[UPDATE, 1/14/12: Jeff Bethke has responded to DeYoung’s critique with great humility and teachableness. Kevin DeYoung shares a bit about their e-mail correspondence, and it is really encouraging. Read it here.]
Early this afternoon, I received a message from an old friend asking me to comment on a YouTube viral video by Jefferson Bethke titled “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” (watch it above). As of this writing the three day old video has reached almost 7 million views. When I got the message from my friend, I had no idea what she was talking about. But only an hour later I saw that Kevin DeYoung posted a very helpful response to the video.
Well, now I’ve watched the video and read DeYoung’s response. Here’s my take. I appreciate Bethke’s heart, but there are some red flags here that everyone needs to be aware of. In other words, I agree entirely with Kevin DeYoung. So go read DeYoung’s article.
One thing I would add to Kevin’s analysis: He is right that much of the difficulty surrounds the definition of the word “religion.” How many times have you heard people say, “Christianity is not a religion but a relationship”? I have never been comfortable with this formulation because it doesn’t define what is meant by “religion.” If “religion” means man-made rules and legalism, then we can all agree that we are against that. But that is not always what is meant by the word “religion.” The word is not always negative in the Bible (see Kevin’s article), nor is it always negative in the history of Christian discourse.
The first example of this that comes to mind is Jonathan Edwards’ book “Religious Affections.” Edwards argued that the nature of “true religion” resides entirely in the affections. By that, he means that the nature of true, biblical Christianity is a matter of the Spirit’s work transforming the heart and disposition of the sinner. In Edwards’ case, “religion” is simply a synonym for Christianity, and that “religion” issues forth in a life of obedience to God’s word. We could multiply historical and contemporary examples of this positive use of the word “religion,” but I think you get the point. For this reason, a superficial listen to the video above could be mistaken as a rejection of the “true religion.”
Anyway, what I have written here is entirely insufficient by itself. Go read DeYoung’s post.