Since Bethke’s initial post, there have been all kinds of reactions: good, bad, and (as one would expect on the internet) – hostile. I want to lift up a few that I considered charitable and helpful for Christian conversation. It is obvious that many people resonate with the spirit of Bethke’s message even if they take issue with the letter, as Kevin DeYoung’s very lengthy and detailed theological response does here. And, as a United Methodist Protestant who is convinced that we live like children who have forgotten our mother, I also deeply appreciate this Catholic video response
But for Bethke’s part – I think he gets that. In this interview with Ray Hollenbach, he readily admits that when he uses the word “religion” (in his Mars Hill Church context) it is synonymous with “legalism,” “self-righteousness,” or “hypocrisy.” And though it may be true enough that Bethke’s poetry has “a penchant for sloganeering instead of careful nuance” (DeYoung’s critique), and that he receives “immense popularity by making blanket statements stylistically” (Bad Catholic blog) – lets also not forget that it is that very “stylistic sloganeering” that is the reason he received over 13 million hits in 7 days and why so many others have something to talk, blog, and video post about. This is a relatively new Christian who is using his gifts and his passion to talk about his faith, and lets be honest – one of the reasons he is so popular is that few with his gifts use them for godly purposes.
For my part – I love Bethke – I love Jesus – and I also love religion – AND – I hate false expressions of it as much as everyone in all of the linked posts above. And oddly enough, I actually believe that all of us – if we could sit down in a room together would have no problem singing that old Christian spiritual with conviction:
Gimme dat ole time religion,
gimme dat ole time religion,
gimme dat ole time religion,
It’s good enough for me.
Makes me love everybody …
It was good for Paul and Silas …
It will do when I am dying …(“Ole-Time Religion,” in Songs of Zion, p. 89)
Both views represent many truths. I think you have to be open to hear both. When we close ourselves and limit ourselves to one view we are also closing ourselves to growth. I like the argument the catholic view brings to Bethke’s view, but I also appreciate and understand Bethke’s take on religion. I know I sometimes been the one to limit my vision of the purpose of the Church and helped feed the negativism toward the Church. But I have seen Churches accomplish wonderful things in the name of Christ and for Christ. Maybe it all comes down to LOVE, just LOVE. LOVE the way Christ loved us. We just forget to love each other many times. We get too busy, too focused on other things, too tired, too cynical. As the song says, “makes me love everybody”. That’s what we all need to strive to do.