Jefferson Bethke is known for his variety of religiously focused videos on YouTube. Without even realizing it, most of you have watched one of his videos, because during fall semester Pastor Troy showed one of my favorite Bethke videos, The Greatest Artist of All Time, to tie in with the chapel theme, Create.
On March 4th, 2011 Jefferson posted his first video on YouTube, a small clip of him reciting a poem that he read at an open mic night at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. Today the video only has 113,902 views. In the months following he posted four more videos, but on January 12th, 2012 he uploaded his fifth video, a passionate poem titled, Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus. This 4-minute poem became an overnight sensation, obtaining 7 million views in its first 48 hours and over 23 million in the first year. Making it the most watched video Bethke has ever produced.
The video blew up on social media sparking conversations between the encouraged and the enraged, but he continued to post videos on YouTube and on October 7th, 2013, not even a year after his fifth video went viral, he released his first book, titled Jesus > Religion. As the blurb on the back of the book says, “Bethke unpacks contrasts similar to those he drew in the poem –highlighting the difference between teeth gritting and grace, law and love, performance and peace, despair and hope.”
Immediately after reading the first chapter, you feel a sense of closeness and trust with Jefferson, and even for me, a book loving nerd, this was strange. I have never met this person, why do I feel as though Jefferson and I hang out on the weekends and are close friends? After finishing the book I realized, it’s because he opens up to his readers telling everyone his motivation behind his work, by speaking the truth about his life and the mistakes and blessings he found along the way.
Bethke quickly acknowledges that he is not a religious expert or a pastor, but is a simple, ordinary, twenty-something who pleaded and wept for a better life, full of joy and purpose. His cries were heard and along his journey to happiness, Bethke discovered the real Jesus, who in turn summoned him to live a life beyond the boundaries of the false religion created by modern day society. In the book he questions modern American Christianity and wonders why is so different from the “Bible’s vibrant, uncontrollable, and unpredictable Christianity.” He later says that we have “made God a math equation,” because instead of building a relationship with him and trying to live like Christ, we try to live like Christians. His book is a memoir of the lessons he learned through personally pursuing Jesus to lead his day, not only on Sundays, but every day for the rest of his life.
Jefferson’s passion overflows on every page and his devotion to living a life for Jesus is so inspiring that you can’t help but to analyze your own life, not only to be better for Jesus, but for yourself. I highly recommend, Jesus > Religion to people who are unsure of their faith and are just meeting God, because Jefferson gives a clear description of what religion and Jesus are all about. On the contrary, this book would also be great for people who have been around or in the church for a while and have established their beliefs in Jesus, because Bethke focuses on explaining how to accept, motivate and challenge your own faith as a “Christian.” If you are interested in reading it there is one copy available in The Kellenberger Library, but it is also sold at Barnes and Noble and Amazon. Also don’t forget to check out Jefferson Bethke’s YouTube channel and website.