There is a revolution happening with young evangelicals, and this video may just become its fighting song. For those who thought poetry was dead, look again. Jefferson Bethke's spoken word video in blank verse has been viewed 15 million times, and is proving to be not only controversial, but thought provoking–else it would not be being copied, parodied and responded to. Some examples of responses include "I Hate Religion, and Jesus, Too," and "Why I Dislike Your Poem, but Love God." The video asks interesting questions like "If religion is so great, why does it start so many wars?" and "Why does it build huge churches, but fails to feed the poor?"
The complete lyrics are below:
What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion
What if I told you voting Republican really wasn't His mission?
What if I told you republican doesn't automatically mean Christian
And just because you call some people blind doesn't automatically give you vision
I mean if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars
Why does it build huge churches, but fails to feed the poor
Tells single moms God doesn't love them if they've ever had a divorce
But in the Old Testament, God actually calls religious people whores
Religion might preach grace, but another thing they practice
Tend to ridicule God's people, they did it to John The Baptist
They can't fix their problems, and so they just mask it
Not realizing religion's like spraying perfume on a casket
See the problem with religion, is it never gets to the core
It's just behavior modification, like a long list of chores
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
Now I ain't judging, I'm just saying quit putting on a fake look
Cause there's a problem if people only know you're a Christian by your 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
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
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
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
See because when I was God's enemy and certainly not a fan
He looked down and said I want, that, man
Which is why Jesus hated religion, and for it he called them fools
Don't you see so much better than just following some rules
Now let me clarify, I love the church, I love the bible, and yes I believe in sin
But if Jesus came to your church would they actually let him in
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
Now back to the point, one thing is vital to mention
How Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrum
See one's the work of God, but one's a man made invention
See one is the cure, but the other's the infection
See because religion says do, Jesus says done
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 is man searching for God, Christianity is God searching for man
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
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.
Michigan pastor Kevin DeYoung thinks there's a lot misleading about the lyrics, but says also that the spoken word video captures the mood of a lot of young evangelicals.
More important is Bethke’s opening line: “Jesus came to abolish religion.” That’s the whole point of the poem. The argument—and most poems are arguing for something—rests on the sharp distinction between religion on one side and Jesus on the other. Whether this argument is fair depends on your definition of religion. Bethke sees religion as a man made attempt to earn God’s favor. Religion equals self-righteousness, moral preening, and hypocrisy. Religion is all law and no gospel. If that’s religion, then Jesus is certainly against it.
But that’s not what religion is. We can say that’s what is has become for some people or what we understand it to be. But words still matter and we shouldn’t just define them however we want. “Jesus hates religion” communicates something that “Jesus hates self-righteousness” doesn’t. To say that Jesus hates pride and hypocrisy is old news. To say he hates religion—now, that has a kick to it. People hear “religion” and think of rules, rituals, dogma, pastors, priests, institutions. People love Oprah and the Shack and “spiritual, not religious” bumper stickers because the mood of our country is one that wants God without the strictures that come with traditional Christianity. We love the Jesus that hates religion.
The only problem is, he didn’t. 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 3:16-18; 8:24). If religion is characterized by doctrine, commands, rituals, and structure, then Jesus is not your go-to guy for hating religion. This was the central point behind the book Ted Kluck and I wrote a few years ago.
Nicole Greenfield at Religion Dispatches says that by dissing religion, young evangelicals can establish themselves as anti-establishment–in other words, they don't want to be classed as judgmental, narrow minded, conservative GOP voting hardliners:
“Love Jesus, hate religion,” a sentiment I've heard countless times from young evangelicals, is a concise and provocative slogan, a way for this new generation of evangelicals to clearly define itself against, and to distance itself from, its fire-and-brimstone brethren. “People are afraid of saying they are Christian, so they came up with this ‘I hate religion’ thing,” says Juliana Anderson, a member of IKON Christian Community in San Francisco. “The meaning of religion and religious is so messed up these days. It’s got a bad rap.”
For many young Christians, identifying as such bears the risk of being characterized as judgmental, as discriminatory, as politically conservative, as anything like their unhip counterparts. By repudiating religion, they establish themselves as subversive, as anti-establishment, as empathetic and educated and culturally savvy. Religion is full of rules and prohibitions; Jesus accepts you as you are. Religion represents the uncool collective mainstream; Jesus represents the hip individualized counterculture.
Perhaps it is the fearlessness of the video that is provoking so much discussing and refutation in the evangelical community. It becomes very comforting to know exactly what you stand for and that the world is black and white, not shades of gray. This video, in its challenging questioning style, forces people to examine exactly what it is the believe, and perhaps, those who brush it off don't want their particular worldview questioned.
The below video is an interview with Bethke: