Jefferson Bethke broke out on my scene several years ago now, when I and about 23 million other people watched his YouTube video "Why I hate Religion, but Love Jesus" (you can watch it here ). I remember watching that video and just thinking, "Wow, this kid gets it!". He was speaking truth, hard truths that we religious folk don't often like to hear and amazing truths that those who have been hurt by the church need to listen to. It's the truth behind that statement, "It's a relationship not a religion" and it was something I needed to hear then and I still need to hear now.
I remember also, when this book came out. I was still working at a chain bookstore and I remember seeing it and thinking, I need to read that. But I didn't... at least not in the moment. Instead I recommended it to several people. I purchased copies and gave them away. I even put it on a "to-read" wish-list, even though it took me until now to actually read it. I guess what I knew then and can attest to now, is that the book would be full of the same kind of truths as the YouTube video (after all one is based on the other) and those truths are things we all need to hear... again and again.
I think Jefferson does a good job of pointing out or at least putting his finger on things we in the church really need to think about... and not just think, but allow what we discover from it, to change us...or in more religious terms, to allow God to change us through it. He says, "No wonder the world hates us (meaning Christians). 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". It hurts to hear, but it's true.... this in many ways, is how we act.
He also talks about how, "In a postmodern world where all religious activity is seen as what we do for God, we need to proclaim that Christianity is about what God has done for us. This would take people's focus off their behavior and put it on Jesus". Again, truth! Think about it. How many of us get so completely shocked and turned off to the gospel when yet again another Christian in leadership "falls from grace" (if that's even possible....maybe they actually fall into grace!). If those leaders were just honest all along, if they admitted where they struggled and where they see pitfalls in their own faith journey, would we even be astonished when one of those issues tripped them up. Maybe instead we would take our leaders of their pedal stools and realize that we're all in the together...on the same playing field.
I like also how Jefferson turns this all around and addresses the flip side as well. He suggests that, "the minute you think you've gotten on God's good side by your own behavior, you are naturally prone to demonize those who haven't" and opens the readers eyes up to the fact that "no one is more religious than the Christian who gives grace to everyone except the religious older-brother types" (relating to the story of the prodigal son, whose older brother whose always done everything right, comes home from working in the fields to find his father is throwing a party for his wayward brother who has returned.. a brother who has squandered his entire inheritance. The older brother is angry and refuses to come in to the party). Following that up with the realization that "the biggest difference between religious people and gospel-loving people is that religious people see certain people as the enemy, when Jesus followers see sin as the enemy".
Then he finished up with idea that "the paradox of the scriptures is that it calls us way more sinful than we think we are, and it calls us way more loved than we think we are". And addresses how "there is no security in being an employee. The contract can be breached. When you're an employee and something goes wrong you can be fired. But when you are a child who is having a season of struggle and waywardness, parents become more intimately involved in your life" and that's what Jesus did for us. Jesus came to us. Jesus comes to us. And as the author states, "the most dangerous thing about the human heart is that we want to reverse the roles by making God the responder and us the initiators". But God is love and "that's what love is... it stays, it pursues, it pushes in. And that's why Jesus is > than religion.