying anything here. I have tremendous respect for many Christian leaders. I like to think our John MacArthurs and the Pharisees are worlds apart. But still, it's a sobering thought.

What An Amazing Poem
Bottom line: I think Jeff's tone and emphasis are closer to Jesus' than Kevin's. And I think Jeff's spoken word is aimed at the right target. Jeff, you'll probably never read this but from one brother walking in sonship to another, stay JUST THE WAY YOU ARE. Stay in relationship with the mentors that God has already placed in your life and you're gonna go from glory to glory. Looking forward to your next video.

And to Pastor Kevin, much love to you sir. Your concerns are legit but I think they're misplaced. Nothing personal on you. But I simply had to put out a voice to celebrate and applaud what this gifted young man put out. God is using Jeff's creativity to reach millions of people already. I wish church leaders would learn to embrace and not to stifle it.

Sometimes I get disappointed by my beloved Reformed friends. They love preaching about grace but have a hard time practicing it.


  1. This was a great blog entry. Thank you for sharing this. I love that you said that poetry is NOT systematic theology. It was just someone creatively expressing their feelings.

  2. wow, this is exactly what i was thinking and feeling as i read pastor kevin's reply! especially your point about the difference between religion and the religious spirit~

  3. Thank you, Thank you, AND THANK YOU for writing this! Great points & very well said. I think that video is amazing.

  4. Thank you, Pastor Christian! I'm gonna share this on my page! =)

  5. Thanks Pastor Christian! This was a great blog; it's exactly what needs to be clarified to people about Jeff's video. Very well written :)

  6. Hey PC,

    I agree with many of the points that you had and also thought Kevin had very good points as well. Like I said on my facebook wall, I think I see this video/blog response in a different way than a lot of people do. Especially people that came from denominational backgrounds that were steeped in tradition and rituals and void of God's presence and power. I get that. But I grew up almost on the opposite end of the spectrum in non-denominational churches who almost seemed to emphasize and boast in the lack of religious structure. I definitely see where you're going with this, and I totally get Jeff's heart behind his video. And I agree with him in attacking that religious spirit. If you read Kevin's article, there's several things that I think you and he both would agree on as well.

    My main concern is people taking it too far on the "anti-religion" side. Religion can be good- just like Kevin said it's how we define religion really. If we're talking about the self-righteous, religious spirit, we're not talking about right religion. I feel like I'm not articulating this well so I guess I'll stop there. I'm just coming as someone from the other side that is beginning to appreciate the structure and foundation of religion. Like I said- I agree with a lot of what you said, but also think that Kevin had some good thought-worthy points as well.


  7. So good.
    Thanks for your thoughts the Biblical insight! So, so good! I was just thinkin that why people so easily criticize people like this guy that's gifted in his spoken word, which is unique, and not universally known about, but they don't check the theology of some well known Christian contemporary artists? There are so many "Christian" songs that make me cringe, not only because it is, technically, theologically not in line with the Bible, but because so many people know these songs and hold these songs more dear than the Word of God.


  8. Thought it was worth posting this new post by Kevin which includes a response from Jeff. Worth reading in my opinion because I think this one brings more glory to God than the other two did. Praise Him!