The Jesus > Religion poem by Jefferson Bethke has sprouted up all over the internet. I posted the video-poem yesterday and have posted it again below. Many people have responded with, “Yeah! That’s right!” Others are crying foul at what is perceived to be a false dichotomy between Jesus and religion. Bethke, noticing how some have used his poem to attack the church, posted on facebook to clarify his position within the poem and warned people not to use his poem to attack the church:
If you are using my video to bash “the church” be careful. I was in no way intending to do that. My heart came from trying to highlight and expose legalism and hypocrisy. The Church is Jesus’ bride so be careful how you speak of His wife. If a normal dude has right to get pissed when you bash His wife, it makes me tremble to think how great the weight is when we do it to Jesus’ wife. The church is His vehicle to reach a lost word. A hospital for sinners. Saying you love Jesus but hate the Church, is like a fiancé saying he loves his future bride, but hates her kids. We are all under grace. Look to Him.
The words of the Jesus > Religion author should cause people to pause before misusing Bethke’s creation to attack the church and Christianity. Seeing the author’s intent, in his own words, should also help to quell some of the negative reactions from some Christians concerned about what the message could portray to the world.
On the other hand, it is worth looking into some of the weaknesses of the poem’s words, while at the same time giving grace and room for poetic license. Kevin DeYoung wrote a lengthy response (and critique) of the poem, Does Jesus Hate Religion? Kinda, Sorta, Not Really, of which I have reproduced some of his better points that help us remember that we need a discerning ear (but should also avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater).
Concerning “Jesus Hates Religion”:
Bethke sees religion as a man made attempt to earn God’s favor. Religion equals self-righteousness, moral preening, and hypocrisy. Religion is all law and no gospel. If that’s religion, then Jesus is certainly against it. But that’s not what religion is. We can say that’s what is has become for some people or what we understand it to be. But words still matter and we shouldn’t just define them however we want…People hear “religion” and think of rules, rituals, dogma, pastors, priests, institutions. People love Oprah and the Shack and “spiritual, not religious” bumper stickers because the mood of our country is one that wants God without the strictures that come with traditional Christianity. We love the Jesus that hates religion.
The only problem is, he didn’t. Jesus was a Jew. He went to services at the synagogue. He observed Jewish holy days. He did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17). He founded the church (Matt. 16:18). He established church discipline (Matt. 18:15-20). He instituted a ritual meal (Matt. 26:26-28). He told his disciples to baptize people and to teach others to obey everything he commanded (Matt. 28:19-20). He insisted that people believe in him and believe certain things about him (John 3:16-18; 8:24). If religion is characterized by doctrine, commands, rituals, and structure, then Jesus is not your go-to guy for hating religion…
The word “religion” occurs five times in English Standard Version of the Bible. It is, by itself, an entirely neutral word. Religion can refer to Judaism (Acts 26:5) or the Jewish-Christian faith (Acts 25:19). Religion can be bad when it is self-made (Col. 2:23) or fails to tame the tongue (James 1:26). But religion can also be good when it cares for widows and orphans and practices moral purity (James 1:27). Unless we define the word to suit our purposes, there is simply no biblical grounds for saying Jesus hated religion. What might be gained by using such language will, without a careful explanation and caveats, be outweighed by what is lost when we give the impression that religion is the alloy that corrupts a relationship with Jesus.
Concerning Religion, Wars, and the Poor:
More to the point, Christians need to stop perpetuating the myth that we’ve basically been huge failures in the world. That may win us an audience with non-Christians, but it’s not true. We are sinners like everyone else, so our record is mixed. We’ve been stupid and selfish over the years. But we’ve also been the salt of the earth. The evangelical awakening in England in the eighteenth century is widely credited for preventing the sort of bloodbath that swept over France in the “enlightened” French Revolution. Christians (and conservatives in general) give more to charitable causes than their secular counterparts. Christians run countless shelters, pregnancy centers, rescue missions, and food pantries. Christians operate orphanages, staff clinics, dig wells, raise crops, teach children, and fight AIDS around the globe. While we can always do more and may be blind to the needs around us at times, there is no group of people on the planet that do more for the poor than Christians. If you know of a church with a dozen escalators and no money and no heart for the hurting, then blast that church. But we have to stop the self-flagellation and the slander that says Christians do nothing for the poor.
Concerning Some Concluding Thoughts…
The strengths in this poem are the strengths I see in many young Christians—a passionate faith, a focus on Jesus, a love for grace, and a hatred for anything phony or self-righteous. The weaknesses here can be the weaknesses of my generation (and younger)—not enough talk of repentance and sanctification, a tendency to underestimate the importance of obedience in the Christian life, a one-dimensional view of grace, little awareness that our heavenly Father might ever discipline his children or be grieved by their continued transgression, and a penchant for sloganeering instead of careful nuance…love what Jesus loves without tearing down what he also loves and people are apt to misunderstand…
Thanks for reminding us about Jesus. But try to be more careful when talking about religion. After all, there is one religion whose aim is to worship, serve, know, proclaim, believe, obey, and organize around this Jesus. And without all those verbs, there’s not much Jesus left.
To be fair to DeYoung, throughout his article he points out many strengths and things he likes about the words of Jesus > Religion. There are some points that he praises the poem quite highly. The sections above are simply snippets of some of his critiques that are worth considering before a person takes the poem in a way that the author did not intend or simply runs around shouting a mantra of “liking Jesus but hating religion &/or the church & or Christianity, &/or…” well, you get the point.