Yes, he’s from Tacoma, Washington. Yes, he played baseball in college. Yes, he loves Frosted Flakes. But, if you’re like over 25 million other YouTube viewers, you probably know Jefferson Bethke from his viral video, “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus.” Bethke’s new book, Jesus > Religion: Why He is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More and Being Good Enough explores some of the themes from the 2012 sensation. Here, we talk about religion, his critics, and why he still thinks Jesus hates religion.
JM: Jeff, your spoken word YouTube video has had over 25 million views. Why do you think it resonated with so many?
JB: That’s a great question. I still am not entirely sure. But if I had to speculate I think it resonated because I think there’s this constantly growing chasm in the 21st century western evangelicalism and this vibrant, beautiful, revolutionary, new creation oriented world Jesus launched at the resurrection you see more predominantly in the scriptures. Even though it seems like a caricature, reading YouTube comments on many religious oriented videos, would show that many people’s Christianity doesn’t go much farther than “don’t get tattoos, don’t drink beer, and never swear or curse.” I think my generation has constantly felt this almost awkward vibe when reading the New Testament and then looking up into the landscape of modern evangelicalism and saying, “really? This is the same thing?”
JM: Not every Youtube sensation can or should write a book like you have. Can you say something about the thinkers who have influenced you and why people should listen to what you have to say?
JB: Amen to that first sentence! And to be honest I thought that same thing about myself at first. But when I dug around in my own heart, passions, and desires, I realized the reason I did poetry in the first place was because I love to teach. In school, I studied politics and government and my plan was to be a lawyer, and then that evolved into becoming a high school social studies teacher. So I love to teach and think analytically (I’m left handed, which makes me a little corky as well). I think poetry is an outflow of that, rather than my main passion. In fact, I don’t know how much longer I’ll do spoken word, as I don’t think it’s necessarily my gift or passion. Writing seems more up my alley.
Some of the thinkers who’ve shaped my faith pretty significantly have been Tim Keller, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, NT Wright, A.W. Tozer, Charles Spurgeon, C.S. Lewis, Ann Voskamp, Francine Rivers, Watchman Nee, Francis Schaeffer, Beth Moore, and Andrew Murray. I really owe each of them for particular seasons of life, struggles, joys and events. Their writings have all given me a unique perspective about Jesus and His message that I hadn’t seen before and that had a profound impact on this book.
JM: How do you see today’s 20-somethings taking a new approach to faith? Has there been a cultural shift among this demographic in your opinion?
Book cover courtesy of Thomas Nelson