Friday, January 13, 2012

Is Jesus Against Religion?

The youtube hit sensation, Jefferson Bethke's, "Why I hate Religion but Love Jesus" is an interesting poem. It certainly is moving and thought-provoking. It's hip and beautiful. I enjoyed it. It convicted me. I think Bethke says some extremely important things regarding our King. If more evangelical Christians wrote this type of poetry we will be better off. Yet I came away with a bad taste in my mouth. It doesn't seem that Bethke is furthering the kingdom of Christ. I came away thinking Bethke is limiting Christ's kingdom.

Bethke hates religion. He's clear about that. He loves Jesus. He's clear about that. Bethke is placing Jesus in opposition to religion. He uses Jesus' many debates against the Pharisees and others as his Biblical basis. What is what is wrong with this poem?

Jesus, the God-man, was a religious man. He followed the Old Testament laws perfectly. This is why he is a perfect sacrifice for us sinners, He fulfilled the law. Bethke takes Old Testament Judaism and frames it in the context of modern Christianity. Using this picture, he bashes and tears modern Christianity down using Jesus' words.

Instead of making religion under the realm of our Lord's throne, Bethke rejects it. He fails to realize that Jesus never threw away religion. He fulfilled it perfectly. The law (religion) was fulfilled by Him so we don't have to try. That's the beauty of Jesus. Now all can come to the Father in purity and holiness, including religion! No tax collector. No prostitute and no pharisee is rejected. Even on the cross he said "forgive them for they know not what they do." Ethke doesn't forgive them. He hates them.

If only Ethke had focused just on Jesus on this poem. If only he had let Jesus take his hate and turn it into love then this poem could not only preach the Gospel to those who don't find the Gospel in the visible church, but also to those who are in the visible church but are lost. We must never ever forget that Jesus' love conquers all and everything comes under his sovereign throne. That's the beauty of Christ's kingdom, and religion is not exempt. I hope Bethke keeps writing but, more importantly  I hope he realizes that Jesus' love reaches beyond what we are able to imagine because He is King and Lord over all!

Kevin DeYoung has written a detailed review of the poem. I haven't read it carefully so can't comment on what DeYoung says.


  1. Hey David, Ben Crenshaw here.

    I'm glad you gave a review of this poem, and I would agree with you. There seems to be a lack of critical thinking about these kinds of things; or people either accept it all or reject it completely. I read the review by Kevin DeYoung, and he hits the nail on the head. I think Bethke is drawing a false dichotomy between religion and Jesus and it all has to do with how he defines religion. Obviously, he's defining religion as man-made, self-righteous, and excluding Jesus. But of course, that's not what religion is - in fact, if Bethke really thinks all religion is bad, he must then hate Jesus since belief in one who claims to be the Son of God is a religious belief in and of itself. I don't keep up with popular belief in postmodern religious circles, but I wonder if the idea of believing in Jesus is now considered to be nonreligious. Almost like you can believe in Jesus but you don't have to be a Christian - all you need is a relationship with Jesus, but you don't have to accept all the Bible says or requires of you.

    I remember reading in Tim Keller's book "The Reason for God" a helpful distinction he makes between self-righteous religion and the gospel (I think talking about the "gospel" might be more helpful since it encapsulates all that Jesus is and did - namely, living a sinless life in order to be an unblemished sacrifice to atone for our sins and reconcile us to God, which neither the OT sacrifices or any other religion was/is capable of doing). Keller says, "There is, then, a great gulf between the understanding that God accepts us because of our efforts and the understanding that God accepts us because of what Jesus has done. Religion operates on the principle 'I obey - therefore I am accepted by God.' But the operating principle of the gospel is 'I am accepted by God through what Christ has done - therefore I obey" (p. 186). Here I think Keller is obviously talking about false religion that seeks to endear and approve oneself to God.

    You make some very good points about Jesus knowing the OT Scriptures and following their laws perfectly; and also about him fulfilling the law. This should not be disregarded. I think it would have been better if Bethke had said Jesus was against self-righteousness or legalism (like the attitude of the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son). This would have sharpened his argument and not confused people. I don't think there is anything explicitly wrong about this poem, but the message it sends about Jesus hating religion is dangerous because it sows a subtle but critical lie in the hearts and minds of many people. It sets people up to remake Jesus in a new image that divorces Him from Scripture and orthodox Christianity, and this isn't good.

  2. Hey David,

    You said that Jesus was a religious man. Very true. Yet you left out one very important fact. When Christ died, he abolished the religious law, thus why we no longer follow it. Jesus turned Christianity of its day into a faith, or a much better word would be LIFESTYLE. Christianity is a lifestyle of faith, NOT religious acts and traditions.

    That is honestly where so many Christians get it wrong. So many want to play the fundamentalist mind game of putting God in a box, or under the stated "law," that they have no way of making what they believe a DAILY lifestyle. I think that is what this poem was really getting at. So many people are focusing on the words and things said, that they are not examining the possible angles this guy is coming from.

    It has AMAZED me how quickly Christians have jumped to judge this guy. How about we take a step back and look at the life and joy it proclaims to someone who is struggling with being "just religious" and unfulfilled.

    Just my thoughts. Thanks for the post!

  3. Thanks Ben and David for your comments. Ben, I've heard about people claiming to be "Christ followers" and not holding to the name "Christian" because of negative connotations that words has in some followers. I don't know about it. Good point on Keller. "Reason for God" was great. Btw, have you read Noll's latest book. "Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind" It's great and actually was a major motivator for me writing this post. (And hopefully more to come.)

    David, I see your point. Bethke wrote a good poem. There is no doubt about that. I'm approaching it with a critical mind though, like DeYoung and others, because that's what we are called to d. It's not out disrespect or wanting to jump on Bethke. It's out of respect for him and his work that I wrote this post. To not discuss and analyze his work would be in diservice to him, like not eating an apple pie but rather just stare at it. My intention was to give my thoughts on it in light of scripture so we can all continue to ponder the depths of our Lord.

    When dealing with what Jesus did in his sacrifice, it was a fulfilling of the law, not an abolishing of it. Jesus specifically says this. (Matt 5:17) That's why it's still important to study the OT since it gives us a helpful picture of understanding Jesus sacrifice. Furthermore, we must distinguish between the moral law and the ceremonial law. When Jesus fulfilled BOTH, the ceremonial law became unnecessary to follow since it has been completed. On the other hand, the moral law (ten commandements and such - which are now interpreted in light of Jesus' teaching) no longer are a burden or cause a guilt trip in our lives. We're able to celebrate it as a part of God's will, something we can now see that we can take part in without the burden, the guilt. We can sing like the Psalmist that we mediate on his law day and night and enjoy it in both thought in practice!

    It is hard for me to see the angle Bethke is coming from. I think you're onto something there in a good way. It would be neat for Bethke is explain about why he wrote the poem, talk about his experience and such. It's hard for me to see where Bethke is coming from, we've had different experiences and such, which is another reason why I"m glad he wrote it. It helps me understand where other Christians are at, what they're thinking and how I can be more unified with them.

    Thanks for the comments guys, encouraging to see you guys read my writing. :)

  4. Mr. Shank,

    I guess I should ask you what you mean by religious law? Your statement is just as confusing as the video clip in my estimation.

    We have had a discussion about this video clip going on for a few days on a theological forum I participate in.

    Jesus didn't abolish the religious law. He abolished the curse of it for those of us who are justified by faith alone in his person and work. He didn't abolish the law as God's requirement for us. The ceremonial law is abrogated by Christ who is the anti-type whom fulfilled the types that pointed to him. But he didn't abolish the law.

    If you can would you examine this part of the Westminster Confession of Faith tell me if you think any of it is incorrect? Specifically section V.

    WCF chapter 19
    Section I.–God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which he bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it; and endued him with power and ability to keep it.

    Section II.–This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness; and, as such, was delivered by God upon mount Sinai in ten commandments, and written in two tables; the first four commandments containing our duty toward God, and the other six our duty to man.

    Section III.–Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a Church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly holding forth divers instructions of moral duties. All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated under the New Testament.

    Section IV.–To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any other, now, further than the general equity thereof may require.

    Section V.–The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof; and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator who gave it. Neither doth Christ in the gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen, this obligation.

    The moral law has never been put away as a duty or obligation for anyone. At least that is how I have always understood it. Jesus specifically said. (Joh 14:21) He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him. In fact we are commanded to fulfill the law.

    (Rom 13:8) Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law.

    (Rom 13:9) For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.

    (Rom 13:10) Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

    Be Encouraged,

  5. One more thing Mr. Shank. I hope my formal addressing you is not making this sound sterile. I really do want to communicate in a warm way. I would highly recommend this paper I am going to give you a URL to below. It discusses the Sermon on the Mount and the phrase used, "you have heard it said, but I say to you." Jesus is not giving a new law according to this paper. Jesus is confronting corrupted understanding of the law of God. I think you will benefit greatly from this paper. I have benefited from it. It is written by a Baptist Professor named Dr. Greg Welty.

    Eschatological Fulfilment and the Confirmation of Mosaic Law (2002)
    A Response to D. A. Carson

  6. Thank you, David for your post. I think you do a good job pointing out the positives and negatives of Bethke's work in a tactful way that is of no disrespect to him and at the same time in search of truth. For what it's worth, I agree with what you have to say. Jesus is much more than religion, but I wouldn't go as far as to say that religion and Jesus are on opposite ends of the spectrum.

  7. I agree with the post concerning the definition of Religion being a stumbling block for many. The bible is just as much about non believers and idolatry than about the Evolution of Spiritual Consciousness, construed nicely by John. If people thought of "religion' as Balance, just as each planet or star in the universe is dependent on other heavenly bodies, so we, too are interdependent and interrelated with one another. If we remove the cohesive balance and order we have chaos. Religion could be thought of as the study of order and balance that results from the operation of divine laws, to teach us to keep a just, balanced relationship within ourselves, with one another, and within our environment. Me the Father are One, as I am in the Father and He is in Me, so too can He be in us as in one with Him. It's as much about healing the wounded soul, reparation, and advancement of the human condition in Unity just as flowers in a field turn, open, and bloom to the rising sun. The video implies no cohesion, without our religious institutions where would all the monies come from to do good will...for others?


Thank you for your comment, I'll review it as soon as I can!