Is evangelical Christianity non-religious? That’s what Jefferson Bethke seems to think. But don’t give him the credit for the idea; this evangelical dichotomization of “religion” vs. “Jesus” in sermons, music, blogs, and other forms of media is a matter of routine to a certain breed of evangelicals (although more discerning evangelicals see past this oversimplified dualism). But what Jefferson can be credited with is a well produced video that makes this characteristically evangelical dichotomy consumable for the masses in a rhetorical flourish set to religiously evocative music. One lessen we can learn from the overnight fame of the video is the power of savvy, impressionistic, sound-bite video production in the global village. In my personal opinion, anyone who is passionate about a cause ought to get busy producing aesthetically appealing media that makes their cause accessible in an impressionistic format. It’s simply the “language” of our day. He who wishes to reach the masses will speak their language. Jefferson’s video is at over 17 million views and counting.
Here is the video, in which the now famous Jefferson Bethke uses the word “religion” in a way that reduces its meaning to something like superficial, empty, and hypocritical self righteousness and draws a crass dichotomy between “religion” on the one hand and “Jesus” (read: evangelical Christianity) on the other.
There were lots of thoughtful Catholic responses to this video. Catholics (I have learned) tend to use the word “religion” to refer to true sincere spiritual devotion to Christ rather than empty, judgmental, hypocritical self-righteousness. It seems apparent from these videos that Catholics feel their faith has been attacked by Jefferson Bethke in some way.
A Muslim Response
Here is a Muslim who wisely takes the opportunity of the video wars to attack the doctrine of the Trinity and argue that Christianity is “religion without reason” and evidences the human tendency to idolatry (the worship of creation instead of God).
I haven’t seen any slick Orthodox responses yet. There was a very good atheist response that I thought expressed my own initial reactions to the video with wit and humor, but unfortunately it was full of vulgar obscenity and as the video drags on it turns into a bash against Christianity and was designed to be offensive so I decided not to share it.
What is a shame, and reveals our seduction by the zeitgeist, is no evangelical response.
In a world of dumb-downed definitions. I understand what our brother in the video was saying, and he clarifies it somewhat in the first sentence under the video that few will read.
But, of course, there is nothing new in his title. It flows from the ‘evangelical’ mantra that “Christianity is not a religion, it is. a relationship.” This is a sad state of mind for those who cannot handle “the holy conjunction”=AND.
Over a half century ago, Elton Trueblood described our culture as a cut-flower society. Cut off from its roots, it withers and dies. Anyone who is rooted in the history of the first two millenia of Christianity knows that those from Augustine to Wesley to Trueblood, wrote of true religion versus false religion. But today, many have abandoned truth and smothered it with experience.
This points to a major ‘disease’ of our day. C.S. Lewis provided an antidote for the spirit of our times, for any who wish to take the medicine, with his rule for reading:
“…after reading a new book, never allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one…keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds…”