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on 26 October 2013
I have been following Jefferson Bethke on YouTube for sometime now. When I first found out that he was writing a book, I placed my order in July! I received his book today and many hours later I have finished reading it. I would recommend this book to everyone, his writing will make you think about your walk with God/Jesus! By the way I am 61 years old!
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on 23 May 2017
So much truth in this book, I would recommended it to every 'questioning' Christian. Jeff outlines his story and then says why it might be wrong the ways he was thinking and addresses the reader in a really approachable way. He doesn't force it but gently nudges them. :)
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on 22 May 2017
Everyone should read this book!!! Amazing.
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on 8 October 2014
This book is awesome.
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on 24 November 2013
I haven't finished reading this, but I love the book! I eel like Jee is my older brother, he's been through it and gets it! I love that he doesn't make everything seem like butterflies and roses! Reading this book has helped me to know I need the real God, not the worlds copy which fills me with the terrible kind of fear that nothing will change. Now I feel like a redeemed sinner after a perfect God who is strangely, with crazy grace and forgiveness, after me too. Rather than feeling like a sinner constantly trying to win God with the flames of hell on me and God's fury! Thanks Jeff for letting me know Jesus is more than enough! WOOO God bless you and all who read this book!
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on 24 October 2013
"What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion?..."

With those bold words, so began Jefferson Bethke's provocative spoken-word YouTube poem, 'Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus'. After being uploaded in January 2012, it stunningly racked up 7 million views within 48 hours and 16 million within a few weeks. Bethke, an unsuspecting twentysomething student from Tacoma, had gone viral.

The essence of the poem sees Bethke contrast the Jesus he finds in the Scriptures with the 'religion' (as he calls it) that he observes around him stateside. Unsurprisingly some people loved it, and some were incensed. Evidently he'd put his finger on something that resonated, and now nearly 26 million have watched him online.

With those kind of numbers behind the guy, you don't have to be much of a cynic to infer why Thomas Nelson Publishers thought there was a book in this. Now, nearly two years on from the video going online, Bethke's first book is here, 'Jesus > Religion - Why He is So Much Better than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough'. Interestingly the breadth of Bethke's appeal can be seen with some surprising names amongst the book's commendations: Republican Mike Huckabee, Real Madrid footballer Kaka, and even Russell Moore from Southern Baptist Convention. But before I share a review, why not watch the original video:

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Essentially the book is a punchy expansion and elaboration on the theme of the video, but through the narrative lens of Bethke's own life-story. His aim is to introduce readers to the "dangerous" Jesus of the Scriptures that changed his life, simultaneously exposing the shackles of 'religion'. As he says, "I want to push you a little closer to Jesus".

You might think from the title, or perhaps the video, that Bethke is gonna be proposing some sort of commitment-lite, doctrine-shy 'spirituality', but that's far from his aim. As much as he hates self-righteousness dressed up in Christian clothes, so Bethke also has it in for any cheap-grace, Jeremiah-33:11-printed-on-your-T-shirt, 'feel-good' distortion of Christianity as well.

Sure, Bethke knows how to turn a phrase and capture what he's trying to say in a few cleverly-phrased words. For example, he speaks of the difference between relating to Jesus and religion as about realising that "I'm not an employee, I'm a child" (28). In his pithiness you can spot some of his influences: Keller, Piper, Lewis, even Augustine. But what's wrong with that? I don't think Bethke would ever claim to be original in his message. Instead he's a "popularizer of ideas", getting the gospel of grace out to his generation.

But he's not all soundbite and flash video. Ultimately I think the winsomeness of Bethke's message comes from the fact that he himself has tasted the emptiness and unending guilt of what he is now so zealously against. He speaks of a period in his own life where he became very proud, believing he was morally upright, almost to the extent that he resented his own family. He speaks of family members being treated harshly by Christians for their sexuality. Later he attended a Christian college in the States, which he found "stuffy, hypocritical and judgmental". He speaks openly but sensitively about his struggle with porn and sexual promiscuity, all the while feeling he'd not encountered the Jesus of outrageous grace, a Jesus that confronts our rejection of God head on, but deals with it and helps us change: "we don't have to hide the fact that we are messy, because God doesn't hide the face that that's exactly the type of people he came to save. God doesn't hide sin ... he put it on display two thousand years ago in a splintered T-shaped piece of wood" (135).

As I read Bethke's book I couldn't help but feel this is a guy who is deeply passionate about his message, but also deeply humble about his own self-importance. This is further evidenced in a published email conversation between Bethke and pastor Kevin DeYoung, after DeYoung lovingly questioned how helpful Bethke's video was to dismiss "religion's" place in the Christian life. I'll come back to that subject below, but evidently Bethke is humble, wants to learn, and is not out to simply make a name for himself. But at the same time he's not gonna sit around doing nothing either; he says, "I've tasted grace and can't help but tell others about it" (20).

As mentioned, a lot of the furore against Bethke's video concerned his use of the term "religion". Was it helpful to use that particular word? By denouncing religion, was Bethke giving people an excuse to ditch commitment, church and holy living? Was Jesus really against religion, or rather just a certain form of religion? After all, I'm part of a denomination that has Thirty-Nine Articles 'of Religion'. Is that problematic? Thankfully and unsurprisingly Bethke takes the space a book allows to add the all-important nuance. Early on he explains that the 'religion' he is against is not the church, nor traditions, nor institutions, but rather "a system that upholds moral effort or good behaviour as the way in which we can have a proper relationship with God" (53). Perhaps 'religion' isn't the perfect word for it, but one can't deny that's what lots of people have in mind when they hear and use the word. In that sense, the cap certainly fits in many cases.

I felt the book works by layering; chapter after chapter comes from a different angle or with a different application, but the overall message is the same: "in a postmodern world where all religious activity is seen as what we do for God, we need to proclaim Christianity is about what God has done for us" (34; my italics). One chapter interestingly explores how this view of religion actually turns us against other people, making enemies, not friends; "the minute you think you have gotten on God's good side by your own behaviour, you are naturally prone to demonize those who haven't" (62). Another chapter helpfully uses the image of subconsciously relating to God as if we're "grading on a curve", but "God doesn't grade on a curve, he grades on a cross" (78). Coming to Jesus means realising that there "aren't good and bad people, with Jesus there are only bad people in need of grace" (76). As he puts later, "the paradox of Scripture is that it calls us way more sinful than we think we are, and it calls us way more loved than we think we are" (89).

Because Bethke's context is the USA, then occasionally it feels as if some of his polemic slightly misses the UK reader in cultural translation. He has one eye on a cold and heartless 'fundamentalism' that harshly adds rules to the Bible, whereas on the other side he challenges a culture of 'fakes' who justify bad behaviour by citing a past faith decision. I've never lived in the States, but one can imagine Bethke's words ringing home loud and clear for young people growing up in an overtly Christian culture, where the danger to never really grasp grace for oneself, or to divorce Christianity from the rest of their lives, are very real. However, I spot both those temptations within my own heart and so I'm not too concerned about handing this book to UK teenagers, students or 20somethings and letting them too marinate in grace.

Admittedly the last few chapters did feel slightly convoluted. Maybe in trying to tackle so much of what he sees as problematic in the American Christian subculture, for example the sacred/secular divide in chapter 9, it ends up feeling slightly tangential and less convincing. Given he approached the subject, I also felt he could have perhaps been clearer on God's sovereignty over suffering, but his line about God not punishing his people as all their punishment has been taken by Jesus was powerful.

In conclusion I'm drawn to Bethke's book. His tone is engaging and personable, and he has an uncanny ability to quickly cut to the heart. I feel the way he communicates the message of God's grace in Jesus is so powerful, so surprising, so outrageous, that I'd happily put a book like this in someone's hands. It informally exposes unhelpful stereotypes of Christianity. It gets grace on the table. It puts Jesus front and centre, and makes it hard for you to wriggle away playing the "but I'm quite religious" card. And so for these, I commend it.

Full disclosure: The publisher sent me a copy of the book for free, but I hope this is still a fair and honest review!
Originally from [...]
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on 2 July 2014
I enjoyed reading this - Jefferson Bethke writes with an informal, easy to understand style, like he's there in the room chatting with you as a friend. I like that. This book was full of insights and truth and I'd definitely buy another (paper) copy so I can lend it to friends.

It's particularly suited to those who are curious about faith, those who want their negative stereotypes of church or religion challenged, and those who are newer or younger Christians.

My only criticism would be that this book is very specifically geared towards the American church. The wider Western Christian church doesn't face all the same stereotypes and struggles that are presumed in this book, so it wasn't always relevant. But in those small sections, I just remembered that he's writing to Americans who have grown up in that culture - then it makes sense.

Still, there's plenty in here that's relevant and challenging to the UK Church though! Give it a read.
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on 12 December 2013
If you never read another book about God Jesus and Religion , this should be it
Well written in a contemporary style he is a brutally honest writer, especially when describing his own and Religions failings.
On the other hand he really glorifies The Lord Jesus! He loves his Lord and this is clear on every page! I hope this book stays a best seller for years It gives solid hope to all believers, wether babes or gray heads !
He has an uncanny ability to distil 1000's of years of Christian teachings about the Lord Jesus ,into a slim readable book, which is a rare gift!
Only criticism would be wether this book translates to the world outside N America. Much of his criticism of religion is pointed at American "fundamentalism" so called.
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on 11 January 2014
Definitely a good read. It reminds us that though we think we are better than others, we are all not worthy and in need of God's mercy. We are all sinners and no sin is greater that the other except for sin against the Holy Spirit.
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on 3 December 2013
This is an amazing book that opened up my eyes to the way we live and how its religion and not Jesus.
We are stuck by rules and not actually being like Jesus.
I would recommend it to any age, at any point in their faith. Im a 19 year old lad, working in a Christian organisation and this is book has help me grow deeper in love with Jesus.

(side note - bought this from The Book Depository, took a little longer than expected to be delivered, was told it was extremely fast but took them over a week to dispatch it. However it was a nice surprise to find a bookmark in the package aswell, which is useful as i dont like folding the pages)
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