The following is a follow-up response to yesterday’s post from Kevin Bywater.
“Good morning, everyone. Well, I had no inkling that my thoughts on the video would elicit such a response. Thank you all for your thoughts, pro and con. I’d like to write a bit of a follow up today to talk about what I like about the video.
• My first introduction to Jefferson Bethke was his mimicked response to the video commercial for Rob Bell’s book, “Love Wins.” I found Bethke, and still find him, clever, talented, artistic, and insightful. I feel the same way about this recent video. There is much to commend.
• Problems aside, Bethke points viewers to Jesus, and this is of utmost importance. Without Jesus, we would be without a living hope, without embodied grace. I am filled with joy to know that Bethke is my brother in Christ.
• His emphasis upon grace is laudable. Indeed, none of us has grounds to lay claim to God’s grace due to our own righteousness. Apart from divine mercy, we face a desperate loss.
• When I describe his poetry as “low culture,” I do not mean that I dislike it. I don’t mind it, in the main. In fact, at times, I quite like it. But it is what it is.
• It is clear that a major motif throughout the video is the abhorrence of hypocrisy. I suppose that this is one reason why the video resonates so deeply with so many, and even with me. As I see it, hypocrisy is among the greatest of evils. Perhaps Jesus’s strongest words, words about hell, were spoken to and at and about hypocrites. To my mind, if we desire to have a Christian worldview, we must embody God’s affections and aversions, including the aversion to hypocrisy.
• It is possible that some criticisms of the video — some of my criticisms — arise not from Bethke’s perspective so much as the constraints of a 4-minute video. To a degree, it is unfair to criticize someone for not saying everything you would say if given the chance, or in a similar opportunity.
I’d also like to speak to what I deem a lack of clarity in the video, but also to themes that rightly deserve our attention.
• I don’t know anyone who believes that voting Republican makes you a Christian. Indeed, I think that the close identification of our convictions regarding Christ to any political party, administration, or regime is deeply problematic and vulnerable. Even so, Bethke’s slapping Christians who vote for Republicans is imbalanced and smacks of ideological confusion. It could suggest to many that he is seeking to influence people to vote for Democrats. That would be questionable on several grounds. So, my suggestion was that Bethke be more liberal in his attempts to disassociate Christian faith from political party.
• The emphasis upon grace is laudable. Divine forgiveness is fantastically edifying and should be sought after above all else. And it is by the embrace of our righteous Messiah that God’s forgiveness enfolds us and draws us into the enduring presence of God. What might be easier to miss is that Bethke also is calling people to repentance, to turn from their sin and to turn to Christ. He does this rather directly and also via his own personal narrative. But this could be missed since it is embedded within his rant against hypocrisy.
• I still believe that his dichotomizing Jesus and religion is fundamentally misleading. Given that the term is used in a positive sense in Scripture, we are beholden to use it in a positive sense. And to displace sin and install “religion” as that from which Jesus came to save is to misconstrue and muddle the gospel message. You see, many people are not involved in any organized religion. Many see themselves as not religious at all. Bethke’s message is vulnerable to the charge that it is irrelevant to these people, that Jesus is thus irrelevant to these people. And to assert that Jesus came to abolish religion is childish, absurd, and can only cultivate confusion. As a construal rather untethered to Scriptural descriptions of Jesus’s work, it is at best an abstraction — but it is an abstraction that misleads and muddles. In the end, it appears to me that Bethke hates hypocrisy and not religion, per se.
• I would encourage Bethke to make a follow up video — one just as well-written and well-produced — stating why and how much he loves the church (even ones with buildings) . . . and why you should too. After all, if Jesus loves the church as his bride, shouldn’t we seek to imitate our Lord?
Permit to to reiterate what I wrote above: I am thankful for Jefferson Bethke. I appreciate him and his work. I’m quite certain we’d get on just swimmingly if we were to meet. My critical comments from yesterday should be read not so much as condemnation but as a reaction (at times, perhaps a bit too strong of a reaction) to some confused elements in the video, to how some elements resonate with what I think is unhealthy in our culture, and to the very negative potential of some of the construals and caricatures and criticisms in the video.
But, hey man, I ain’t judgin’. 8^J”
-Kevin James Bywater