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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Friday, January 13, 2012

What's Wrong With "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus"?


Modern culture runs at a pace faster than ever before. Unfortunately, some important practices fall victim to all that acceleration. One of the more concerning things I have seen is the proclivity of Christians to jump onto nice, neat slogans about their faith instead of really knowing what their faith is about. This is what I would call bumper-sticker Christianity, where people affirm phrases like "God said it, I believe it, that settles it." Well, cannot a Muslim make the exact same claim?

My concern is highlighted by a new video that is catching fire around the internet seeks to draw a distinction between religion and Jesus. ;Entitled "Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus," street rhymer Jeff Bethke starts off with a bang, claiming that "Jesus came to abolish religion." He then begins a nearly four minute contrast between the problems of religion and the true faith expressed by Jesus and others in the Bible. Obviously, the video has struck a chord in the greater Christian community. The YouTube page shows over six million hits in just over two days. But I think Bethe not only is fostering a wrong view, he may actually be doing more harm than good in certain instances.

In the video's description, Bethke writes "In the scriptures Jesus received the most opposition from the most religious people of his day. At it's core Jesus' gospel and the good news of the Cross is in pure opposition to self-righteousness/self-justification. Religion is man centered, Jesus is God-centered." And this highlights the problem with the video--Bethke is simply wrong in his definition of religion.

When most people talk about religion, they understand that it involves an entire system of thought, including what God is like, what it means to be moral, and what kind of worship practices are acceptable, and when you talk about worship, you are specifically talking about relating to God in some way. So relationship does come into play when we are talking about religion!

Many of Bethke's examples are not of religion, but of hypocrisy. "They might preach grace but another thing they practice" and "It's like sayin' you play for the Lakers because you bought the jersey." He draws from Jesus' rebuke of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:27 in saying that "religion's like spraying perfume on a casket." But that's not what Jesus said. Earlier in the same book Jesus says explicitly, "“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill".(Matt 5:17). Jesus was denouncing the Pharisees abuse of Jewish law, not the Jewish religious system as a whole.

Other claims, such as "If religion is so great, why has it started so many wars? Why does it build huge churches but fails to feed the poor?" are not only patently false, it shows how prevalent the influence of the New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have been to even those inside the church. Clearly, Bethke knows nothing of the history of Christendom and hasn't thought his statements through. And if other Christians concede the New Atheists' point on religion being only about starting wars and big buildings with no care for the poor, then doesn't it make it that much easier for people to abandon all faith altogether?

The video culminates with Bethke claiming “One thing is vital to mention. How Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrums. See, one is the work of God, but one's a man made invention. See, one is the cure, but the other's the infection.”  These are incredibly strong words. The problem with such an oversimplification is that I know people who will affirm that statement and still be in the very predicament he's trying to warn people against. As I've previously written (you can read the whole account here), I had an encounter at a Starbucks with a woman who very definitely said she felt we shouldn't "over-complicate our approach to God and make it all about religion. I think that people try to make things too hard, when it's all about relationship." But while affirming the "it's not religion, it's a relationship" line, she couldn't tell me why such a relationship was necessary. She held onto the slogan, but had no idea of the nature of the atonement. So, the relationship is one that she understood as a feeling between her and God, not Him dealing with our sin and our proper response to that act.

The phrase of "It's not a religion, it's a relationship" is one I've heard countless times and from many pulpits. The nature of the atonement is a little harder to boil down into a catchy saying. However, no one will understand the true nature of salvation without understanding the atonement. Grace is found in the cross, and we must be diligent to make that the main message of our witnessing. But it means we need to do some hard work; we need to study and make sure that what we say is accurate and we don't misrepresent another's views. I applaud Bethke's desire to see more people be genuine in their faith. However, such desire should never lead us to rely on slogans over proper theology. You never know who may agree with the slogan but still go away lost.

20 comments:

  1. The people who have the most to say about the opposition between Christ and religion as a whole tend to be (in my experience) the people who know the least about theology or Christian history. There's a connection there, and I agree with what you have to say about the topic.

    It's a shame, because often these people are very passionate but can't tell you why they believe what they believe or even what exactly makes up their worldview. Churches need to engage people on these topics!

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  2. This is well put. Another point is artistic: the recitation is replete with bathos.

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  3. Thanks Douglas! I appreciate your input. You'll notice I avoided using the word "poet" given poetry means something specific as well.

    --

    Ephirius,

    I agree with you that passion is a fine thing, but I think the church needs to start stressing passion for proper knowledge. I've always felt that wisdom is knowledge properly applied. We're not called to merely be passionate for our Lord, we're called to seek wisdom.

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  4. "such desire should never lead us to rely on slogans over proper theology. You never know who may agree with the slogan but still go away lost."

    BOOM!

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  5. when is someone going to give the biblical definition of religion??????? “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27 once you establish this definition then the conversation can move one instead of the circular debate with everyone giving the own definition based on tradition, experience, or culture, or whatever.

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  6. Pure religion indeed, Brian. Let God be true...

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  7. I agree...but I'm not sure if we always respond accurately to things like this video. When I see video's like the one this post is talking about I think to myself, "I pray it starts conversations that results in souls being saved". We should probably not bash it but use it as a tool to clarify the gospel to those who needs to hear it.

    I believe God can use this video.

    just a thought

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  8. Wondering if you watched the whole thing as there's a fair bit about the cross in there...? Oddly you don't mention this but start talking about ab encounter in Starbucks.

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  9. Wondering if you watched the whole thing as there's a fair bit about the cross in there...? Oddly you don't mention this but start talking about ab encounter in Starbucks.

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  10. Hi Nick,

    Yes, I did. (In fact, I had to carefully pause and repeat the video several times in order to accurately captur the quotes.) I appreciate Bethke's heart and desire to talk about the cross. I am in no way saying that everything from the video is wrong or out of order. My concern was with the generalizations and the easy way in which he grabbed onto a Christian slogan, expounded on it, but didn't stop to consider whether it was really true. And even the, my concern isn't with this video per se, but that such actions are repeated frequently in the church, especially with younger Christians. This is the stuff antagonistic college professors use as a wedge to separate kids from their faith.

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  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  12. I've read several critiques of this video since I published this, and I think Kevin DeYoung did a great job taking a critical look at the piece as a whole. More importantly, his instruction and tone were well received by Bathke himself as this follow up shows: http://bit.ly/xRLd51 If everyone were as open and gracious as Bathke in receiving criticism, Christianity would flourish.

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  13. I believe that Christ died for our sins so that we could see how easy it is to judge and condemn someone so righteous. What we need to think about on a daily basis is "would we have been a part of his followers or part of his condemners?" It's easy to say that we would follow him, but who may God have put in your life for you to love instead of condemning? I am transforming my philosophy from,
    "What would Jesus do?" to, "What if this person in front of me is Jesus?" - keeping in mind that there is something to learn from everyone.

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  14. The sort of thinking Bethke's rant cultivates must be a tremendous threat to the typical ch-religion-ist (see what I did there with the putting "religion" in "Christ"). If every burnt out, luke-warm, sunday-morning-bystander, stopped showing up or looked for their Relationship outside the established system and stopped funding(tithing) the ch-religion-ist machine, then the majority if not all of these earthly empires("churches"/mega-churches) would collapse and the leaders(pastor/elders/etc) of them would be without power or people to control.

    And when I say control I refer to the methodical Sunday method, the routine which supplies just enough to sedate and satiate God's children but in fact has become a replacement for the intended Spirit led relationship which we see in the new testament Church.

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  15. I think nothing's wrong with being passionate with God. Let's just include and apply knowledge in this passion to properly practice this passion.

    What's wrong with us is that we don't want any standards, we don't want laws, we don't want to take orders from someone. We want total freedom. We want to do everything we want and still get saved in the end. We have our own way of saving ourselves. Yes, Jesus is the ONLY way. But the thought of hating religion and loving Jesus is misleading. Religion teach us how to properly worship. Yes, God has a standard on worshiping. We hate that, don't we? Why don't we just love Him on our own way? Why can't we eat all the fruits in the garden and still love Him?

    And religion teach us what God wants from us. Another problem with us is that we don't want to sacrifice. We just declare that we love God but we don't want to sacrifice for Him like Jesus did for us. What if, Jesus tells you that He loves you but, "I'm not going to die for you."

    "This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me." - Matthew 15:8

    We need a religion. Not to be saved but to learn how to live properly, in a way God wants us to live.

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  16. I wrote a critique on this video a few days ago for my friend. I'll put it altogether another way. Tragically, the ill fated attempt to interpret religion and in the midst thereof to flippantly throw in the Gospel, has polluted or diluted the Gospel. THe throw away lines and the vines that entangle us in superficial christianity, has only served to breed mediocrity, among the saints, there is one who paints, broad and generalised strokes, to all the unsuspecting folkes, who grab hold of slogans and shallow cliche, just so they can hear us say touche, what a brilliant delivery, we yield to our proclivity, the desire for adrenaline activity, that sounds good, in the hood, of christian insensitivity. A rhyme and a line, that sounds just fine, until we unpack it all and realise our own propensity, for junk food intensity, something we call spirituality at the cost of reality. Passion is good, if the thesis is focused, not subscribe to chic theological hocus pocus. Sadly, we are stuck on entertainment for our food and our raiment, one day will find us completely naked because our pride stopped us from trying to fake it. Wake up Church, stop playing the game and chasing the fame. Loose your life and you will find it, use your brain and you will touch the hearts of people. We will account for every word spoken, our every action is not a token.

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  17. I like your clearly stated concern and explanation. The last paragraph concludes nicely. I think perspective is the key here. Bethky seems to be using a perspective that relates to many people that don't know Jesus or understand grace and salvation. There is a large amount of negative thinking when it comes to "the church", and it is a very vague generalization that from a worldly view does not segregate from Catholicism to Christianity or any in between. I believe that this young man has done tremendous good in sharing faith in Jesus to people who you or I normally couldn't reach. I think that maybe this young man has a perspective you may want to try and understand even if his message is slightly skewed.. after all that's how our world is.
    Feedback: I really just didn't feel love in your review. What I heard is you talking about how this kid doesn't know what he's talking about, and you of course do. It just came off cold like an atheist was debating it.

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  18. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for the feedback. I understand your concern that I may be sounding a bit harsh towards Jefferson, but that wasn't my intent. When I engage in dialogue with others I am sensitive to their needs. See the articles at http:///www.comereason.org for examples of this.

    However, here I was not trying to talk to Bethke directly, but to the larger Christian community as I've heard these sentiments before. They can be dangerous, as my conversation with the woman illustrates. To his credit, Bethke received the criticism offered by others well as I noted in one of the comments above.

    This video may have drawn some to Christianity. Given the enormous popularity and the reposting of the video, I think it also falsely assured others who are not saved into thinking everything is OK, since they don't follow any specific religion. It's hard to tell. But, if the Gospel is life-saving news for every man, then we should handle it with the skill of a surgeon. We must make sure we are preaching the Gospel as it's revealed biblically, and that means we must do our homework so we don't accidentally cut the very artery that makes the Gospel what it is.

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  19. I think it is safe to say that most people recognize a connotation of "religion" as a system of ritualistic or legalistic traditions which (in the Apostle Paul's words) "void grace." In your literalism and criticism of Jeff Bethke, you have ignored this valid connotation which fits Bethke's examples and meta narrative; and so, you have failed to correctly analyze and grasp his meaning.

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  20. I think it is safe to say that most people recognize a connotation of "religion" as a system of ritualistic or legalistic traditions which (in the Apostle Paul's words) "void grace." In your literalism and criticism of Jeff Bethke, you have ignored this valid connotation which fits Bethke's examples and meta narrative; and so, you have failed to correctly analyze and grasp his meaning.

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