Thought Question: Religion vs. Christianity

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This video has had over 17 million views! Several bloggers have already reviewed it, some with positive comments and some with negative.

Let’s look at it another way. As Christians and leaders in congregations, what can we learn from this presentation and its wide reception?

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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23 Responses to Thought Question: Religion vs. Christianity

  1. Adam says:

    It’s not either or. It’s both. It’s not me or the body. It’s both. Can religion be a tool of evil? Absolutely. But no worse than the evil done by individuals who claim to follow Jesus outside of religion.

    It becomes easy to target “religion” as it is faceless, and it has been used in horrible ways throughout history. I am neither denying that nor justifying that. Evil is evil – and religion can most assuredly be evil.

    At its core, “religion” becomes the messy, ugly way that we have to figure out how to create a habitus into which we can live and through which we can continue to pass on the truth of who and what Jesus is. That, quite frankly, is the crux of the epistles of the NT. Once the apostles realized that Jesus wasn’t coming back within their lifetimes, they began to struggle with how to fulfill Christ’s mission to them – to be God’s ambassadors of peace to all peoples of the world.

    Instead of throwing out “religion”, we must allow Christ to breathe new life into it (much as the apostles did in the NT), so that our religion actually shows Christ to the world in the ways that the video says.

    Said a little differently, we must move beyond the idolatry of religion (or its destruction) and towards its usefulness as a tool in God’s kingdom.

  2. Alan says:

    There’s so much wrong with this video that it’s hard to know where to start. And yes, there’s a lot right about it.

    But Jay challenged us to think about what we can learn from the popularity of the video. I think it suggests that churches have a pretty bad reputation among a lot of people. And a lot of that is deserved. Jesus died so that we would no longer live for ourselves, but for Him. Churches should be full of people who not only call Jesus Lord but actually live like that. Too often that’s not what people see in those who claim to follow Jesus.

  3. Royce Ogle says:


    Thanks for posting.

  4. Price says:

    Loved it… My guess is that most folks agree that those “other” churches ought to get their act together…

  5. Doug says:

    I see a connection between this video and the postings on elders. If elders are only concerned with what their congregations are doing inside the confines of their buildings, this is what the world is going to think about religion. Elders need to be thinking about the world outside their buildings to avoid being called “religious”.

  6. Adam Legler says:

    Apologist J. Warner Wallace talks about this video on his latest podcasts at
    He does a great job of gently pointing out at this video has good intentions yet misses the point. Such as, Jesus wasn’t against religion, he was against they hypocrites in religion.

  7. aBasnar says:

    It was rather black and white, and highly exaggerated. For instance:
    Religion is about Man seeking God, but CHristianity is about God seeking Man. It is both and:

    Heb 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

    God even rewards those who seek Him, so seeking Him cannot be a wrong approach.

    Also: Contrasting grace with works was always a false dichotomy, missing Paul’s point (who talked onkly about the works ot the Mosaic law, not about works in general). How can Christianity be not about works, when Christ repeatedly says to the churches: “I know your works” (Revelation 2 and 3), telling them to hold fast, to improve or to repent?

    The same is true for almost all the opposites he lists. They are easy to memorize, even rhyming, but not accurate.

    17 millions viewed it – 17 millions were presented a polemically distorted view of the Gospel. I’m not sure how I shall feel about that …


  8. Bob Brandon says:

    I thought the video was spot on: we have confused the Gospel for what we do with the Gospel. And then we go after those who don’t agree with with what we do as not agreeing with the Gospel. After all, the apostles didn’t see it as their mission to breath new life into the institutionalized and corrupt Judaism of their day. Their mission was to remind everyone that Jesus had put paid to the religion of that day. Instead of multiple rules of behavior, there were only two: put God first and foremost then put everyone else first and foremost: very simple but very challenging. “The true religion” of that day? Protect the weak and helpless and remain unstained from the world. Again very simple but very challenging; much more challenging than inventing superfluities of complicated rules we’re already confident we can keep – or excuse ourselves from – but similarly confident we can label and exclude others with.

    In short, we need “church” because we are “church.” We don’t need “religion” except “true religion,” and we already know what “true religion” is. This video doesn’t criticize “true religion” one bit: it is yet another appeal for it, not against it.

  9. aBasnar says:

    Instead of multiple rules of behavior, there were only two: put God first and foremost then put everyone else first and foremost:

    That’s just a summary of the OT law, Bob! That’s not (yet) NT life! Stop being so legalistic! 🙂 🙂 🙂

    Seriously: First of all, there is a new command: Laying down your life for your brothers. Second there are a number of “But I say unto you” that go far beyond the letter of the Law and are quite specific. I have a hard time following a reasonuing that boils down to “there are no commands after all, except love (what ever that means).”

    I do understand what the video criticizes, but the solution it offers is not one iota better. It is equally far away from the truth, just in the opposite direction.


  10. X-Ray says:


    “There’s so much wrong with this video that it’s hard to know where to start.”


    I heard an interview with the author of the poem, Jefferson Bethke, on Boundless (a ministry of Focus on the Family that deals with singles and young marrieds). He’s the real deal – a disciple of Jesus who’s both totally committed to his Lord and knows His grace. He’s an artist and the heart of his poem hit the bulls eye on its target. It deeply resonates with two groups of people: those who have failed at checklist, follow-all-the-rules, “got to have the right system”, obedience-centered, self-righteous religion, but afterward found grace in the true, authentic, historic Jesus and Spirit-lead life and those who remain blinded and stubbornly mired in that religion.

  11. aBasnar says:

    You can be a committed disciple and wrong at the same time. So criticizing this brother’s video does not mean that I despise him as my brother (just as an introductory remark):

    I do understand that when you come out of one extreme that you tend to go into the opposite extreme. His presentation of the Gospel is as false as the one he criticizes. He hit the bull’s eye of the wrong dart board.

    I gave an example above, that shows the discrepancy quite well:

    Religion is about Man seeking God, but CHristianity is about God seeking Man. It is both and:

    Heb 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

    God even rewards those who seek Him, so seeking Him cannot be a wrong approach.

    Another example of extreme argumentation is found in your post, X-Ray:

    checklist, follow-all-the-rules, “got to have the right system”, obedience-centered, self-righteous religion

    This is highly unfair und in great parts misrepresentig the churches that are criticized. YES, people can fail in every kind of religion and endeavor. They can even fail in the Grace system, misusing grace for licentousness. When you fail on the way of obedience, the roots I see are less that obedience is required, but in a wrong approach to faith. Christ said:

    Mat 28:20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.

    The “all” forces us to think what “all” is commanded, so we can learn them and do them, doesn’t it? “Grace people” – as I have heard them say so often – brush them aside with an OT-summary of the Law (Love God and your neighbor), claiming that’s all that really matters. That’s not true. It’s a lie, close to: “Has Christ really said we should keep all His commands?”

    Paul said:

    Php 2:14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning,

    That’s showing a part of the attitude we shall cultivate: Grumbling and questioning is the opposite of love and faith. Love and faith shall be our motivation, the Spirit of God is our strength – but we must do everything Christ personally or through His apostles commanded.

    That’s why I said: Grace versus works is a false dichotomy. And the video was full of such false dichotomies, making people who strive to do and obey God’s will in everything look ugly and miserable. But they are not that way (at least not generally); YES, some fail, and they are some loud complainers (first) that God is unfair demanding of us to follow such a narrow way. Then they discover a misrepresantation of Grace (the Prostestant false dichotomy of grace vs works) and start blaming the church they came out of as “legalistic” (a term not even found in scripture!).

    At first I thought I don’t know how to feel about this video. Now I do know.


  12. NBS says:

    I have long lamented that there is so little Christian art in our time. There is some, but not nearly as much as preceding centuries. But this discussion and similar ones elsewhere reveal why that is. Poetry sometimes exaggerates or categorizes things for the sake of contrast. I gathered from this video that the artist was trying to make a simple point, namely that we need to get back to the core of following Jesus, passionately, even religiously, and discard all the bad stuff that is sometimes categorized as “religion.”

    Unfortunately, we have approached this poem as a theological treatise that we can dissect and analyze. His fervor is for Jesus, while ours is for accurate wording.

    Obviously his words resonated with at least 17 million people. What if we focused on why that is instead of what we didn’t like?

  13. Royce Ogle says:

    AMEN NBS!!

    We are the best there is at finding what’s wrong with everyone else. Oddly, we almost never find any flaws in us and are deeply offended when anyone else does.

    Thank you for your sobering and truthful comment.

  14. Mike says:

    Don’t know if anyone has posted this response, but Father Robert Barron has some pretty good thoughts. 17 million have not viewed his response, but I think as of today he has had about 65,000 hits.

  15. Mike says:

    As one very close friend commented to me, The young “rapper brings a twist on the New Age addage, I’m spiritual but not religious. However, it does coincide with the American ethos of rugged individualism. He should have rapped with the Dobbie Brothers, ‘Jesus is Just Alright with Me.”He goes on to say, “I think he (the rapper) misses the whole point of Christ established a Church against which the powers of Hell cannot defeat. Not to mention the mystical body of Christ as His Church. And not to mention the Church as the ‘pillar and foundation of truth,” (I Tim 3:15).

  16. Mike says:

    One more thing, I think father Robert Barron has a part two, as well, to the rapper video, but haven’t had a chance to see that one.

  17. Mike says:

    Father Robert Barron also has some pretty good comments on atheism (for those interested). I guess all my comments/references are pretty strange coming from a Church of Christ minister. But I am just tryng to recognize good thinkers when they are out there.

  18. aBasnar says:

    Thank you Mike, this was splendid!

    In part two he points out the parallels to Marcionite and Gnostic thinking in – not only this video – part part of Evangelicalism. As one who left Evangelicalism I see this more clearly than some “church of Christers” who see the exit to “legalism” in Evangelicalism – or “Grace and faith only”.

    That’s why I cannot join those who praise this video …


  19. Charles McLean says:

    I think NBS’ point is well taken, and our responses indicate one of our most tragic weaknesses. As descendents of a religious tribe who focused on right-or-wrong interpretation of scripture, we often don’t listen beyond the doctrinal position. We immediately leap to a defense of our own beliefs, as though a poem was a direct attack upon us. I am reminded of the Pharisees who sneered at the disciples and told them to search the scriptures for any example of a prophet coming out of Galilee. They were textually correct AND completely oblivious to the reality in front of them. In fact, their textual correctness may be part of what blinded them.

    It is imperative that we become secure enough in our place in Christ that we can entrust GOD to defend us, and himself, long enough for us to hear legitimate criticism, even when it is combined with not-so-legitimate ideas. Can’t we just humble ourselves and say, “Well, he has a point,” and then take that point to heart? Where facets of the criticism are inaccurate or incomplete, let it rest for a little while, until we digest what God IS saying to us within it. We start spitting out bones before we ever taste to see if there is any meat there. There’s plenty of time to point out the flaws, and it’s fine to do so, but perhaps we could chew first and spit afterwards.

    A young man’s girfriend becomes angry with him and says, “I think you are just the meanest man who ever lived!” If that young man immediately responds, “No, I’m not! Meaner than Nero? Meaner than Caligula? Meaner than Hitler?”, he is going to spend the next several Friday nights in front of the TV, watching “Law and Order” reruns ALONE. And muttering about how unreasonable his former girlfriend was.

    BTW, I apparently need this lecture more than anyone, so I’ll listen to it again later.

  20. aBasnar says:

    We immediately leap to a defense of our own beliefs, as though a poem was a direct attack upon us.

    This poem, Charles, is not like an artist’s expression, but a frustrated voice clothed in poetry. His agenda (so to say) is deeply offensive in the sense, that he set out to speak up loudly against (what he calls) “religion”. The outcome is estreme to say the least; misleading in any case; a true and faithful expression (as the priest in the other video pointed out) of American individualisstic Evangelicalism, with some after tastes of Gnosticism.

    I am not criticizing out of insecurity. But I am truly worried of where sopme are heading to, which is NOT the way of Life. Strange: I pointed out some of the direct contraditctions to scripture, but these are being quite ignored so far. But these two or three points I mentioned make it clear, that his poem is leading into a wrong belief system: An “anti-church-I-and-God-alone” approach to Christianity which is absolutely unscriptural.

    I do understand that those fruistrated with “pharisaic” (not legalistic!) tendencies/experiences among churches of Christ like to escape to this “Grace alone” myth for spitritual security. But that’s amyth as far from truth as the experiences and traditions they criticize. Coming from the other side, having lived and worked among Evangelicals for about 20 years I can only shake my head: “That’s where you really want to go?” Not that they are bad people, but they follow a gospel that is utterly flawed, they follow Paul rather than Jesus, keep James in their Bibles but ignore him, and by doing so are – as the priest also correctly stated – something like “Crypto Marcionites”. Reformation, Charles, was a terrible overreaction to truly wring doctrine and practice amonbg the Roman church, but – except for the Anabaptists – they miserably failed to restore Christiantity to its original beauty and vigour. The Restoration Movement was serious attempt to finsh the reformation, but also stopped somewhere along the road far from being completed (which we will never be in this side of eternity), yet pretending to be so. Of course this leads to frustration and disillusionment. But the Reformation or Evangelicalism are NOT the answer; and what the video presents is nothiung but a rather radical presentation of this “American individualistic Evangelicalism” that is – I repeat – highly misleading.

    No, Charles, it’s not just a poem.


  21. Michael Snow says:

    We live in a world of dumb-downed definitions. I understand what our brother in the video was saying, and he clarifies it somewhat in the first sentence under the video that few will read.

    But, of course, there is nothing new in his title. It flows from the ‘evangelical’ mantra that “Christianity is not a religion, it is. a relationship.” This is a sad state of mind for those who cannot handle “the holy conjunction”=AND.

    Over a half century ago, Elton Trueblood described our culture as a cut-flower society. Cut off from its roots, it withers and dies. Anyone who is rooted in the history of the first two millenia of Christianity knows that those from Augustine to Wesley to Trueblood, wrote of true religion versus false religion. But today, many have abandoned truth and smothered it with experience.

    This points to a major ‘disease’ of our day. C.S. Lewis provided an antidote for the spirit of our times, for any who wish to take the medicine, with his rule for reading:
    “…after reading a new book, never allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one…keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds…”

  22. NBS says:

    You said that this poem, “is not like an artist’s expression, but a frustrated voice clothed in poetry.” I chuckled at this a bit because ‘a frustrated voice clothed in _________’ is a pretty good way to describe a large portion of what exists in the artistic world. Poetry (and that is what this is) is not meant to be read the way you read a textbook or the way you read the bible. Poetry gives you a snapshot of the way an artist feels at the time they wrote the poem.

    You continue to imply that the poet has some sinister notion of removing everyone from the church building but that was not his point. His point was that the established (or institutional) church has some serious problems. Sometimes the church, like a machine, rolls over the souls of the people. This does not describe the church as Jesus intended nor when she is at her best, but rather the way the flesh sometimes reigns in the church. That doesn’t mean we have to throw out the church and go for a radical individualism. What it does mean is that someone should stand up and say something. Perhaps if church leaders would do it more then the poets wouldn’t have to!

  23. aBasnar says:

    My point was (and you are right, it is a poem) that this poem was not an “innocent entertainment” but meant to be provocative. It aimed at something. And it obviously hit.

    You are also right, that the problems it is pointed against really DO exist, and it is a leadership problem as well. Yet the solution it presents is overly simplified, radically individualistic and therefore not helpful either.

    Yet, it sounds so great! You can receive a lot of attention and Amens when you approach the problem this way. Like in Brian Mashburn’s article Converting from Christianity to Christ (written in prose) a way of life in Christ is promoted that leaves the impression that a church is all but necessary. Not one critical voice there to balance it out!

    And yet the whole Chrisitan life is embedded in the Life of the church which is His body, engrafted into this olive tree, dependent not only on one’s personal faith but also on the faith of the community, their fellowship, encouragement, nourishment, multiple areas of service … and YES: Their rituals, if we may call them by this no-no-word.

    These critics would do a much better job if they would not provocatively go to the opposite extreme to make their point, but strive to present a balanced view that does justice to all of scripture. And such does not have to be unattractive, dry and hard stuff to read at all.


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