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Chuck Colson, who died on April 21, wrote Christianity Today's longest-running column. His colleague Timothy George will continue Contra Mundum in our September issue, the 27th anniversary of Colson's first column. Please see our editorial and biographer Jonathan Aitken's reflection on Colson's contribution to contemporary Christianity.
You may not be able to pick Jefferson Bethke out of a lineup, but your kids probably could. He is the creator and star of the YouTube video "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus."
The video took the concept of "going viral" to an entirely new level: Just four days after it was uploaded in January, it had been viewed more than 10 million times, a number that has doubled since then.
It's easy to see why the video went viral. It's well done and clever, and Bethke's passion and sincerity are obvious. We understand why the video struck a chord. But it's a chord that's missing some important notes.
The video begins with the line, "What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion?" Religion, Bethke tells us, is about appearances and respectability, not real transformation—a state of affairs he compares to spraying perfume on a casket. Jesus, we are told, is the "work of God," while religion is a "human invention."
There is something to be said for this critique, for religion without the gospel, ritual without conversion, is a spiritual dead end. In this sense, Jesus did not come to found a "religion." He came to establish the church.
The fastest-growing demographic in American religious life, the "nones," includes many young people who are drawn to a churchless Christianity. A better word for this group might be the "liminals," as the recent book American Grace suggests. These folks, say authors Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, "seem to stand at the edge of some religious tradition, unsure whether to identify with that tradition or not."
This phenomenon is nothing new. In 1832, Ralph Waldo Emerson, the godfather of privatized religion ...