Love Jesus but Hate Religion?

Posted: 03/03/2012 in Hard Questions

As an addendum to the Hard Questions series that I’m teaching at Life Christian Center of Salinas [this week’s question: “As long as I believe in God and I’m a good person, why should I bother going to church?” Subtitled: I believe in God, but I don’t believe in organized religion.”], I’ve added a commentary regarding the popular YouTube poem that has gone viral (I love Jesus, but hate religion).  I was given the video by a young man I invited to come investigate the claims of the Christian faith when I asked what he believed.  Since the video is approaching 20 million hits, and I have seen it used to rationalize blowing off church – I felt compelled to add my two cents to the already saturated market of religious commentary concerning this poem by 22-year-old Christian, Jefferson Bethke.  His email exchanges with Kevin DeYoung were very encouraging as they were an example of a zealous young man humbly admitting some errors and accepting kind correction from one older and wiser in the realities of Christian theology and history. You don’t need to agree with either of their theologies in total to appreciate the spirit of their exchange (which I linked at the end of my comments).

Meanwhile, Jeff has not removed it from YouTube nor repudiated it sufficiently in my opinion (and the potential damage it has already caused), and he has been on various news shows becoming a minor religious celebrity.  My intent is not to bash him, but to interact with the content of his words – a cultural issue that has directly impacted an evangelistic effort of mine.  DeYoung has already engaged him well enough.  He has certainly sparked much discussion, so I added my commentary for the benefit of our congregation in view of our teaching series and how the discussion dovetails with it.  I trust God will use this discussion that Jeff sparked to promote a greater digging of truth in all of us, and what he will believe and proclaim at 42 or 62 may prove to evolve positively.  Hopefully, he will use his abilities to point people to the Jesus of Scripture without undermining or harming the Christ-construct known as the church (even inadvertently).

Below I will comment on the lines of the poem from my perspective.

What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion?

  • Really?  How’d you come to that conclusion?  Especially since He perfectly fulfilled the Law of Moses… which He gave to Moses since Jesus claimed to be the God who appeared to Moses in Exodus.  Jesus was against legalism, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, and man-made commandments being proclaimed as God’s requirements, but He was a practicing, religious Jew.
  • Jesus founded the Church. Please explain how Jesus came to build His church while abolishing religion?
  • We want to abolish false religion in ourselves while closely following Christ (which is an expression of… our religion)

What if I told you voting Republican really wasn’t His mission? What if I told you republican doesn’t automatically mean Christian?

  • I would say you’re right because the Republican Party didn’t exist until the 1800s in America; therefore, this part of the poem is like saying driving a Honda wasn’t his mission – it’s nonsense.

And just because you call some people blind doesn’t automatically give you vision

  • True enough, but I don’t know what the point is since it isn’t explained.  Moving on…

I mean if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars?

  • Religion doesn’t start wars, sinful people start wars.  An incredibly small percentage of wars were truly begun for supposedly religious reasons alone (most by Muslims, not strict Bible-believing Christians).  Should we hate and abolish every other contributing factor to wars – money, resources, desire, political ideology, boundaries, sovereignty, etc.?  What if a war is truly just?
  • God commanded Israel to go to war against sinful pagans who tempted and hurt His people and were blatantly immoral. Using Jeff’s logic, is God not great because He started some wars?

Why does it build huge churches, but fails to feed the poor?

  • How many poor people did Jesus feed?  Occasional miracles in a pinch, but eliminating hunger wasn’t His mission – building the church was!  He said the poor you have with you always.
  • This is intellectually dishonest because it is mostly religious institutions (people in churches) that have given hundreds of billions to charity, built hospitals, served in soup kitchens, fought against evil in parts of the world that results in devastation/poverty/hunger.  Meanwhile, Jeff was baptized in & attends an 8000-member MEGACHURCH whose stated mission is to… plant churches (spread religion) – not to feed the poor! Should his church sell their properties and give the money to feed the poor?  Is Christ’s main purpose to help spiritual or physical hunger?

Tells single moms God doesn’t love them, if they’ve ever had a divorce

  • I am still waiting for the name of the first minister or Christian who has EVER said this.  It’s a lie.
  • I want to publicly proclaim God’s love for all single moms and divorcees, as evidenced at Calvary.

But in the Old Testament, God actually calls religious people whores

  • Actually, God commanded His people to be religious according to His revealed Word and only called them whores when they left Him and His true religion and got involved in idolatry.

Religion might preach grace, but another thing they practice

  • Actually, only Biblical Christianity preaches salvation by grace – not Islam, not Judaism, not Buddhism, not Hinduism, not Wicca, not Mormonism, not Jehovah’s WItnesses, or anything else.
  • As individual Christians we may fail to practice living out the grace we claim to believe, which would make us inconsistent and struggling against our sin (like Jeff claims he is) – or blatant hypocrites needing to repent.  This is just a talking point for unrepentant sinners to gobble up and rationalize their continuing rebellion against God.

Tend to ridicule God’s people, they did it to John The Baptist

  • Don’t be mean, and remember, JB preached at people to change their lives and do very specific things.

They can’t fix their problems, and so they just mask it; Not realizing religion’s like spraying perfume on a casket

  • Jesus preached this against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, so I agree that we cannot fix our own problems without God & His grace, but Jesus didn’t ever portray pure religion as casket perfume.

See the problem with religion is it never gets to the core; It’s just behavior modification, like a long list of chores

  • If you make religion a list of rules you need to follow in order to earn God’s favor or salvation, I agree it’s wrong.  How does using Christ’s power and Scriptural principles not get to the core?
  • Behavior modification? Jesus, John the Baptist, the apostles all demanded it = repentance.

Like lets dress up the outside make look nice and neat; But it’s funny that’s what they use to do to mummies while the corpse rots underneath

  • Paraphrasing Jesus preaching against the Pharisees’ religion – I agree with Jeff on that here.

Now I ain’t judging, I’m just saying quit putting on a fake look

  • Yes, you is judgin’ – this is one big judgmental rant by a sincere but theologically confused young man that may be used by millions to bash the institution known as the church of Jesus Christ.
  • Jeff is right to call out religious fakery and hypocrisy – he is slamming those who lived as the devil this weekend but came to church Sunday like nothing’s wrong.  He’s advocating pure religion.

Cause there’s a problem if people only know you’re a Christian by your Facebook

  • I agree 100%, though too many of us tend to come across more un-Christian on Facebook.

I mean in every other aspect of life, you know that logic’s unworthy; It’s like saying you play for the Lakers just because you bought a jersey

  • I’m with him here about living your faith (religion) consistently, but he’s contradicting himself.

You see this was me too, but no one seemed to be on to me; Acting like a church kid, while addicted to pornography; See on Sunday I’d go to church, but Saturday getting faded; Acting if I was simply created just to have sex and get wasted; See I spent my whole life building this facade of neatness; But now that I know Jesus, I boast in my weakness

  • If it’s not about behavior modification, why’d you give up porn, drugs, and fornication?  He’s arguing for living out a consistent religion that trusts in Christ & His Word while hating religion?
  • I support him for exposing the fact that church kids and adults can live such sinful lives, and I support his call for them to know Jesus instead of living hypocritical religious lives. True religion!

Because if grace is water, then the church should be an ocean; It’s not a museum for good people, it’s a hospital for the broken

  • Good stuff here.  But the grace-ocean church = organized religion, which he resents and hates?
  • Both hospitals and churches try to get broken people healthy and whole – using disciplined ways.

Which means I don’t have to hide my failure, I don’t have to hide my sin; Because it doesn’t depend on me it depends on him

  • Agreed.  This is a true statement… if you believe in the religion known as Biblical Christianity!

See because when I was God’s enemy and certainly not a fan; He looked down and said I want, that, man

  • Good.  Actually some stuff we can support with that religion book known as the Bible! (Rom 5)

Which is why Jesus hated religion, and for it he called them fools

  • Book, chapter, verse? This may make people feel they’ve got Jesus’ blessing if they hate church.

Don’t you see so much better than just following some rules

  • By telling me all these things I should and ought to do – where believers need to change their beliefs and behaviors and hate religious rules – it sounds a lot like… preaching your religious rules!

Now let me clarify, I love the church, I love the Bible, and yes I believe in sin

  • Jesus + Church + Bible + belief in human sinfulness = RELIGION.  “Let me write a poem telling you how much I hate what I really love – and why you should really hate what I really love also?”

But if Jesus came to your church would they actually let him in

  • It’s His church, and He animates it 24/7.  And He’s the one who lets people in (Acts 2:47).

See remember he was called a glutton, and a drunkard by religious men; But the son of God never supports self righteousness not now, not then

  • True enough.

Now back to the point, one thing is vital to mention; How Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrum

  • Ummm… no, they’re not.  Even mocking atheists are kind enough to remind us of this fact.

See one’s the work of God, but one’s a man made invention

  • No, One’s the Word of God, and if man invented religion – specifically Christianity – wasn’t it Jesus Christ – the God-man – who invented it?  Isn’t He the chief cornerstone of the faith?

See one is the cure, but the other’s the infection

  • So Jesus establishes His church (organized religion) to cure mankind from… religion?  I thought Jesus died on the cross for our sins (the real infection).

See because religion says do, Jesus says done

  • Jesus says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  Jesus says, GO into all the world…MAKE DISCIPLES… BAPTIZE THEM… TEACH THEM TO DO ALL THAT I COMMANDED YOU…(Sounds like a lot of “doing” and a lot of “religion”) and then lo, I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS.
  • Except for Philadelphia, Jesus had some pretty strong “do’s” for the churches mentioned in Revelation 2 & 3!  Apparently things weren’t “done” according to Jesus.  Cornelius was told by an angel to have Peter tell him what to do.  The epistles have a lot of “do’s” too!

Religion says slave, Jesus says son; Religion puts you in bondage, while Jesus sets you free; Religion makes you blind, but Jesus makes you see; And that’s why religion and Jesus are two different clans

  • Religion says and does all this bad stuff?  Sin, Satan, self-justification, self-righteousness, even legalism may, but not the Christian faith of Scripture… you know, a religion started by Jesus.
  • The apostles self-identified as slaves of Christ more than sons. Is it possible we find a Father figure more appealing because it’s non-threatening, and we are accustomed to disrespecting and disregarding our earthly fathers.  Slaves of Christ sound a lot more serious… and apostolic.

Religion is man searching for God, Christianity is God searching for man

  • Some religions are man’s search for God, and Christ came to earth to save man – but since Christianity is, by definition, a religion, Jeff contradicts himself by contrasting religion & Christianity

Which is why salvation is freely mine, and forgiveness is my own; Not based on my merits but Jesus’s obedience alone; Because he took the crown of thorns, and the blood dripped down his face; He took what we all deserved, I guess that’s why you call it grace; And while being murdered he yelled; “Father forgive them they know not what they do.”; Because when he was dangling on that cross, he was thinking of you; And he absorbed all of your sin, and buried it in the tomb; Which is why I’m kneeling at the cross, saying come on there’s room

  • Preach it.  The best content in the poem, and the most gospel-centered.  Of course, once someone believes this message and aligns his life by it, he is now engaging in the “r-word.”

So for religion, no I hate it, in fact I literally resent it; Because when Jesus said it is finished, I believe he meant it

  • I believe He meant it too. He fulfilled the righteous requirements of God’s Law, He took the cup of God’s wrath for the sins of humanity – successfully offering Himself as an acceptable sacrifice to take away the sins of the world, but I doubt Jesus meant, “It is finished… I’ve abolished religion!”
  • Hate religion?  Resent it?  To paraphrase Jewish commentator, Dennis Prager, I’d ask Jeff this:  “If you found yourself walking alone late at night in a dark alley in south-central Los Angeles – and were suddenly approached by a dozen young men – would it make you feel any better if you knew they were coming from a Christian Bible study?”  If so, I guess you don’t hate religion that much!

To see the exchange between DeYoung and Bethke click here.

Post Script:  Though I do not ascribe to much of Lutheran theology, I think this Lutheran’s link is a valuable rebuttal/balance to this recent cultural YouTube phenomenon:

  1. Darren Worlow says:

    Good breakdown and commentary as per usual for the multi-talented, super-intelligent Rev. Manley. 🙂
    On a more serious note; you did good as usual my friend

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