Hipster Christianity has finally found its poet laureate in Jefferson Bethke who recently produced a video entitled “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus”. Here is the original video:
I thought of writing a full response from the Orthodox perspective but a brilliant one has already been composed by Fr. Damick, author of “Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy.” I highly suggest reading it to get the full scope of the shortfalls in logic and theological integrity contained in the video – find it here: Fr. Damick’s response
The only thing lacking from this response, which I thought worthy to note, was Bethke’s proud refusal to stand against the various passions and vices which he mentions by name in the video. Now, these things are between him, God, and his pastor (if he has one). I do not in anyway claim to be the arbiter in such matters. I have enough sin in my own life to worry about before pointing the finger at a complete stranger who makes neat videos on YouTube. That is not my ambition at all. Rather, I wish to comment on the particular approach to the Christian life as expounded in this video, which seems to have a certain consistency (dare I say ‘religious’ adherence) in the mindset of those who share Bethke’s persuasions.
On a personal note, I’m not one to get excited when I hear someone pit religion against a true faith in Christ. Such posturing is fairly common and nearly always lacks any serious attempt to define either “religion” or “Christianity.” One typically finds, albeit not as poetic and emotionally charged with a musical soundtrack as this video, a stale rebuttal to age old hypocrisy, which is almost universally agreed upon as destructive and non-representative of true Christianity. However, this ‘poet’ drew me in initially with his idea that one should not claim to play for the Lakers just because he wears the jersey. Essentially, he is repeating the old charge of ‘talking the talk but not walking the walk’ – or so I thought. If one is careful to hear his ‘plight’ from beginning to end it becomes obvious that he is not at all interested encouraging believers to engage in loving obedience to Christ, – to live as a follower of Christ – but rather to cease from covering up one’s sin (i.e. to be religious, in his terms) and instead to “boast” in one’s personal weakness. This exposing of sin, without any intent of being healed of it, is his idea of ‘loving Jesus’ as opposed to religion.
This sounds good, it even sounds Biblical at first, but it leaves out an essential element in the Christian understanding of spiritual renewal and healing – that is, complete healing, not just emotional shifting of ‘sin-consciousness.’
The movement from hypocritically hiding one’s sin in church (which is Bethke’s overriding concept of ‘religiousness’) to proudly boasting in one’s sin is a very subtle movement made in the video, but also a subtle movement made in the intellect of many like-minded believers in general. The idea is this: if one wishes to be a lover of Jesus and not a hypocrite, i.e. a modern religious pharisee, one must rightly appropriate the grace of God by proudly boasting of their weakness (sin, passions, vices). Where Christ, the Apostles, the Church fathers, and the ancient Church would say with unanimity to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” by “fighting the good fight of faith” and allowing the grace of God to teach us to “deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, to live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:12), Bethke encourages his hearers to instead use ‘grace’ as an opportunity to dismiss oneself from the true struggle of the Christian life.
Of course this is not what is explicitly stated, but the intent is clear enough. Anyone who has participated in this brand of Christianity knows that its adherents immediately shun any heartfelt desire or struggle to be free of the prison of sin. Such a struggle is understood as containing the germ of self-righteousness. The usual counsel consists of reminding the individual that Jesus isn’t about “behavior modification” or about a “list of rules” but is about grace and forgiveness – hence, stop fighting and start enjoying your freedom in Christ!
The slick deception of course is that the same words from Scripture are used, but are wholly redefined to teach something foreign to Christianity. Grace, as Fr. Damick noted in his response, is not the same as the substitutionary atonement theory of the crucifixion, as many assume. It is the gift of God’s very presence in the life of a believer; it is the empowerment to become a partaker of the divine nature (2Peter 1:4); the empowerment to become a follower of Christ (in reality as opposed to abstractly) – something one cannot accomplish in his own strength. It is not a cosmic ‘pass’ which allows a person the existential impossibility of ‘eating at the Lord’s table and the table of demons’ simultaneously (1Cor 10:21).
In reality such a ‘freedom’ as posited in this video reveals itself as merely a revolving door to the same prison of selfishness that Christianity promises to heal; and when the promised healing is not actualized the believer becomes jaded and returns to his old life twice the prisoner he was before. Eventually folks like Bethke become folks like me – utterly fed up with the trendy, hipster Christianity that fails to deliver on its ‘revolutionary’ platitudes aimed at solving the problem of spiritual estrangement from God with emotional appeals to our innate love for laziness. We would rather bury the gift of grace in the ground and claim at the Lord’s return that it was up to Him to reap where He had not sown (Matt 25:25). In reality He desires that we take the gift and “invest” it in our life for the purpose it is intended for – true freedom, true healing in Christ.