Jesus>Religion: My Interview with Jefferson Bethke
We recently had the opportunity to chat with Jefferson Bethke about his new book Jesus>Religion: Why He Is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough. Jefferson is best known for his spoken word YouTube video "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus," which, at this time, has been viewed nearly 26 million times.
Back in August, Jefferson and I were on Al Jazeera America together talking about the state of religion in America—and it went well, largely because he was there!
Here is the interview:
When you created the YouTube video "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus" back in early 2012, did you expect it to have such an impact and following?
Not in a million years. In fact, my roommates and I took guesses on how many views we thought it'd get in 24 hours and highest guess was like 9,000. Turned out to be 1.6 million, I think. The thousands of responses that I got—and still get—impacted me greatly and, in fact, give me a constant reminder of all the different walks of life, testimonies, and stories that are out there.
So now, why a book? Did you always plan to publish something?
No, but it was always a dream of mine! I always wanted to be a teacher/writer, and so when the opportunity arose I was stoked!
How does the book's message differ from the heart of the YouTube video?
A lot! It's a heavily narrative-driven book with a lot of unpacking scripture and taking a fresh look at the man named Jesus who lived 2,000 years ago.
What is your hope for those who read Jesus>Religion?
That they'd see Jesus for who he really is, what he's doing, and join him in his world rescue operation.
This book shows that you are unwavering in your beliefs and very solid in understanding Christian doctrine. Some would say that's rare for a 20-something. Where did you learn that strength of faith?
I'd say a lot of it came from my love for reading. My wife jokes that books are my love language. I can't get enough. Also I didn't have cable for a few years so reading was how I engaged, escaped, dreamed, relaxed, etc.
Tell us about some of the contrasts you talk about in the book: teeth gritting versus grace, law versus love, performance versus peace, despair versus hope.
Jesus had a very upside down thrust to his message. He flipped a lot of things on their head. A lot of times we fall, by default, on the wrong side.
It's been said that you are an expert on the millennial generation. How do you see today's 20-somethings taking a new approach to faith? To communication about faith?
Every generation has their non-negotiables. My generation's seems to be social justice. We won't listen to someone who speaks it but doesn't live it. Also, the Internet is second nature to us so that drastically changes how we communicate.
If millennials are indeed energized by a new perspective on Jesus—and if they're talking about faith through new mediums—what does that mean for the future of the church? How do we usher in new leadership?
I think it means the older generation shouldn't get mad at us or critique us as much as they pour into us. They should pass the baton in a discipleship form. That's how God created it to work. Disciples reproduce themselves, and I think there is a split in the generations today.
Your influence started—and in many ways remains—online. We see the profound impact of social media. How do you think the digital age influences how we talk about and understand faith?
Social media impacts the faith convo a ton! It's the front lines of thought, and so in many ways it's the "Front Door" someone will use to begin to start looking or hearing about Jesus for the first time.
Will the digital age take influence away from pastors and give "preaching" power to the Average Joe? Does it level the playing field, so to speak? If so, is that good or bad?
I think it's both good and bad. Social media has a very quick "weeding out" process since there is so much information out there. Everyone does have an opportunity to post, but the question is, "Who listens?"
What is church supposed to look like? You say that it should be a place where all racial, societal, political, and financial walls are abolished. How do we create that?
That's a tough question. I'd push someone to read the book of Acts and walk really close to the Spirit to answer that one. But the easiest way for it to begin looking like that is an awful lot of repentance—from prejudices, bias, selfishness, etc.
You're very famous and very young, how do you handle your notoriety at such a young age?
A piece of advice Tim Keller gave me has stuck with me more than almost anything I've heard the past few years. He said the people who struggle with pride and ego the most are people who don't have a big enough vision. For example if his vision is to get claps and thank you's and write good books then he'd probably achieve that and become prideful. But his goal is that God might bring his reign and rule to all of New York City. Since most is a drop in the bucket (still a ton of growth, but comparatively a long way to go!) then he's fine. So ultimately having a bigger God and a kingdom-sized vision can help a ton.
Also [it helps] to be surrounded by people who aren't impressed by me. My friends see me as Jeff. They think I'm annoying and cumbersome sometimes. Being surrounded by friends and community and not just "fans" helps put everything in normal perspective.