Friday, January 13, 2012

Does Jesus Hate Religion?

Yesterday my wife drew my attention to this edgy hip hoppy poetic video by a guy called Jeff Bethke about Jesus v Religion which has gone very "viral" on youtube and is popping up all over the place in social media. The use of poetry is very clever and the video is well presented but I got a lot of red flags the first time I watched this. Have a look and see what you think . . .

This video serves as a great example of why pastors must train their flocks to practice biblical discernment. The fact that ultra liberal websites like Sojourners (run by Jim Wallis) love this video affirmed a lot of my initial fears about the type of people who would gravitate towards a video like this. This was also confirmed by the people I know who posted this video on Facebook but aren't too fond of biblical Christianity.

Bethke does say a lot of things that are true, which is a great way to package something deceptive or leave something too vague on a lot of points. And my initial impression was that a lot of Bethke's terms were too vague, undefined, and sometimes missed the point. Did Jesus die to set us free from the bondage of religion? Chapter and verse please Jeff because that is not what I read in my Bible (try reading Romans 3:10-26). Is all religion bad Jeff because the book of James tells us that:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27)

I don't think Bethke would disagree with the Epistle of James but it does highlight the need for him too tighten up his use of language and define his terms more clearly. His railing on self-righteousness is absolutely correct but again there is too much missing information. If I was a prostitute watching this I could easily feel like a victim who can receive affirmation from Jesus because those are the people Jesus hung out with. We need to remember that Jesus did hang out with drunks, whores, poor people, and pagans - but He also hung out with sober people, chaste people, rich people, and Pharisees. He hung out with all types of people because all types of people are sinners and he told them things like "go and sin no more" and often demanded repentance. Was Jesus imposing his religious legalism on these people? I wonder what Jeff Bethke would do with Jesus' closing words in Matthew chapter five (the Sermon on the Mount):

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven . . . You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:20,48)

And this again points to the main meaning of the cross which gets completely missed in this video now seen by over 6 million people. Jesus death on the cross was necessary because of our violations of God's law. It was not to "set us free from religion" but to fulfill that law and then endure God's just wrath against sinful people. God's law requires sinless perfection which is why we require a Substitute to accomplish that in our place. Bethke may argue that the religion we need to be set free from is that of human works, but if that is the case then why didn't he point that out? Furthermore, the biblical reality is that sinful men are not pursuing God and trying to earn salvation. The Bible describes the sinner as "dead in trespasses" (Ephesians 2:1). Jesus describes the sinner (just after John 3:16) as someone who "loves darkness and hates the light", someone who will not will not come to the light because it will expose his evil works (John 3:19-20). So do we need freedom from religion, or do we need to repent from our sins and put our faith in the Author of the one and only True Religion?

Christianity is a religion as well, it's just that it is right and all the others are wrong because no other religion deals with atoning for our sin against a holy God. No other religion points to the finished work of Jesus instead of our futile and evil human efforts. That is why Jesus said "it is finished"!

I don't doubt that Jeff Bethke genuinely loves Jesus and wants to honor Him with this video. But redefining the core of the Christian faith is a very bad way to do that. Millions of undiscerning people are watching this every day and being deceived by a message that totally misrepresents the meaning of the cross. If Jeff loves Jesus he should apologize, pull the video down, and consider the option of remaking the video in a way that is faithful to the Gospel . . . like this one!

Here is some great and helpful discerning insights on the Jesus > Religion video courtesy of Jonathan D. Fitzgerald:

The poem is about “how the gospel of Jesus is the good news that breaks us free from the chains of religion.” Ah yes, the chains of religion. For four minutes, Bethke rhymes his way around all kinds of false dichotomies and outright bad theology.

He begins by suggesting that Jesus came to abolish religion, a popular claim among evangelicals, particularly those of the non-denominational persuasion, but one that has no theological foundation. He then goes on to say that “Republican doesn’t automatically mean Christian,” which is true, if not slightly off topic. Then, returning to the subject of religion, he plays right into the hand of the so-called New Atheists by asking “if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars?” There’s some stuff about single mothers, poor people, whores, and John the Baptist, all by way of showing the inconsistencies of religious people.

Religion, according to Bethke, never “gets to the core,” rather, he calls it “behavior modification” and says it’s like “a long list of chores.” Then he gets to what he’s actually talking about. See, he’s not actually on about religion, but about people whose expression of their faith doesn’t match his criteria. It’s not religious people he’s talking about, it’s what we used to call Sunday Christians. “It’s like saying you play for the Lakers just because you bought a jersey,” he says before digging into his own biography to show that he was once like you.

At just about 3 minutes, though, he returns to religion, claiming that “Jesus and religion are on opposite ends of the spectrum.” One is the work of god, he explains, and the other is “a man made invention” (slant rhyme). He continues, “one is the cure, and the other is the infection.” And now he’s on a roll, “religion says do, Jesus says done. Religion says slave, Jesus says son. Religion puts you in bondage, while Jesus sets you free. Religion makes you blind, but Jesus makes you see.” He is building toward this, “And that’s why religion and Jesus are two separate clans,” before his grand finale, ”So for religion, no I hate it. In fact, I literally resent it. Because when Jesus said ‘It is finished,’ I believe he meant it.”

Where do we begin? The number of false dichotomies and ridiculous claims is astounding. Religion is an infection? Religion puts you in bondage? Religion makes you blind? Is he just quoting Sam Harris here?

I believe Jesus meant it when he said, “It is finished,” as well, but I’m sure the “it” he meant wasn’t religion.

See the problem is, Bethke doesn’t mean religion either, but he’s rehearsing a popular evangelical trope, that the freedom that Christians find through Jesus is freedom from structure, organization, and authority. Of course, Bethke, like all Christians, is a member of a religion, he holds “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs,” as defines it. What Bethke is actually railing against is people whose expression of religion doesn’t look like he believes it should. Thus, rather than discounting religion, he is just discounting other religions, or even just other manifestations of his own religion.

Had this poem, with its dramatic music and epic setting, simply been called “Sunday Christians,” and if every reference to religion was replaced by something like “hypocrisy,” this video would have been as easy to ignore as his others. But, here Bethke is doing far more harm than good by playing into hurtful stereotypes about religion–his religion and mine, as well as the other major world religions. Denouncing this video takes stepping outside of evangelical subculture to see its actual implications beyond our little playground, but doing so, I think, is extremely important.

Click Here To Read The Follow Up To This Post


Joy said...

Thank you for this. And thank you for posting the "Almost" clip. Its a goodie!

Jessica said...

Thank you for this clear critique. I've seen this video being promoted a lot over the last views days, and it really bothered. I'm glad to have good review that I can point people to if they are willing to listen.

PaulW said...

thanks for putting in your comments on this video. First time I watched it there was something in there that put up the red flags and you have been able to express it

Imogen Mutama said...

The point of this video was to shed light on Christianity for those who aren't familiar with the faith.

I find that your critique knit-picks on the speaker's choice of words and misses the whole point: to enlighten those who haven't heard.

Spoken word, is usually one's own form of expression, their own interpretation on their choice of topic. If we wanted clear, set out scripture, we would pick up a Bible. I'm sorry but I can't say that the millions of viewers who watched this, would be enlightened by Biblical scriptures, sometimes it takes a video like this to lead people in the right direction and find out truth for themselves.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Imogen, I think you are expecting too much from this guy. We all have faults. He sounds like he came from a religion like Catholicism and has been saved and wants to talk about it. He is not a theology major. You also made claims that Jesus ALSO would 'hang out' with all kinds of people. I beg to differ, He did not 'hang out' He traveled and came across these people. The bible actually tells us NOT to 'keep company' with drunkeds etc. And Jesus did not 'keep company' with them. It does not say we cannot witness to them, as He did.

Anonymous said...

Check Jeff's response to Kevin DeYoung on TGC. It's wonderful. I thought you and Kevin both were gracious and firm. Jeff Bethke responded in such a God honoring way.

Daniel said...

I agree also with Imogen. The point I think any viewer will remember is Jesus is God searching for Man.

If you nitpick every outworking of the Holy Spirit, then people will just say 'well, no Christian can agree with another, so it must all be bogus'.

I was old schooled (Baptist) but more and more I learn of GRACE. And I am thinking if people really know 'IT IS FINISHED' as 2nd video said - they will not need to WORK their REPENTENCE. I have a problem with how you critisised Hillsong. When Hillsong offer salvation at every service they are always saying '... and make Christ Lord of your life'.

For me personally it is easy to repent every day. Do bad... then repent. It is much harder to make Jesus LORD.

To recap, the first video is super good and super OK. I am sure it is not meant to be a 3 year Theological course in 3 minutes.

Anonymous said...

I also agree with Imogen. Bravo to all who have dissected this video line by line. You have missed the point and have just given us a shining example of what religion does best...overlooking the heart to focus on being "right." Isn't that what the Pharisees did to Jesus? Good for you.

Heath The Blogless said...

I have to Agree with Cameron on this one. I think Jeff may have a good motive for his video. But he does redefine the dictionary definition of what "religion" is. If you are going to do that you need to be very clear from the outset about the words you use. Words do have meanings, and you can't just redefine them to suit your needs. That is what I see atheists doing all the time.
A clear definition of religion is this:
a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
If this is what Jeff means by religion he is very very wrong, if it is not he must give a clear explanation of what he does mean.

Anonymous said...

This is not meant to be a John MacArthur Sermon Cameron, this sounds like a rap with all the artistic licence that goes along with it. For what its worth his sentiment sounds OK with me. Christianity is not a religion, its .the. perfect man who was the author of the law, who gives me his spirit by Grace and in the process quickens me to be both dead to sin and the righteousness of God in him. Only proud self absorbed individuals think that by observance to some religious statute or pursuit they are acceptable with God where in reality they are lifeless and dead in sin. What these thieves never did was humble themselves in remorse, repent, and believe for the Righteousness of God by the faith of Jesus Christ.

Anonymous said...

I believe a lot of the confusion and misinterpretation of this poem, not sermon, is the use of the word RELIGION. Perhaps if he'd used the term LEGALISM then it would make more sense. There is no chapter and verse that specifies that Jesus died to save us from religion, but the broader concept is understood in the context of how he uses the word RELIGION in this piece which is not in the literal sense. I believe what he's trying to convey is that Jesus set us free from having to fulfill the righteous requirements of the law because none of us are sinless. However he chose to word it differenly in his poetic expression. However, as one who writes poetry I get that. A lot of people can identify with the subject matter because they've been in the same place of feeling condemned by trying to earn acceptance with God by being good enough. Which I interpreted as his use of the word RELIGION in this text. Condemnation makes us feel helpless to live a life in the light. Acceptance empowers us as is with the case of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus didn't condemn her but accepted her. As with me, I feel I can follow Him when His love, grace and mercy are shown me and and not punishment... We are excited to go and sin no more! Following a set of rules doesn't lead us to Christ, faith does. Following a set of rules doesn't empower us to live a sinlness life, grace does. It is also note worthy to point out in his description he says he's speaking against FALSE RELIGION. People are a lot smarter than we give them credit for.

Anonymous said...

God doesn't use deceit to get ppl to come to Him, He of course only uses truth and for the ppl who feel that this kids mistakes is a way to get ppl to God are sadly mistaken and do not know Our God the Father and they themselves need to pick up the bible.

Anonymous said...

Our LORD said in the last days peoples hearts will wax COLD BECAUSE

Anonymous said...

In the last days mens hearts will wax cold because of religion! In your Bible.

Anonymous said...

Cameron, what the hell is wrong with you?! Who made you God? You're SO judgemental and picky about everything!

Remember that line that Jesus drew on the ground before the men were about to stone Mary?

Remember what he said?

I'd go have a think about it smart arse!

Cameron Buettel said...

Dear Anonymous, first of all if you are going to make comments like that then at least have the courtesy of naming yourself. Secondly, this if you want to use foul language then try another forum. Thirdly, how does obeying God's command in Scripture to "mark those who teach contrary doctrine" (Romans 16:17) and guard gospel purity (Galatians 1:8-9) make myself God? Did I ever claim to be God? Submitting to God's Word is recognizing who God is. Defying God's Word is deifying yourself. Which category do you fall into? Fourthly, when did I ever claim to be without sin? Fifthly, if you were familiar with the passage that you are referring to then you would know that Jesus spoke to the woman caught in adultery and told her to go and sin no more ie repent of her sin. Maybe you should consider that before you throw another stone my way.

Anonymous said...

Cameron I thought you might be interested in this post on Bethke:

Keep Contending for the Truth

Joe Dubberly said...

Everyone will get different meaning in the bible. But there is truth and that is the temple of God is in all of us. I believe he was on to something in the video although he does contradict himself. How can he love a church but hate religion? If you think he is so crazy and wrong, think about just how many different forms of just Christianity there are now. How many of those do you think are right? I bet you believe just one and probably baptist. But if it is, which one of those would it be cause there are several. Christianity is God searching for man, but not in the way you might think. He is searching for the good in every single one of us. I will not give money to a church, but I will feed the poor. I will not support a missionary that goes to brain wash people who have had 100's of years of tradition but I will go and build better communities for those same people to live better, healthier lives. And please try to explain to me why people want to call Jesus God when it clearly says in one of the most popular quotes in John 3:16 that he is the son of God. Not God made flesh but the Son of God. You can point out contradictions in this man's video. But don't throw stones when the book you are quoting does so much more of the same.