Is Jesus Greater Than Religion?

[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.


    • Ken

      Actually, Mr. Christensen is capable of a good performance–check out “Shattered Glass” sometime. And I think he has good moments in “Revenge of the Sith.” Who knows, in the hands of a capable director and screenwriter he might have done a better job with Anakin Skywalker.

      • yankeegospelgirl

        I will admit that half the blame lies with Lucas’s excuse for a script. But c’mon, you really think Christian Bale or an actor of similar caliber couldn’t have done something a little better with it?

        • Ken

          Oh, sure, quite possibly. But I recall reading that James Earl Jones–certainly no second-rate actor–was quite impressed with what he saw of Christensen’s ability to turn on the evil. And it’s entirely possible that an actor like Bale was too well-known for the role; Lucas tended to pick fresh faces or relative unknowns for his principal roles and rely on old pros for the supporting roles (Alec Guinness, JEJ, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee).

          If you’re really interested (and this is abject hijacking of the thread), I think Lucas’s chief mistake was in waiting until the third movie to give us an adult Anakin. He should have started with an established, talented-but-reckless Jedi Knight and paired a couple of actors with chemistry for a smoldering love affair that went horribly bad. But then his view of the whole six-movie arc was the fall and subsequent redemption of Anakin Skywalker, so I guess he figured he had to start with innocence and work his way down from there.

          • yankeegospelgirl

            Yes, we are hi-jacking the thread. Sorry Denny…

            I confess that I haven’t actually watched _Sith_, though I’ve seen clips of it. I gather it’s the best of the prequels, which ain’t sayin’ much. πŸ˜€

            It’s true that Lucas did tend to go with fresh. After all, that’s what he did for the originals, and it worked brilliantly. I don’t know whether the young talent pool has shrunk since then or whether he just got lucky the first time.

  • Don Johnson

    Jesus, or better Yeshua, was a Torah-observant Jew, so he simply could not be against all religion. He was against the additions to Torah that the Pharisees added that negated Torah, which was literally a man-made religion.

  • Taylor

    For anyone who doesn’t ave a quarter of an hour to wade through DeYoung’s response, consider giving Jared Wilson’s a read. It’s briefer, and apparently he and Bethke have actually been in contact since the writing, which is cool.

  • yankeegospelgirl

    Incidentally, there’s an atheist response to this video that is very telling, even though I don’t recommend going and watching it because it’s laced with obscenities. But even though a large part of it is just a rant against Christianity in general, the part where the atheist specifically respond to the “religion vs. Jesus” contrast actually makes some good points. Essentially, the atheist says that since Christianity IS a religion, something Jesus came to FOUND and not “abolish,” it makes no sense to pretend that “Jesus” and “religion” are on opposite ends of the spectrum. It’s akin to saying “Soda will make you blind, but Coke will make you see.” From his atheist perspective, he just sees it as a slick marketing ploy. Now clearly, I’m not an atheist, so I know the guy is seriously lost and on his way to Hell. BUT, he does see something Bethke apparently doesn’t get, and it shows how pointless the video is from the perspective of actually reaching unsaved people with the gospel. Bethke, like other Christian liberals, isn’t really preaching to the unsaved. He’s preaching to fellow Christian liberals.

    • Scott

      You should go read DeYoung’s most recent blog posts on this subject. I think you might feel differently & maybe you might stop judging others’ motives so quickly. B all accounts, this is a teachable kid with a great heart for Christ. I’m glad Kevin didn’t write him off as quickly as you have.

  • Paul

    I think what YGG and many others fail to miss in this “religion vs. Jesus” argument is simply that many Christians are tired of answering for the crusades, the pogroms, the Spanish Inquisition, Westboro Baptist Church, Jerry Falwell, southern gospel music and the rest of the sins committed in the name of Christianity. So, ditch the religion, keep the relationship. And you can’t blame them.

    Now, that said, sans the grumpiness of YGG’s remarks, I agree with what she’s getting at, that Christ’s plan all along was to fulfill the covenant, not do away with it. Christ was very much a RELIGIOUS figure, and to deny that is silly.

    • yankeegospelgirl

      He called me grumpy! I feel dizzy…

      For your information, the crusades were largely a political move, and at the beginning, they were quite justified. Byzantium had fallen and the Muslims were on the move. The pope knew that, from a purely military perspective, they had to go meet them half-way. But he needed an excuse to get the people going, so he thought, “Hey, I’ll write a little religious pep talk.” It was about strategy, politics, and military maneuvering. Now yes, there were a couple crusades where atrocities against innocent people were committed. I’d say sin nature caused those and not
      “religion,” don’t you?

      The pogroms. Well, the largest mass murders of Jews I can think of were carried out by proudly secular political entities. Next to that are all the Muslim terrorist attacks. Now it’s true that there were some so-called “Christian” pogroms in the mix back in middle ages, but once again, you’re leaving the enormous political factor. History in general is largely a history of cold-blooded murder in the name of politics, not religion.

      Spanish Inquisition. I’m a Protestant! But it’s true, there were atrocities committed on both sides in religious wars…. hundreds of years ago. So why do I personally have to answer for an atrocity committed by some Protestant hundreds of years ago? Why does my Catholic friend have to answer for an atrocity committed by some Catholic hundreds of years ago?

      Westboro Baptist. Oh please. The mainstream evangelical community is perfectly aware that those cooks are a splinter group fastened upon by the left because they represent what liberals THINK all evangelicals are like. It’s a stereotype. You’re telling us we have to “answer” for that? Pardon me while I laugh out loud.

      Jerry Falwell. Um, I like Jerry Falwell.

      Southern gospel music. Very funny. Ditto.

      So is there more to your argument or was that it?

  • Paul

    YGG, you’re so busy being angry and “fiery” all the time that you miss a few things…

    1) we’re not arguing. well, I’m not arguing. But you can’t fathom that you’d possibly agree with a liberal about anything, so you start arguing. I can’t tell if that’s from the grumpy or from the dizzy.

    2) say you’re in an environment where religion is under attack on what feels like a regular basis. You’re trying to make the point that knowing Jesus and following His teachings is more important than what Pat Robertson is being quoted as saying. So, what is the most direct way to say that? By saying that knowing Jesus isn’t about the religion aspect of it, and about the relationship aspect of it.

    3) Since you want to debate, here goes…

    (a) No matter the actual intentions, the fact is that the pope made the crusades religious. What you miss is the fact that people want to claim the Jesus that healed the sick, commanded us to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind and spirit and love our neighbors as yourself and fulfilled the law so that we could live with grace. They don’t want to claim some pope in the middle ages looking for a land grab.

    (b) let’s inject hard reality into your last statement here: “History in general is largely a history of cold-blooded murder in the name of politics wrapped in religion to make nasty pills easier to swallow for a gullible public.”

    (c) the roundabout reason why I exist in America being a liberal that you don’t have time for is the Spanish Inquisition. So, don’t mind me if I find myself a little bit miffed by that one.

    (d) Westboro Baptist is a laughingstock. No one’s arguing this. But your stock Independent Baptist church is really no more than a couple of steps removed from those folks.

    (e) gay teletubbies? Hilary Clinton is the devil? If he had just been a solid and fiery televangelist with a college, I’d have no problem with him. But he became a self obsessed media hog in his last couple of decades, and he was an embarrassment to the larger Church.

    (f) thumbs up sister. glad you like it.

    How about not arguing and hating everything all the time? That’d be swell.

  • BPRJam

    I’ve seen the video, and read DeYoung’s critique.

    I must say that I believe that DeYoung misses the point. I love the video, not because it is a theologically, creedally accurate representation of Christianity or of Christ. It is not, and it wasn’t intended to be. I love it because, in an artistic and stylistic way it tries to represent the journey of a particular young man to a place where the “law” of religion has no value. To construe it as something more is to completely miss the point.

    And, like many that I’ve encountered, the popular meaning of religion and the dictionary meaning of religion are getting confused. Dan Kimball has written more than a little on this topic. I’m almost done reading two commentaries on Galatians, one by Longenecker and the other by Martyn, and both of them mention that Christ is the end of religion. Martyn makes this idea the focal point of his entire commentary. All that to say that “religion” is a fluid term, and in some important ways, Bethke gets it right. Again, jumping to textbook or “proper” definitions of religion miss the point.

    Additionally, Bethke’s piece does not seem to be taken seriously as art by either Denny or DeYoung. I can’t help but wonder why this is. Yes, some may find this piece boring, but that’s a subjective opinion. If we take this piece as art, and as an entity trying to aesthetically and symbolically explain the difference between an encounter with Christ and an encounter with a human institution (which all too often masquerades as “the church”), then I find Bethke’s piece refreshing.

    At the end of the day, lack of dynamics aside, I liked the video.

  • Cojo

    How is it possible for Jesus to hate religion when he himself was a Jew? He also specifically commanded Saint Peter to found upon Earth his church, Christianity, which is a religion. I don’t think this young man quite understands the big picture. His entire video was aimed at criticizing the Church, but he claims that he is addressing religion. Is that religion as whole? Is he including Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, and pagan religions? He needs to elaborate and be clearer with what he means. I believe this video should have been named “Jesus is Greater Than the Hypocritical Side of the Roman Catholic Church”, because that is basically all he ranted about.

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