Neo-Reformers, Emergents & Missionals Agree … on the Bad Theology of the Bethke Video

“What if I told you” … that it’s crazy who you might end up agreeing with?

Remember this video that went viral called “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus” by Jefferson Bethke? Of course you do, you haven’t got a chance to repress it yet. But in case you have closed your Facebook account as a New Year’s resolution, here it is:

Confession: When I first clicked on it, I was a bit excited, cool background, cool typography, cool dude, then after 30 seconds I thought “Uh oh, this is not cool. It’s not even accurate.”

Thought of blogging about it, but by the time I collected my thoughts, I had already seen this excellent one “Lame Poetry, False Dichotomies, and Bad Theology” by Jonathan Fitzgerald on the Patrol Mag site and there were a few others floating around Twitter.

Tony Jones had a few scattered comments about it on his FB and this post.

Kevin DeYoung had a lot to say here.

Then about a week later I saw on Twitter that Bethke responded to Kevin’s critique and his comments were included in a follow-up post by Kevin.

Before I read the post I thought – wow, when Tony Jones and Kevin DeYoung agree, you know your theology really sucks. I pictured neo-reformers putting down their Calvin’s Institutes, complimentarians putting down their Real Marriage books and the husbands giving permission to allow their wives “extra time” to look online (sorry I couldn’t resist), progressives stopped tweeting about the GOP Debates (they’re really the only ones watching) and they all nodded in sad agreement – “The message of this video is terrible.”

No word yet on how Rob Bell and John Piper felt about the whole thing. I picture Rob in Hollywood creating characters for his new tv show. I bet you one is called “Joe Pipper” and he’s from Minnesota and he’s a cross between Robert Duvall’s character, “Sonny” in The Apostle and Simon Cowell. I’m also starting the rumor that John Piper has contacted Flannel to produce a series of DVD’s called, “Righteous O’rgh” (which is the Greek for “anger”, like in Mark 3:5. Could have gone a different tray with this joke, patting myself on the back for such restraint ;)

As you know, the respective sides have not agreed on much over the years. Guinness, iPhones and the continued desire to breath oxygen are some common denominators but I am aware there are tea-totaling Droid users in the respective parties.

But I digress.

The issue that everyone pointed out was that we all hate hypocrisy. “Religion” isn’t the problem. Heartless, cold, empty religion is what causes the damage. Bethke sorta admits to that in this CBS News video (although he plays the “semantics card” a little awkwardly IMO). You should click this to hear the priest use spoken word in response. (“Yo Jeff, let me give you a holler from the collar. I don’t think it’s religion you should be dissin’. I think it’s the nuance that you’re missing” – Not quite the battle from 8-Mile but what can you do).

So here’s where I find myself in light of this little episode.  I was grateful for what Kevin DeYoung said. I was grateful that Tony Jones posted about it. I know some will see this as a common enemy thing and while bad theology is a good common enemy, this little scene demonstrated revealed that we could look at the same sky and say it was blue.  Or look at a piece of art and say, “Hmmm, not sure the artist got it here.”  I want to be careful and taper off the “There’s hope after all for the unity of the Church!” conversation but from my vantage point, this was good for me to see.

I am also grateful overall for Bethke’s response. For a 22 year old, I’m excited for him. I hope this ushers in a season of study and thoughtful engagement with a number of aspects conceding the nature of worship, faith, religion, theology and the church. I hope he leverages his influence to build the church. And I hope his next video is grounded theologically and brings a better conversation to the social media culture.

What if I told you we all do could this?


  1. I’m not so sure Tony and Kevin are really agreeing in a very particular sense, only in the borad sense of there are problems with the video. DeYoung’s conclusion of:

    “The strengths in this poem are the strengths I see in many young Christians—a passionate faith, a focus on Jesus, a love for grace, and a hatred for anything phony or self-righteous. The weaknesses here can be the weaknesses of my generation (and younger)—not enough talk of repentance and sanctification, a tendency to underestimate the importance of obedience in the Christian life, a one-dimensional view of grace, little awareness that our heavenly Father might ever discipline his children or be grieved by their continued transgression, and a penchant for sloganeering instead of careful nuance.”

    Just drips with Reformed arrogance, e.g. a veiled reference to hell, a sneaky rebuke for not mentioning predestination etc. Tony, on the other hand, is simply pointing out the inescapability of religious worldviews for billions, and I think would be very critical of calling other religions “trash,” which for me was the biggest problem here, regardless of whether Jesus is a religion or not. DeYoung generally agrees that non-Christians are “idolaters,” a point that makes my blood boil. So anyway, as someone else who was VERY critical of this video when it came out (I don’t know if there is ANY redeeming value), I wouldn’t say that it would be fair to say Kevin and I agree on something, because our critiques would be radically different. Of course Tony didn’t flesh it out more, but I think he’d be in the camp of the Patrol mag article, which is also very different from DeYoung’s embarrassing response.

  2. Although I get what you’re saying – when Tony Jones and Kevin DeYoung are both critical of the same thing, it’s an eyebrow raiser.

  3. I actually had a paragraph about something like that and then I added another and then another so I just took out the whole contrast and thought the irony of this agreement was interesting enough.

    Also, it’s hard for me to critique DeYoung because though I am somewhere in the conservative camp, I just don’t use that type of jargon and I usually have very different concerns and conclusions. I think my biggest critique of my fellow evangelicals is that from my perspective, they proclaim the sovereignty of God but dismiss the mystery of God when they attempt to exhaust the meaning of a text/docrtine/issue.

    This is among my pre-occupations and I have never made it a secret that I am (somewhat of) a product of postmodernity and that I love the idea of plurality.

  4. Oh, you’re so “conservative” ; )

  5. My comment comes with a disclaimer: I do not even pretend to be a theologian so this is just my own opinion which is a very simple one. I did watch the video and agreed on many of his points, though not all. I think the fact that it went viral tells us that it certainly struck a nerve with folks who struggle with “Religion”/ “Church”.

    I remember hearing Dan Kimball speak at a conference a few years ago. He had just finished writing “They Like Jesus But Not The Church” (Great Read) In it He discusses how many believers and non believers view the church as hypocritical and he lays out many of the issues. Kimball however, does not call us to give up on the church but to be agents of transformation within it. To repent. To do things differently.

    I must admit that I struggle with the church and have often thought of leaving it. But then I’m convicted that Jesus loves the church, it’s His bride, and He gives Himself up for her… That forces me back to the church, despite sexual abuse scandals, wife beating pastors, misuse of funds, watching gifted women being excluded from leadership … not to mention the fact that there are truck loads of folks within the church who have major issues (take me for instance)

    I cannot biblical give up on the church… and still love Jesus…(which is why I believe this video was so widely criticized but not sure of the particulars) It’s a real bummer sometimes but, it’s how God designed things and as Peter says “Where else can I go? You have the words of life!”

  6. I started to write a response saying that too many Christians are too arrogant (Who do those 22-year-olds think they are?! Oh, wait…). But then I ended up writing too much and being arrogantly critical myself. Oops. So here’s a shorter, less arrogant response: I like this. I’m still subscribed to your blog, Tim! And I’m glad.

    On another note, Bo (if you’re reading these comments…), I share your critiques of arrogant Reformed theology. Especially when those critiques come from someone who (lovingly) mocks Tim’s “conservatism.” Or anyone who mocks Tim in general (just kidding, I love you, Tim!).

  7. Hey Lisa, There were a number of general statements Jeff made that I agreed with as well. The primary concern was his attempt to divorce the idea of religion from Jesus. The other concerns were what he claimed about Jesus (that he didn’t see himself as a religious figure and so forth. Of course He did, He was a rabbi preaching in the synagogue.)

    What we are all against is the hypocrisy and evil found in religion. I’m glad you bring up Kimball’s book. I led our high school students in a study of that and it was excellent. Kimball however, doesn’t say that religion or the church is bad/wrong/needs to be abolished.

    I believe what so many of us want is to worship Jesus and be a part of a strong Church. And I think that’s where the conversation is at.

  8. To Chris and Bo, from what I know of the two of you, I think you’d enjoy a cup of coffee together, you might even be good for each other. And you live in the same city, different boroughs.
    Email me/DM me if you want to get in touch with each other.

  9. I think my biggest problem with this video is that it’s bad poetry.

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