The video “Why I Hate Religion, But I Love Jesus” has gotten a lot of shares around the web. If you haven’t seen it, you can watch it, but I also recommend that you read this as well. Definitely worth the read.
The following is by Kevin Bywater:
“A few quick thoughts:
• It is getting significant airplay online right now. Lots of people love it, some appreciate it in part, others, like me, consider it to be a muddled mess of distorted truth coupled with sub-biblical piety wrapped in low-culture poetry.
• If the speaker wants to distinguish Jesus from political parties, then so be it. But he should have been more liberal. He only mentioned Republicans, and did so twice, and that very near the beginning. That is partisan and suggests that what follows is ideologically invested. If it isn’t, it is ideologically muddled.
• He derides the creation of nice churches and yet stands in front of a massive, beautiful, and likely very expensive, building. He implicitly promotes low culture and explicitly embodies it. It is as though God is not a God of generous beauty, of grand designs. It is as though we are not called to imitate God as bearers of his image.
• As for religion, true religion, James 1:27 tells what true religion is. But the video creates a false dichotomy between Jesus and religion, simply because the latter can be false. He assumes that religion is like manure and Jesus like ice cream. When you mix them, the manure never suffers. But the Scriptures present us with a much more mature understanding, one that sees true religion as glorifying God by caring for humans, which is the foundation of culture.
• His allusions to OT religion are superficially anti-Semitic. He appears to suppose that when people were religious in the OT, they always were wrong. But that implies that what God commanded in the past was religion and what he now provides is salvation from it. This is heterodox in its assumptions and conclusions. When God, through the prophets, critiqued his people, it was not for their practice of religion, per se; it was for their practice of false religion. It was their adoption of the ways of the nations that gave rise to the charge of whoredom. It was their adoption of what I term “the trinity of sins”: idolatry, immorality, and injustice. It was then, and only then, that the charge of “whore” was found on the lips of the prophets. Unfaithfulness breeds false religion. From faithfulness is true religion born.
• At 2.30 he notes that some called Jesus a drunkard and a glutton, and asserts that the accusers were “religious men.” True, but their religion was not what God had commanded. They were hypocrites. Their failure was in their hypocrisy, not in the religion to which they bore inauthentic relations.
• While we should care for the poor, the video confuses this calling, pits it implicitly against conservative churches and Christians who are Republicans. My suspicion is that the speaker has confused what so many in our day confuse. To clarify, taxation is not tithe, coercion is not charity, compulsion is not compassion. Far too many see government action as charitable. It is not. That virtue is not in it. That virtue lives in personal generosity. The IRS is not the enforcer of that virtue. Politicians neither distribute nor redistribute it.
• At 1:17 the speaker declares, “Now, I ain’t judgin’.” But this is precisely what he is doing. I don’t fault him for that. When our moral virtues and sensibilities are properly formed, judgment can be just and justified. Thus, if he is hitting at hypocrisy, so be it. God hates hypocrites too. (And much of the video could be put in this category of critique, though only if it is properly corrected.) But a hypocrite would be one who proclaims truth and does not live it out in true religion. A hypocrite divorces orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
• In short, the speaker has supposed that Jesus came to save us from religion. Rather, Jesus came to save us from the power of sin and the threat of divine wrath. But Jesus not only saves us from the power of sin, he invests us with the power of righteousness, namely, the Holy Spirit.
• Finally, while I haven’t space here to develop this thought, his closing text — Romans 4.5 — is lifted from the context in which it serves so well. If one reads Romans 3:27-4:12, one can see that the focus of Paul’s discussion is the place of circumcision, both in times past and in the new covenant. The question is whether God’s grace is only for the circumcised, that is, for Jews. Paul, the Jewish Christian, argues that righteousness is not contingent upon circumcision (which is, what Paul sees as the quintessential “work of the Law”) since Abraham was declared righteous prior to his circumcision. The moral drawn from Paul’s close reading of Abraham’s story is that circumcision is not the portal to righteousness with God. Elsewhere in Romans (ch. 2; and in Galatians 5), Paul argues that circumcision is neither the portal to being right with God nor the portal to ethical uprightness. The Holy Spirit is the one who energizes the latter; our trust and allegiance to the faithful Christ is the means of the former. Thus, when Paul writes of “work” or “works” in Romans 1-4 (and, arguably, elsewhere), he is aiming at actual demands of the Law that hypocrites supposed would make them right with God and would characterize them as righteous. The problem was that in the OT (as in the NT), when such practices are coupled with idolatry, immorality, and injustice, they are not exhibitions of faith but of fraud.
• I must leave off here. As I mentioned, the video is making the rounds. Many of my friends are praising it. And there is some in the video to praise. But on the whole, I find it to be a muddled mess of ideological, low-culture poetry, and rather impoverished theology.”
– Kevin James Bywater