The Gospel Coalition

A lot of attention has been paid to Jefferson Bethke's video Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus. Jefferson is a great, humble, teachable brother who loves the gospel. But the response to his video has been varied. Many love it. Others hate it. And still others have raised a caution flag--uncomfortable with the way "religion" is often contrasted with the gospel.

Wary of the trend amongst younger evangelicals to justify their jettisoning of the institutional church and theological traditions in favor of a vague, individualistic, a-theological, a-historical, version of modern licentious spirituality by saying "All of that other stuff is religion...and Jesus hates religion", is a point of contention for those who questioned the fruitfulness of Jefferson's video. If that's what people think when they hear the word "religion", then I understand the concern. I too am concerned by the individualistic, church despising, "moralistic therapeutic deism" that seems so palatable and popular amongst some younger evangelicals today.

But, the distinction between religion and the gospel that Jefferson makes does raise some important questions. For example, in the Bible, is the word "religion" ever opposed to the gospel? Or, is the main idea of "religion" opposed to the main idea of the gospel? What about what people hear when they hear the word "religion"? Do they hear the word and understand something different than what the Bible says about the gospel? Good questions. Obviously words have their meaning in context and thankfully Jefferson provided context for his use of the word "religion" in the video by writing on his website:
[This is] a poem I wrote to highlight the difference between Jesus and false religion. In the scriptures Jesus received the most opposition from the most religious people of his day. At it's core Jesus' gospel and the good news of the Cross is in pure opposition to self-righteousness/self-justification. Religion is man centered, Jesus is God-centered. This poem highlights my journey to discover this truth.

Regardless of what you think about the video, Jefferson's definition of "religion" above and Tim Keller's definition of "religion" below does highlight a crucial distinction between "religion" and the gospel (a distinction that, ironically, even those who raised concerns about the video agree with).

Justifying the contrast between religion and the gospel, Tim Keller has pointed out that the Greek word for "religion" used in James 1 is used negatively in Colossians 2:18 where it describes false asceticism, fleshly works-righteousness, and also in Acts 26:5 where Paul speaks of his pre-Christian life in strict "religion." It is also used negatively in the Apocrypha to describe idol worship in Wis 14:18 and 27. So, according to Keller, the word certainly has enough negative connotations to use as a fair title for the category of works-righteousness. In the Old Testament the prophets are devastating in their criticism of empty ritual and religious observances designed to bribe and appease God rather then serving, trusting, and loving him. The word "religion" isn't used for this approach, but it's a good way to describe what the prophets are condemning.

Keller goes on to tease out this distinction with this helpful comparison list:
RELIGION: I obey-therefore I'm accepted

THE GOSPEL: I'm accepted-therefore I obey.

RELIGION: Motivation is based on fear and insecurity

THE GOSPEL: Motivation is based on grateful joy.

RELIGION: I obey God in order to get things from God

THE GOSPEL: I obey God to get to God-to delight and resemble Him.

RELIGION: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I am angry at God or my self, since I believe, like Job's friends that anyone who is good deserves a comfortable life

THE GOSPEL: When circumstances in my life go wrong, I struggle but I know all my punishment fell on Jesus and that while he may allow this for my training, he will exercise his Fatherly love within my trial.

RELIGION: When I am criticized I am furious or devastated because it is critical that I think of myself as a 'good person'. Threats to that self-image must be destroyed at all costs

THE GOSPEL: When I am criticized I struggle, but it is not critical for me to think of myself as a 'good person.' My identity is not built on my record or my performance but on God's love for me in Christ. I can take criticism.

RELIGION: My prayer life consists largely of petition and it only heats up when I am in a time of need. My main purpose in prayer is control of the environment

THE GOSPEL: My prayer life consists of generous stretches of praise and adoration. My main purpose is fellowship with Him.

RELIGION: My self-view swings between two poles. If and when I am living up to my standards, I feel confident, but then I am prone to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. If and when I am not living up to standards, I feel insecure and inadequate. I'm not confident. I feel like a failure

THE GOSPEL: My self-view is not based on a view of my self as a moral achiever. In Christ I am "simul iustus et peccator"---simultaneously sinful and yet accepted in Christ. I am so bad he had to die for me and I am so loved he was glad to die for me. This leads me to deeper and deeper humility and confidence at the same time. Neither swaggering nor sniveling.

RELIGION: My identity and self-worth are based mainly on how hard I work. Or how moral I am, and so I must look down on those I perceive as lazy or immoral. I disdain and feel superior to 'the other

THE GOSPEL: My identity and self-worth are centered on the one who died for His enemies, who was excluded from the city for me. I am saved by sheer grace. So I can't look down on those who believe or practice something different from me. Only by grace I am what I am. I've no inner need to win arguments.

RELIGION: Since I look to my own pedigree or performance for my spiritual acceptability, my heart manufactures idols. It may be my talents, my moral record, my personal discipline, my social status, etc. I absolutely have to have them so they serve as my main hope, meaning, happiness, security, and significance, whatever I may say I believe about God

THE GOSPEL: I have many good things in my life---family, work, spiritual disciplines, etc. But none of these good things are ultimate things to me. None of them are things I absolutely have to have, so there is a limit to how much anxiety, bitterness, and despondency they can inflict on me when they are threatened and lost.

So let's not lose sight of the fact that, as defined by these two brothers, there is an antithetical relationship between religion (the burden of achieving rescue and right standing with God) and the gospel (the blessing of receiving rescue and a right standing with God in Christ alone). There does exist a Christless "form of godliness" that lacks power (2 Timothy 3:5)--an empty, behavioristic, ritualistic "version" of so-called Christianity that these men rightly refer to as "false religion." Is defining "religion" as clearly as Tim and Jefferson do and then distinguishing it from the gospel really going to feed the fury of fascination with the licentious, individualistic, a-theological, church-dismissing, version of modern spirituality out there? I don't think so.

One final thought: as I mentioned above, for a thousand different reasons people hear different things and draw different conclusions when they hear the same words (Cornelius Van Til). So, let's not forget as missionaries that if the gospel is ever going to reach people in our day it's going to have to be distinguished from religion (as described above) because "religion" is what most people outside the church think Christianity is all about---rules and standards and behavior and cleaning yourself up and politics and social causes and ascetic appeasement and self-salvation and climbing the "ladder", and a whole host of other things that Jefferson rightly points out.

Soli Deo Gloria!


Rick Owen

January 23, 2012 at 10:22 AM

Our English word “religion” is derived from two Latin words: "ligare," which means to "bind” or “connect,” and the prefix “re,” which means “again.” Putting the two together means to “reconnect” or to become “reunited.” This word does not explain how a person is reunited to God; it only gives us this basic idea of reunion. Religion involves getting back to God. It presumes mankind was once in good standing with God but now needs to be restored to Him.

The New Testament Greek word James used, both in adjective and noun forms, which is translated as “religious” and “religion” in the 1:26-27 passage, carries the idea of fearful reverence or worshipful respect toward God. It does not have the same meaning as the English word "religion" (from the Latin re + ligare, which means to reunite or reconnect). Words like “worship,” "worshipper" and “worshipful” are also used in translating this Greek word in other passages where it appears. Obviously, if a person is reunited to God (per the Engish word "religion"), then he or she will be worshipful and respectful toward God (per the Greek word in this passage).

James' contrast is not between religion and no religion, but pure and undefiled religion acceptable to God, and religion that is worthless. Notice the nature of the religious expression in each case. James was not talking about rituals performed in places of public worship. He was talking about heeding the word of God in one’s daily behavior. He gives two contrasting examples: acts of practical charity and pure living, on the one hand, versus, careless living expressed by an unbridled tongue flowing from a deceived heart. (Compare James 3:9-18 for more of his thoughts on this.)

True religion – reunion with God – is found only through faith in Christ. And a religious life of love and good deeds is the fruitful outcome and proof of true religion. I think the video was aiming at making this point but with a murky stereotype.

Regarding which words we use in communicating God's grace to others, common usage of most things apart from clear faith in God perverts them, including the word "love" and our understanding of what it means to love. The same is certainly true with the word religion. Our challenge as believers is to sanctify (set apart for the Lord's glory) all things as salt and light in the world. In doing so, even our language can be rescued and restored to a place of higher honor and nobler use.

St. Ralph

January 23, 2012 at 07:23 AM

Hey, thanks for the list from Keller. I found it quite helpful and relevant (and more than a little convicting in places!).

I guess I'm with Alicia Donathan regarding the use of the word "religion." I'd still prefer a term like "legalism" rather than redefine a wonderful word like "religion" in a cramped, exclusively negative way ... but whatever you call it, Keller's list shows me both that I've made a lot of progress in breaking away from the legalism of my youth, and that I still have some distance to go.

Bethke is giving interviews all over the place, and sounding a lot more clear and cogent than he does in the video. I think he'll be OK.

Matt Richard

January 23, 2012 at 04:19 PM

I would be interested to hear what others think of my suspicions/thoughts below on this subject:


Gavin Ortlund

January 22, 2012 at 07:48 PM

You articulated what I felt about the video. Thanks, very helpful.

[...] Tullian Tchividjian on Religion and the Gospel [...]


January 21, 2012 at 02:31 PM


January 20, 2012 at 12:47 AM

What makes me sad, Keven DeYoung put it through scripture in a loving way and the way we are called to do according to scripture. People jumped all over him for it. Jefferson responded in love in the way that Paul calls younger men to respond to older men. He also said that Kevin was 100% right. We got to witness two men filled with the Holy Spirit respond to each other the way that Paul teaches that we should. Yet some of the comments showed that still people were unhappy because they maintained that Jefferson was right.
Absent that event this blog would be fine. But the event did happen and reading this and Resurgence pushing how he was right is very hard for me. I don't understand. Maybe I'm weak and immature but aren't there others like me? Do all you pastors really need to keep beating that same horse?
The other thing, the kids(many atheist that blame religion/Jesus for everything) sharing this video all over facebook are never going to see the fancy graphs comparing and contrasting the gospel with religion. It's become a conversation between old people.

Steve Martin

January 19, 2012 at 12:44 AM

Mike Gantt,

I respectfully disagree with you about Martin Luther. He was a bulldog for the total sufficiency of Christ.

Read his commentary on Galatians (for one thing), and you will see that very clearly.

Mike Gantt

January 19, 2012 at 06:45 AM

Steve Martin,

I normally side with Luther, and for the reason you mention, but on this issue he parted from form.


January 19, 2012 at 01:04 PM

If Keller and Bethke mean false religion, why don't they say that? You can't redefine words as you wish.

[...] These lines are from the end of Tullian Tchividjian’s post I referenced yesterday. [...]

Linkathon 1/18, part 2 | Phoenix Preacher

January 18, 2012 at 11:44 PM

[...] Tchividjian’s response to the above video which has sparked quite a bit of discussion elsewhere [...]

Jesus v. Religion | Dan Butz

January 18, 2012 at 11:12 PM

[...] personally liked Tullian Tchividjian’s take on the video the best. His quote of Tim Keller was a great point and probably why I had no problem [...]

Steve Martin

January 17, 2012 at 10:19 AM

I like Luther's definition of the church:

"Where the Word is present (and people believe it), and where the Sacraments are administered in accordance with that Word...there you have the church."

Religion And The Gospel | Time For Discernment

January 17, 2012 at 09:46 PM

[...] Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in KFD. Bookmark the permalink. ← Reading The Gospels The Christian Way [...]

Mike Gantt

January 17, 2012 at 06:03 AM

Alan January 16, 2012 at 3:19 pm,

Where does one find this true church of which you speak - this church that belongs to Jesus and is not man-made? How does one enter it?

Mike Gantt

January 17, 2012 at 03:42 PM

Steve Martin and Paul ST,

Luther's definition is succinct and tidy...but has no scriptural foundation. The Lord builds His church and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful (Revelation 17:14).

Luther followed the Lord for a time but ended up replicating the same structure as the church he was protesting - that is, human beings over the people of God. If you want to be in the true church, there is only one pastor who carries that title: the Lord Jesus our Shepherd (Ps 23).

Paul ST

January 17, 2012 at 02:47 PM

Steve Martin
I like Luthers' definition.


January 17, 2012 at 02:30 PM


Would you note where you found Tim Keller's list on religion vs. the gospel? I would like to read more. Thank you!


January 17, 2012 at 01:16 AM

Thank you, Tullian. Tim Keller's comparisons are so helpful for a couple of situations I have going on right now.

Matthew Morizio

January 16, 2012 at 12:43 PM

Jeffery's part of the wedge that will rightly separate those who embrace Christ's righteousness for all of salvation and those who mingle their own righteousness with His.

Jesus + NOTHING = Truth and Grace!

Promise in Shadow (Law) to Fulfillment in Christ (Grace) = Correct reading of all Scripture!


January 16, 2012 at 12:26 PM

Steve Said: While there are many things we can criticize about traditionl worship, it has worked for 2,000 years.

Redeemed Christianity Said: Powerful stuff! Christianity is truly a relationship, not a religion, however, there are many aspects of religious devotion that must be integrated into our walk with Christ if we desire to see any change or fruit.

Brothers, After reading the survey at the link below I am not so sure I would see eye to eye with you. Me and my wife's heart leaped with praise after we watched Jeffery's video because we relized this was a Gospel tool that the Holy Spirit droped in our lap. I posted the post "Tullian’s post says it well" on Jeffery's facebook page and I do believe I have been blocked for it. If this action was taken because Jeffery was critisized by a published pastor, that scares me very much. God Bless

Redeem Christianity

January 16, 2012 at 10:47 AM

Powerful stuff! Christianity is truly a relationship, not a religion, however, there are many aspects of religious devotion that must be integrated into our walk with Christ if we desire to see any change or fruit.


January 16, 2012 at 10:46 AM

Tullian’s post says it well:
“This young man should have received a pat on the back, instead he got thrown under the bus by a lot of people who should have known better. Props to him for boldly speaking about Christ in a public medium. Not to mention taking all of the criticism in a humble, teachable way.”

Jeffery, I am 60 years old and listened to your video 5 times before I stopped crying. The Christian Post reported a survey that close to 80% of church attending young people will leave the church by their second year of college. These kids know exactly what you are saying. I honor your humble and contrite spirit but no matter what Pastor Deyoung says I have been sending your video to all my kids and grand kids and the response has been wonderful and all the glory goes to God. Forgive me in advance if I need correction but I feel that most coalitions or Christian orgs. get nervous when the Gospel of Grace is so clearly presented. "It takes the control and glory from man's tight grip" Tullian. This is a post that I put on Jeffery's blog site. God Bless

[...] The most helpful post was from Kevin DeYoung, but you can also read about it from Jared Wilson, Tullian Tchividjian, Stephen Altrogge, and Burk Parsons(did I miss anyone?). I watched the video a day after it made a [...]

Steve Martin

January 16, 2012 at 08:13 AM

While I do agree with the sentiment that God is after faith (so much so that He gives us faith as a gift), and that He is not after what ‘we do’ (our efforts to ascend to Him)…I wonder about other motives of those speaking “against religion”.

Many look at traditional churces and equate that with ‘religion’.

While there are many things we can criticize about traditionl worship, it has worked for 2,000 years and does not need to be dumped for ‘house church’ worship. Not that ‘house church’ worship is sub par, either. I’m not saying it is.

The focus of the worship, where the onus falls, ought be the point (what ‘we do’ vs. ‘what God did, does, and is doing’ )



January 16, 2012 at 07:33 PM

Great article! If anyone needs further clarification on what Jefferson meant by "religion," maybe check out this article that he wrote a few months ago? It addresses that very topic.


January 16, 2012 at 06:13 PM

Thank you for this! I appreciate help distinguishing the difference, because being "religious" puts a bad taste in my mouth even though I am totally in love and live for my sweet savior every day.
Well said!

Christian Internet Overload « Casey Lute

January 16, 2012 at 05:50 AM

[...] Taylor blogged about it too, though just by linking to some other guys. Tullian Tchividjian then got in the act on Saturday as well. One pastor on Twitter likened the shotgun blast of commentary to [...]

Steve Martin

January 16, 2012 at 03:29 PM


Thanks for the link.

I do realize that many do "dropout", but the cure may be worse than the disease if the cure is to change many of the traditional practices of worship designed and practiced to keep us anchored in Christ and not floating hither and yon on waves of our own likes and dislikes.

I do believe that the Church ought remain counter-cultural, and when we give in to the desires of those in the culture...we can very easily lose the gospel, the Sacraments (which are pure gospel) and many of the things that keep us centered on Christ.


January 16, 2012 at 03:19 PM

What would you think, if I said….

“I hate the church, but I love Jesus”?

There might be some who would say “Yeah, that’s what I believe, too.” If I were to make a slick video production and promote myself as a word artist, then perhaps I could go viral and get a million hits on YouTube. Perhaps. But, I doubt this article will get that kind of circulation. Why? Because what you are about to hear is truth. And for many people, the truth is just not as sweet and adorable as the lies that we prefer to be whispered in our ears.

I am quite sure that there are people who hate the church. But, they are not usually the same people who love Jesus. And yet, that being said let me add that there is a growing sentiment among some that embraces the idea of loving Jesus while at the same time rejecting the “church”. So, what is happening in the minds of believers that allows them to love the Lord while rejecting the church?

Maybe we should define our terms. What do you mean when you say “church”? For different people the word “church” can mean different things. Some say “church” and their mind sees a building, as in “the little white (painted) church that sits up on the hill.” It is hard for me to imagine anyone really hating the wood frame structure with a cross on the top surrounded by a gravel parking lot. Maybe what they really hate is what the structure “stands for”. Yeah, maybe that’s it.

I can only conclude that some people look at church buildings and see the church denomination or religious hierarchy responsible for building it. And what they hate is not the actual building, but the religious organization responsible for its very existence. Thus, some could say “I hate the Baptist church” or the Catholic church, or the Methodist church, or the (fill in the blank) church. But, why stop at hating one particular church when you can include them all by saying “I hate the church, but love Jesus” and in one fell swoop condemn ALL churches?

It is not hard to understand why some people hate the church or churches in general. These are the same people who can hate “religion” while claiming to love Jesus. Their perspective is that all churches are simply man-made religious organizations. As such, they feel NO loyalty to a church while at the same time they profess a deep loyalty to Jesus. They are disgusted with man-made religion and are reaching out directly to God through faith in Jesus for something they are NOT finding in the church.

So, what is the truth about the church, or religion? Can one love Jesus and reject the church? Can one abandon religion and just believe in Jesus? I am convinced the answer to that depends on how you define “church”. It will depend directly on what you mean by the word “religion”.

If you are speaking of man-made churches and religions invented by men, I would agree that such are NOT needed in order to believe in Jesus. However, if you are speaking of the church that Jesus built, or the pure religion that God has appointed for us to practice, I cannot agree that such are NOT needed.

So, as you can see it all goes to back to what you mean when you use the words “church” or “religion”. Herein lays the problem with such statements as “I hate religion (church), but I love Jesus”. There is a church that Jesus built (Matthew 16:18), a church that was purchased with His blood (Acts 20:28). There is a church which is the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:23-27). There is a church which is comprised of all the saved of all the generations (after the cross). It is a spiritual house of God (1 Peter 2:5, Ephesians 2:19-22). Christ is the head of the church and the Savior of those who are IN the church (Ephesians 5:23). So, how can one say that he hates the church, when we speak of the church that belongs to Christ?

The same can be said about the word “religion”. I can understand the sentiment that says “I hate all false, man-made religion”. It is clear that God will also reject the religions that originate in the hearts of men, all the man-made churches that God has NOT appointed (Matthew 15:9, 13). But, has God also revealed in His Word that there is a “religion” – a pure religion – that is acceptable to Him?

James 1:27 Pure religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

It is hard for someone to say they love Jesus and then say again that they hate this “pure religion” that God has appointed for the faithful to practice. In the same way that one cannot easily separate Jesus from his body (the church – cf. Ephesians 1:22-23), one cannot embrace Jesus while rejecting “pure religion”.

Jesus doesn’t hate religion. Jesus hates false religion. He hates man-made religion. He hates the very idea that some would try to love him while rejecting God’s revealed Way. There is a true religion, a pure religion that provides a way to God for those who believe in Jesus. It is a way untainted with false teachings that originate in the hearts of men. It is a way of Truth.

John 8:31-32 Jesus therefore said to those Jews that had believed him, If ye abide in my word, then are ye truly my disciples; 32 and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

In the same way Jesus does not hate the “church”. I refer here to His church, the blood bought body comprised of those who have been saved. Christians are members of this body (Romans 12:4-5). Those who try to reject the church while professing a love for Jesus are guilty of “spiritual decapitation”, that is, trying to separate the head (Jesus) from the body. That, in my mind is very unacceptable to God.

Let me conclude by saying that I love Jesus. I love His church, His body and I love the pure religion God has appointed as the way I should worship and serve before Him. I would that all who believe in Jesus could also say this and mean it.

Carl Garrett

January 16, 2012 at 01:52 PM

@PAUL, Here's another Gospel tool for you, the very foundation of the's truly Amazing. Don't be concerned at all by what men say; all that matters is what God has to say:

Carl Garrett

January 16, 2012 at 01:51 PM

@PAUL, Here's another Gospel tool for you, the very foundation of the Gospel...truly Amazing.

Brandon E

January 15, 2012 at 12:37 AM

Brother Tullian, thank you for this post. Well said.

It's clear from the likes/dislikes on Jeff Bethke's video that most people who have seen the video like it. However, it seems that few in the blogosphere have affirmed Jeff Bethke's usage of the word "religion," and hence to see this post was refreshing.

You made a number of solid points clearly and effectively. Words mean in context. Jeff Bethke's meaning is clear to a person with an open mind and heart. We might raise concerns about his usage, but it is not as if he is the first person to contrast "religion" with the gospel. Neither is it as if Scripture or history promotes a single, monolithic definition or understanding of "religion." Moreover, regardless of what dictionary definition of "religion" we might theoretically assume, people in the real-world nevertheless have many cultural concepts, preconceived notions, experiences and associations with the word. In the minds and hearts of many, belief in God, self-righteousness, legalism, hypocrisy, tradition and "religion" are blended into one understanding and then equated with God Himself and Christ Himself. Hence, it can be helpful to contrast "religion" and the gospel, or "religion" and Christ Himself.

I personally believe that the deeper issue is that we might be very "religious"--full of religious beliefs, doctrines, head-knowledge, good intentions, good works, pious sentiments--even Christianly "religious," and yet have little or no experience of the living Christ and the power of His grace. We may have the nicest opinions about Christ and grace and yet have little or no experience of it. This issues in a form of Christian "religion" that has Christ in terminology, but not in revelation, knowledge, presense, and experience (cf. Gal. 2:20; Gal. 4:19; Phil. 1:19-21; Phil. 3:7-16; Eph. 3:14-21). It may or may not be "legalistic," "self-righteous" or "hypocritical," at least in an obvious way, but it can be fairly described as "religious" and can pass for and be presented to the world as true Christianity.

This is why the Lord Jesus' rebukes to the churches in Revelation chapters 2-3 is so intense: "But I have one thing against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore where you have fallen from and repent and do the first works; but if not, I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place, unless you repent" (Rev. 2:4-5). “I know your works, that you have a name that you are living, and yet you are dead” (Rev. 3:1). “Because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am about to spew you out of My mouth. Because you say, I am wealthy and have become rich and have need of nothing, and do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (Rev. 3:16-18).

Words like "religion" or "religious" touch a nerve in that "religious" person, or that "religious" aspect of our being, that may never self-identify as legalistic, hypocritical or self-righteous, but that nevertheless knows, treasures and revolves around the things of religion--and our attempts to fashion ourselves according to our concept of what it means to be "religious"--rather than around the living person of Christ Himself.


January 15, 2012 at 12:28 AM

Thank you so much for posting this, because I was so disheartened that DeYoung had posted "criticism" before talking to Jeff B, but was so thrilled to see that young man accept the criticism in the most humble and gracious way that any Christian could have accepted it. How wonderful to see that what Jeff Bethke was "preaching" in his video is really what he believes and is living out! Praise be to the True and Only God!

[...] Tullian Tchividjian responds to the critics with, I think, a very helpful correction that’s well worth the read. [...]

Steve Martin

January 15, 2012 at 10:49 AM

"Religion" is what 'we do'. And generally is the problem part of the equation.

The gospel is ALL about Christ and what He did, does, and will will yet do.

Like others, I think you have to know who you are talking to, or offer that quick explanation of what we believe 'religion' is. I have used that line myself, many times with people ("God hates religion"). I then go on to explain why this is so.

When the Son of Man returns to earth with His Holy angels He will surely find lots of religion. But will He find any faith?


Robert Gonzales

January 15, 2012 at 10:46 PM

Tullian, I think you're on target. Much of the criticism of Bethke's poem ignored authorial intent and over-analyzed his language. Don't think Jesus or Paul would fair well if the critics applied the same critical grid to many of their teachings. I try to address this in the following post:

John Thomson

January 15, 2012 at 10:03 AM

On the whole really agree with this. Many important distinctions made. The only one I would quibble over is petition and praise.


January 15, 2012 at 09:37 AM

Bad religion: self-righteousness, works-righteousness, works based salvation, legalism, hypocrisy.
Good religion: helping the needy, staying pure, loving God, worship of God.

It seems we are all saying the same thing but in a different way. When Jeff says religion in his poem he is definitely talking about bad religion. He also talks about good religion but he doesn’t label it as good religion but instead as Jesus (which is good because Jesus showed us what true and pure religion is and how to live it out). The problem that I have and I think so many other people have with him using the word religion in a broad and general sense to mean a negative thing is that he plays into the view that religion in and of itself is a bad thing. We know from the bible that religion in its pure sense is not bad and we should have a pure religion but this was not communicated in the poem. It’s been posted before but I will post it again.

James 1:26-27 NIV
If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.


January 15, 2012 at 09:24 AM

Bad religion: self-righteousness, self-salvation, self-justification, legalism, hypocrisy.
Good religion: helping the needy, staying pure, loving God, worship of God.

It seems we are all saying the same thing but in a different way. When Jeff says religion in his poem he is definitely talking about bad religion. He also talks about good religion but he doesn't label it as good religion but instead as Jesus (which is good because Jesus showed us what true and pure religion is and how to live it out). The problem that I have and I think so many other people have with him using the word religion in a broad and general sense to mean a negative thing is that he plays into the view that religion in and of itself is a bad thing. We know from the bible that religion in its pure sense is not bad and we should have a pure religion but this was not communicated in the poem. It's been posted before but I will post it again.

James 1:26-27 NIV
If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

[...] religion and the gospel [...]

Graham and Nicola

January 15, 2012 at 08:48 AM

Mr Jefferson was quite obviously being polemical, and he defined "religion" as carefully as his rap allowed. It is a category mistake to critique the language of a polemic as if it was an academic treatise.
Mr Jefferson was defining "religion" negatively to create a "shock effect". He would be within his rights to write a song about "good religion", and let his listeners work out the apparent paradox - much as the Bible does.
As it happens the Gospel/Law, Justification/Sanctification, Grace/Works debate on this website should reflect a little more on paradoxes. You can't have Christianity without them.

Nicola and Graham


January 15, 2012 at 08:20 AM

There is at least 1 circumstance when a Christian cannot be diplomatic and conciliatory with another Christian and to do so would be unfaithfulness to Christ and to God.

The example of this is found in Galatians 2:11-21 where an Apostle openly and publicly rebuked another Apostle. Reason ? Because the truth of the gospel was at stake.

Similarly DeYoung needs to be confronted, not coddled, not patted on the back, because he has endangered the truth of the gospel. As a result, a lot of Christian are following DeYoung in this just as a lot of folk were caused to stumble because of Peter's hypocrisy.

DeYoung needs to repent as the Apostle Peter did.


January 15, 2012 at 07:51 PM

Hi I am the original poster of the above post. Please delete my post.

I realized that the spirit of my post shows me guilty of the very thing I am condemning others of. It is much harder to restrain yourself when you want to fight with words. Only Jesus knew how to do that the righteous way. God opposes the proud! It is your glory to overlook an offense. Praise God for giving me insight into my sin!

se7en | religion sucketh

January 15, 2012 at 07:35 AM

[...] The web’s latest viral video features a poem from Jeff Bethke, explaining why he hates religion but loves Jesus. Obviously, this is not unfamiliar territory for me – just look at the name of this blog. However, two of the best responses I’ve read so far have come from Jared Wilson and Tullian Tchividjian. In his response, Jared clarifies that religion is not the problem, nor is law, but instead legalism and self-righteousness, while Tullian reminds us of the antithetical relationship between me-centered religion and the Gospel. [...]


January 15, 2012 at 07:20 PM

Stop worshiping the word religion! It is not sacred in and of itself. It really isn't. YES words matter. We get it. Thank you for reminding us.

Do you honestly think clarifying the technical definition of religion builds up or encourages anyone? I would argue that it has done more harm than good.

The video exaggerates the use of the word "religion" to make a point. Just like when Jesus said you must hate your mother and father to be my disciple. Of course we don't think Jesus really wants you to hate your family. Likewise, we know Jesus does not really hate "good" religion.

Stop using your personal grievance against the style of young evangelicals which you interpret as rebellion against the institution as support for your criticisms.

The spirit of these arguments over the word "religion" reminds me a lot of the many things the Pharisees argued about. In fact, it is very similar to their argument with him over the sabbath. They were constantly wining about tradition and the proper way to do things.

I appreciate all of my brothers in Christ but you have to admit, this argument over the word has gone way farther than it should have. I don't think Jesus is looking down on this young man's video and is in the least bit of displeased with his use of the word. I do believe he would have words for many of the critics. Just another example of God using what is foolish and weak in this world to shame the "wise".

Carl Garrett

January 15, 2012 at 07:13 PM

Great post over all. However, the following that you wrote or quoted is DEFINITELY NOT true concerning the Gospel:

Lie: "I obey God to get to God-to delight and resemble Him."

Truth: "I obey God out of love for God, to bring Him honor, because He's living inside of me motivating me and empowering me to obey Him. And because He's inside of me, it shows, and I'm becoming more and more like Him over time."

We don't obey God to get to Him. We obey Him because we already have Him. This is a critical distinction. In Christ there is no more striving, only resting in His Grace, surrendering our false loves (idols) by His Power within, and serving others out of love for them, out of the Love God has given us through His Grace and Holy Spirit.

Andrew Kim

January 15, 2012 at 06:50 AM

Thank you for this entry. I had similar sentiments toward the video. People seem to be on board with Keller in his religion vs. irreglion distinction where he groups legalism/Pharisaism/works-righteousness with "religion" and they are totally okay with that. But then they rip apart Jefferson Bethke when he uses similar gospel vocabulary and exegete his poem as if its Scripture.

Also since this video is blowing up (or is already blown up) I don't see how it helps the cause of the gospel for Christian writers who also claim to love the gospel to critique so heavily (of course critique is always necessary) this video. This video tries to elevate and emphasize the grace part of the gospel - the critiques against the video seem to imply that to get the gospel you have to understand a lot of theological doctrine and squashes the simple core of the gospel.

It just seems to be counterproductive when a non-Christians sees this video, is blessed by it, and then realizes through youtube comments or a google search that a lot of Christians are saying, "Whoa, whoa. Hold your horses. That's not really true." It leaves them more confused and again with the impression that a lot of non-essentials are essential to the gospel. They are back to square one because you're sending the message that there really is no simple gospel and to have Christ is to hold all this correct doctrine and technicalities that I don't think the gospel mandates. Please don't hear me saying that I don't think truth is important or that there is no deeper theological truths behind the gospel. Praise the Lord there is. But if we're thinking missionally and kingdom-centered I just don't see how all this is helpful.

Perhaps my comments may also be a stumbling block to others. I am aware of this. I pray they are not.

Alicia Donathan

January 15, 2012 at 06:23 PM

Pastor Tchividjian,

There is a difference between using a word negatively while staying within its established semantic range and radically redefining a word in order to equate it with something foreign to that semantic range. If I say, "Your religion is worthless," "What religion are you?" and, "I'm glad you've found the true religion," I have used the word "religion" in an responsible and legitimate way, though I've used it negatively, neutrally, and positively. But if I say, "Jesus came to abolish religion," (and by "religion" I insist I mean, "self-righteousness and a host of other human sins,") I am being irresponsible with language. "Religion" has an established meaning, and I don't get to invent what that meaning is or radically reinvent it into a caricature of itself. Even people who have a bad impression of religion and are anti-religious still have a notion that "religion" is something involving devotion to a deity and the words, rituals, and practices that accompany devotion. They may believe that it *leads to* self-righteousness, arrogance, war, injustice, and a lot of other things, but this doesn't mean the two are equivalent.

We would not do what Tim Keller or Jeff Bethke have done with "religion" with other words that are key to our faith. If someone had a distorted understanding of the Church, would we accept that definition and speak like they do in order to "contextualize"? No, we would try to persuade them of a Biblical understanding of the Church. Same with other key concepts like "sin," "God," and "salvation," to name a few. The treatment the word "religion" receives, even from people as esteemed as Tim Keller, is baffling, and I think it reveals carelessness and lack of reflection on the issue.

The Bible may (or may not, I'm not acquainted with Greek) use "religion" in positive, neutral, and negative ways. But the Bible never says anything as outlandish as "Jesus came to abolish religion," or "Religion is [purely] man-made," or "Religion is man [vainly] searching for God," or "Religion is like spraying perfume on a corpse." So I don't think it's valid to claim the Bible supports the kind of speech in Bethke's video. Words matter, immensely.

Thanks for your responses. I know it takes time to read and respond to comments, so I appreciate it very much.

All the best!


January 15, 2012 at 06:08 PM

A more balanced, gracious, thoughtful and possibly intended approach (by Jefferson Bethke) than presented by other (your) fellow bloggers. Thank you for that. I would shudder to see what has come out of a "theological and doctrinal overview" of say "Courageous". Haha


January 15, 2012 at 06:06 AM

This is a great article. The truly ironic thing is that there is so much debate going on about something that NO ONE is actually confused about. I don't believe a single person watched Jeff's video, and weren't smart enough to figure out the core of what he was trying to get across. All this argument, criticism and debate is argument, criticism and debate for its own sake. Nothing constructive is coming out of the criticism of Jeff Bethke.

I would encourage my fellow brothers and sisters to truly think about whether Jesus would endorse their criticisms of Jeff before they dish it out.

John Thomson

January 15, 2012 at 05:29 PM

I've not read many of the comments, only the lat few. I agree with Nan that the biblical meaning of 'religion' may be the best to define and champion. There religion equals piety, that is the outward acts of faith (prayers, giving, fasting, holiness etc). These are either true or false depending on the source from which they spring. Those that spring from a renewed gospel heart are God-honouring and worthy while those that spring from self-trust and the flesh are empty and vain.


January 15, 2012 at 05:20 AM

It's so great to have a guy like Tullian here on the Gospel Coalition who actually gets the Gospel. Your blog makes the place worth of visiting.


January 15, 2012 at 04:19 PM

@John Metz, is it really wise to "set aside" James for this discussion which centers around the meaning of the word defined by that very passage? That does not seem a very wise hermeneutic.

John Metz

January 15, 2012 at 02:55 PM

A simple, working definition of "religion" for discussions like this one: Religion is doing anything related to God without the living presence of God, without the living person of Christ, and without the presence of the Holy Spirit as the One who gives us life. Setting aside James for this discussion would be more helpful that trying to use James as justification for religious activity that may be done without Christ.

Good discussion!

Mike Gantt

January 15, 2012 at 02:40 PM

When you speak of, "...the trend amongst younger evangelicals to justify their jettisoning of the institutional church and theological traditions and the importance of obeying God in favor of a vague, individualistic, a-theological, a-historical, version of modern licentious spirituality..." I want to counter with an exhortation that younger evangelicals jettison the institutional church, its theological traditions, and its licentiousness in all things except church attendance, for the sake of truly obeying Jesus Christ and exalting His word - whether the Bible or the voice of the Holy Spirit - above every other word.

Tullian Tchividjian

January 14, 2012 at 11:30 PM

Hi Caleb,

As I said in my response to Jake above, that’s Keller’s data. And the reason he quotes from the Apocypha is to show that in the Bible AND cultural history, there are places where the word religion is synonymous with works-righteousness.

God Bless!


January 14, 2012 at 11:27 PM

Thank you Tullian for your thoughts. But why do you quote from the Apocrypha?


January 14, 2012 at 09:48 PM

love it

[...] Hate Religion” Spoken-Word Poem Guy Posted on January 14, 2012 by shel Share Religion And The Gospel from On Earth as it is in Heaven by Tullian [...]


January 14, 2012 at 07:23 PM

This might have nothing to do with where this discussion is going, but I just need to put it out there...

James 1:26-27 contains over half the uses of this Greek word religion. As far as I can tell, the word "religion" itself is positive in these verses (otherwise, why the need to point out how you end up in "bad religion" with the "If... then..." statement in v.26?) In IF you don't bridle your tongue, your religion is worthless (would seem odd to say this if religion were worthless to begin with). So, what is TRUE religion. True religion--as it is supposed to be lived out--is seen in v.27.

I'm unconvinced that these other Keller verses (aka Bible verses), Acts 26:5 and Col 2:18, are using "religion" in a negative way either (as far as how the word itself is being used). The word in Col 2 is typically translated as "worship." Worship isn't wrong -- it's good. Worship of angels, however, is certainly wrong. Likewise, in Acts 26:5, Paul is using this word as a DEFENSE for what a good Jew he was. He certainly wasn't saying his strict observance of religion was BAD. It was incomplete, but not bad. It seems like an exegetical sleight-of-hand to say,

“(1) Paul was speaking about people who were self-righteous in Col 2 and Acts 26.
(2) The Greek word for "religion" is used in these two passages.
(3) Therefore, the Greek word for religion = self-righteousness.”

In our cultural context, I would say the same applies: religion need not be negative. Religious observance contains some very important and valuable things like the Lord's table, baptism, church discipline, fellowship with other believers, etc. There are dos and don'ts. Those dos and don'ts don't save you, but they're there.

There isn't any more self-righteousness and worthless religion in our day than there was in the 1st century, yet they didn't jettison the word "religion." It seems like we are trying to do just that. Now, I know TT will say that "ditching" or "recovering" is meaningless, but I think he's wrong. It does matter. Why? (1) We will lose something if we buy into the "relationship not religion; spiritual but not religious" ideology. (2) Though the word "religion" may be used both positively and negatively in our context today, the negative will soon completely devour the positive if we continue setting it up as antithetical to the Gospel and Jesus ("Religion vs. the Gospel"; "Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus"). That's just not fair or faithful.

I wish that some of the louder voices in Christianity today would argue for what "True Religion" is instead of setting the word up as an opponent of Jesus and the Gospel. After all, that's what James did.

I’d sign off by saying “It’s really not that complicated” but I’ll refrain since it smacks of condescension.


Tullian Tchividjian

January 14, 2012 at 05:15 PM


Read the verses again that Keller cites. But in any case, my whole point is what you admit: the word has a range of meaning that can be used both positively AND negatively. So, when it is used negatively to describe man-centered attempts to gain righteousness, should we not then conclude that in that particular context it is antithetical to the gospel?

As I said to Jake above: To say we should “ditch” the word or “recover” the word is a meaningless conversation because as it has always been and will always be, the meaning of the word “religion” is either helpful or hurtful, positive or negative, depending on it’s context.


Alicia Donathan

January 14, 2012 at 05:10 PM

Pastor Tchividjian,

None of the verses you cited define religion as "self-salvation" or "empty ritual" as far as I can see. The Biblical usage indicates to me that the Greek word had the same basic range of meaning that it has for us: it's a neutral term that can be used negatively or positively or neutrally. That's all.


January 14, 2012 at 04:55 PM

A very gracious and welcome post...Thank you


January 14, 2012 at 04:45 PM

Aw, thanks for hating on religious people like myself.

James 1 also says, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."

Tullian Tchividjian

January 14, 2012 at 04:13 PM


As Keller and Kevin point out, the Bible ITSELF uses the word "religion" to mean "self-salvation" and "empty-ritual" in certain contexts. So, is the Bible wrong when it uses the word "religion" negatively?

Vicar Matt Staneck

January 14, 2012 at 04:12 PM

Pastor Tullian,

Thanks for this post! I agree with a lot here and really appreciate your Gospel-centered approach to this issue and all issues. The only thing I would like to ask about is, since Jesus is fulfilling the Law and not abolishing it, what is the Law other than coming from a particular religion? What if we were to say that Jesus=True Religion?

A religion of the Law does not save, it only points out people's sin so is of no use. But since Christianity is a religion of Grace...the Gospel... it is of great use as it shows that the requirements of religion are not bogus or void, but that they have been fulfilled in the One who stood in our place.

While Mr. Bethke seems to have clarified his position a bit, there is still concern for hating on religion without fleshing out these finer points. I mean, you and I are certainly in the Christian "religion" by virtue of our confession of faith and public office, so where do we draw the line with religion?


January 14, 2012 at 04:10 PM

For a long time when talking with people I attempted to speak of my faith as not being a religion. I was usually met with either blank stares or worse yet people didn't take me seriously. It always seemed that I was trying to pull one over on people. It's been much more effective to speak of the distinctives of the Christian religion rather than trying to say that Christianity is outside the realm of religion. To the extent that Christianity speaks of God and ultimate things then it can rightfully be called a religion. The good(great?) news is that it's true religion.

Alicia Donathan

January 14, 2012 at 04:08 PM

Pastor Tchividjian,

You said, "Religion as defined in context to be “self-justification”, “self-salvation” and empty rites and rituals to appease God is clearly antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s not more complicated than that."

Unfortunately, it is a lot more complicated than that. The question arises whether it is responsible or ethical to define "religion" in that way, no matter the context. Is it right to take a word that has a broad, established, and neutral meaning ("religion") and equate it with human sins like pride, hypocrisy, self-salvation, etc.? As others have argued and I concur, no, it is not right to do that, no matter what your rhetorical or apologetic purpose is. It does a disservice both to your audience and to the Church, as Steven Mitchell aptly described. How we use words is very important. Words are powerful, and it is extremely significant how we use them. Casually substituting or altering definitions for different occasions can actually be an abuse of language and lead to distortions of reality.

It’s not that Christianity is going to have to be distinguished from “religion.” It’s that people’s definition of “religion” is going to have to be corrected. Christianity is a religion. Christians practice religion. Jesus gave us a religion. He gave us a set of beliefs, words, and rituals to enact together as a community in order to render worship to God through Christ. “Religion” is that set of beliefs, words, and rituals. It’s God’s gift to us , to aid us in worshiping and drawing near to Him, which is what we all long for. It’s also our way of offering ourselves to God in tangible, public acts of praise that transform us as we practice them and that can be witnessed by others and used by God to draw outsiders to Himself. God is holy, ineffable, and mysterious, and thank God He gave us religion to help us commune with Him, because how could we ever expect to draw near to such a great Mystery without these concrete aids? I’m speaking specifically of the Bible, the Sacraments, the Creeds, as well as other lesser aids that the Church has seen as beneficial to help us worship God.

But until people learn to see religion this way, they will continue to have a prejudice against the Church. The distorted definition of “religion” that you say we must accept and work with is exactly what led Christopher Hitchens to demonize the Church and Christians, saying “religion” was a poison that is responsible for all manner of evil and wars. Accepting such a definition equates “religion” with sin, and this is both irresponsible and, I think, unethical. Human sin is the cause for evil and wars in the world, not religion itself. It is human sinfulness that distorts religion and wields it as a tool for oppressing others. It is human sin that makes people proud and unwilling to bow to Jesus and accept His sacrifice for them. Blaming religion itself is misleading and ultimately distracts us from the real problem. So what we must do as Christians is criticize false characterizations of “religion” and expose the truth: it is human sin that causes the world’s evils, and it is human sin that causes people to behave hypocritically, pridefully, and self-righteously. Not religion. We must defend a right understanding of “religion” and persuade people to follow sincerely the Christian religion.

And until Christians learn to see religion accurately, they will continue to experience an uneasy truce with the Church as an institution and her practices, history, and traditions. Christians may find it easy to accept the love of Jesus but more difficult to accept the authority and culture of the Church, due to this equating of "religion" with an assortment of evils. As long as Christians accept a distorted definition of “religion” which they set against the Gospel (making “religion” synonymous with “hypocrisy,” “self-righteousness,” “pride,” and “self-salvation”), this will make it difficult for them to distinguish the doctrines, language, and rituals of the Church from this distortion of “religion,” because they will likely not have a category for “true religion,” and if they do, it will likely be something unrelated to the rituals, words, and creeds of the historical Church. Christians who accept the view that equates religion with human sin may love “the Church” as people, but may find it difficult to love the heritage the Church has given us — her music, her writings, her traditions, her rituals, her calendar, her buildings, her art, her institutional structure. For them it may be hard to distinguish the institutional artifacts of the Church from “religion” as they have defined it, and they find it easy to forget that loving people without respecting the works of those people is really a truncated sort of love.

@Jason Seville: "“Take ‘Em or Leave ‘Em Thoughts on the Christ-Follower’s Organic Relationship.” Brilliant!

So we do not need more “contextualization” of the gospel. We do not need more catering to distorted definitions of key words. We do not need to distinguish Christianity from religion. We need the Church to reclaim the word “religion” as an inherently neutral term describing the words and practices of a people when they come together to worship their god(s). We need the Church to reclaim Christianity as the true religion, and proclaim it as such. We need to reject strange distortions of the word “religion” which equate it with self-righteousness, pride, oppression, ingratitude, and a host of other human sins. “Religion” is not synonymous with human sin, and should not be. We must distinguish between sinful human distortions of religion and true religion.

Mike Wittig

January 14, 2012 at 04:03 PM


Thank you for posting this. I am glad somebody is showing some grace to this guy who is on our team. Man, we Calvinist's can be so nit-picky and annoying sometimes. It's amazing that God still loves us despite our damnable self-righteousness.

BTW - Jesus + Nothing = Everything was fantastic.


Tullian Tchividjian

January 14, 2012 at 04:00 PM


First of all, that's Keller's data. Second of all, his point is to show that in the Bible AND cultural history, there are places where the word religion is synonymous with works-righteousness. So, to say that it's only been in our recent postmodern context that the word religion is used negatively is simply not true. As I said above, words mean in context. And where the word "religion" (in context) is used negatively to convey self-salvation, it's antithetical to the gospel.

To say we should "ditch" the word or "recover" the word is a meaningless conversation because as it has always been and will always be, the meaning of the word "religion" is either helpful or hurtful, positive or negative, depending on it's context.

It's not that complicated.



January 14, 2012 at 03:52 PM

Amen Tullian. Thanks for understanding what Jefferson was actually saying.

If people actually read critically and were quick to listen and slow to speak - they'd see the point and stop crucifying their brother.

Here's some of his points, if people are going to critique him - they should at least critique him fairly using his own material.

"Why does religion build huge churches but fail to feed the poor (faith without works)

They can't fix their problems and so they just mask it, not realizing religion is like spraying perfume on a casket (self-righteousness and hypocrisy).

The problem with religion is that it never gets to the core. It's like behavior modification like a long list of chores (works righteousness).

It's a problem if people only know you're a Christian by your Facebook (faith without action, hypocrisy)

Now that I know Jesus, I boast in my weakness (Gospel)

I don't have to hide my failure, I don't have to hide my sin. Because it doesn't depend on me, it depends on Him (Gospel).

Which is why Jesus hated religion...He called them fools. Don't you see that Jesus is better than following some rules (law vs. Gospel).

Now let me clarify. I LOVE THE CHURCH, I love the Bible and yes I believe in sin (He's not against the church).

See He was called a glutton and a drunkard by religious men. But Jesus never supported SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS. Not now, not then.

One's the work of God, one's a man made invention (true Christianity vs. false religion).

Religion says "do." Jesus says, "done". (Works righteousness vs. works righteousness).

Religion puts you in bondage while Jesus sets you free (law vs grace).

Not based on my merits, but on Jesus's righteousness alone (works vs. Gospel).

As for religion, I hate it. I literally resent it. Because when Jesus said, "It is finished." I believe He meant it. (Works vs. Gospel).


January 14, 2012 at 03:52 PM

Tullian, why are you quoting the Apocrypha as if it holds any weight? Quoting it next to actual scripture is both dangerous and misleading. I can think of many cons and zero pros for doing so.


January 14, 2012 at 03:48 PM


Not a religion, but… | The Old Mill

January 14, 2012 at 03:40 PM

[...] Mitchell, comment via Religion And The Gospel – Tullian Tchividjian. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

“Bad Asians” | The Old Mill

January 14, 2012 at 03:39 PM

[...] Mitchell, comment via Religion And The Gospel – Like this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

[...] via Religion And The Gospel – Tullian Tchividjian. [...]


January 14, 2012 at 03:35 PM

in my opinion, this is generally a false dichotomy. As if anyone of us can honestly state (or in the case of this video) infer that I am capable of knowing my heart/intentions/motivations so clearly that I am only pursuing Jesus and am moving away from religion. My life experience tells me and I read it in the Bible, that our heart is deeper than we can see into.
so to declare that I'm into Jesus and hate religion is self deception because it appears to suggest that I am able to delve into the depths of my heart and know at anytime the true and pure motivation that is compelling me to behave the way I do. Rather than declare that I have arrived at a place of certainty that I am into Jesus and hate religion, perhaps humble faith in Jesus to keep working in me to become more like him and advance his kingdom is a more "Jesus-like" attitude than a confident declaration that I know myself so well that I can confidently say I know what is in my heart.

Jesus and Religion (Take 2) | Already Not Yet

January 14, 2012 at 03:27 PM

[...] Tullian Tchividjian weighs in here. [...]

Paul ST

January 14, 2012 at 03:23 PM

Rick Owen said it well above. We don't need to give up our religion.

Jason Seville

January 14, 2012 at 03:15 PM

Pastor Tullian,

I agree with Steven. CAN religion and the Gospel be at odds? Sure. But it doesn't have to be so. Is it historically accurate--prior to postmodern linguistics--to say that the two are necessarily antithetical? I know you'd say that it depends on context, but it seems like most young believers aren't even allowing for a positive connotation to religion any longer. I’m not willing to punt yet. Some words are worth keeping. Some words are worth redefining so people know what we truly mean by them. That’s the stance I’ve taken in my ministry and haven’t seen people give in to legalism and self-righteousness as a result (I’ve seen it, but not as a result of the use of the word “religion”!).

Do you think we are losing anything when we forfeit the word "religion"? You speak of "empty rights and rituals to appease God" as antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I agree, but many young believers (or new believers) I know won't so easily separate "EMPTY rights and rituals" from "ALL rights and rituals" (unfortunately). The net result will be discarded babies (a healthy ecclesiology) with Steven's aforementioned bathwater (coming against false or hypocritical religion).

The word “religion” isn’t bad; thus the necessary adjective “false” or “hypocritical” when speaking of it in a negative way. The same is true of Gospel. There are plenty of false gospels, so should we punt this word as well?

Seems like acquiescing from my vantage. We've done the same thing with the word "Christian" in some circles.

Just some thoughts. I’m off to go browse through Calvin's magnum opus, "Take 'Em or Leave 'Em Thoughts on the Christ-Follower's Organic Relationship."


January 14, 2012 at 03:10 PM

Amen and Amen. By far the most charitable, fair and understanding post I've read on the video. Too many people responded too quickly without understanding what the guy was actually trying to say. Amen Tullian.


January 14, 2012 at 02:55 PM

So the only real question is, "Who is his audience?" I think everyone gets that he's contrasting false religion with Jesus' gospel. The only issue is whether non-Christians actually understand the distinction between genuine Christianity (with its "rules") and false religion.

But this is the simplest thing: the gospel of Jesus Christ does not say "do these things well to be saved". It says believe and repent, based on the work and merit of Jesus Christ, who purchased our salvation. For what it is, the video/poem is good. It is accurate, and rightly calls us to serve with love, rather than condemn. If there is a problem, it is only in how those outside of modern Christendom will interpret "Jesus>religion", especially since for many, Jesus, even the all-loving, eternally gracious Jesus = religion, regardless of Bethke's efforts. But we should leave that in God's hands. He is the one who convicts and draws to Himself.

Gary Blevins

January 14, 2012 at 02:39 PM

First of all, I really appreciate the ministry of Tim Keller and Pastor Tchividjian. That's why when I first heard that Keller held the views he does on religion, I was extra careful to examine the issue more thoroughly. However, there is more to it than simply choosing to use a word a certain way or using it in a way that others seem to understand it. James 1:26-27 is not ambiguous in what it says. I once heard Keller suggest that James might be using irony by using the word positively. Such a suggestion does not stem from the text. It is clear that James points to the concept of religion as being one which can be "pure and undefiled" or false and useless/vain/empty. When you carefully examine the biblical use of religion and the religious aspects of what God instituted, you see both the legitimate and sinful uses of religion and religious activity.

The issue is consistently, is your "religion" an expression of genuine faith in God. Does it come from the heart. It is not religion against Christ. To make religion the enemy instead of sin, Satan, and the sinful world, leads to not only false understanding of what Christianity is about, but it leads others to react against this supposed enemy. What we have now is a lot of Christians who are trying to extricate anything "religious" from their faith. The problem is sin and a sinful use of religion. The written intro to the video may have used the word "false," but the video's message was completely about religion being something Jesus hated. Unfortunately, Keller's list and others like it, express important truth about the gospel and it's opposition to vain religion, but this is harmed by making religion in general the enemy. We have to stop creating false enemies and false ideas in other people's minds. Sin, Satan and the sinful world are enough to battle with.

By the way, I am excited and encouraged by the young man's teachable spirit and desire to serve and honor Christ in his response to Deyoung. God can powerfully use a young man who wants to love and serve Christ in this way. What a testimony he can have through this because of his humility. Praise the Lord!

Tim Casteel

January 14, 2012 at 02:39 PM

Thanks for your post Tullian. GREAT insight. A good correction, I think, to the critics.

I work in college ministry and our main battle is definitely what you said: the gospel is "going to have to be distinguished from religion because “religion” is what most people outside the church think Christianity is all about—rules . . .".

Michael - I totally agree with your comment:
"Pretty sure no one “pushed back, or blogged a soft rebuke” to Keller, Driscoll, or any other Pastor who have used the word religion in this same way.

This young man should have received a pat on the back, instead he got thrown under the bus by a lot of people who should have known better. Props to him for boldly speaking about Christ in a public medium. Not to mention taking all of the criticism in a humble, teachable way."

As they saying goes: No one has ever built a monument to a critic. He should be commended and cheered on and graciously critiqued for any minor points where he's off.


January 14, 2012 at 02:37 PM

It surprised me to see the Bad Religion cover as a graphic for this blog.

Interesting choice though, and I don't know if it was intentional, but Bad Religion is a well-known atheist punk rock band that frequently rails against religion and faith. Incidentally, they are also one of my favorite bands.

As both a Christian and as a fan of their music, I find it interesting that most of their criticism of Christianity is not Christ himself, the true gospel, or the central theological claims of the Bible (though I'm sure they still object to those things as well), but rather the over-politicized "religious" aspects of Christianity. A religious-right, moral majority political campaign, the latent racism in churches, etc.

Not making a big point here, just interesting.

Dave Montoya

January 14, 2012 at 02:34 PM

Thank you for this Tullian. You continue to give me hope for Pastors and theologians in the church. I wish people who rightly had an issue with Jefferson's use of the world religion were as gracious as you. Jefferson was right. There is a difference between Religion and the Gospel. Thank you again. Grace and Peace.


January 14, 2012 at 02:34 PM


Good review. I've read a great deal of Keller and am very familiar with his distinction between Religion and the Gospel (from Prodigal God and other writings/videos). I was just curious, what was the source of the comparison list you publish above by Keller? You didn't give a reference. Thanks!

As to some of the disputes, I think it comes down to semantics and perspective. Some, who view "religion" in a positive sense (a James 1:27 sense) may see the video negatively. Others, who see religion already through the lens of Keller's comparison - will likely see the video in a positive sense.

Mike Key

January 14, 2012 at 02:21 PM

I really appreciated this article more than De Young's first article. I am glad to see De Young wrote and has posted an update. However, I wish he had first spoke with Jefferson before posting his article. I think that is way so many of us young reformed where upset with the criticism, even though parts where very justified. I felt some parts of the poem where cheap shots.

But I think the real concern is what De Young pointed out in his article, some people liked the video, some hated and and a number of people who think they know Jesus, but don't and just want spirituality used it as a way to justify not going to church, or having their confusing beliefs about who Jesus is.

Anyways, great followup article.

Tullian Tchividjian

January 14, 2012 at 02:19 PM


As both Keller and Kevin point out, the Bible (not postmodern linguistics) uses the word religion both negatively and positively depending on the context. Religion as defined in context to be "self-justification", "self-salvation" and empty rites and rituals to appease God is clearly antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. It's not more complicated than that.

robert ng

January 14, 2012 at 02:17 PM

thanks for the great post tullian. im pretty sure there is a proverb somewhere about holding your tongue so you would not speak to soon on something. i think you followed that proverb. haha


January 14, 2012 at 02:00 PM

Hi Tullian,

My first reaction to the video was, I like it, but i don't think i can share it. The reason why is because I thought it brought confusion to those outside the church. I have never been a fan of the word religion to describe a self-righteous attitude. But if we are to use the word religion then a distinction must be made between self-made religion and true religion. And I think the video AND keller fail to do that. Although, we may understand what Jefferson and keller mean as christians, it's not the same for people outside our camp. The sentiment it caused in people who are not christians is a "That's why i don't go to church" type of sentiment. So I think THAT is dangerous.

I say that we must have the attitude that was in Paul when writing to the Colossians (4:3-4), "At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison-that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak." But I also understand that as we preach the gospel, we will always wish we had made it more clear. And just like Paul again, we must trust in the work of the Holy Spirit in people and not in our eloquence or how well we define terms.

In my opinion, "Self-made religion" would've been a more suitable term, for both Keller and Jefferson, as I think the term religion is too broad.
Let's remember some of the great works in History like "the Institutes of the Christian Religion". Pure Religion is not bad (James 1:27), self-made religion is (Col 2:23).


In the Beloved,

[...] negative use of religion as described by Timothy Keller (per Tullian Tchividjian’s article Religion and the Gospel) and how this definition of religion is in contrast to the gospel: A lot of attention has been paid [...]

Steven Mitchell

January 14, 2012 at 01:41 PM

Tullian, yes, 'as defined by these two brothers, there is an antithetical relationship between religion and the gospel', but is that definition a correct and/or useful one? I think not.

The definition is a relatively new development of postmodern culture. It's a definition that satisfies the sentiments of those who reject institutions generally, which is why the whole 'Jesus, not religion' mantra is so popular among younger Christians. But that doesn't mean that it should be one that we embrace, rather than correct.

People who use 'religion' in this manner are essentially defining the word as a subtype of itself. Use the whole to refer to a part: 'religion' = 'bad religion'. A synecdoche, to use the rhetorical term. In most cases, synecdoches are poetic and good style. But the problem is that the synecdoche here perpetuates stereotypes and has the strong potential to lead to confusion down the road.

The stereotype problem is one thing that many critics of the Bethke video have already remarked on, so I won't belabor the point. But I'll leave you with an analogy. Imagine if I were to start talking about a particular race: say, Asians. Now imagine that everything that I say degrades that race and perpetuates commonly-held stereotypes. If you were to scold me for that, would I be justified in responding, 'Oh, when I say "Asian", I'm only talking about bad Asians, like Fu Manchu. As I'm defining the word "Asian", my remarks are correct.'? Of course not!

The potential for confusion is also something that others have discussed, especially Kevin DeYoung. One element that I want to especially highlight, however, is that if you decide to start using the word 'religion' in a postmodern sense, you need to be aware of how you may be shooting yourself in the foot. Because the postmodern definition, as I mentioned above, is, at root, a rejection of institutionalism.

By using the word 'religion' in a postmodern sense and denouncing 'religion', you may be implicitly denouncing the institution of the church. It's certainly not an intended effect, but it's just as certainly going to carry that connotation.

Wouldn't it just be easier to use more considered definition of 'religion' than to buy into the postmodern definition and then have offer innumerable exceptions to that very definition: 'It's not a religion, but you should attend corporate worship'; 'It's not a religion, but you should recognize the sanctity of the sacraments'; 'It's not a religion, but you should study scripture to learn these absolute truths'; 'It's not a religion, but there is an ethic which it entails'; &c. I see far too many pitfalls with adopting postmodern argot, without any real apologetic benefit.

But here's the real rub for me. The Bible itself does not support this definition. Instead of defining religion as something which Christians should denounce altogether, it contrasts 'worthless religion' with 'pure and undefiled religion'. If Scripture itself is not willing to throw out the metaphorical baby with the bathwater, why should our apologetic?

Yes, we should always highlight the contrast between law and gospel. Yes, we should emphasize what Jesus has done to justify us, not that we must justify ourselves. Yes, we should expose hypocrisy and legalism wherever it lies. But we should not be so quick to adopt novel definitions of postmodernity to do so, without first realizing how much harm that can do in the long run.

Russ Mason

January 14, 2012 at 01:28 PM

Thanks for the post - I really appreciated reading that list from Keller contrasting Religion and The Gospel.

In response to Jeff's video:
I appreciate Jeff’s passion and it was refreshing to see a video about Jesus on You Tube’s homepage. In addition to all Jeff said, it is good Jeff mentioned that he does love church and does love the Bible, etc. It is clear God is using the established church in America for salvation and sanctification and so the challenge we all face is to live within the freedom and grace that Jeff talks about while also appropriately serving and functioning under the authorities and within the structures of the local church. If we can balance the two we will see God’s grace and glory in our midst which will convict and attract the unbeliever to the beauty and majesty of our Creator. Our generation is certainly hungry for more.

Rick Owen

January 14, 2012 at 01:22 PM

James wrote in his letter, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). This stands in contrast to what he wrote in verse 26: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”

So the contrast here is not between religion and no religion, but pure and undefiled religion acceptable to God, and religion that is worthless. James was not talking about rituals performed in places of public worship. He was talking about heeding the word of God in one’s daily behavior. He gives two contrasting examples: acts of practical charity and pure living, on the one hand, versus, careless living expressed by an unbridled tongue flowing from a deceived heart.


January 14, 2012 at 01:10 PM

Agreed, 100%. Great blog filled with grace.

Jefferson clarified his use of the word religion by giving minutes worth of context and dialogue. It's quite obvious he was talking about Matthew 23 type self righteous legalism. And thank you for pointing out Keller's use of the word religion in the same manner. Pretty sure no one "pushed back, or blogged a soft rebuke" to Keller, Driscoll, or any other Pastor who have used the word religion in this same way. If any community could grasp context, you think it would be the reformed community, but apparently not.

This young man should have received a pat on the back, instead he got thrown under the bus by a lot of people who should have known better. Props to him for boldly speaking about Christ in a public medium. Not to mention taking all of the criticism in a humble, teachable way.

[...] For a more comprehensive and in-depth analysis of the poem, please read Kevin DeYoung’s response. For a breakdown on the major differences between religion and the gospel, please read Tullian Tchividjian’s article. [...]

[...] Religion And The Gospel by Tullian Tchvidjian [...]

[...] Religion And The Gospel by Tullian Tchvidjian [...]