Jesus Not Religion

This video is quickly filling up my Facebook newsfeed from other Evangelicals.  I can’t decide if I like it or hate it.  It’s definitely one or the other, but nothing in between.

About 15 years ago it became clever for Evangelicals to say “I’m not in a religion, I’m in a relationship”.  I agree with the sentiment but the cute factor has worn off. In response to the video, one fellow Evangelical stated “I hate religion, but I love how righteously awesome I am! To all you haters out there who are about to tell me that I am arrogant, you’d be smart to remove the log in your eye before you start practicing your “religion” in my general direction.”

Regardless, I think the video is worth watching and I think there are valuable things to take away from it.

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32 thoughts on “Jesus Not Religion

  1. About “Spiritual but not religious”, this post covers everything I have to say about that (and I was shocked to see it in the HufPo, but whatever): http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lillian-daniel/spiritual-but-not-religio_b_959216.html

    As far as involving Jesus, Jesus did not abolish religion, he started a new one. Evangelicals just don’t like that because it would require them having to follow the WHOLE Jesus, not just to pick and choose the parts they like, and ignore the other parts.

    The guy in the video and its producers need to read their Bible… the WHOLE Bible (or at least the WHOLE New Testament).

  2. I’ve found detractors of the video are talking about something different than what the guy in the video is discussing. I’m sure he’s part of an institutional church that has religious practices (thus qualifying it as a “religion”).

    I’m sure picking and choosing which “Jesus” we follow is not limited to Evangelicals.

  3. This kind of rhetoric still seems to be common in some of the, currently, more public church’s in the US – run by Matt Chandler, Driscoll etc. Strangely, they still have covenant agreements which seem to mandate your beliefs, behavior and community participation. All this makes me wonder if they use “religion” as a pejorative for all things ritualistic, haughty or fake. Because, if you participate in a community that holds you to any level of accountability of thought or action, you’re participating in religion.

    Also, Jesus as a destroyer of religion is not the message I take away from the 4G’s.

  4. Hate it.

    This “Jesus, not religion” thing is and always has been dumb, a lame attempt to pander to the “I hate religion” crowd. “Religion” should be defended, not thrown under the bus.

    In fact, I’m starting to think that attempting to re-define the commonly accepted definition of English words into something that they are not and never have been (“preside,” “translate,” “religion”) when one can’t make a more capable argument is yet another thing that Mormons and Evangelicals have in common. Bridging the divide indeed.

  5. I didn’t really like the video because the guy is a bad poet and a bad rapper. I does come across as arrogant. But I get what he’s trying to say, even if its an oversimplification. I have to admit that I do at times use the term “religion” as a shorthand for the kind of pharisaical approach Jesus was constantly confronting, which elevates rules over people, conformity over authenticity, external appearances over inner righteousness, and breeds spiritual pride. While it doesn’t measure up to the accepted historic definitions of “religion”, I do think there is a segment of American population who looks at all organized religious expression as partaking of those attitudes. The sad fact is that these failings seem to be endemic to the human heart, not just limited to those convenient baddies the Pharisees. I can see them in myself even though that’s not the kind of faith practitioner I want to be.

  6. This whole sentiment is the logical conclusion to a lot of American Christianity. First, in the young republic Americans cast off the idea that there had to be an organized church which kept congregations together. Then in the 19th century the necessity of reason married to faith was dropped because of the emotion only appeals of revivalism. Also to go in the same century was any need to look back to Christian tradition, as those who still clung to reason decided that individual reason was sufficient to figure out what the Bible meant.

    In the twentieth century it seems that the emotion only and anti-tradition crowds decided to simultaneously accept the worst aspects of each others movements and Christianity was reduced to Jesus and my Bible. Now with this video, it’s Jesus only (though he assures us that he likes the Bible and church). While the sentiment sells in our uber individualistic and rules phobic society, I think it denies reality and leads to all kinds of nonsense.

  7. Just one more thought, I like Christianity the religion. I like being a fellow traveler with Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Wesley. There’s some deep wells of wisdom there, much more than a young punk convinced he has displayed deep thoughts by making a 4 minute rap video.

  8. Hate it.

    First, on production value: I am tired of the “place text on the screen” method that has become so popular. If you want me to read it, then just give me a transcript.

    Second, for its message. I have too many complaints, some of which are probably due to differences of belief (e.g., “religion says ‘do,’ Jesus says ‘done'” sounds trite and meaningless, but conveys a message that I feel I often hear from Evangelicals). So I’ll try to just pick one that stands out that I think Mormons and Evangelicals can agree upon: the comparison of Christian leaders/religionists today to the Pharisees, scribes, etc. that Jesus railed against. Jesus didn’t criticize them because they were religious, he criticized because they had corrupted true religion and resisted Jesus’ mission. Big difference.

  9. David Clark: “In the twentieth century it seems that the emotion only and anti-tradition crowds decided to simultaneously accept the worst aspects of each others movements and Christianity was reduced to Jesus and my Bible.”

    I might steal that. Well said.

  10. “While the sentiment sells in our uber individualistic and rules phobic society, I think it denies reality and leads to all kinds of nonsense.”

    Great point David. In a way, its a very American way of looking at the Jesus message.

  11. I think the point he is making can me made without making all “religious” people wrong.

    It reminds me of Harold Bloom’s NY times editorial regarding Romney and Mormonism noted yesterday: .

    “What I call the American Religion, and by that I mean nearly all religions in this country, socially manifests itself as the Emancipation of Selfishness. . . . . A first principle of the American Religion is that each of us rarely feels free unless he or she is entirely alone, particularly when in the company of the American Jesus. Walking and talking with him is akin to receiving his love in a personal and individual relationship. “

  12. I like the message of the video, and I like almost all of what Ross Anderson said.
    However, I use the word “religion” sparingly, recognizing that it’s defined differently in different circles. And then there’s always James 1:27:
    “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

  13. Tim: you say that you can’t decide whether you like the video or hate it. Since the comments here have little praise, can you tell me why you might like it?

  14. I fully agree with the post that Chad linked to, but regardless going to come down on the pro side. I blogged about this 4 years ago, but if you look at the data regarding attitudes towards Christianity what you find is the sorts of complaints that video addresses:

    * antihomosexual 91%
    * judgmental 87%
    * hypocritical 85%
    * old-fashioned 78%
    * too political 75%
    * out of touch with reality 72%
    * insensitive to others 70%
    * boring 68%

    The next generation is going to be substantially less invested in Evangelical Christianity because of these issues. The Evangelical churches, if they want to maintain their importance need to address these problems in their own organizations. Look at this list and think about the video.

  15. While I agree with CD-Host that the video addresses some real problems in Christianity today (obviously, the fact that the video has almost 6 million views in four days means it’s striking a chord somewhere), count me in the “hate” column, and not just because the weak, cliché-ridden poetry doesn’t do anything for me.

    My problems with the video are semantic and theological.

    Semantic: The problem is obvious: If you believe in following Jesus, and you believe that Jesus is divine, then by definition you believe in a religion. I agree with Jack: Based on what the video guy apparently believes, he should be embracing “religion,” not rapping it. (Pun intended. Sorry.)

    If he wants to criticize religion as it is commonly practiced, that’s fine. If he wants to criticize evangelicalism, that’s fine. If he wants to criticize Mormonism, well, there’s plenty to criticize there as well. But to denounce “religion” while espousing religious doctrine is nonsensical.

    Theological: This “Religion says do; Jesus says done” stuff is just poppycock. Jesus’ words to us were all about doing: Go and feed the poor. Take up your cross and follow me. Make disciples of all nations. Feed my sheep. Forgive others. Don’t hide your light. Turn the other cheek. Keep my commandments. Love God above all, and your neighbor as yourself.

    And he takes Romans 4:5 out of context in his closing to suggest that there are no works for the follower of Christ to do. That verse is part of a long argument Paul is using to explain the relationship of the Jewish law to faith in Christ; it doesn’t have anything to do with the subject of the video. In fact, later in the argument, Paul says that we should become enslaved to righteousness — and it’s hard to imagine that that doesn’t have something to do with living a holy life. And that means doing.

  16. BrianJ,

    As CJ noted, I think he has some good things to say against legalism, ritualism, haughtiness and facades. He’s right to attack those things. He unfortunately conflates those things with the word “religion”. As Christians we should call out things that are hindering growth and authenticity. So I appreciate it on that level.

    I think the other video I posted does a better job on nearly every level except photography.

  17. Eric —

    This “Religion says do; Jesus says done” stuff is just poppycock. Jesus’ words to us were all about doing:

    Mormons are not Reformed in their theology. Couldn’t agree with you more about the theological problems from a Mormon perspective. But his views on this are rather common, he’s not expressing anything theologically unusual. I also agree with you that the Jesus of the gospels is not remotely reformed in his theology. There are a few verses like John 15:16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you” which can support their position. But in general the view comes much more strongly from Paul.

    As for the semantic objection, let me try this again. Assume the following:
    a) The church needs to reform desperately.
    b) To reform the church is going to need to distance itself heavily from teachings that it held as vital and fully biblically supported in the last generation.
    c) Because of (b), there is going to be a lot of noise so there is no way to do (b) without this escaping notice.
    d) On the other hand they don’t want to call their own credibility as biblical interpreters into question.

    One of the the time tested way of doing this is to create an artificial dichotomy of Jesus vs. religion. It is not the bible that was pro slavery it was the religion of 19th century America. It is not the bible that speaks in hundreds of places about flat earth it is religion of the middle ages.

    Protestants can’t do what the Mormons do to reverse course on important issues and have a prophetic revelation. Of course in some surface sense it is semantic nonsense. But if you see Ambroise Diggs behind the curtain, you don’t believe that Oz is generally ruled by a Wizard and just this time there is a problem but rather that the Wizard is a fraud.

    The whole point of this semantic game is to not call into question the Protestant religion while changing position on major issues, like homosexuality. The generation of leaders of Evangelical Christianity that led a revolt against another group of false churches that had been unable to square the circle on their own contradictions is just now dying off. They know what the stakes are of losing that theological game.

  18. CD-Host said:

    Mormons are not Reformed in their theology.

    Thank God.

    As to the semantic issue, I understand what he’s doing there. I just think that in this case it’s not a very good way of communicating. But like I said earlier, his message is resonating somewhere, so perhaps my semantic issues are a generational thing.

    I agree with Tim that speaking “against legalism, ritualism, haughtiness and facades” isn’t a bad thing at all. And that list you gave of turnoffs for young evangelicals applies to the LDS church as well.

  19. And that list you gave of turnoffs for young evangelicals applies to the LDS church as well.

    You would think so. Almost all of them apply equally if not more so to the LDS church. But that’s not what the data shows. The issues people have with the LDS church are theological primarily.

    There is a lot more ignorance so there is a lot more “I don’t know” but among people with negative opinions what you find is:

    25% Ignorance — Don’t know enough about Mormons to trust them
    9% Different Beliefs — Non biblical beliefs.
    8% Polygamy — Belief that this practice is still widespread though secret.
    6% Non Christian — Openly don’t like non Christians and don’t consider Mormons Christian.
    5% Fear of unknown — People don’t know enough about Mormons and thus fear them.
    5% Book of Mormon — Disapprove of making your own bible
    4% Joseph Smith — Believe he is a false prophet
    4% History — racism, polygamy….

    The reality is among most people know almost nothing of the Mormon religion. That’s why what you find when you explain the central doctrine of restoration to them

    (1) Christ organized a church.
    (2) Men changed it.
    (3) It has been brought back.

    Brings to light the vast majority of Christians are not rejecting #3 but rather have never considered #1 before. Once the position is understand 48% agree immediately with point #1. Of that 48%, 74% agree with point #2 immediately. And that probably corresponds to a all but a few percent of non-Catholics, And then from there 1/2 the people that agree to points #1 and #2 are willing to consider the Mormon claim for #3. Once this is understood as 3 separate claims:

    17% — Maybe Mormons are right
    36% — Mormons are probably wrong
    29% — Mormons are definitely wrong
    18% — No opinion

    That why IMHO the #1 thing the Mormon church should emphasize is restoration. That is their strong suit.

  20. Ms. Jack said:

    In fact, I’m starting to think that attempting to re-define the commonly accepted definition of English words into something that they are not and never have been (“preside,” “translate,” “religion”) when one can’t make a more capable argument is yet another thing that Mormons and Evangelicals have in common.

    Although I mostly agree with you, I’m going to quibble with you just a bit, but first I’ll comment that as I roamed around the web reading comments about this video that I was slightly surprised to find out how many people used “religion” in the same sense it’s used in the video. This definition seems to be most common with the those who think Mark Driscoll is cool. I think the English language loses something if we redefine “religion” to mean “pharisaical religion,” but that does seem to be the trend in some circles.

    If they mean pharisaical religion, they should say so. I find something laughable about Driscoll railing against religion in the linked-to video when he, in fact, is well known precisely because of his role in religion (as the term is normally used).

    And now my quibble: I’m not certain specifically what your issue is with the way (some) Mormons use “translate,” but I would point out that in the dictionaries of Joseph Smith’s day that the meaning was much broader than it is now. In fact (although I may be in the minority on this), I don’t think that when Joseph Smith penned the 8th Article of Faith that he was thinking at all about the translation of the Bible from Greek and Hebrew into English. I believe that what he meant (and readers of the day would have understood) is that the Bible is the word of God insofar as it is interpreted or understood correctly. Smith actually had a higher view of the Bible than (unfortunately) many Mormons do today, and he preached from it most of the time rather than putting the Book of Mormon on a pedestal.

  21. but I would point out that in the dictionaries of Joseph Smith’s day that the meaning was much broader than it is now.

    Webster’s 1828 dictionary of the American English language does not give a definition of “translate” that is different than the current one. Please cite which dictionary, from the relevant time period, does this.

    and he preached from it most of the time rather than putting the Book of Mormon on a pedestal.

    From my experience he never preached from the Book of Mormon. Could you please provide a couple of instances where Joseph Smith DID preach from the Book of Mormon?

  22. Regarding the term “translation”, I thought maybe Ms. Jack was referring to the Book of Abraham.

    Actually, the problem there is that the evidence from the KEP and the facsimiles suggests that Joseph Smith was trying to engage in a translation, in the conventional sense of the term.

  23. “In the fourth century, Augustine advocated using the Latin word religio by highlighting its etymology re-ligare, which means, “to join together” or “to bind together” as in a covenant bond between man and God.(4) The word religion, rightly understood, joins together everything we believe as we live it out in all of life. Furthermore, if we consider the lexical definitions of the word religion, we observe that religion describes not only a person’s system of belief but also what a person practices, observes, and devotes himself to.”

    Pastor Burk Parsons

    http://www.reformation21.org/articles/faith-vs-religion.php

  24. David said:
    Actually, the problem there is that the evidence from the KEP and the facsimiles suggests that Joseph Smith was trying to engage in a translation, in the conventional sense of the term.

    Precisely my point…

  25. David Clark — I wasn’t trying to start a threadjack here, but …

    The 1828 Webster’s gives “to explain” as a definition of “translate”; I have nothing to base it on other than the sense that I get from reading Joseph Smith’s writings and his biography, but this is the sense I get from him by what he meant when he used the word in the Wentworth letter.

    A later Webster’s edition (1913) gives “to explain or recapitulate in other words” as a definition.

    And maybe I didn’t make myself clear, but I didn’t claim that Joseph Smith preached from the Book of Mormon. To the best of my knowledge, he didn’t.

  26. David urim & thummim have always been divination tools. So saying “I’m going to translate (modern sense) with urim & thummim” would be like saying “I’m got a bag or carburetors to go play golf”. It simply wouldn’t make any sense at all.

    As for unusual usages of translate… I’m not sure what Joseph Smith meant by translate but certainly I can give you examples of the word being used in ways different than what it commonly means today:

    For example we know in the 1850s the word translate was commonly used with the repeater of a telegraph. Joseph Smith might have meant something similar with respect to his divination tools.

    There was also a sense of limitations of translation. For example 1632 Sherwood Eng. & Fr. Dict. uses interpretation, translation and metaphor as the 3 ways of understanding something in another language.

    OED definition consistent with his usage might be “3.II.3 fig. To interpret, explain; to expound the significance of (conduct, gestures, etc.); also, to express (one thing) in terms of another.”

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