So, there’s been a lot of controversy around Jefferson Bethke and his viral video from 2012 and his new book Jesus > Religion. This all started when he made a Spoken Word video in 2012 about why he doesn’t like religion but does love Jesus.
I remember when this video came out. It went viral in no time. Because for almost everyone “religion” is seen as a bad thing. I mean, I grew up in church all my life and I’ve never even heard the word “religion” used in a positive context until last year. So, for people who so closely associate Jesus with Religion, when used pejoratively, this video was a game changer. I also remember reading Kevin DeYoung’s critique of Bethke’s video. I also remember reading the Christian Post article about how Bethke responded in humility to DeYoung’s line by line critique of this video.
Now, I agree with some of DeYoung’s comments about the video, and disagree with others. But I really appreciate Bethke’s recent book, Jesus > Religion, because there were several roads that he could have taken after becoming instantly famous inside of a week. I don’t know how the book deal came about, but after receiving so much attention I’m sure he could have found a book deal with a Christian publisher to say what he wanted to say even if it happened differently than it did.
Given that impression, it would have been easy to be defensive and make the book a “here’s why I’m right” book concerning his use of the word religion in the video. He could have also decided to try to correct why many people see the word “religion” as pejorative and point them toward a more Biblical definition. And let’s be honest, I’m sure very few would have read that book. I know I wouldn’t have, and that’s saying something.
But he didn’t go either of those routes. He uses a catchy title to bait us in and point us toward Jesus. There is some clarification as to what he means by “religion” and that depending on the definition the word isn’t always pointing toward something bad, but it’s easy to tell that the goal is to point to Jesus rather than justify and defend himself. It’s convicting because he preaches Christ and is so honest about where he’s failed, where he’s been religious and legalistic or fundamentalist or fake.
It’s hard to read his story and not see it reflect pieces of my own.
If I’ve learned anything from blogging, it’s that trying to communicate truth is hard when one has to be brief. He even admitted that his “points/theology wasn’t as air-tight as [he] would’ve liked.” So, maybe his initial Spoken Word video wasn’t the best it could have been. I know I’ve written blogs that weren’t my best. Sure, religion means much more than “self-righteousness” or “man’s attempt to reach God,” but maybe we should give Bethke some grace in addressing a nuanced definition of the word in his video, when even he has admitted it has its faults. Let’s move past the video and onto the book.
If disagreement with his video is stopping you from buying it, don’t let it. I read all kinds of solid authors. John Piper, C.S. Lewis, Russell Moore, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, Francis Chan, etc. and this is the only book I’ve paid full price to buy. And I don’t regret it at all. It’s been convicting, sobering, and a great blessing. Don’t rob yourself of that based on a disagreement of the meaning of a word. It’s not worth it, y’all.