It has always fascinated me that we have the ability to make a video and share it with the whole world to communicate a message. There is endless potential of what can be communicated through this digital medium. In 2012, Jefferson Bethke took advantage of this platform, and posted the video, "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus". This video spawned over 23 million views. As I watched this video in 2014, the view count is over 28 million. In 2013, I remember walking into a book store and discovering Jesus > Religion by Jefferson Bethke. I must say, I was very close to not buying it. I had a pessimistic judgmental attitude towards this book as I felt this was a quick money making attempt trying to bank off the success of a Youtube video. However, his very well written poem that accommodated his video, gave me a sense that he possibly could be a talented writer as well as a speaker. With that being said, I took a shot and purchased a copy.
I had a great appreciation for Bethke's video as it really clears up one of the biggest misconceptions of the Christian life; and that Christianity is not about religion; It is about a relationship with Jesus. So based on his creative yet straight forward title, I was expecting Bethke to obviously expand more on why Jesus is greater than religion. There are 17 people that give endorse this book; Some of them from New York Times Best Selling authors. I was surprised to read so many praises from well established authors and pastors considering this is Bethke's very first book and at such a young age. This had me wondering maybe this could be something special.
Bethke breaks down his book into 10 chapters. The first 3 chapters gives a little background story of Bethke's life and where he is coming from. Bethke's parents never married. There is no mention of his father in his story. Bethke's mother struggled with physical and mental handicaps which resulted in her not working very often, living off of welfare, social security, and food stamps. Bethke did not grow up in nice areas and had to move around a lot growing up. Bethke developed a careless attitude towards his life and towards others. From poor grades and being kicked out of school, to fighting, drinking, drugs, and addiction with pornography. Bethke almost seemed ready to give up on God, until he started to hear the whisper of His grace. As Bethke states, "I didn't know it then, but God broke me to fix me because he loved me." From that point on, Bethke rented out the maximum 15 books from his college library to read on Jesus, Christianity, and apologetics. Bethke loves to read, and makes that very clear as he shows the list of all the books he read that inspired him to write each chapter. Bethke eventually learns the enormous differences between the Christianity he thought he knew and the Christianity in the New Testament; mainly that the Bible is not a rule book, but a love letter. The next seven chapters focus on various comparisons of what religion claims for our life compared to what Jesus claims for our life.
"No wonder the world hates us. Most of the time we're persecuted not because we love Jesus, but because we're prideful, arrogant jerks who don't love the real Jesus. We're often judgmental, hypocritical, and legalistic while claiming to follow a Jesus who is forgiving, authentic, and loving." - page 9
"One of the most dangerous things about the Bible is that it is big enough to say whatever we want it to say if we are willing to remove the context." - page 97/98
I overall enjoyed Jesus > Religion. Even though at times Bethke sometimes refers to teachings that most Christians already know such as 'All good things come from God' and 'church is a body of believers, not a building', he explains it in a fresh unique perspective. Whether it is through his use of words or analogies, it makes people appreciate the teachings even more for what they are. His use of words and language I could understand easy. It was as if I was reading a letter written from a close friend. I could right away sense his emotions or whether he was being sarcastic or not.
I actually enjoyed his story more than the message he was trying to convey. I loved reading the small bit about his life and how Jesus changed his life from the wreck he was, to a born again Christian that is slowly becoming a strong voice in today's culture. To see transformation through the circumstances he shared was the strongest aspect of his writing. A lot of what he shared or taught through his words I have already learned. While there was not much content that was life changing or revolutionary for me, that is not to say that will be the case for others who read this book. I believe Bethke's writing is excellent for those discovering the differences between religion & Jesus. What impresses me more is that he is still so young. He he has plenty of years ahead of him. Although I did not gain as much insight as I was hoping for, I am confident there is more to come over time through future works. I am impressed by the amount of books this young man has read. There is no question Bethke has a very bright future in writing if he chooses so, especially if he continues to pour himself into reading.
For readers hoping that Bethke will address ALL the differences between religion and Jesus, they will be disappointed. However that is neither the expectation or the purpose. Instead, Bethke helps address a misconception that so much of the world is blinded by, which is thinking that religion will save our lives when really Jesus is only one way to be saved. The message is not about religion; it is about relationship.
The title states that Jesus is greater than Religion, yet the back UPC bar-code shows that this book falls under the section of, "RELIGION / Christian Life / Spiritual Growth" with Religion being in upper case. Considering the title of this book, I found that to be humorous and ironic. Would have been a nice tribute to the book if the bar-code replaced 'RELIGION' with 'JESUS'
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