December 11, 2013

Jesus > Religion Book Review

Maybe she'd give Jesus another chance.
Maybe he'd investigate Jesus a little more.
Maybe you'd rethink your current worldview.
~Jeff Bethke                         
When I was in high school we had one theology teacher who said that religion could basically be defined as man looking for God, and doing subsequent works or offerings to get in good with Him. Therefore, Christianity was indeed not a religion, for in Christianity it is God who seeks, looks, and pursues His children, who do nothing to earn favor with Him. He takes pleasure in us not because we do anything good to earn it, but because He loves us in spite of anything we do, and we have relationship with Him through Christ's saving sacrifice on the cross. Genuine Christianity is relational, not religious. And as such, it's not hard to then see that Jesus is indeed greater than religion, and in fact that He came to abolish such thinking and teaching. This is the whole premise of Jeff Bethke's first book, Jesus > Religion: Why He is so Much Better than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough.

I'm not a fan of making overarching general statements, but I feel it's safe to say that in asking my generation about Jesus, most of them just regurgitate what's been spouted to them via the media or their friends or family. Exploring questions and inquires for ourselves personally for one reason or another is dying; Many of us would rather have others tell us what we should think and speak on our behalf, even when it comes to Jesus and faith matters. It makes for lazy, haphazard intelligence. Bethke's first chapter, Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?, rightly tackles this and calls us to ask ourselves, Have we bought into the Jesus that culture, the media, etc. have told us? Or have we bothered to pick up our Bibles and read about who He really is and what He actually said? At the end of the day, what do we personally believe (not what do our philosophy teachers, culture at large, etc. believe) about Jesus? And could we honestly say it's rooted in our own study or exploration? So often, what's presented as 'Christian' at large is in fact religion, the preforming of a list of righteous acts. The real Jesus came to abolish even our righteous acts, for to Him, even those are filthy rags. He is jealous for us, our hearts, not anything we could ever do for Him.

Bethke hit his targeted audience, college students, well. His writing is easy to understand and gets straight to the point so as to keep our attention. The above quote summarizes the hope behind the book: that we'd take a harder look at the real Jesus for ourselves, and stop believing what's necessarily been spouted off to us. Below is the original spoken word poem that started the process of Bethke writing his book:

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher, Nelson Books, through the book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” *Book Cover image made available for use in conjunction with a review.


  1. Hi Natalie! This is a very thought-provoking post. I saw some of the video, but I must confess that I didn't watch all of it. It upset me. I think it is tragic that organized religion is seen in this way.

    My church is full of sinners, and I am one of them. I am not perfect. But I think God wants us to meet together, and try to do better. Saying that people think being a Republican or part of a church group should only mean they have chosen to join something. After that, it is their actions and love that should rule.
    The video did say that religion is 'behavior modification.' I believe that is where I stopped watching. I guess you could say that on a very surface level. But that level has no faith. It's an view that is only human. To me, it's so much more. It's struggling to live the life of Christ in community.
    It is interesting to me that this is what young people are thinking these days, and so it's really, really important to listen to... it's just that to me, it's a sad thing.
    I have not read the book. Maybe it addresses these concerns, I don't know. To me, religion is all about relationships. It's not empty outward practices.
    (Please feel free to not publish this comment. It won't hurt my feelings!)

  2. Wow, very loaded and provoking! I've been interested in reading this one for a long time, but haven't made it yet. :) I definitely agree with both Bethke and Ceil. I think religion, by authentic definition, is a beautiful, necessary thing. But if our religion isn't made up of Jesus Himself, then it's worthless and should be tossed out. I loved the climax of his piece, about our weaknesses and Christ's finished work. THAT is our "religion", and YES, YES, YES, it cannot be regurgitated. It has to be what we know deep in our soul, in our bones. What the Spirit Himself has shown us, what we ourselves have read from the Word. It should make us grieve that we have so many masquerading as Christians who have never known Christ. It's Satan's greatest tactic; he doesn't want us to know the real Christ, and getting us to half-identify with a half-Christ is enough.
    Some of the video really pricked my own heart, too, in truly believing the gospel for ME. Thank you for sharing the review and video!

  3. I had never even heard of this book, but I am interested now! It makes me sad that people of your generation might just want others to do their thinking for them, but I guess that is probably true of some people in each generation. People are seemingly eager to hear what the world says about Christ, and it makes me so sad that they don't believe the truth. The Pharisees were very religious, but they sure didn't make Jesus impressed!

    Some of the video really aggravated me. I don't really know why he had to throw politics into the mix. I am a Republican and the reason why is because I believe government is a huge part of the problem, NOT the solution that many Democrats seem to feel. Being a Democrat doesn't mean you care more about people. So....just because you say you aren't being judgmental doesn't mean you aren't. His words or lack of them told that story.

    I also didn't appreciate the extremely negative way he portrayed the church. Jesus is the head of the church and I don't think it is a bad thing. Of course, the church is full of sinners saved by grace, but that doesn't mean it should be belittled of avoided.

    I do agree that Jesus>Religion. Grace, grace, grace!


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