Jefferson Bethke has become a youtube sensation. His video “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” has been viewed well over 28 million times since it was posted on June 10, 2012. If you know any Christian friends and are active on social media you have no doubt seen Bethke’s 4-minute spoken-word poem. Bethke is sincere, passionate, and sadly off-track. If I’m honest I had thought that Bethke’s video was old news by now. After all he posted it way back in 2012. Recently, however, Bethke’s video has caught a head of steam once again. I’m not sure what prompted its resurgence but it once again is filling our news feeds.
The basic point that Bethke is trying to make is the old “It’s not about religion, it’s about a relationship” argument that has been around for centuries. The video is basically about Jesus and religion. Specifically, how Jesus hates religion.
Almost as soon as the video popped up on the internet there was a great divide between people who loved the video and those who were against it. Keven DeYoung wrote some of the best thoughts on the video. Now that Bethke’s video from 2012 has resurrected maybe we should bring DeYoung’s response to it back up as well. I’d encourage you to take the time to read what DeYoung has to say about Bethke’s spoken word video. Before I go any further into talking about the message of the video I want to agree with Mr. DeYoung in saying that I believe Bethke is a sincere follower of Jesus who wants people to know God’s grace. It’s very obvious that he has a passion for Jesus that we should all strive to replicate.
With that said, there are a lot of things in the video that I find misleading and potentially detrimental. The great problem with Bethke’s message is that he is wrong to say, “Jesus hates religion.”
Bethke opens with the line “Jesus came to abolish religion.” He proceeds from there to draw a sharp distinction between what Jesus believed and what religion teaches. Is Jefferson Bethke fair in making this dichotomy? That depends on your definition of religion. The way that Bethke describes religion would definitely be something Jesus would be diametrically opposed to. In the poem religion is described as a man made set of rules meant to somehow earn God’s favor. If that is what religion is than I think we can all agree with Bethke in saying that Jesus is against it.
But Jefferson Bethke is wrong. That’s not what religion is. It’s clear that what is described in the poem is what religion has become but that words and actions still matter; specially, words and actions in the Bible defining religion. Jesus certainly never gave us any reason to believe he hated religion. As Kevin DeYoung pointed out, Jesus was a Jew. He maintained this identity throughout his entire ministry. He even went to services at the synagogue and observed Jewish holy days. And what did Jesus have to say about this? Well he said something pretty clear: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17).” Jesus went further than that. He founded a church (DeYoung)(Matt. 16:18), instituted a ritual meal (Matt. 26:26-28), and established (GASP!) church discipline (Matt. 18:15-20). Jesus was also pretty hardnosed about certain things. He insisted that everyone believe in him and even do certain things (John 3:16-18; 824).
So what is religion if it's not what Bethke described? Perhaps we should let the Bible define it for us.
Let’s take this conversation one step forward. Jesus actually made it his mission to obey God perfectly. It is his perfect religion that gives us reason to rely on Him for righteousness. Here’s my concern with Bethke’s spoken-word video. There are a large majority of Christian millenials (by the way I am a 20 year old too) who mock the idea of “religious people” by which they mean “traditional people.” They make a game of making fun of those Bible-thumping, white shirt and tie, comb-overed fundies in the church. They throw around the term Pharisee and even use it as a weapon. I believe Bethke’s poem is offering them a new weapon to use. Sadly enough these same people are becoming what they hate. In their striving to rid the church of stiff-necked fundies they have filled the church with self-righteous hipsters. Basically they replaced the “holier-than-thous” with “cooler-than-thous.”
I’m not trying to conclude that Jefferson Bethke intentionally tried to mistake his terms. I’m just saying that he is no theologian. I love Jefferson’s genuine and passionate display of faith. He focuses on Jesus and a hatred for anything phony or self-righteous. The weakness here is a sad use of the word “religion.” I think I agree with the way Kevin DeYoung summed up Bethke’s poem: “Thanks for reminding us about Jesus. But try to be more careful when talking about religion.”
Read Kevin DeYoung's blog post about this. Click here.
 DeYoung, Kevin. "Does Jesus Hate Religion? Kinda, Sorta, Not Really." 13 January 2012. The Gospel Coalition. 14 November 2014 <http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2012/01/13/does-jesus-hate-religion-kinda-sorta-not-really/>.
Posted by Caleb