Last week a video started popping up in my Facebook news feed. It was excitedly shared by multiple friends who didn’t know each other, and before I even watched it I could tell it was striking a chord with a lot of people, causing it to go viral. “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus || Spoken Word” exploded to 2.5 million views in just a day or so, then to 6 million after about another day, and at this very moment it has hurtled past 14.3 million (a number that will probably be obsolete by the time I finish this post). My initial reaction was that it had a lot of lines that could be clichés by themselves but that overall it had a good message and it was cool that something so public about Jesus was getting featured on YouTube’s most viewed charts.
Now Christianity contains so much diversity that, especially with the power of the Internet, nothing can get very popular in Christian circles these days without other Christians expressing their opinions about the things that are wrong with it. Even before I watched the video I witnessed Facebook comment debates about the semantics of whether Jefferson Bethke was criticizing “religion” in general or “false religion,” and other friends shared more thoughtful critiques from the blogosphere.
I am not here to criticize religion, or criticize the man criticizing religion, or even criticize the people criticizing the man criticizing religion. I think it is great that all of these Christians are zealous for the truth, and I think that all of the above can be a healthy part of the dialogue of the Christian community. What I do want to do is encourage a little bit of perspective that I think might be lacking in some of this discussion: I want you to rejoice.
Christians make videos all the time about all kinds of things, but they’re very not often at the top of YouTube, especially when they’re so blatantly declaring the name of Jesus. Just stop for a second and think about how awesome that is! In Philippians 1:15-18, Paul talks about those who were preaching Christ out of “selfish ambition,” yet he said “in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice.” And that was for people preaching from selfish motives! Everybody I’ve read who has had points of disagreement with Bethke’s video seems to believe he has good intentions here… what more reason to rejoice! How many non-believers, or those who have strayed from the faith, have now stumbled upon this video and invited God to speak to them? Of course I don’t think it was perfect, but as my dad says, “There’s only one person I agree with 100% – myself. And I don’t even agree with myself all of the time.”
If someone is encouraged to seek the Lord from this video, the work of the Holy Spirit should help lead them to the truth, right? I hope we don’t get to a point where people can’t read a Bible verse on television without sparking criticism from the Christian community. If Paul can rejoice in selfish motives, surely we can at least rejoice for the honest ones that aren’t as perfect as we would like. If we make an effort to rejoice in the midst of our dialogues, then maybe outsiders will know we are Christ’s disciples by our love for one another (John 13:35) instead of simply viewing us as bickering busybodies.
Of course, I don’t want to discourage discussion or correction or zeal for the truth. Paul also rebuked Peter when he needed to, but I’m not aware of any time that Paul criticized James’s letter for having too much emphasis on works or any place Peter criticized Paul for being too zealous. Paul did spend a lot of time in his letters correcting issues in the churches, and I think he gives us a good guide in Galatians 1:8 and 2 Corinthians 11:4 when he warns against those that would preach “a gospel other than the one we preached” or “a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached.” But if it’s the same gospel and the same Jesus being preached, let us be sure to rejoice that Christ is preached even as we offer our humble thoughts about how such preaching could be even closer to (our revelation of) the truth.
As part of that rejoicing, I hope we can spend less time critiquing the points of disagreement and more time focusing on the good things. I loved the line of the poem that said the church is “not a museum for good people, it’s a hospital for the broken.” I’ve heard that kind of thing before and it could easily become a cliché, but let’s talk about why people often feel this way. Let’s talk about how we may encourage Christians to act like they have it all together and discourage Christians from admitting their weaknesses and discourage both Christians and non-Christians from finding healing within our doors. Let’s talk about how with the grace of God we can be more like hospitals. Another line that stuck out to me was “remember he was called a glutton, and a drunkard by religious men.” Why did the religious leaders of the day call Jesus a glutton and a drunkard? Does this say anything about the way Jesus acted while still being without sin? Are any of us capable of being mistaken for gluttons and drunkards? Etc. etc.
I want to emphasize that I’m not picking on the two blog posts I linked above. I think they offer great counterbalances to the video, and I think I see signs of rejoicing in them as well, both in the first author’s comments following the post and in the second author’s follow-up post regarding a communication between him and Bethke that displays an admirable humility on both sides. I hope that exchange becomes a seed for many future fruitful discussions among Christians over the Internet.
In summary, I’m not trying to encourage you to critique less. I just want to encourage you to rejoice more. The next time something popular and Jesus-y goes around, or there’s a new popular worship song with really bad theology, or whatever, I want to encourage you to first rejoice (well, I suppose, as long as it contains the fundamental aspects of God’s love and redemption – and I believe this video did, regardless of whatever aspects any one of us might think it did not have, but I suppose you are free to disagree on that point as well). Take a step back before indulging in the need to tell everyone that they aren’t doing things the exact way that you at this exact moment wish they were done, and rejoice that this imperfect person is spreading the gospel and that Christ is preached. Then, offer your opinion with humility and love. Then we can all build each other up. Then Christ is proclaimed, and in this we can all rejoice.