Jefferson Bethke: Here’s How to Win Over a Critic

Jefferson Bethke

Have a meal with someone you disagree with rather than an argument on social media.

That’s the advice from Jefferson Bethke, who produced the video “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus” that has attracted more than 33 million views since it was posted in 2012.

Bethke, who was a guest on the ChurchLeaders podcast, believes the dinner table is better suited for contentious conversation because there is “something sacred about sharing a meal together.” Sitting across a table with someone you disagree with allows you to look in their eyes, hear the passion in their voice and see them as someone created in the image of God; as another soul. Bethke said that understanding is lost when you’re typing on a keyboard and sending your thoughts into the dehumanizing blogosphere. He is confident that if there were more meals between Christians and unbelievers, there would be more healing and reconciliation in the culture.

Part of the reconciliation, Bethke argued, will only come when the church repents of its treatment of racial minorities and those who identify as LGBT. While he wasn’t specific he suggested the church has been unwelcoming of those groups, saying the church should be the most uplifting to those who have been most maligned and oppressed. He also quoted Andy Stanley, who making the same argument, has said the safest place for a middle school student wrestling with same sex attraction should be the church.  

He does see change happening especially where the church is exploding in places like Africa, China and Korea. Bethke thought there was a correlation between church growth and Christian suffering that has made Christians more sensitive to what others have gone through. And while he denies that American Christians are being persecuted, Bethke hopes the same suffering-induced sensitivity will lead to church growth in the U.S.

In the podcast, Bethke also talked about the criticism that followed his viral YouTube video. He said he produced it at a time when he felt duped by Christianity. After accepting Christ, life wasn’t turning out how he thought it would. He said he didn’t expect life to be perfect but instead everything got harder leading to a “strong season of depression” that he never experienced before. He mistakenly thought he had to do certain religious things to win Christ’s favor and blessing.

Michigan pastor Kevin DeYoung produced a verse-by-verse critique of Bethke’s video that included an overemphasis on grace and forgiveness while remaining silent on obedience and transformation, harsh judgment of religious people and the church, and what he saw to be an incorrect use of the word “religion.”

DeYoung also thought there was a lot that was “unhelpful and misleading,” especially for earnest, young Christians like Bethke who might be confused about the Jesus portrayed in the Bible, who contrary to the video, did not hate religion, rules, rituals or commands.

Bethke emailed DeYoung thanking him for his words of wisdom and warning, “I just wanted to say I really appreciate your article man, it hit me hard. I’ll even be honest and say I agree 100 percent.”

DeYoung said of Bethke’s email that he couldn’t “remember ever receiving such a teachable response to criticism.”

Bethke said his gracious response was only possible because he had been working with several mentors who helped him be humble, “Without them I wouldn’t have been able to be steady through that.”

Ironically, it was an interaction that came through the blogosphere and not over a meal, but proved that the Holy Spirit can work in either environment when the players involved are responding in grace and love.

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Bob Ditmer
Bob Ditmer has worked in Christian media for more than 20 years including positions with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and Focus on the Family.

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