Thursday, October 15, 2015

Why I Deleted the Jefferson Bethke Parody "Jesus Hates Religion"

The WWUTT video "Jesus Hates Religion?" was posted on Sunday evening. In 48 hours, it had about 3,000 views, received 240 likes, and been shared a few hundred times. I'd received comments of it already being shown in Bible studies. But by Tuesday night, I deleted the video.

I'd like to be able to say, "Numbers don't matter," but that wouldn't be true. I am grateful for every share and every view we get on a video (and every listen I get on the podcast).  I read every comment and e-mail, though I may not always get the chance to respond. The feedback does matter.

But the feedback did not have to do with why the video was removed, nor was its popularity and approval-rating enough to satisfy the conviction the Spirit impressed upon me. The tone in the video simply wasn't kind. That's why I removed the video. I've since re-written the script and posted a new version, still under the same title...



In 2012, 22-year-old Jefferson Bethke created a video called Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus. It was an instant YouTube sensation, viewed 6 million times in less than three days (and admittedly makes this video creator a tad jealous).

In that few days after the video dropped, Rev. Kevin DeYoung wrote an article posted through the Gospel Coalition entitled Does Jesus Hate Religion? Kinda, Sorta, Not Really. Just about everything that needed to be said about Bethke's video, DeYoung nailed it.

The short response is this: No, Jesus does not hate religion. Christianity is a religion (despite the often-repeated pulpit cliche, "It's not about religion, it's about a relationship"). And while Bethke does make some solid gospel points, he misuses so many words that DeYoung rightly labled Bethke's poem, "unhelpful and misleading."

Within a day of DeYoung's article, he and Bethke had a personal exchange. Bethke said his intention was not to deride religion altogether, but specifically "false" religion, targeting the hypocrites and those who claim to be Christian but don't act like it. He admitted he had chosen his words poorly and that if he could do the video again, he would have done some things differently.

This was just a few days after the video had first been posted. It had already been seen six million times, but why didn't Bethke go ahead and delete it? Maybe I'm asking for a simple solution that isn't all that simple. I just have to wonder -- If Bethke understood the problems, why didn't he at least create a follow-up? Instead, he rode the popularity to the New York Times bestseller list, writing a book entitled Jesus > Religion.

I'm guessing that's pronounced, "Jesus [is greater than] Religion."

Personally, the video was an eye-roller the moment I saw it. Bethke's very first line is, "What if I told you that Jesus came to abolish religion?" Already, it's wrong. Jesus didn't come to abolish religion. He came to destroy the work of the devil (1 John 3:8). Though Bethke later clarified what he was really trying to say, thirty million people have not read DeYoung and Bethke's exchange to know the truth from the not-quite-the-truth.

Bethke said, "If I can be brutally honest, I didn't think this video would get much over a couple thousand views maybe, and because of that, my points/theology wasn't as air-tight as I would've liked." The size of one's audience is absolutely no excuse for bad theology.

I don't expect any one of my Sunday-morning sermons to be heard by more than 200 people. But brothers and sisters, I labor to make sure the doctrine is Bible-based and rock-solid. Those 200 people that hear my sermon are under my care as their shepherd. For their sake and to the glory of God, I want to get it right.

Bethke put together a planned, written, choreographed, and directed video. And yet in all that planning, why didn't he check his doctrine? I've not seen enough to believe that Bethke's conviction for his theological errors runs deep enough. He has used the popularity of Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus to the point of making himself a teacher, and he probably shouldn't be. At least, not yet.

But I agree with DeYoung that Bethke seems like a solid Christian young man who desires to make Christ known. That I'm not in disagreement with. And that's why I removed the first take of Jesus Hates Religion? and decided to come at the subject with a slightly different tone.

My first video started with a poem that parodied Bethke's. I changed my voice not to imitate Bethke or make fun of him but just for differentiation. However, after posting the video and hearing it a couple times, it did sound like I was mocking him. The poem I wrote may have been funny, ear-catching, and may have made a solid point, but it wasn't the best approach.

A person who needs to know the truth might hear me in that video seeming to mock Bethke, and the message they needed to hear would get lost: "Well, this guy is just annoyed because this other guy made a really popular video! That's why he's making fun of him!"

Peter said to give a gentle and respectful answer so that when we are slandered, those who revile our good behavior in Christ may be put to shame (1 Peter 3:15-17). I don't think I did gentleness and respect well in my first attempt. The second video is more direct, maybe less-creative, but it's a more respectful way to approach the issue.

And again, the conviction was all mine. I did ask one of my fellow elders what he thought of the video, but that was after I already deleted it (he agreed I went a little far). The video was otherwise getting as favorable a response as any other video. Yeah, I received a few negative comments. We get those, too. But no one person's comment caused me to remove the video.

Originally I was going to do a two-video series on religion. The first one was "Jesus Hates Religion?" The second was, "It's Not a Religion, It's a Relationship?" (all of the video titles end in question-marks, in case you didn't notice). After I removed the first video, I combined the two scripts. I think the result is a stronger and more gospel-centered point than I started out with.

I've noticed that Bethke just came out with a new book this week. (The timing of my video with his book release was purely coincidental as I don't keep up with Bethke.) I remain concerned about his place as a teacher. I don't think he's fit and I don't think he's ready. But I agree with DeYoung that Bethke is a Christian guy who wants to make Christ known.

The Lord is using Jeff Bethke. I've said stuff on the internet before I regret saying. I get that. His video is still problematic, and the truth needs to be understood. But he shouldn't be mocked by a brother. As Paul said in Philippians 1:18, "What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice."

Hey, maybe since I can't parody Bethke, he could parody himself. Like, make a follow-up to Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus, as DeYoung suggested he do. Only do it right this time. With sound doctrine.