Should We Hate Religion But Love Jesus?

The religion blog police have sent me notice of pending removal of my blog credentials unless I comment on this YouTube video. As of this writing, the video has over 17.3 million views in 2 1/2 weeks, and it has spawned quite a bit of conversation. If it has done nothing else, it has gotten people talking.

Anyone who garners this much attention is not going to be without their critics, and this video has them. I have heard two main critiques from people at opposite ends of the spectrum, each arguing against a different part of the title. Some atheist critics have shouted amen to the hatred of religion (do atheists amen?), but they bristle at the second part of the title. They hate religion, and they hate Jesus, too. On the other side of things, many Christians are speaking up, embracing their love for Jesus, but questioning whether religion should be hated. After all, they argue, Christianity is a religion. Some have even leveled the charge of hypocrisy on the author.

Both of these groups share the critique of bball1989’s definition of “religion.” For many, the debate has focused on the appropriateness of this entry in the consensus dictionary. And that’s a shame, because there is more to this video than the definition of the word, “religion.”

I understand the critique. I probably wouldn’t have used the nomenclature of religion to describe it, realizing that so many people include Christianity as one of several different religions. Yet, the attention to this word has been blown way out of proportion because it is clear how bball1989 is using the word. In the YouTube description, he states that the contrast is between Jesus and “false religion.” He is clearly not an atheist or seeking to give atheism shelter from facing the big questions of life or the teachings of Christ. He takes the time to clear up potential misunderstandings by declaring that he loves the church, he loves the Bible and he believes in sin. I might also add that he is not the first person I have heard define “religion” in this negative sense. In Gospel in Life, Timothy Keller employs a similar definition.

Christians should rally around what this author is against, even if we wouldn’t describe it as “religion.” As I hear it, the author states that true Christianity, centered in the person of Jesus, is antithetical to the following items:

  • Misplaced priorities. A particular political party is not the pinnacle of Christian expression, and there is a problem when Christianity is used as a propaganda for war. Something is amiss when wealth is used to build extravagant buildings and neglect the needs of others.
  • Hypocrisy. Followers of Jesus must be devoted from the core of their beings. Grace is cheapened when discipleship is not practiced. Being a follower of Jesus takes more than confessing Christ on Facebook and attending church services. Outward displays are meaningless without an inward heart for God.
  • Works Righteousness. An unchanged heart lends itself to a system of works righteousness. If people are not completely humbled and dependent upon the grace of God, they have to find another means for seeking God’s approval. This often comes in the form of trying to “do all the right things” in order to be saved.

Words have meanings, and I don’t want to diminish that fact. Unfortunately, the debate over the word in this instance has caused many people to miss what the author is trying to say. Ironically, the definition of “religion,” the point of contention, is wrapped up in his message. I’m reminded of James’ admonition to be quick to hear and slow to speak (1:19). In our multimedia society of short attention spans, this quality is needed more than ever. I’m also encouraged to live a faithful, authentic life of a disciple, putting my trust in Jesus as my Savior. So, should we hate religion, but love Jesus? I answer, “Yes,” if we are using the author’s definition of the word.

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One Response to Should We Hate Religion But Love Jesus?

  1. Matt H says:

    Great analysis, Jeremy. I agree that his use of the word “religion” is a straw man that people have been overly fond of knocking down without addressing his core message. My general dislike of the video has more to do with aesthetics than theology, and I respect what he’s trying to do. He’s reaching a demographic that might never read a Tim Keller book.

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