My response to ‘Why I hate Religion, But Love Jesus’ #whyihatereligionbutlovejesus

Today, amongst other things, I’ve been thinking about the YouTube video that’s gone viral throughout the internet. It’s called “Why I hate Religion, But Love Jesus”. If you haven’t seen it already, then here it is:

I’d be surprised if you hadn’t seen it because it’s become so popular… and so controversial.

“Why controversial?”, you ask. Well, today I asked the same question. After watching the video, there was something nagging me about it that I couldn’t put my hand on. Hence my Twitter status…

After a day of thinking about it, I decided that I liked certain elements of the poem, but some of the theology in the poem just disagrees with me and how I view/interpret the Bible and the teachings of Jesus.

I completely agree with the notion that Jesus is the only way to be saved and He is the only way to heaven, to happiness etc etc.

But I don’t believe that Jesus hates religion. And I don’t believe that Jesus came to abolish religion either. Jesus hates sin, and he came to save people and give them life in all it’s fullness.

If you equate ‘religion’ with legalism, self righteousness and earning your eternal place in heaven, then yes, Jesus did come to get rid of that. But religion is meant to be this (as according to dictionary definition):

Religion: re·li·gion/riˈlijən/

1. The belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, esp. a personal God or gods

2. Details of belief as taught or discussed

3. A particular system of faith and worship

In our case then, it is the belief in and worship of Jesus – man and God, and we as Christians ascribe to the main orthodox teachings as found in things like Creeds and Constitutions and Confessions. Therefore, we follow a religion. We are religious.
I used to hear preachers say, We believe in a faith, not a religion. I always used to subscribe to that. But actually, whilst we do have a faith, we do subscribe to a particular definition. Religion may be defined by some as mere ritual and self righteousness, but actually religion is, at its basic, the worship of God.
As Kevin DeYoung points out:
The only problem is, he didn’t [hate religion]. 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 3:16-188:24). If religion is characterized by doctrine, commands, rituals, and structure, then Jesus is not your go-to guy for hating religion.
A very good point to take note of. There are also other things that the poem’s author, Jefferson Bethke, points out, such as church being a hospital, religion starting wars, Old Testament language for religion, and criticises the Church in a sweeping way, as he himself sees it.
However, the point of this blog post is to actually say that the poem does a good job of rebuking things that people may associate with religion, but at the same time does a terrible job of teaching people what religion as a term actually means, especially in the Christian context, which we as Christians hold to be the one, true and only religion worth following. Not only this, but the poem unhelpfully makes a split between grace and the Church as an institution.
The thrust of the poem then is one that distinguishes between Jesus/Grace and The Church/Religion. Is that how we are to see our faith? Of course not! Jesus is married to the Church. Grace is the fundamental element of our religion.
They’re my thoughts. I don’t think for one moment that everyone will agree with me on this. And that’s fine. But we need to be careful when making pronouncements on the Church which God loves. Yeah, some of us may process around, wear dresses, swing incense, have a narrow view of theology and so on and so forth. Some of us may be more liberal. But at the end of the day, if it’s all done in Jesus and His grace, as opposed to out of ourselves and our self righteous, then it is still religion. Only that it is religion where Jesus and Grace take centre stage. Those who insist on the fact that Jesus hates religion may end up taking on those things which they insist Jesus hates… self righteousness, them and us mentality, and legalism.

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Dean Roberts

Dean is a Minister in the Anglican Church. Currently he is Curate in the parishes of Bedwas, Machen, Michaelston-y-Fedw and Rudry in South Wales. He was born and bred in Wales, is married to Megan, and has two dogs called Taliesin and Melyn, and two cats named Sinsir and Hâf. He graduated from Cardiff University with a BA Hons. in Theology & Religious Studies, and has studied for an MA in Theology, Ministry & Mission at Trinity College Bristol. He also holds a Cert.RSCM from the Royal School of Church Music. He loves playing music, walking, reading, blogging and horse riding as well as going to the cinema and theatre. Read More @ http://deanroberts.net/about

  • And then of course these people havent read the book of James or other places where Paul speaks of religion:

    James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

  • jailer

    This tends to be a “where you stand depends upon where you sit.”  An old friend of mine who has spent years trying to minister to the Japanese is sympathetic to this “Jesus vs. Religion” argument, in part because he sees one of the obstacles to breaking through in “hard-soil” cultures to be the extrabiblical trappings of the Western church (see http://sakeofgospel.blogspot.com for his blog, where he is currently soliciting comments about this topic).  My own views are more nuanced.  Like you, I react against the false dichotomy, while I understand the need for constant reformation within the church.  In other words, there can be a problem with our religion without religion itself being the problem.

    Grace and peace,

    Jailer (http://www.philippianjailer.com)

    • Jailer – brilliant comment! Really value those words – and they’re very wise. Yes, culture does have a lot of impact on where we sit with these issues. I think as well that it is the theology from the East that will be shaping Western theology in the next 100 years or so; it will be interesting to see where Japanese converts go on these sorts of issues!

      If you ever want to contribute to this blog, (and vice-versa) then you’d be more than welcome. I’ve had a look at your blog before and you write really well and write in a way that’s engaging and interesting!

  • Ray Powell

    Thanks Dean.  As you’ll shortly note, I decided to post my own take on this, which generally mirrors yours I think. I also gave you a shout-out.  🙂

    • Thanks, Ray 🙂 Look forward to reading more of your posts!

  • Dean — I just learned this story is incomplete.  It now seems unfair to tell it without Bethke’s recent clarifying remarks:

    “Right when I heard that, it just convicted me and God used it as one of those Spirit moments where it’s just ‘man he’s right,’” Bethke told CP. “I realized a lot of my views and treatments of the church were not Scripture-based, they were very experienced-based.
    He added, “And that’s when I realized that wasn’t right. God’s church is holy, that’s his bride.

    More back at the Jailer:  http://www.philippianjailer.com/2012/03/jesus-vs-religion-ii-jefferson-bethke.html

    • Amazing! I’m going to write a comment on your post on this – really eye opening!