We need to begin with Jefferson's poem. Here it is for the few of you who haven't seen it yet.
Among the most well-known of responses to this--which Bill also cites--is that of Kevin DeYoung. While he's critical of many parts of the video, he begins with this important statement, one which I agree with wholeheartedly:
... Jefferson Bethke seems like a sincere young man who wants people to know God’s scandalous grace. I’m sure he’s telling the truth when he says on his Facebook page: “I love Jesus, I’m addicted to grace, and I’m just a messed up dude trying to make Him famous.” If I met him face to face, I bet I’d like Jefferson and his honesty and passion. I bet I’d be encouraged by his story and his desire to free people from the snares of self-help, self-righteous religion.Amen and amen!
Kevin then does a very thorough job of deconstructing the poem, which I won't confuse matters by trying to replicate here. I will merely encourage you to read it in full and add what stands out to me.
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:26-27)There's a little more to this than semantics. Kevin rightly notes that Jesus was not exactly hostile to all religious practices. What he couldn't stand was those which masked the practioners' hard-heartedness. In other words, the problem was not that they were religious, but that their religion was proved worthless by their actions.
Semantics do matter, however, which is part of the problem. Dean Roberts appeals to the dictionary to make the point that nowhere in the very bland definition of "religion" do you find the caricature Jefferson describes. So why are we having this discussion? Ah, for that we must refer to a different dictionary:
Religion - The biggest lie in human history. It has been responsible for more deaths throughout human history than all other unnatural causes combined. For a thousand years the Church was a tyrannical dictatorship that used religion to control the uneducated masses. Free your minds and come into the 21st century.Of course, the Urban Dictionary is hardly known for its academic, dispassionate definitions. Still, it is something of a weathervane for seeing which way the cultural winds are blowing. The reason we need to listen to brothers like Jefferson is that they provide us important information about our own culture, which is the environment in which ministry happens. In this case, it's important for my orthodox friends to understand that in the prevailing culture, the dictionary definition of "religion" his hardly the consensus. Jefferson's views are important because they are prevalent, and that fact demands the church's attention.
Still, this is not to say I don't have problems with Jefferson's approach. By accepting the prevailing culture's caricatures, he throws a lot of very faithful believers under the bus. Again to Kevin here:
More to the point, Christians need to stop perpetuating the myth that we’ve basically been huge failures in the world. That may win us an audience with non-Christians, but it’s not true. We are sinners like everyone else, so our record is mixed. We’ve been stupid and selfish over the years. But we’ve also been the salt of the earth. The evangelical awakening in England in the eighteenth century is widely credited for preventing the sort of bloodbath that swept over France in the “enlightened” French Revolution. Christians ... give more to charitable causes than their secular counterparts. Christians run countless shelters, pregnancy centers, rescue missions, and food pantries. Christians operate orphanages, staff clinics, dig wells, raise crops, teach children, and fight AIDS around the globe. While we can always do more and may be blind to the needs around us at times, there is no group of people on the planet that do more for the poor than Christians. If you know of a church with a dozen escalators and no money and no heart for the hurting, then blast that church. But we have to stop the self-flagellation and the slander that says Christians do nothing for the poor.Finally, I suppose something should be said about Jefferson's gratuitous slap at Republicans. There are hypocrites across the political spectrum. But there are also devoted lovers of Jesus. I've taken note before of the tendency for the church to over-rely on political solutions, and that's a real problem, but it's a real problem for everyone.
So in response to Bill's question, "How Would You Respond to Jefferson?" I would offer this: Dear brother Jefferson, I admire your passion, and I appreciate the call to authenticity. Your energy is needed, but beware of the arrogance of youth. Or to shamelessly quote myself circa 2009:
Arrogance and ingratitude are endemic to our sinful condition, and the young are especially vulnerable, as they have not yet been chastised by the hard lessons of years. Most of us learned to despise the wisdom of our elders from an early age, and then had to unlearn that hubris the hard way. As a young believer, I quickly grew to be an "expert" in many things, and I have grown progressively "dumber" over the years, as the experience of those years has exposed me to my limitations. We naturally cling to our vanity and pride until God lets us follow them to their logical, humiliating conclusion.So that's the trick. We need to hear the call to constant reformation and renewal enunciated by Jefferson (and shared by many), without being sucked in by the accompanying judgmentalism toward our brothers and sisters, or over-identifying with the world's cynical dismissal of all things "religious". We need a "religion that is pure and undefiled before God."