Jesus and Religion (Take 2)



I like what’s behind this message and what perhaps motivated Jefferson Bethke to publish it. But it is a mixture of good and bad. At first I applauded the desire to distance Jesus from made made self-righteous religion and thus preserve the gospel. But a closer look reveals some inaccurate generalising rhetoric that is plainly untrue and unhelpful. I’m grateful to Jared Wilson and Kevin DeYoung for their discerning and irenic critiques.

I encourage you to read both articles.

Here’s Kevin’s conclusion :

I know I’ve typed a bunch of words about a You Tube video that no one may be talking about in a month. But, as I said at the beginning, there is so much helpful in this poem mixed with so much unhelpful—and all of it so common—that I felt it worth the effort to examine the theology in detail.

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.

I know the internet is a big place, but a lot of people are connected to a lot of other people. So who knows, maybe Jefferson Bethke will read this blog. If you do, brother, I want you to know I love what you love in this poem. I watched you give your testimony and give thanks to God for his work in your life. I love the humble desire to be honest about your failings and point people to Christ. I love that you love the church and the Bible. I love that you want people to really get the gospel. You have important things to say and millions of people are listening. So make sure as a teacher you are extra careful and precise (James 3:1). If you haven’t received formal theological training, I encourage you to do so. Your ministry will be made stronger and richer and longer lasting. I encourage you to speak from the Bible before you speak from your own experience. I encourage you to love what Jesus loves without tearing down what he also loves and people are apt to misunderstand. I encourage you to dig deep into the whole counsel of God.

Thanks for reminding us about Jesus. But try to be more careful when talking about religion. After all, there is one religion whose aim is to worship, serve, know, proclaim, believe, obey, and organize around this Jesus. And without all those verbs, there’s not much Jesus left.


Dane Ortlund’s post is worth a look. Brings a bit of balance by trying to distinguish discernment from nitpicking.

More here from Kevin in conversation with Jefferson. You’ve got to admire the way these guys humbly interact. Jefferson’s openness to correction is exemplary.

Tullian Tchividjian weighs in here.


Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.

One thought on “Jesus and Religion (Take 2)

  1. Really enjoyed the poem. Fascinated by the debate it has sparked. It really interests me that people should take such time and effort to closely critique a piece of poetry. I find myself with two points of view simultaneously.

    On the one hand, I would point out that this is a piece of art. Albeit a slightly sermonising one. And art is about creating an impression and communicating an idea or a perspective, often to provoke thought. Or sometimes simply for the creative joy of making it. As such it is liable to use hyperbole and pictures and ideas which inevitably are not completely literally true. Whenever Christian art becomes overly self conscious about communicating a complete or correct theology, it tends to lose something. Ending up with the feel of something that has been produced or edited by a committee rather than inspired by a dynamic and creative God.

    This poem reminded of God’s grace, of the core of the gospel, of the finished work of Christ on the cross. My spirit soared and my heart worshipped. Of course it’s not accurate in every detail. It’s not meant to be. It’s art. In the same way that I would prefer to be inspired by Holman Hunt’s ‘Light of the World’ painting than to critique the exactitude of his portrayal of Christ (he looks a little middle class anglo-saxon to my eyes and is His power and glory as evident as his humility?). Yes, the Republican thing is a bit of a cheap shot, and yes one can argue with the completeness of his understanding of religion, but quite honestly it’s a poem…

    But then I am someone whose main objections to “The Da Vinci Code” were the dreadful quality of the prose and the blatantly ‘written for film’ storyline and paper-thin characterisations, rather than its inept and sensationalist mangling of the truth. Although the latter was a wonderful discussion starter with non-Christians.

    On the other hand, art and writing does influence how we think. I would not have had so many interesting conversations with clubbers in my home town ( if you’re interested…) about the Da Vinci code were this not the case. I am sure, too, there are millions of Christians whose entire understanding of end times theology is taken straight and uncritiqued from the pages of the Left Behind series. Just as in the late ’80s and early ’90s there were probably a good number of people who read Frank Peretti’s novels and believed that prayer literally works by making angels stronger.

    The thoughtful and balanced response to this little bit of art is an example to follow. It is refreshing to see some thoughtful responses to Christian art which don’t simply assume that because it’s Christian it is inerrant and wholesome. It would be good to apply this approach to non-Christian art also. Appreciating the art and seeing the truth and good within, whilst still being aware of things that are unhelpful or perhaps untrue.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s