On January 13th I published a post analyzing and critiquing the viral video by Jefferson Bethke entitled, “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” (see my earlier post here). This post got lit up with lots of attention and traffic–far more than I expected. I got plenty of feedback from plenty of people, some positive, so not so positive. Among those who responded more negatively, some seemed to have the impression that I did not see any value or benefits in the video (on the contrary, I was simply presenting a caution). Due to this, I’ve decided to write a “part 2” on the strengths/benefits of Bethke’s “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.” By doing so, I want it to be clear that I am not attempting to retract my initial criticisms/cautions. However, I am presenting a balanced perspective that probably should be taken.
You should note that in order to address the positive aspects of Bethke’s video, I found it necessary to insert, via brackets inside quotations of Bethke, explanations of what I believe Bethke was intending to communicate. Doing so assumes my initial criticism that his words were misguided, poorly selected, and undefined. But this also assumes that what he intended to say is of value.
Here is the video that has sparked so much attention and controversy:
The same video hosted on Vimeo
Word document of Jefferson Bethke’s poem
Although some of his words were misguided, I appreciate the fact that he is thinking critically, has Biblical Discontentment–a trait that is all too uncommon among many Christians now days–and is passionate.
Well Intended Message
As I said in my critique of “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus,” although I believe his choice of words were misguided and poorly selected, that is not to say I disagree with the message he intended to present. In the comments below his YouTube video, Bethke states,
At it’s core Jesus’ gospel and the good news of the Cross is in pure opposition to self-righteousness/self-justification. . . . With Jesus though you have humble confident joy because He represents you, you don’t represent yourself and His sacrifice is perfect putting us in perfect standing with God!
I believe this was the primary issue Bethke was trying to address (lthough I recognize Bethke did not exactly keep his discussion limited to this). In light of that, I believe his intended message was great.
I talked briefly to a good friend of mine about my critique of “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.” In that critique one of my main criticisms was Bethke’s use of religion–namely, that religion is a loaded word which he never defined to fit his intended purpose. My friend illustrated this with how people say, “Don’t do drugs,” but certainly no one criticizes them for not specifying illegal drugs (as opposed to medicine). This is a good point. Certainly this is not something that slipped my attention. To some it up, it’s all about the context in which one is speaking. Unfortunately for Bethke, his viewers’ contexts created some misunderstanding. However, in the right context Bethke’s message is a fantastic one.
Jeffrey Bethke Seems to Be a Solid Individual
Kevin DeYoung, on his blog on the Gospel Coalition’s website (see here), wrote a critique of Bethke’s video very similar to my own. Just recently though, DeYoung published a new post which included excerpts from emails that were sent between Bethke and DeYoung. In the first email Bethke wrote to DeYoung he said,
I just wanted to say I really appreciate your article man. It hit me hard. I’ll even be honest and say I agree 100%. God has been working with me in the last 6 months on loving Jesus AND loving his church. For the first few years of walking with Jesus (started in ’08) I had a warped/poor paradigm of the church and it didn’t build up, unify, or glorify His wife (the Bride). If I can be brutally honest I didn’t think this video would get much over a couple thousand views maybe, and because of that, my points/theology wasn’t as air-tight as I would’ve liked. If I redid the video tomorrow, I’d keep the overall message, but would articulate, elaborate, and expand on the parts where my words and delivery were chosen poorly… My prayer is my generation would represent Christ faithfully and not swing to the other spectrum….thankful for your words and more importantly thankful for your tone and fatherly like grace on me as my elder. Humbled. Blessed. Thankful for painful growth. Blessings.
The fact that Bethke can respond so positively to this incredibly public criticism of him says something about his character. He certainly comes off as very humble among other things.
In general, the video was well produced and artistically pleasing. For example, the music definitely worked your emotions. This trait is partly why I think the video was so popular and impactful. (However, this is not necessarily a good thing.)
Emphasizes that Salvation is Dependent on God and Not Man
If we redefine “religion” to mean a performance based justification before God (which is what Bethke was referring to most of the time when he said the word “religion”), Bethke’s words do a great job emphasizing the fact that salvation is an entire work/act of God, dependent on Him and not man whatsoever.
Bethke says, “Jesus [that is His saving work on the cross] and religion [see modified definition above] are on opposite spectrums.” In other words, the Christ’s atoning death on the cross screams, “you can’t save yourself!” Galatians 2:21 – “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”
Bethke states, “Because when I was God’s enemy and certainly not a fan, God looked down on me and said, ‘I want that man!'” In other words, God initiates salvation–as Bethke says later, “God searching for man.” This is His sovereign purpose to save. Romans 5:8 – “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Bethke asserts, “Because Religion says do [works to earn a right standing before God], Jesus says done [meaning, perfect obedience has been earned by Christ and is imputed to all who repent and believe].” “But the Son of God not supported self-righteousness [trying to earn right standing before God based on performance], not now, not then.” And finally, “Salvation is freely mine, and forgiveness is my own, not based on my merit, but Christ’s obedience alone. Romans 5:19 – “For as by the one man’s [Adam–the representative of humanity] disobedience the many [all of humanity] were made sinners, so by the one man’s [the new representative–Christ] obedience the many will be made [that is, “declared as”] righteous.” Bethke adds, “Because when Jesus cried It is finished, I believe He meant it [that is, Jesus meant salvation was actually accomplished, not just hypothetically possible].” John 19:30 records Jesus’ words just prior to death, “It [salvation] is finished [accomplished].
Bethke best summarizes this entire concept when he says plainly, “Because my salvation doesn’t depend on me, it depends on him.” This is a great truth that can never be overemphasized. After describing salvation as the resurrection spiritually dead individuals (Eph 2:1, 5-6), Paul says in Ephesians 2:8, “and this is not from yourselves–gift of God.” How much clearer can it be (in addition to the fact that dead people don’t do anything)? In Romans 9:16 Paul says, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9)!
Bethke states, “Spend my whole life putting on this façade of neatness, but now that I know Jesus, I boast in my weakness,” and, “I no longer have to hide my failures; I don’t have to hide my sin, because my salvation doesn’t depend on me, it depends on Him.” These words remind us of the importance of being transparent. If we truly have been/are being saved by grace, then this logically means we needed/need grace. Why then, as Christians, do we often try and put on a front as we have it all together and no longer need grace rather than readily admit our failures and come to God seeking His grace. James 4:6 – “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'”
Emphasizes Being Genuine
Not only does Bethke promote transparency, but, closely tied to this point, Bethke rightly emphasizes being genuine. He states, “I’m just saying quit putting on a fake look, ’cause there’s a problem if people only know that you’re a Christian by your Facebook,” and later, “Its like saying you play for the Lakers just because you bought a jersey.” James 2:26 – “Faith apart from works is dead [that is, it’s useless faith, cf. v.20; it’s not saving faith, cf. v.15]. John 15:8 – “Bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” To often, when people “become Christians” they only thing that changes is what they call themselves (Christian). And sometimes, not even that changes.
Kicks Hypocrisy in the Butt
Bethke has a long segment on this issue:
They [religious hypocrites] cant fix their problems, so they try to mask it [with rules and/or good works]
Not realizing religion’s [that is, the type of religion just mentioned] like sprayin’ perfume on a casket.
You see the problem with religion [that focuses on externals] is it never gets to the core [of the problem of sin–the internal].
It’s just behavior modification, like a long list of chores
–Like let’s dress up the outside, make things look nice and neat.
But its funny. That’s what they use to do to mummies while the corpse rots underneath.
Here, Bethke reiterates much of what Jesus said in Matthew 23. For example, Matthew 23:27-28 – “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”). You see, Spirituality isn’t based on externals. In fact spirituality it isn’t even based on man. True spirituality, go figure, is based on the Spirit’s work (1 Cor 2:4-16). Colossians 2:23 says, “Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. Therefore, I would have to agree with Bethke when he said, “Don’t you see it’s [true religion] so much better than following some rules [because of the salvation one can have through Jesus]?”
Reminds Us About the Importance of Jesus
Despite all the criticisms that can be made of Bethke’s poor word choice, he does get this right–Jesus is important. Not only does he point us to the importance of Jesus, but he reminds us about the priority of having a relationship with Christ and not simply dead orthodoxy.
Republicanism Isn’t Christian
Again I will close my article making mention on Bethke’s words on politics. Simply said, he’s right.
The video had good intent. In the right context and with the right explanation, the message was great. I still wouldn’t post this on my Facebook wall though. Depending on your Facebook friends, maybe you shouldn’t either.