“Jesus>Religion: Why He Is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough,” by Jefferson Bethke (Nelson Books, 202 pages, $16.99)
Two years after releasing his video on YouTube, Jefferson Bethke has created a ministry that features books, videos, posters, speaking engagements and an online community of social media that trumpets his belief: Jesus good, religion bad.
His four-minute video has had more than 26 million hits and preaches with a rapper’s touch a no-nonsense, come-to-Jesus message that is aimed primarily at millennials or Generation Y. Rebirthed and expanded, the book’s in-your-face chapters are meant to appeal to an audience turned off by the church and by the very word “religion” itself. “Why I Still Think Jesus Hates Religion (and You Should Too)” and “Fundies, Fakes, and Other So-Called Christians” are two of 10 chapters that grouse about the self-righteous who are quick to criticize and condemn others.
Bethke’s goal is to refocus people’s faith on the person of Jesus rather than on the accoutrements of religion. “We’ve lost the real Jesus – or at least exchanged him for a newer, safer, sanitized, ineffectual one,” he writes. “We claim Jesus is our homeboy, but sometimes we look more like the people Jesus railed against.”
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Bethke’s message isn’t particularly new. Throughout the centuries, reformers have lashed out at the corruption and distortion of Christianity’s message and claimed they simply wanted to get back to the basics. (Entire denominations, in fact, were built on that premise.) Bethke’s message often ends up as repackaged aphorisms: “I saw that the church wasn’t a museum for good people; it was a hospital for the broken.”
With discussion questions at the end of each chapter, “Jesus>Religion” (> is the sign for “greater than”) will appeal to those who have little if any basic understanding of the Christian faith and are willing to consider its message. Although the book lacks theological depth, long-time believers can benefit from some of his pointed comments about the church’s flaws and failures. After all, there is much room for and need of repentance and renewal.
Whether the book, a New York Times best seller, and its related products and services that are available on his website become yet another self-promoting ministry – religion at its worst – is a warning that Bethke himself should pay heed to.
Tom Schaefer is a former columnist and religion editor for The Eagle. He lives in Wichita.