With those bold words, so began Jefferson Bethke’s provocative spoken-word YouTube poem, ‘Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus’. After being uploaded in January 2012, it stunningly racked up 7 million views within 48 hours and 16 million within a few weeks. Bethke, an unsuspecting twentysomething student from Tacoma, had gone viral.
The essence of the poem sees Bethke contrast the Jesus he finds in the Scriptures with the ‘religion’ (as he calls it) that he observes around him stateside. Unsurprisingly some people loved it, and some were incensed. Evidently he’d put his finger on something that resonated, and now nearly 26 million have watched him online.
With those kind of numbers behind the guy, you don’t have to be much of a cynic to infer why Thomas Nelson Publishers thought there was a book in this. Now, nearly two years on from the video going online, Bethke’s first book is here, ‘Jesus > Religion – Why He is So Much Better than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough’. Interestingly the breadth of Bethke’s appeal can be seen with some surprising names amongst the book’s commendations: Republican Mike Huckabee, Real Madrid footballer Kaka, and even Russell Moore from Southern Baptist Convention. But before I share a review, why not watch the original video:
Essentially the book is a punchy expansion and elaboration on the theme of the video, but through the narrative lens of Bethke’s own life-story. His aim is to introduce readers to the “dangerous” Jesus of the Scriptures that changed his life, simultaneously exposing the shackles of ‘religion’. As he says, “I want to push you a little closer to Jesus”.
You might think from the title, or perhaps the video, that Bethke is gonna be proposing some sort of commitment-lite, doctrine-shy ‘spirituality’, but that’s far from his aim. As much as he hates self-righteousness dressed up in Christian clothes, so Bethke also has it in for any cheap-grace, Jeremiah-33:11-printed-on-your-T-shirt, ‘feel-good’ distortion of Christianity as well.