Jefferson Bethke: Christianity is Not What You Think
“When I was a kid, the Christianity I saw never really gave much space to struggle, fail, or ask for help,” shares Jefferson. He believed Jesus was far away standing up in heaven with his arms crossed waiting for him to get it right. Heaven sounded boring, a place with winged babies playing harps and floating on clouds. It wasn’t until his freshman year in college that he truly started following Jesus. His transformation did not take place overnight, but as he spent time in the Scriptures his understanding of the Gospel began to change. However, life did not get easier for Jefferson; life actually got harder. “I had a long season of depression. Things in my life started to go poorly. Relationships broke. Addictions stayed. I didn’t want to live for myself, or listen to the fleshy desires in me, but they still called me and lured me more. I felt I had no place in Christianity.”
It was when Jefferson realized, “He saw all my filth, all my sin, all my shortcomings, and all my insecurities yet still looked me right in the eye and said, “I love you and I’m not going anywhere.” Jefferson says the best part about being a Christian is that, “I don’t have to have it all together because I’m loved and pursued by a God who does. I never went searching for Him, but He went searching for me.”
One of the hardest conversations Jefferson ever had with his wife Alyssa was before they got married. He shared with her how his teenage years were littered with him almost worshipping sexual fulfillment in pornography, partying and girls. He asked for her forgiveness for things he had done before he even knew her. Jefferson said he needed forgiveness because he had betrayed intimacy or oneness with her as a result of his past sins. Alyssa forgave him. “In that moment I was exposed and known and yet because of Alyssa’s grace I was at the same time loved. And that is where intimacy is found – to be fully loved and to be fully known.” Intimacy with us is God’s goal.
THE GRAND NARRATIVE
Christianity today is often seen as neither fulfilling nor enticing. Instead it is seen as Bible teachings and some gnostic principles. In order for Christianity to be seen as relevant then we have to start with the Gospel. Jefferson says you are a Genesis 1 or Genesis 3 Christian. Genesis 1 Christians start the story with an appeal that all human beings on earth have inherent worth and value because they were brought to life by God’s very own breath and made in His image. Genesis 3 Christians start the story after we are sinners. We are still made in the image of God, no matter how broken that image is. When we start in Genesis 1, we tell a story that is more beautiful and much bigger than most Christians today tell; a story that needs to be heard by the world. In Genesis 3, the story zooms in on the human condition. Instead of viewing the Bible as a road map, we should view the Scriptures as a story. When we do, we begin to see our roles in the story. “The spotlight isn’t on us. God created us to co-create with him; to co-labor in the task He commissioned to us. We aren’t the story, but we are in the story,” reveals Jefferson.
In 2012, Jefferson and his friend thought it would be fun to shoot a spoken-word poem he had written. To their surprise the video called, “Why I hate religion, but I love Jesus” went viral overnight. Almost seven million people watched Jefferson’s YouTube poem/rap in less than 48 hours. He realized his poem resonated with more than just a few people when thousands of people began emailing and tweeting him. The reactions to his video were both positive and negative. Some accused him of being “anti-church,” and others convicted him of being Biblically “unsound.” There were others who praised his piece saying it was a “work of art” and “inspiring.” Jefferson says, “Many people have been abused, hurt, mistreated, and maligned all in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But what their souls are craving is the true Jesus. The one who heals. The one who redeems. The one who gives life.” Today the video has had more than 30 million hits. Jefferson continues to make creative videos. To date, he has made more than 100 videos. His latest is called, “Put Down Your Phone.” Jefferson also speaks at churches and universities sharing with them how radical the life and message of Jesus were within his time and culture. He shares how, “Stepping into Jesus’ world gives us new eyes to see who He was, what He did, and why we are still talking about Him today. And when we see Jesus clearly, we can follow Him.”