There’s a video making the rounds in which someone I’ve never heard of recites poetry about the contrast between (true) Jesus and (false) religion. It’s received publicity from Sojourners, among others.
Nadia Bolz-Weber’s response is here.
So…I believe in Religion AND Jesus. I believe in the Gospel. I believe in the transformative, knock you on your ass truth of what God has done in Christ. I believe that I can only know what this following Jesus thing is about when I learn it from people I would never choose out of a catalog when we all gather together as the broken and blessed Body of Christ around the Eucharistic meal. I believe that I am the problem at least as often as I am the solution. I believe in participating in sacred traditions that have a whole lot more integrity than anything I could come up with myself. I believe I need someone else to proclaim the forgiveness of sins to me because I cannot create that for myself. I believe that Jesus is truly present in the breaking of the bread and that where 2 or more are gathered he is there. That’s religion AND Jesus. May God make us worthy of it all.
Jonathan D. Fitzgerald is scathing in his response:
See the problem is, Bethke doesn’t mean religion either, but he’s rehearsing a popular evangelical trope, that the freedom that Christians find through Jesus is freedom from structure, organization, and authority. Of course, Bethke, like all Christians, is a member of a religion, he holds “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs,” as Dictionary.com defines it. What Bethke is actually railing against is people whose expression of religion doesn’t look like he believes it should. Thus, rather than discounting religion, he is just discounting other religions, or even just other manifestations of his own religion.
Read it all: “Lame Poetry, False Dichotomies, Bad Theology.
My question, as someone with an academic background in theology–Haven’t we heard all this before? Remember Karl Barth? Of course, Barth’s critique of religion focused on its human origins, to which he contrasted the divine origin of the Word of God. On a lighter note, as Fitzgerald points out, this critique of religion is something of a trope in Evangelicalism. I would only add that the rise of nondenominational churches is in itself a product of the Evangelical critique of religion.