Redeeming limericks

05 Dec

Thought experiment: if you’re familiar with the poetic form of limerick, you might also be aware that many, many examples of the genre are characterized by bawdy humor (the link is clean; just the top results from an Amazon search for limerick). Such off-color topics are obviously not essential to the form; there are numbers of very clever, entirely clean limericks. However, anyone who is familiar with the form would likely know about their most common use.

Might we suggest the need to redeem the limerick? It seems to me that if we took limericks and used them as a medium to present theological truth, we could demonstrate Christ’s Lordship over even this trivial poetic form. Why should the devil have all the best forms, after all?

You understand, I suspect, that I’m being facetious. But I want to make two quick points:

  • A limerick might be a suspect form for carrying biblical truth because of how it is commonly used. This is a weaker argument against theological limericks, but not entirely without weight.
  • A limerick is a suspect form for carrying biblical truth because the form itself inclines us to expect that the content is jovial and foolish. This may be conditioned (we’ve heard lots of limericks that are jokes) or something more basic (the meter and rhyme scheme combine, in some near magical way, to give a lightness of mood). I suspect it’s a combination of the two.

Thus, “redemption” of a limerick is a pointless category. Stop using bawdy limericks. Enjoy in a suitable manner a funny limerick. But, literally, for Christ’s sake, don’t write theological limericks.

[Anticipated objection: Rap is a more serious genre than a limerick. I completely agree. But what I’m suggesting is that, when we recognize that a limerick, as a genre, is capable of trivializing serious subjects, we have at least, in principle, opened the conversation as to whether other genres might also have problems carrying the gospel. This doesn’t prove anything about rap. But it does provide the categories that the conservatives are using to make their case.]


Posted by on December 5, 2013 in Conservatism, Music


6 responses to “Redeeming limericks

  1. Steven

    December 5, 2013 at 9:10 pm

    Mike, I have enjoyed your blog and believe you offer great wisdom on many topics but when I read a post like this it shows me that you are trying to hard. That’s like somebody trying to make a comparison with you and Hyles Anderson. Reaching.

    Anyways, the answer to your question is absolutely!

  2. Chris Ames

    December 5, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    There once was a man from Westminster
    Who broke down and married a spinster
    She read some Van Til
    And said “What a pill!”
    And he evermore held it against her.

    • Scott Aniol

      December 6, 2013 at 10:52 am

      I cannot stop laughing…

  3. Sam Hendrickson

    December 6, 2013 at 12:09 pm

    There once was a lady named Bright
    whose speed was far faster than light.
    She went out one day in a relative way
    and returned the previous night.

  4. Michael Riley

    December 6, 2013 at 6:01 pm

    I’m not sure how public the discussion is (that is, what the Facebook settings are), but if you’re friends with the right people, Chris Bolt and I are having some further discussion about this post here:

    Chris maintains a very worthwhile Van Til blog over at

  5. Fr. Bill

    December 19, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    Just wondering if the affective baggage attaching to the limerick form could be deployed not in apologetics or discipleship, but in polemics. One of the most effective ways to discredit an opponent is to get others to laugh at him. Limericks lampooning various spirits of the age would be a great idea.

%d bloggers like this: