Balancing Act: Responses to Jesus vs. Religion

In my attempts to discover and walk in the way of Jesus I’ve come to realize the importance of balance. I’m not suggesting that the way of Jesus is the way of compromise, a sort of middle way, or a blending of two extremes. The way of Jesus is THE WAY, and when we Christians err in a given situation, we find ourselves falling off of the slackline on one side or the other.

If you've not tried slacklining, you probably should.

When I’ve reflected on a particular issue in the life of discipleship to Jesus, I’ve often returned to this way of looking at things, and it was helpful recently as I reflected on the recent ruckus resulting from the YouTube video titled, “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus” by Jefferson Bethke. I’ll not address the contents of the video here, because it has been done ad nauseam, but I did think the way that different people responded has been rather telling, and is a clear display of our tendency to lose our balance. To be clear,  I tend towards all of the imbalances I mention below at one time or another, depending on the situation, and am just trying to stay in balance myself.

I saw at least four different types of responses to this situation, with three rather unbalanced in some way, but one closer to the mark. The first troubling type of response to this video was the most common. This is the response of those that unthinkingly shared the video and passed it on without taking the time to think through the implications of the ideas in the video. This is the response that forgets to think critically about things, and supports them because they sound good, strike an emotional chord in them, or speak about Jesus a lot.

Another troubling response was that of the hyper-critical Christian, who will not only find  fault with everything and tell you about it in great detail (except for what is written, preached, or sang by their favorite whoever) but will fail to see what is true and good in what they are criticizing.

Another tendency I saw was for those who initially supported the video to become very defensive when the inadequacies and negative aspects of the video were questioned. Of course, some of those defending the video did so because they truly agree with everything said in it, but I fear that many, having once supported something, try hard to justify having done so, whether it is warranted or not.

Thankfully, throughout the entire situation, I noticed a great many people responding in thoughtful and humble ways to the video, both positively and negatively. A great deal of fruitful discussion was born out of the different opinions regarding what was said in the video. Perhaps most encouraging was to see the way that the guy in the video responded to one of the critiques leveled against his message. He humbly admitted to agreeing with the critique that had been offered, and said he would seek to learn what he could from the experience.

So what is the way of Jesus that we must follow when we hear something, watch something, read something?

First, thoughtfully reflect on what is communicated, both explicitly, and by implication. Don’t automatically accept something because it sounds good to you, no matter what terminology it is couched in. We are all susceptible to lazily adopting phrases or terms that tickle our ears, but are only partially true, being at the same time potentially harmful or flat-out false (I don’t know how many times in the past I’ve smiled and nodded when hearing or saying, “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship”).

Second, seek to learn, grow, and be challenged by what you’re interacting with, even if it is far from perfect. Avoid the temptation to pridefully and viciously tear apart someones flawed logic or poor rhymes, as if you are the sole and undisputed judge of all things. If you find yourself being critical of every sermon you hear, unable to learn anything because you know everything, please reflect on the humility of Jesus. Don’t abandon truth, but if and when you must fight for it, do so gently, especially when speaking to an earnest brother or sister in Christ.

Third, whether someone directly criticizes something you say, or indirectly criticizes you by addressing something that you agree with, try learning, growing and being challenged before you immediately start defending or criticizing in return. Consider the fact that you might be wrong or that there might be a side to the issue that you hadn’t considered. Take note of the tone in which criticism is offered. The word itself merely means to interpret or analyze and criticism need not be negative, arrogant or harsh. If someone attacks an author’s character because of a poorly constructed argument or questions a poet’s salvation because of a paltry rhyme, push back and challenge them to offer substantial and constructive arguments instead of tearing each other down. However, if someone does offer substantial and constructive arguments against something you approve, interact with them thoughtfully and humbly. Learn something from each other.

Be humble people. Be thinking people. Don’t support ideas without thinking through their implications. Don’t be so turned off by critics that you fail to address lies.  Don’t be so turned off by untruths that you attack the person unwittingly spreading it. If you see truth, name it. If you see falsehood masquerading as truth, name it, but humbly and with love. When you see a sister or brother wobbling on the path, gently steady them rather than shoving them off.

I realize that not everyone fits neatly into these categories, and I’ve been a bit hyperbolic in order to delineate the differences between them. I’m also not suggesting that these are the only options…just some interesting ones that I noticed.