Jesus vs Religion [1] – What Do You Think?

Evangelicals love their clichés. No, they really do!

We hear them after a huge disappointment, “God obviously has something better in store for you.”

We can hear them at the break up of a longstanding relationship, “Well, he/she just wasn’t the one. You just need to wait on God’s timing.”

We can hear them at the death of a child, “God just needed another angel in heaven.” (This is but one of the many well meaning, yet completely unhelpful and theologically vacuous clichés offered to C.C. and I as we suffered through losing three babies to miscarriage.)

And we can hear them from tracts meant to supposedly explain the gospel, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”

I’m sure that many find clichés helpful. I don’t. In my perspective clichés (like these above and others floating around out there) reduce faith to mere self help motivational pseudo proverbs that claim the look and feel of wisdom but lack any of the substance. To often clichés run rampant over the realities of human experience, dismissing pain with a few words, and sucking the mystery out of God’s activity in our lives. Clichés lack any real theological promise to narrate us into the story of our suffering and liberating Messiah. While it may be true that each cliché is based on a ‘truth’ or represents a ‘truth’ they fail to account for how ‘truth’ is lived out contextually in the lives of real people and their theological shallowness twists and distorts whatever ‘truth’ might be embedded in them.

In the evangelical circles that I grew up in there were two clichés that were absolute favorites…

“I love Jesus but hate religion” and “It’s a relationship … not a religion!” Oh, and let’s not forget, “Religion says ‘do’ but Jesus says ‘done!” (ok, so I guess that makes three not two).

These were even favorites of mine when I was in high school and as a newly called minister after high school. There is even another variety that has popped up that goes, “I’m spiritual but not religious” (which is thought by some to more inclusive than the standard evangelical clichés). The fact is that this sort of thing still seems to resonate with the experience of a great many people, as the response to the spoken word video by Jefferson Bethke that recently went viral shows.

This video has garnered a kajillion views. Many of my facebook friends shared this video on their wall and had nothing but the highest praise saying things like, “This guy gets it!” But Bethke also drew a host of responses in the form of critiques of what many of these persons saw as the promotion of a false dichotomy.  These are some of my favorites:

1) From Jamie Arpin-Ricci, Why St. Francis Loved Jesus AND Religion.

2) From Christianity Today, The Business of Jesus vs Religion, and “why you can’t reconstruct a stripped down, organic, anti-corporate version of what you think Jesus should be.”

3) A Catholic response in the form of a spoken word video:

4) The ‘Internet Monk’ blog on Why I Just Can’t Hate Religion, Though I Love Jesus.

5) Brian LePort at ‘Near Emmaus’ responds with two great posts: Remember, Jesus Practiced Religion too! and Christianity Against Religion.

6) The normally peace loving folks over at the ‘Mennonite Weekly Review’ pull no punches with: The ‘I hate religion but love Jesus’ approach (and YouTube video) is simplistic, unbiblical and dangerous.

7) In addition to the Catholic spoken word response above, here is a Lutheran version (my apologies that we are still waiting on the Baptist version):

8) The ‘Tall Skinny Kiwi’ himself, Andrew Jones, has the skinny in his post: Religion: Love it and Hate it. He summarizes, “There is such a thing as dead, empty, powerless religion which God rejects” … “And there is also religion done right.”

9) Mike Morrell in a rather comprehensive post, Jesus and Religion’s Relationship Status: It’s Complicated.

10) Christian Piatt at ‘Red Letter Christians’ on Hating Religion, Loving Jesus: A Well-Meaning False Dichotomy.

11) Kevin DeYoung at the ‘Gospel Coalition’ blog asks, Does Jesus Hate Religion? Kinda, Sorta, Not Really (see here for a Follow Up on the Jesus/Religion Video with some interaction between DeYoung and Bethke).

12) And finally, Ed Cyzewski at ‘in.a.mirror.dimly’ with a wonderful post on Why Theologians Should Buy the Religion-Hating YouTube Guy a Fruit Basket.

Nowadays, even while trying to understand where Bethke is coming from (having been there once myself), I tend to agree with many if not most of the points made in these critiques (but not all, just because I link to it does NOT mean I agree 100% with it). My contention though is that there are even deeper concerns at the heart of this conversation about Jesus vs religion (as far as I can see) that most people are completely missing. I am going to get these in another post that should be up in the next day or two. For now I think we can say a couple of things completely clearly. First, Bethke is not the first to say these sort of things. The pitting of Jesus against religion has a long pedigree in modern evangelicalism. Second, its very clear this is a conversation that’s long overdue (and that needs some definite theological, philosophical, and hermeneutical thickness to it).

So, before I add my critique and response let me ask:

Do you love Jesus but hate religion? What is the relationship between Jesus and religion? Or do you think Jesus vs religion is an unhelpful false dichotomy? What do you think?

I look forward to reading your comments. Play nice though.