Why I like the I Hate Religion video

January 15, 2012 — 10 Comments

The Christian bloggers haven’t been this worked up since Rob Bell’s Love Wins.

The critiques have been pouring in on the very popular video “Why I hate religion but love Jesus” (you can watch it below).

Mega-blogger Justin Taylor tweeted this good perspective:

  • in 6 days 12 million people have watched @JeffuhsonBethke’s “Why I hate religion” video.
  • In 10 months 650,000 watched the Love Wins trailer.


Several differences in the two firestorms:

  • Love Wins was an internal fight among Christians.
  • Why I Hate Religion has reached viral status among the broader world.
  • Love Wins was justifiably critiqued. It’s pretty much heresy.
  • The Why I hate religion but love Jesus video is not flawless in its wording but it’s a great attempt at evangelism


Tullian Tchividjian responds to the critics with, I think, a very helpful correction that’s well worth the read.

I’ve found that in college ministry our main battle is definitely what Tullian writes: that the gospel is “going to have to be distinguished from religion because “religion” is what most people outside the church think Christianity is all about—rules and . . . cleaning yourself up and politics . . . and self-salvation”


Cru’s “Changing Evangelism” research project found an interesting pattern among most non-Christians:

“They are convinced they’ve already heard.

Regardless of how we adapt our evangelistic approaches, it is significant to know that our audience thinks they’ve already heard the message of Jesus (even if, in fact, they haven’t).

We found that 31 of 34 unbelievers we interviewed felt that they’d already heard the message of Jesus . . .

When in fact, most needed someone to correct misconceptions they had about God.

Many New Believers expressed having had misconceptions and a lack of understanding about what it meant to be a Christian. In fact, though many New Believers grew up around Christianity, they would say that they’d never really heard a clear presentation of the gospel before college.”


I have found that when you talk to most college students about Jesus they will immediately think you are talking about religion and they will dismiss you out of hand (and won’t hear anything you’re saying). On our campus, one of our chief goals in evangelism is to contrast religion with the gospel (a la Tim Keller: “there are three ways to approach God: Religion, Irreligion, and the Gospel; which makes me think – what does Keller think about all this fuss?? and how come people are lining up to criticize this video when no one has taken on Keller for his use of “religion” as the word to represent a moralistic approach to God).


I think the “Why I hate religion” video, while not perfect, definitely creates tension to where a person might for the first time think:

“Maybe I don’t really understand Christianity and the gospel.”

And that’s a great place to start.


To be fair, I have tremendous respect for guys like Kevin Deyoung and others who have criticized the video. And Kevin, et al, have some valid (though I’d say relatively minor) quibbles.

And you should definitely read Kevin Deyoung’s post where Jeff Bethke, the creator of the “I hate religion” video writes to Kevin to thank him (with incredible humility) for his loving critique:

“If I redid the video tomorrow, I’d keep the overall message, but would articulate, elaborate, and expand on the parts where my words and delivery were chosen poorly. . . thankful for your words and more importantly thankful for your tone and fatherly like grace on me as my elder”


But one commenter on Tullian’s post says it well:

“This young man should have received a pat on the back, instead he got thrown under the bus by a lot of people who should have known better. Props to him for boldly speaking about Christ in a public medium. Not to mention taking all of the criticism in a humble, teachable way.”


As the saying goes: No one has ever built a monument to a critic.

Or to paraphrase another of my favorite sayings: I like the way Jeff is sharing the gospel better than the way they’re not (not saying they don’t share their faith. There just seems to be far more concern for semantics than passion for the lost).

He made a very well produced video that obviously connected with a lot of people (presumably a lot of whom were non-Christians) and created tension on a critical issue, hopefully awakening many to the fact that they really do not understand the amazing news of the gospel.


What are your thoughts?

How do you get through to students/others who hear “religion” when you say “Jesus”?




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  • Andrew Wise

    I go back and forth on trying to preserve a positive connotation for “religion”. It definitely seems to have more than one meaning, and the meaning of “a moralistic approach to God” was pretty clear from his video. I also think the meaning “a set of beliefs or a way of approaching God” is common, and people are able to tell when this is what you mean. Christianity is a religion. But it is different from worldly religion.

    But you’re right, you definitely have to draw a sharp contrast between Christianity and worldly, moralistic religion especially in areas of strong cultural Christianity or the wrong idea is communicated.

    So I guess I think what I will do is talk about how Christianity is unique among all religions, or opposed to worldly religion or moralism. One risk of using Christianity vs. religion terminology might be feeding an individualistic, non-institutional faith (because people associate “religion” with institutional churches, etc..).

    In any case, I’m glad so many people are hearing about grace from this guy and that he is humble enough to recognize that his terminology probably wasn’t the greatest.

    But, finally, I think you’ve hit a nerve with this: “how come people are lining up to criticize this video when no one has taken on Keller for his use of “religion” as the word to represent a moralistic approach to God”

    Exactly. Tim Keller does this all the time, and everyone seems to understand how he is using the term.

    • Anonymous

      Great thoughts Andrew. I too thought “a moralistic approach to God” was rather clear from the video. In sharing the gospel and using phrases like religion is
      “RELIGION= I obey-therefore I’m accepted
      THE GOSPEL= I’m accepted-therefore I obey”
      I’ve never felt like students hear a rejection of “institutional church” (though I can definitely see how they could get that from Jeff’s video).

      I just can’t think of a better way to summarize works based moralism than “religion” (probably because I’ve heard it from Keller so much).

      • Easier than Twitter to comment here. I was sympathetic with probably 80% of what Bethke said. I’ve been listening to Keller sermons for, probably 17 years, so I recognized the language immediately. (Significantly, Bethke goes to Mars Hill Seattle, so this religion talk has likely been mediated through Driscoll).

        But I wrote one of the critical blog posts, and still feel that way about the original video, because it lacked the context and nuance and careful speech that Keller always uses.

        Before the age of instant social media celebrity, this guy would have been doing his spoken word thing in his cafe or his church and had the opportunity to grow and mature without a social media firestorm. I feel bad for him, and I’m really pleased with the humility and maturity he’s displayed. There are implications for all of us here: what if something I said went viral? How would it stand up? And how would I handle it?

        Keller’s been talking this way for years, but no one criticizes him because no one understands him as saying what Bethke ACTUALLY DID say. Bethke, in the DeYoung follow-up, is essentially admitting what his critics have charged him with. (Very humbly, I might add).

        Was this helpful? Was it evangelistic? I know for a fact that many Christian students took it as a swipe against anything organized or institutional, which is not helpful. My blog post was a response to many of my own students. Bethke’s video wasn’t a broadside against mere legalism, hypocrisy, or self-righteousness–that would have only garnered a couple thousand views. He was saying he hates religion, which Jesus came to abolish. Those statements, among others, warranted a response.

        Is it evangelistic? I don’t think so. I think this was a tempest in the Christian teapot. I’ve only encountered a couple non-Christians online who cared to comment about this post–surprisingly, they were on the side of the critics of the video. Atheists, in particular, detest the “Christianity isn’t a religion” bit. Probably because it isn’t true. The people who gravitated to this video seemed to be churched folks.

        The rationale “But he’s evangelizing and spreading the gospel, he’s getting the Word out there…” One, please be careful to not write off critics as people who don’t share the Gospel or care about the lost. It’s precisely because I do share the Gospel and care about the lost that this video bothers me. It’s my lengthy conversations with skeptics, in particular, that makes me sensitive to the “Christianity isn’t a religion” line, which plays well among jaded churched people, but is seen as spin and marketing by true skeptics.

        I have to confess, the consequentialist reasoning bothers me. It seems to say “Yeah, he didn’t get his words right, but that’s ok.” Shouldn’t our words matter MORE if we’re sharing the Gospel? Shouldn’t we be even more careful? Shouldn’t we have a little more of Spurgeon in us, where we tremble every time we speak the Gospel, lest we should misspeak even one word?

        One more thing: I wish I had been more gracious in my initial response on my blog. I’m learning here, too.

        • Anonymous

          Steve – thanks for taking the time to respond!

          I appreciate your insight because I know that you are on the front lines on the college campus and you are in a far more difficult world than I minister (the NorthEast vs. the deep south) – as far as a greater number of hostile skeptics and postmodern secular students.

          I was thinking the same thing re: him having time to mature. I know Tim Keller and Redeemer has become more precise/careful in their language over the years somewhat because of making mistakes in the past (getting quoted out of context in the NYTimes, etc).

          Honest question (because this is something I’m trying to figure out as I observe the response to this video):
          How do you balance being incredibly careful/theologically precise in communicating the gospel (Spurgeon-esque) without making it necessary to have a seminary degree before you can share your faith?

          What I’ve observed (to grossly generalize) is that most Cru staff like this video and most reformed pastors do not.

          To be fair, I know several Cru staff who did NOT like the video. But in general it seems like the majority did (from my very scientific Twitter observances).

          So why the divide?
          It’s not an issue of theology or lack of theological study. Many of the Cru staff I’ve interacted with re: this video are both Reformed and pretty well educated.

          It seems to come down to (to label them in their extreme forms):
          pragmatism vs. ivory tower theology

          As you said in your comment, it’s not fair to say the Reformed critics don’t share their faith. And it’s not true to say that Cru staff are merely pragmatists (doing only what works rather than what is right/theologically accurate). Most of my Cru staff friends are Reformed in their theology and very concerned with theological depth. And I love that many of the Young Reformed are extremely passionate about the lost.

          But – back to my question (and I honestly want to know how y’all have been able to straddle this line): How do you mobilize as many students to overcome their fears and go and share their faith while keeping a proper respect to not misspeak even one word?

          Also Stephen – do you have some thoughts on how Biblically there’s more of a sense we should “tremble over misspeaking even one word” vs. uneducated men and women immediately sharing the gospel with their friends and family in what I would assume a very incomplete way (the Samaritan woman, the jailer, etc). Or Paul’s comment “who is adequate to such a task?”

          And yes I realize that with the latter there’s a slippery slope that can lead to- “lets just not do any theological work and hope for the best – God will show up!”

          I agree that the Message is the most important message there is. And therefore we should give all our effort to getting it right. I just fear that no one will ever hear it if we have to get our seminary degree before proclaiming it 🙂

          Again – all these are honest questions – just thinking out loud as I process through how you balance evangelistic zeal and holy reverence for the message we carry.

          Thanks for the sharpening!

  • Keller’s context is seems more clearly moralistic thinking, because he contextually defines religion when he denounces it (at least in podcasts I’ve heard and what I can recall). Short poems that start with “Jesus came to abolish religion” (which, regardless of anything else, just isn’t in the Bible) are more ambiguous but send a strong and provocative message. It’s wonderful when he puts the focus on Jesus, but not if it comes at the cost of tearing down others.

    Maybe his jab at voting Republican just set me in a sour mood from the onset [ 😉 ], but I generally agreed with most of DeYoung’s thoughts and his overall sentiment. I didn’t think he was “throwing him under the bus,” I thought it was a very supportive, encouraging, and gentle rebuke. Some parts were over-the-top (like saying he should have focused on repentance more, that was dumb, he can focus on whatevertheheck he want, it’s his poem); but he’s right that there can be a strong church-bashing tone in young Christian movements.

    The issue is that tone, which I’ve heard crop up in a lot of conversations. It’s a bit of a straw man, nobody short of Moses on campus says that God doesn’t love single mothers, and the most Republican Jerry Fallwells and James Dobsons of the world never claimed voting any certain way made you a Christian, that’s just Jim Wallis caricature.

    Yes, organized religion is full of hypocrites; but it’s also full of powerful Gospel movements, great social causes, and a strong history. Moralistic organized religion burned people at the stake and stitched scarlet A’s on shirts; but Gospel-centered organized religion ran the underground railroad, taught generations of Americans how to read, single-handedly battled poverty in Europe, and was the razor’s edge of the civil rights movement.

    Today, organized religion has its failures of man’s sinfulness and depravity; but it also leverages millions of dollars to send the gospel to unreached people groups, runs homeless shelters, counsels couples away from family breakups, promotes adoption, finds foster homes, creates worship assemblies, and provides almost all the infrastructure to fight crisises from human trafficking to abortion.

    For someone on campus who had a bad experience at church, we wouldn’t launch into a defense of religion, obviously. You talk about Jesus. But, I don’t see how it helps our cause to do the church bashing ourselves.

    I understand the need to differentiate between moralism and grace, and how that’s clearly the misconception a lot of people have. But you can talk about what your relationship with God looks like, or your story of him working in your life, without bringing religion into it.

    Anyway, I’m still thinking through this, but that’s my initial gut reaction. Prone to be humbled and revised, I usually find. Maybe I should have used a pseudonym… 😉

    • Also: I have yet to hear a non-Christian friend talk abou this video. I would be curious to hear their reaction.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for your thoughts Will. Always a great thinker/writer.

      I agree – I wish he hadn’t denigrated the church while contrasting religion.
      But I really didn’t pick up that vibe as much as the anti-moralism vibe. I agree (from your addendum below) – I’d be really interested to hear what vibe a non-Christian got.

      I like your republican comment! I’m sure that was enough to set you off 🙂

      I’m a republican but in general I never talk about politics (I don’t tweet about politics, etc – as you know Will!) because I do feel like it’s sometimes a stumbling block to talking about the gospel.
      But I thought it was fine for him to correct that misconception (that christianity is not a political viewpoint) because I DO feel that many non-Christians (especially liberal non-Christians) feel that Christianity is essentially a conservative right wing thing. Keller (as my gold standard for measured, precise communication) does his fair share of separating the gospel from politics (though he always is quick to point out BOTH sides saying “the conservatives get it wrong here and the liberals get it wrong there”).

      Maybe I shouldn’t have included the guys’ “thrown under the bus” comment 🙂
      In my post I called Deyoung’s criticism “loving” (because, I agree, it was not harsh at all). Just a little much I think – not sure it needed a line by line break down to convey the main idea of “Jesus did not come to abolish religion”. The sheer volume (not the tone) of the critique felt a little like he was bringing the big guns. I think he was just being thorough but I felt bad for Jeff getting hammered like that (again – not in tone, just in the length).

  • I completely agree with you, Tim.

    I was not on board with a lot of the criticism that Bethke withstood (so humbly and mature) from leaders within the church. There are two main things that those in leadership should have kept in mind when viewing his video and forming opinions.

    1. His target demographic – it is easy to see that his goal was not to preach to the deacons of churches throughout America. The video is well directed and was uploaded on Youtube. Not to mention, his delivery was in the form of a spoken word poem. He is aiming at his own generation. If it reaches those outside of the demographic, then wonderful. Kind of like ESPN. Their advertising targets the demographic that stereotypically watches the channel (men from teenage to adulthood). Are they happy that 19-year-old girls like me watch their channel? Yes. But was I an intended target? No. Looking at the fact that he was targeting his own generation plays into my second point:

    2. The active participation of the viewers – I for one was slightly offended when reading DeYoung’s post on “Why I Hate Religion.” He wrote as if we were unable to differentiate between the classical definition of religion and the manner in which Bethke defined it. Within modern film criticism is a new idea that the audience does not passively submit to everything that is pushed on them by the film (or in this case Youtube video) as was previously thought, but that the audience actively watches, forms opinions, and sifts through information as they watch.

    I think that critics like DeYoung didn’t take these two points into thought as they quickly pecked away at their keyboards. Our generation is perfectly capable of deducing Bethke’s definition of religion as different from the “Religious Views” we add on Facebook. Our generation is aching for someone like Bethke (and like many others – but this post is about Bethke) to take a stand and point toward Jesus as the ultimate good over our failed attempts to maintain our own sense of good as humans.

    If the complaint was that he was unintentionally allowing people to justify their sins, then I can toss the ball right back and say that people do that every single day with the Bible. People will justify their sins until they are blue in the face if that is what they are bent on doing.

    To Will: You mention in your comment that maybe you were initially turned off by the Republican comment. To that, I have a little story.

    I went to Valley Springs from first grade through graduation. (It’s a tiny little school in Arkansas). Well, during every presidential election we would have our own mock election at the school where the kids were able to vote for who they wanted as the president. I remember sitting in my third grade classroom before we were dismissed to vote and hearing my teacher tell us that “Democrats allow abortion, which is killing of babies, and Jesus would not like that.” (Allow me to clarify that I do not like abortion in the least, and I’m not dismissing her comment.) However, she was mingling Christianity and the Republican party. So like good little children that did not want babies to die, we each voted for George W. Bush.

    I understand your opposition, but being spoiled to this video over that comment is not entirely fair. The relation between Christianity and the Republican party is reinforced by the media and people like my third grade teacher every day. Though you and I both know that is not the case, we cannot rightfully deny the way many (not all) Republicans put on the badge of Christianity to gain mass appeal, especially when they are campaigning throughout the South.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for your thoughts Kristen. As I commented to Will: I agree with you Kristen that it’s totally legit for him to correct the misconception that christianity essentially equals religious right. I DO feel that many non-Christians (especially liberal non-Christians) feel that Christianity is essentially a conservative right wing thing. I cringe when I sense that some Republicans are using God for their agenda.

      I agree I thought it was clear that Bethke was using Religion in a “moralistic do good things so God will like me” sense. I agree with the critics that he could have done without the anti-church statements (siting what the church has done wrong). I think he could have made just as powerful of message without those thoughts. But in general I would think a non-Christian would mostly catch the differentiation between moralism and the gospel.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

    • Will Simpson


      My initial comment (about being turned off) was mostly in jest (hint of truth), but my latter critique (that nobody claims voting GOP=salvation) was serious.

      I agree with you guys that there’s a distinction to be made, that voting Republican doesn’t make you a Christian.   The gospel is not a political manifesto (though, if it permeates everything then it includes politics).

      I can see how you would be frustrated looking back to your middle school experience.  If it was a liberal teacher saying Bush hated poor people, I would be steaming.

      Of course, personally I think abortion is the most Biblically clear-cut issue today,  so I’m fine with pro-life candidates  claiming as much in different settings.  For example, if Obama is the most pro-abortion president of all-time, it’s fair game for conservatives to make scriptural rebuttals. As the great theologian R.C. Sproul said, “Abortion in America is, in the judgment of my very wise father, the greatest evil in our history.”

      But, anyway, I see your overarching concern.