Culture Interviews

It’s Not What you Think – An Interview with Jefferson Bethke

Famously known for his spoken word on Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus, Jefferson Bethke has challenged the prevailing ideas of what it means to be a Christian in today’s culture. His first book Jesus>Religion topped New York Best Seller’s list and now Bethke has come out with his second book It’s Not What You Think: Why Christianity Is About So Much More Than Going To Heaven. He turns pre-conceived ideas about Christianity upside down and challenges readers to discover the true purpose behind every part of their faith. Converge got the chance to talk with Bethke and hear a bit about his writing process and view on Christianity today. Beneath this interview is the introduction from his most recent book.

The book touches on a lot of different topics… At what point did you sit down and realize that these were things that culture, and especially this coming generation, needed to hear? 

Honestly I’m not sure. I guess the benefit of me being 26 and someone who, by the nature of my job, has to be on social media a lot felt like this stuff was the pulse of things not only I wrestle with but also others.

What was the hardest topic to get a good grasp on and then break down in a way that would be easy for readers to understand? 

Probably the chapter that talks about gathering together at a table. It’s the one I felt was so powerful and impactful in my own life but hard to communicate in a way that’s more than just “eat a lot more together” (even though that’s a huge part of it too!).

From the first chapter you are very open with your story and own challenges with each chapter/topic… Did you feel as though you grew from wrestling and writing these ideas? What was the most impactful topic for you? 

Completely! Writing to me is very therapeutic and I definitely process out loud per se in real time. For me the most impactful chapter to write personally was Sabbath or brokenness. Those are both things God was really working on in my family and me.

A lot of these ideas seem to come from a loss of perspective, whether on the Sabbath, or the bible, or ourselves. Where do you think things started going sideways so that we saw aspects of Christianity at a surface level rather than for what they were originally meant to be? 

This answer could be its own book but I think the industrial revolution was a huge shift and part of this. Our Christianity became just like the things in our house. Mass produced and all about efficiency and lack of relationship. We’ve made Christianity an assembly line not a table full of beauty, grace, wonder, and story.

Of all the aspects of Christianity that you touch on, what do you think is the biggest hurdle for people to put into practice (especially in today’s culture)?

I think the one that takes the most time to really work out and rid ourselves of bad notions is the kingdom chapter. We are so entrenched in “evacuate this place” theology that it takes a lot of time to get to a robust view of Jesus and the scriptures.

Was the writing process for this book, one that came easier after writing Jesus > Religion?

Yes and no! Yes because I’d written before but no because this one was a lot more work.

Do you see yourself writing more books in the future or focusing on other aspects of your ministry (such as making videos)?

I do!

If you went to a public middle school, you probably read a few classics for English class. I remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men, among others. Hands down though my favorite novel was Lois Lowry’s The Giver (which was recently made into a movie).

If you’re not familiar with it, the basic premise is that an entire society is controlled by a group of elders who set up a system that strips all choices and emotions from humans’ lives. Each human is forced to take an injection every morning that takes away these things.

Both the book and the movie communicate this is by everyone living and seeing only black and white as the normal standard. There’s no color, no life, no joy. But because of the injections, and because everyone takes them, they don’t know that’s not normal. They believe the world is black and white, and that it’s devoid of colors and the blessings that come with them, and it’s simply the way to live.

The main character, Jonas, starts to dream and have faint visions in color. He couldn’t even describe what he thought he saw, but when he stops taking his injections fully, everything begins to show up in color. It’s so radically life giving and beautiful, he doesn’t have language for what he’s seeing. It’s too vibrant and hypnotizing. Nothing changed about the world he is living in, except now his eyes have become able to perceive what was always there. He quickly and clearly realizes the world wasn’t what he thought.

I believe the Western church has been seeing the world in black and white for some time, but we don’t even realize it, not unlike the characters in The Giver. This has been caused by us forming Jesus in our own image, rather than letting Jesus form us in his image. We have domesticated, Westernized, neutered, and all together changed Jesus to an eternal Mr. Potato Head—ripping off the parts we don’t like and adding what we think seems right. Recently, in my own study and journey with Jesus and the Scriptures, I started to realize there are certain things about the first-century world that make ItsNotWhatYouThinkJesus and the Scriptures more vibrant, beautiful, and compelling. When you understand his world, you begin to understand him. There are things that make no sense to us because we don’t know what it was like to be a first-century rabbi or a Jew living in Judea under Roman rule.

But when we enter into the world of Jesus, and take him for who he was, the Bible begins to turn to color. Details we haven’t noticed before jump out at us. Neither the Bible nor Jesus change; but stepping back into the first century gives us new eyes to see who he was, what he did, and why we are still talking about him today. 

I hope through these pages you might begin to see Jesus more vibrantly yourself. I’m not a pastor or theologian, and I don’t have numerous degrees where people need to call me Doctor or Professor Bethke. But over the past couple of years I’ve fallen more in love with Jesus and the story of God and his church by un-clicking the mute button twenty-first-century Westerners have put on first-century Jesus and by letting him speak on his own.

Every morning as I walk with Jesus, I ask him to open our eyes more and more each day. Because when we see Jesus clearly, then we can follow him.

One of the scariest questions we have to ask ourselves is, what if we aren’t seeing Jesus properly? What implication does that have for our lives? What if Jesus isn’t who we think? I believe he’s always catching us off guard, creatively challenging us, pursuing us, and loving us.

I’ve written these pages as someone who—like you—is on a journey to see Jesus more vibrant, alive, and for who he truly is more and more each day. Will you join me?

Excerpt taken from It’s Not What You Think by Jefferson Bethke Copyright © 2015 by Jefferson Bethke. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson.