It may or may not be a religion, depending on your definition (pt II)


For those who missed part 1, this is part 2 of my reaction to the viral ‘hating religion but loving Jesus’-video that everybody even remotely christian and even their atheist bulldog seem to be posting on facebook nowadays. Part one, in which I elaborated on definitions of the word ‘religion’ is here, and should probably be read before this one…

After the semantics it’s time to go to a problem that’s way more serious, and dig deeper in the message itself: It seems like Jeff Bethke makes his way of being a christian, and thus the gospel, antithetic to everything he denounces as ‘religion’ (which seems to be all that can go wrong with Christianity, and all he dislikes about some other christian groups) which makes the word ‘religion’ useless.

So let’s look at some of Bethke’s statements:

Now back to the topic, one thing I think is vital to mention,
How Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrums,
One is the work of God one is a man made invention,
One is the cure and one is the infection.
Because Religion says do, Jesus says done.
Religion says slave, Jesus says son,
Religion puts you in shackles but Jesus sets you free.
Religion makes you blind, but Jesus lets you see.

I still do not know what Bethke’s definition is of religion, but it seems like his ‘religion’ is something really really bad nonetheless, and actually a very good scapegoat to dump all the problems of Christianity and the rest of the world on, sometimes leaping into ridiculous exaggerations. The above part is a good example.

I disagree completely with some of his statements… Religion is not the infection. Or doesn’t he agree that God himself instituted the religion of the Jews? Which would be very strange for a bible-believing evangelical, like he seems to be. Okay, religion did get infected with a lot of bad things (just like the Christian religion) but the problem was not ‘religion’ but the things infecting it. It’s a very weird deduction actually… Will you get rid of your child when it has a disease?

But it goes a lot further:

This is what makes religion and Jesus two different clans,
Religion is man searching for God, but Christianity is God searching for man.
Which is why salvation is freely mine, forgiveness is my own,
Not based on my efforts, but Christ’s obedience alone.
Because he took the crown of thorns, and blood that dripped down his face
He took what we all deserved, that’s why we call it grace.
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
He paid for all your sin, and then buried it in the tomb,
Which is why im kneeling at the cross now saying come on there’s room
So know I hate religion, in fact I literally resent it,
Because when Jesus cried It is finished, I believe He meant it.

I know the “Religion is man searching for God, Christianity is God searching for man” theme, and there’s something to that, but still I don’t completely agree. It’s easy to say, but in the end the Jewish religion was also instituted by God when He, and not some evil people or delusional demons, but God Himself gave the laws to Moses! So I don’t see his logic why he can renounce and literally resent religion as a whole here, or proclaim Jesus and religion two different clans. And Jesus never abolished the laws, he fulfilled them, transcended them. But He surely never went denouncing them as evil. And religion-bashing is not the way to further the gospel.

It almost looks like the problem of the new atheists. They see a problem with fundamentalist religion and so keep the fundamentalism and ditch the religion. The anti-religion rhetoric does put all the blame on whatever ‘religion’ is supposed to be and then declared Jesus something completely different.

But there is something more that’s troubling in his approach. Now look at the above presentation of the gospel? What’s missing?

Firstly, like more evangelicals tend to do, the resurrection is completely ignored for some weird reasons, as if a ‘good Friday only gospel’ will ever be complete. But let’s not go into that, and also skip the idea that ‘Jesus thought of me’ while on the cross for now… And how he sees the ‘it’ that has been finished at the cross as ‘religion’ is beyond me.

But now we come to probably the weak point of common ‘born-again theology’. We are born-again because our sins (or the punishment for it) have been taken away by Jesus on the cross and now it’s all finished…. But that’s just the beginning. We have a whole life of growth before us. Being a spiritual baby alone is not enough. It’s even quite risky, babies are vulnerable beings that cannot survive without aid from others, and that are meant to grow into adulthood. (so they can make babies themselves, spiritually I mean) We are saved, and we are being saved, the bible used both, and they must be in tension. Salvation is not one moment, but an ongoing process that will never be perfected in this life, and something we have to bring to the world around us.

Sin is not just a problem that needs to be forgiven, Jesus destroyed the Power of sin, the infection that the fall brought has been recapitulated when He overcame the powers of evil, sin and death which were not strong enough to take him. Sin is something much more serious than just an offence to God, it’s a destructive force that pervades the whole universe…

Jesus didn’t finish all things at the cross, he started them. The resurrection was the beginning of the New heaven and earth. We are not just reconciled to God, but called out to proclaim the Kingdom of God ourselves. We gain a whole new life in Him, we are called to follow Him and further that Life in this fallen world. Which means action and a changed life, and the word ‘relationship’ implies that too.

And this is the last big problem with the ‘relationship with Jesus’ idea, which is actually quite troubling if you think about it. Sarah Moon has pointed to it in her excellent blog post. The view on relationships one would derive from this theology would be a very defunct one. Firstly nothing at all is said about what the relationship with Christ means in the poem, so we have to read between the lines if we want to know what he means. The hints in the beginning where he describes what religion is not are not that bad, but there’s no connection at all to the main dish, which is the atonement theory in the end, that seems to trump all, and doesn’t even try to say what our part is. 

There seems to be not that much about how to maintain the relationship in this view. Don’t we need to do certain things to keep a relationship healthy. Just accepting something from someone will never makes us lovers as far as I know… And being ‘in love’ with Jesus all the time is not a relationship. A relationship requires effort, interaction, and sometimes blood, sweat and tears…

In the words of Sarah who expressed it more eloquently:

Relationships are about action, not just desire. That action will look different in every relationship, just as different people approach religion in different ways. But if I “love me some Jesus,” then I’m going to do things for Jesus. I’m going to love the people that Jesus loves. I’m going to help him accomplish his task of redeeming a hurting, broken world. I’m going to embrace rituals and ceremonies and organizations that bring me closer to him and that provide an outlet for me to love his people.

This “love for Jesus” that so many evangelical churches support seems like the immature love of a 13-year-old girl scribbling  on a bathroom wall a heart and the name of her crush.

I’m tired of settling for that shallow, intangible, romantic emotion of being in love with Jesus.

Let’s get off our asses and love.

What do you all think?

Shalom

Bram

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3 responses to “It may or may not be a religion, depending on your definition (pt II)

  1. Bram, I really resonate with the insistence on pragmatism you’re conveying here. At the extreme, the “I love Jesus” stuff can turn into a way to use metaphysics to avoid real life.

    Which is what I’ve been trying hard to get away from. Salvation and atonement and all the rest has to mean something in physical reality.

    And that’s why I think the New Testament focuses so hard on relationships. Loving Jesus is hard to quantify, so the early Christians insisted on loving others.

  2. So much good in this (and I’m not just saying that because you quoted me. haha). Great thoughts.

    • reading it again I missed a lot, and wrote way too much… But writing is a good way to bring structure in my chaotic thoughts…

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