YouTube phenom Jefferson Bethke's new book, "Jesus > Religion" hit stores this week and TheBlaze sat down with the spoken-word artist to learn more about his Christian message and how he's hoping to impact readers. Mainly, he wants to drive home the message that the faith and its associated gifts are open to anyone.
You may remember that Bethke, now 24, first burst on the scene in Jan. 2012 after his poem "Why I Hate Religion and Love Jesus" went viral. To date, the clip, which draws stark contrast between religious practice and faith in Christ, has been viewed more than 25 million times.
Now, in "Jesus > Religion," the author opens up to offer readers a lens into his personal faith journey -- one that many Christian readers will surely relate to.
Image Source: YouTube
A description of the book claims that Bethke went from "the pinnacle of a works-based, fake-smile existence that sapped his strength and led him down a path of destructive behavior" to an understanding of who Jesus truly is -- a relationship that extends "beyond the props of false religion."
Obviously the themes Bethke covers in the text are complex and contentious, but he told TheBlaze that he wasn't looking to pen "a middle finger book" aimed at lambasting all of the things he disagrees with.
"I really wanted to be really gentle," he said.
It was clear when he released "Why I hate Religion and Love Jesus" and it's certainly easy to see now that Bethke has a passion for the Bible and is intent on spreading the Christian faith.
Watch the original clip, below:
As for his motivation for penning the book, he said that his own personal faith journey is highly-relatable -- but that there is one key element that sets it apart from other stories like it.
"I started realizing that my narrative and my story is not unique in the sense that it is very similar to [others in] my generation. I grew up in church and knew the culture," he explained.
But in high school, like many young people, Bethke said he "threw in the towel." Rather than abandoning his faith for decades, though, he came back to it rather quickly during his college years. The short time between walking away and re-embracing the tenets has, thus, given him some important insight.
"When I started following Jesus again I felt like I found something that I wanted to share with everyone," he told TheBlaze.
And now he's doing just that as he attempts to cut through the noise that he believes clouds Christ's true essence.
Bethke has many hopes for "Jesus > Religion." Among them, he believes that the book will shed light on Jesus' true character, while also helping readers better process some of the more disheartening statistics surrounding declines in church attendance and the current state of the Christian faith.
"Jesus > Religion" author Jefferson Bethke (Photo Credit: Jefferson Bethke)
Rather than lamenting the fact that we're living in what he calls a "post-Christian" world, Bethke said that believers should be rejoicing.
"It washes out the soft squishy middle," he said of an increasingly-secular society.
This considered, it's true that believers are sometimes forced to work harder to live their faith today rather than enjoying a culture that fully embraces Christian sentiment. But that isn't necessarily something to decry, he told TheBlaze (after all -- no pain, no gain, right?).
During our interview, Bethke also decried the ideological divisiveness that sometimes separates believers and non-believers, alike. Christianity, he maintains, is for everyone.
"When I read the New Testament I see the kingdom of God ... I see no one really having control over it," he said. "It doesn't matter if you're a liberal or a Democrat or a conservative -- you don't own Christianity."
The "Jesus > Religion" author said that life's most important curiosity isn't about allegiance or ideological preference; it's about Jesus.
"The question is, 'How do I follow a first century rabbi who was God and changed the world [while I live] in the 21st century."
So far, Bethke says that the response to his book has been pretty interesting. While he expected there to be a generational difference, the spoken word artist and author said that the text has actually reached people of all ages.
Readers both young and old have "loved it," he contends, but Bethke isn't taking credit for the intergenerational praise.
"There's something about when you get to the core of who Jesus is and what he did -- there's kind of this 'amen' moment," he said.
Jefferson joined us on a recent broadcast of the BlazeCast:
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