Update: There is an email correspondence listed here on the Gospel Coalition website in which the gentleman creating this video, Jeff Bethke, responds with humility and is very receptive to the criticism he is given. I have huge respect for anyone who is so willing to respond this way.
Nice video, eh? Well, here’s the problem I have with videos like this. Let’s say you are trying to bring someone into the Christian faith, to develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. You know they’re skeptical of religion, and you are keen to have this person know that you aren’t like those religious people that they’ve had bad experiences with. We’re going to assume this person is receptive to your message. Here’s how it might go:
You: So you see, it isn’t a religion at all, it’s a relationship with Jesus!
Them: Sounds great, sign me up! I love Jesus. Now I’ve gotta go to the bar, there’s a lot of women there that give me a great time every night.
You: Woah, hang on there. Don’t you know that Christians aren’t supposed to sleep around?
Them: I thought you told me that religion was about rules, and Jesus was about love. Now you’re telling me your non-religion has rules?
You: Well, they’re more like behaviour expectations…
Them: Next you’ll be telling me I have to go to church too!
You: Well, you see, when I was telling you that there were no rules, I meant that you won’t be saved because you did the right things. There are still things that you should do to be a faithful Christian.
Them: So, I should pray, and go to church, and follow a list of ethical expectations? That sounds a lot like these big bad religions you were talking about. Next you’ll be telling me there’s some dogma I have to believe, like Jesus rising from the dead and all that junk.
You can see how this setup falls apart rather quickly, and has confused the recipient of the message. It’s confusing for church goers too, and it accounts for a lot of hypocritical behaviour in Christians. After all, if its all about liking Jesus, then you can sucker people into faith pretty easily. After that, it’s a little more difficult to convince that convert that you pulled in via your “Religion is bad” message to follow a (for lack of a better word) religious lifestyle.
The fact is, that Christ came to fulfill our religious desires. In Hebrews 4:14, Jesus is described as a High Priest. That doesn’t sound very anti-religious to me. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus clearly establishes in places like Matthew 5:17-18 that Jesus is come as a fulfillment of the religion of the Old Testament- a religion complete with fasts, rituals and priests. The church of the New Testament, that Jesus established, is called to exercise church discipline, (1 Corinthians 5:1-2) to practice a ritual meal (Matthew 26:26-28) to teach obedience to Christ’s commands and administer a rite of initiation (Matthew 28:19-20)… the list of religious trappings goes on, and on.
Christ came not to abolish religion, but to transform religion. Every person has a desire within them for some form of greater meaning, a religious nature that establishes habits and standards of behaviour based on their beliefs about that greater meaning. A Christian’s religion is unique from any other world religion, and yes, unlike many others, it involves God reaching out to us in grace rather than us achieving salvation through our own merit. It is still religion, and Christ is still our High Priest, not a social radical determined to destroy “religion.”