This is a video that was first posted by Jefferson Bethke on January 10, 2012 and quickly gained popularity. Today is the 17th of January, and this video already has over 13 million views. That’s a lot. I first noticed it a few days ago when it seemed like the majority of the people on my Facebook friends list were posting it. My initial response (without watching it yet) was, “Oh great, another one of these videos where someone uses a cliche to thumb their nose at others.” The issue with saying things like “Jesus hates religion” is that people have presuppositions when it comes to religion. The term is often used alongside “Pharisaism” and used to denote someone who is obsessed with theology, pointing out false teaching, preaching against sin, or somethign like that. It really doesn’t seem like anyone really understands what the word means, and just appear to tack it on whatever they don’t like about Christianity. Bethke does go on to define what he means by it, but not without confusion.
I find a few things troubling with the video that should be pointed out and clarified. He makes some true and good statements. And he makes some confusing statements. Let’s just get into it. Imagine that you are an unbeliever who is watching this video.
He begins with a list of, “What if I told you that ___________.” The first on the list is, “What if I told you that Jesus came to abolish religion.” I’d just ask what the definition is. As far as I know, the dictionary definition is that it is a belief system. At this point I’d have to think that maybe Jesus came to abolish a belief system. He then goes on to say, “What if I told you that voting republican wasn’t his mission… that being Republican doesn’t mean being Christian.” Okay, I agree with that. There are definitely folks out there that see being a Christian and a republican as one and the same. I am not one of them. He says, “Just because you call someone blind, doesn’t automatically give you vision.” Sure, I agree there too. He continues with questions. “If religion is so great, why has it started so many wars?””Why has it built huge churches, but failed to feed the poor?””[Why does it] tell single mom’s God doesn’t love them if they’ve had a divorce?” Still not sure what his definition of religion is, but if I had to assume, it’s people who apparently have ‘works’, but something is missing. In other words, voting republican, pointing out other’s faults, or building churches doesn’t make you a Christian. Okay. That’s true. Good works don’t make someone a Christian. We are justified by faith apart from works.
Then it starts getting a confusing. He says that in the Old Testament God calls religious people “whores.” No He doesn’t. He calls those Israelites whores who are self-righteous and follow after other gods. He says that religion “might preach grace, but another thing they practice.” Ok. So as an unbeliever, I’d have to assume that I have to have good works, or I can’t be a Christian. And he compares this to those who perfume a casket. This brings Christ’s words to mind when He spoke of the Pharisees in Matthew 23 and how they were like whitewashed tombs. But what was the problem of the Pharisees? Having good works wasn’t the problem. The problem is that they had no faith, and were self righteous. That “white paint” that covered the tombs was the good works that they displayed for people. Bethke says that the problem is on the inside, but I’m not sure what solution he is suggesting. Do we need to have better works?
He goes on to ask if people only know you are a Christian from your Facebook? I’m not against good works. There are good works outlined for us in Scripture. But we are justified apart from that. Bethke’s video is confusing because I don’t know if he is saying that we need better works to be Christian, if profession or belief isn’t enough, we need to practice what we preach or what. So far he hasn’t mentioned anything about being justified by faith alone. He has only been contrasting those who have works with those who have better works (ie. building churches versus feeding the poor).
He says that religion is like saying you play for the Lakers just because you bought a jersey. You have to actually play ball for them. I think I get it. Just because I say I have faith in the gospel, doesn’t mean I’m saved? I have to actually do works for my justification. Right?
Bethke talks about how he had gone to church but was addicted to porn among other things. He makes it obvious that he wasn’t a Christian. So what changed? He says he knows Jesus now. I guess I can’t really comment on this because I don’t know what he believed before. It sounds like he believed in a checklist system of some kind. I will say this, that if he believed the gospel, then he was justified before God. I’m not sure if he is equating his knowledge of Jesus with quitting his sin. Moral reform isn’t Christianity. In fact, we sin grievously all the time. We constantly pump out idols. All day long we do this. So, if we are to judge our knowing Jesus by what sins we don’t do anymore, then I’d say I barely know Him. I don’t want to assume here so I won’t say any more.
Bethke then says that if grace is water, then the church should be an ocean. I agree that the church ought to be gracious to others. Unfortunately I fail at this all the time. And so do you. So in your efforts to show grace or forgiveness to others, remember that Christ was gracious toward His people in the forgiveness of their sins accomplished by His shed blood on the cross. His perfect life was given in the place of the imperfect life of all those who would believe. His next statement is that the church is a hospital for the broken, and not a museum for good people. I agree here. It’s not a museum for good people. It’s a hospital for those who are broken by the law and by their consciences. It is a place to have Christ’s perfect life, bloody death and victorious resurrection placarded for you week after week.
Bethke goes on to talk about how religion is a set of rules and that it is self righteousness and clarifies further. He closes out the video with statements that I would agree with for the most part. I wouldn’t necessarily tell people that Jesus was thinking of them on the cross. That’s a little squishy. I like that he talks about the gospel at the end, and the obedience of Christ on my behalf. He appears to really separate faith from works. At the very end, Romans 4:5 is even quoted –
“And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,” Romans 4:5
To that I say, “Yes!” But I definitely take some issue the video. I’m sure some out there will think I am just talking to hear my own voice OR that I always have to be divisive. Well, no. I think that the end was much clearer than the rest. On a final note, with Bethke’s definition of religion being self righteousness, I’d agree with many of his points. But imagine someone not knowing anything about Christianity who hears this message, and becomes interested in exploring Christianity further. Then they get to this passage:
“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 guess then this particular definition of religion would have to be changed? In conclusion, I think Bethke contradicts himself. On the one hand he speaks against self righteousness and those who just have works, saying that these things don’t justify. On the other hand, he says that the solution is “knowing Jesus,” which by judging from the video, must be defined by better quality works. At the end he clearly quotes that we are justified apart from ANY works. Faith alone. Yet, believers who are caught in sin or who don’t feed the poor or who aren’t gracious don’t really know Jesus. But we go to church because it’s for the broken and it’s all Jesus’ obedience. Back and forth. Back and forth. This was the kind of stuff that totally confused me when I was in Bible college. I wasn’t sure if I needed to do good works or not, but did them just to be safe. And that just ensnared me all over again.