Why I Love Jeff Bethke, But Hate Error

About a month ago, Jefferson Bethke released a highly polished video declaring the evils of religion in contrast to the true nature of Jesus' and His work on earth. This lyrical poem, delivered in mild rap, has produced a fire-storm of both controversy and commendation, while generating almost 19 million views on YouTube! His primary rebuke against self-righteousness, self-justification, and hypocrisy was needed. It was also clever and witty; however, it was not entirely Scriptural. If you have not seen it already, you can view Jeff's video on YouTube or by clicking on the image below:

Does this article's correction of Jeff's video mean that I dislike Jeff Bethke? No! Quite to the contrary, I love Jeff and care for him! Jesus Christ died for Jeff, because He loved him, just like Jesus loved and died for me. The gospel message of love and grace (John 3:16; Titus 2:11-14) must be proclaimed from the rooftops! However, whenever anyone enters the public arena to proclaim what he believes to be truth, then he necessarily opens himself to review, judgment, and comment from those, who believe that his proclamation is untrue, at least in part.

My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. (James 3:1 NKJV)

But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." (Matthew 12:36-37 NKJV)

If we will be judged even by our idle words, how much more important should our deliberately, publicly uttered thoughts be thoroughly sifted, contemplated, and chosen? I am not writing this in judgment of Jeff's heart, soul, or motives. As I said previously, I love and care for Jeff! However, because I love Jeff, and because he and those who publicly commend him will influence so many people, correction of the video's error must be made.

The Good

Clearly, the video is aimed squarely at those, who while living in sin and hypocrisy, publicly wear the name, Christian. As Jeff alluded, Jesus Himself graphically, strongly, and forcefully condemned those who publicly taught God's Word and outwardly displayed piety, but maintained secret lives of shameful sin:

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." (Matthew 23:25-28 NKJV)

These scribes and Pharisees, whom Jesus addressed above, taught God's law publicly, but privately they lived as if there was no law! Furthermore, as Jeff has suggested, these religious leaders made it exceedingly and treacherously difficult for people to truly seek and find God. They had constructed a hedge of additional laws. This hedge may have originally been designed to provide extra safety from violating God's law. However, the hedge ultimately confused and obfuscated the way to God. Jesus observed the excessive, undue yoke levied by the Pharisees and scribes of His day by addressing it with these words:

... "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. (Matthew 23:2-4 NKJV)

Such dishonest, hypocritical, sinful lives are indeed despicable. It is still deplorable, when people repeat even today this same pattern of wrapping God's good news in an inapproachable package of needless laws and pointless rules of human origin - all for the purpose of elevating their own outward piety, while inwardly filling their lives with putrid rottenness. Such people are in evident need of God's grace, even more so than any other because of their blindness (John 9:39-41). They attempt to withhold God's provision of mercy from others, just to enhance their own perverse ego (Matthew 23:5-7).

Jeff has done well to illuminate pretentious, feigned piety versus the gross sin and vanity of such hypocrisy, while letting struggling sinners know that not all Christians are hypocrites. To this extent, the video is certainly good. I applaud this aspect of Jeff's video, because I can support it with Scripture.

The Bad

For all the good and truth of Bethke's video, there is an inexcusable amount of bad and error. Although the video clearly denounces hypocritical religion with baseless rules of human origin, it does not clearly define what is a true religion. Furthermore, the video does not explain if true religion has any rules whatsoever. In fact, throughout the video, Jeff uses the word, "religion", indiscriminantly, as if all religion was bad. As numerous other reviewers of Jeff's video have already observed, Jesus did not come to destroy all religion, neither did He come to set aside all rules.

"Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20 NKJV)

Although Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament, thereby setting aside its authority, He nonetheless established a requirement for righteousness that must "exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees". As we have already seen, the Pharisees' righteousness was a sham, an outward presentation only. The righteousness we are to exhibit must therefore be of a different nature. However, it is a righteousness that we must possess; otherwise, we "will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven". Not only must we exhibit this righteousness, but this righteousness is still subject to law. Moreover, please recall that Jesus told the people to observe, that is, to obey the words of the Pharisees, whenever they proclaimed the law of Moses (Matthew 23:2). Therefore, Jesus taught that obedience to the truth was still critical, even if it was proclaimed by hypocrites! Furthermore, at the same time, He denounced the Pharisees for secretly living lives of "lawlessness". If we were to incorrectly accept that a life publicly lived beyond the restrictions of law is acceptable, then what is wrong with living such a life privately? Finally, Jesus warns of the sure judgment against those who disobey God by practicing lawlessness, even though they do many good deeds in Jesus' name:

"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matthew 7:21-23 NKJV)

Therefore, Jesus absolutely required obedience to His law for any religious service offered to God!

We live in a hedonistic time of spiritual lawlessness. Whether through ignorance or error, too many of our day live without respect to Christ's New Testament law (I Corinthians 9:21; Romans 3:27; 8:2; Isaiah 2:3; Jeremiah 31:31-33; Galatians 6:2; James 1:25; 2:12; 4:11-12). Admittedly, many also live in discouragement and despair, feeling unloved and unworthy. It is good to encourage the despairing, especially when their despair is needless; however, it is bad to feed the hellish flames of those, who teach and believe that true religion is without any rules, especially rules which Jesus established by Himself and through His apostles and prophets (John 16:12-15; Ephesians 2:19-20; 3:3-5).

Admittedly, Bethke has clarified his usage of the word, "religion", to mean "false religion" in the written comments recorded below the video on his YouTube page ("A poem I wrote to highlight the difference between Jesus and false religion."). Further, to Jeff's credit he has recently gone on record in his blog admitting that his video was unclear and that his language was imprecise. However, he is strangely convinced that this is somehow commendable, simply because the lack of clarity forces you to think. Although he may hide behind the labels of "art" and "poetic license", he is nevertheless attempting to teach and spread a message that he believes to be taken from God's Word, and that brings transcendent spiritual responsibilities of clarity, not exhaustive detail, but clarity on the vital points that he chooses to address:

Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle? So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. (I Corinthians 14:7-9 NKJV)

Given his deliberate lack of clarity, who knows what Bethke was really teaching about God's grace (I Corinthians 2:11)? More importantly, who knows whether it will be understood correctly, imparting God's truth? Even if many people find renewed interest in God and church, how will they react when they eventually learn that God expects them to give up their sin and obey Him (I Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19-21; Romans 12:1-2; Colossians 3:1-9)? Will they not feel like they have fallen prey to a "bait and switch", which nobody likes? Furthermore, despite Jeff's clarifications, his video still stands as it is, and it is continuing to encourage those, who would willfully continue to live lives of sin. For example, please consider the following comment offered in support to Bethke after his latest clarification:

I saw your video and LOVED it. I'm a young gay man (and I hope you are down with my community -- not as a group that needs to be fixed or anything, but just as another one of God's children). I certainly don't think (or ever have) that being gay is bad, immoral, etc. ... In closing, to me, God is love. And while none of us are perfect, the basic choices we make on a daily basis should be those which God would be proud of. I hope you keep doing what you are doing, keep a good level head, enjoy the ride/journey/experience, and continue to remain a cool guy who is (and this is one of my biggies) nonjudgmental. (Comment #8)

Ironically, Bethke has by his deliberate lack of clarity created the very thing he has denounced - hypocrites! But, now these hypocrites hide behind God's grace, as espoused by Bethke, instead of a list of checked-off rules!

Even if we classify our teaching works as "art", we can still edit them and re-envision them. (If George Lucas can re-envision Star Wars because of technical limitations and immaturity, can Jeff Bethke not correct his video now that he knows better?) Ultimately, are we slaves to our art or to our God (Romans 6:16-19)? All teachers have a responsibility to be clear in their proclamation of God's Word. If their teaching, whatever the form or medium, proves to be divisive or erroneous, then the error needs to be corrected as best as possible. Jeff needs to add a few lines to his original video to make it crystal clear. He needs to explain that God demands obedience (Hebrews 5:9), and that grace does not provide license to sin (Romans 6:1-6; I John 2-3). Until then, many will continue to draw false strength and persist in their own disobedient lives of hypocrisy - now believing their hypocrisy to be sanctified by grace. Please, Jeff, don't put a correction on the back page of next week's newspaper. You can fix the original. Please fix the video!

Moreover, while Jeff has clarified the poem's target as being "false religion", please do not assume that what he considers false religion is the same as your definition. It could be that what you consider true religion is what he considers false! Let us see ...

The Ugly

The above video proclaims God's grace as the means of overcoming our sin, which is good. However, it is the uniquely Calvinistic brand of grace, which is advocated by this video, that brings it to its lowest point - false doctrine! Many have never heard of John Calvin or the Augustinian theology that he so tightly organized under the doctrine that now bears his name, Calvinism. If this is new to you, or if you are a proponent of Calvinism, I would encourage you to study the Scriptures outlined in the following series:

http://www.insearchoftruth.org/articles/index.html#calvinism

I would be happy to discuss this vital issue with anyone, because it pertains directly to the means and requirements of our salvation. Please use the site's contact form to discuss the above article series and the Scriptures it raises.

As Jeff's video begins to conclude with its closing stanza, uniquely Calvinistic buzzwords and terminology point the way to salvation, according to Jeff. Although very suspicious, their wording and usage is generally vague enough to deflect condemnation. Nevertheless, some lines are undeniably Calvinistic. Please consider the extreme grace extolled by the video's last verse:

Religion is man searching for God, Christianity is God searching for man
Which is why salvation is freely mine, and forgiveness is my own
Not based on my merits but Jesus's obedience alone.
...
Because when he was dangling on that cross, he was thinking of you,
And he absorbed all of your sin, and buried it in the tomb.
Which is why I'm kneeling at the cross, saying come on there's room
So for religion, no I hate it, in fact I literally resent it
Because when Jesus said it is finished, I believe he meant it.

Am I to understand that in true Christianity, man does not search for God? This is patently false (Hebrews 11:6)! I understand that Bethke could have been emphasizing God's efforts over man's, which would be wholly justified; however, the Scriptures clearly paint a picture of a God, who pleads and waits for man:

"And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us;" (Acts 17:26-27 NKJ)

Furthermore, how did Jesus absorb our sins? Did he absorb the punishment, the guilt, or both? Bethke does not say definitively; but whatever it was, Bethke tells us in his video that Jesus carried it to the tomb. That sounds like Calvin's notion of transferred guilt to me.

Although there are many unanswered questions and ambiguous phrases, the next two phrases are worded in the absolute, making clear the extreme grace being advocated. First, no Christian, who understands from the Bible and believes that at least some obedience is required for salvation, could ever say that we are saved by "Jesus' obedience alone". There simply is no wiggle room to interpret this phrase any other way. The truth of the matter is that while we are saved chiefly by grace (Ephesians 2:1-10; Romans 3:23-27), we also must save ourselves by obeying the gospel call (Acts 2:37-40; Philippians 2:12). Anything less advocates Calvin's unconditional election and irresistible grace. Yes, some may have gone to the opposite extreme of practicing self-justification and requiring perfect law-keeping, but we cannot correct one error by running to an opposite, but equal error. Just as our Father balanced justice and mercy in the cross, we must harmonize faith and obedience. To deny the requirement of obedience for salvation is no better than denying the requirement for faith!

Second, Jesus' proclamation on the cross, "It is finished," is a prevalent Calvinistic and faith-only proof-text used to eliminate any conditions of obedience for salvation. How else can we interpret Bethke's last line and closing slide but to eradicate our need to obey anything unto salvation, because Jesus has already done it, or finished it? (Please scroll back to the top and look at the end of his video again, which quotes Romans 4:5 and John 19:30.) This is a well-honed and clear Calvinistic argument. I am stunned at the number of people, who do not realize it, even though they denounce Calvinism. As examples of this Calvinistic and faith-only argument being made, please see:

According to Bethke, your salvation was finished at the cross! Can you believe it? Or, must you do anything to be saved? How about faith? Confession? Repentance? Or, baptism? Is anything required beyond Jesus' death on the cross?

Some may scoff at this analysis; however, when one visits Bethke's Facebook page and web-sites, they can see the support and advancement of Calvinism and extreme Calvinistic teachers. Specifically, on his Facebook page, he advocates Tim Keller, who is a vocal hyper-calvinist:

Jeff Bethke is also a big fan of John Piper, who is also a radical Calvinist:

Am I saying that Bethke's video should be rejected because he's a Calvinist? No, I am saying that it should be rejected because the video's ultimate message is Calvinism! And, the evidence suggests Bethke would not deny it. So, before you click "Like", recommend Bethke, or recommend this video, please be aware that you are advancing false doctrine and a false teacher! If you like his message of grace, and if you must recommend it, then please do so carefully with qualifications, so that no one will use your influence as blanket approval for what includes false doctrine. Or, better yet, find someone who maintains a Bible harmony between justice and mercy, obedience and faith to proclaim Scriptural grace to comfort the despairing and brokenhearted.

It has been said that, "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down." Bethke's wit and popular, universally accepted jab at hypocrites certainly provides some "sugar" to his message. ( -- When was the last time you saw someone cheer for the hypocrites? Who really likes hypocrites? Do not even hypocrites disdain hypocrites? Is that not why they are hypocrites? -- ) Yet, it is the truth mingled with error that has proven the most dangerous. Maybe a spoonful of truth helps the error go down too (Matthew 4:5-7; II Corinthians 11:13-15)?

Test all things; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. (I Thessalonians 5:21-22 NKJV)

Do we not have an obligation to sift through the message (I John 4:1, 6; I Corinthians 14:37-38), cling to what is good and discard what is bad? Why must we swallow it whole or be labeled a legalist?

Conclusion

Has Bethke's video possibly performed some good? I am sure it has. However, does that potential good grant the video immunity to correction or judgment? Certainly not (James 3:1)! Does correcting Bethke's video necessarily mean that I dislike Bethke, or that I am bashing him? No! As I have said repeatedly, I love him! And, because I love him and those influenced by his message, I must correct its errors.

The persistence in maintaining the original video with its confusing, divisive, and misleading message is inexcusable, considering how easy it would be to correct the original. I hope Jeff Bethke finds this post and heeds its encouragement to make his art clear in his effort to teach God's Word. It is not unforgivable, neither is it irrecoverable. In fact, it is inexcusable, because the video could be so easily fixed. Please Jeff, add a few scenes and lines to the original video to end the division and cut off the opportunity of false teachers (II Corinthians 11:12)! The Lord Himself was always concerned about people misinterpreting His actions, and He made provisions for their clarity (Deuteronomy 32:26-27; II Samuel 12:14; Ezekiel 36:18-24; Romans 2:22-24). Should we not do the same, if we are lifting up His name?

Lastly, it is the false doctrine of Calvin's unconditional grace that Bethke espouses, which summons the climax of this correction. The point of this article is not to refute Calvinism, which we do elsewhere. Rather, the main point of this article is to warn those who already know the error of Calvinism, and yet they have identified with the grace advocated in this video, maybe even publicly. To all I say, please do not support a false teacher, even if he mixes some truth with his error, until he repents by correcting his message (Matthew 4:5-6; II John 9-11; I Corinthians 14:7-9; Titus 2:1).

I have searched for some way to share this with Jeff Bethke. I would like to believe that he will find this and we would be able to discuss this kindly with open Bibles. Jeff, if you find this review, please use the site's contact form to discuss this further with me. If anyone else disagrees with the above application of Scripture to Jeff's video, please feel free to contact me. May all things be done to God's glory.

"Therefore take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him." (Luke 8:18 NKJV)

Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1994 by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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