Jefferson Bethke: Does He Love Jesus but Hate the Doctrine of Eternal Hell?

by Phillip on March 6, 2012

Last time I checked Jefferson Bethke’s Spoken Word video, “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus” was approaching 20 million views.  He obviously struck a universal chord in protest of “religion.”  He got a host of criticism from various fronts including some from his own neo-Reformed colleagues.  But he exuded a gracious spirit and pointed out that he was more surprised than anybody of its viral impact and admitted he should have worded some things differently.  His humility along with his own defining of “religion” within the video more than makes up for his mistake in semantics in my opinion.  But still the controversy continues.

But I would like to point out a different issue I have with the video that I have yet to run across.  That is the fact that as a member of the Neo-Calvinistic Mars Hill Church, Jefferson did not reflect or represent the Neo-Reformed position of Mark Driscoll. For those new to theological labels, a Calvinist like Driscoll believes that God does not hold salvation out to the whole world indiscriminately but rather has predetermined and established an exact number of “saved” individuals out of humanity.  To show His mercy to only an “elected” few is for His greatest glory we are told.

I would like to present significant evidence that Jefferson Bethke proves by his evasion, omission and emphasis that he is unconsciously hoping for a greater Story of redemption than the one he confesses to believe. He does this in his presentation of the Gospel by:

1) never warning people of the gravest danger ever to threaten mankind: that of eternal conscious torment in hell

2) he opens the Gospel up for all humanity and offers redemption as if he is an “Arminian” (someone who believes that all have equal potential to be saved and that man has been given the free-will to respond).

3) Jefferson emphatically resolves and summarizes the Gospel Story with the broad sweeping pronouncements of “Done” and “It is finished”.

The video gives the impression of a God who loves us to the core and that this love is available to any “sinner.”  There is no warning to escape the irreparable harm and destruction of an eternal hell but rather assurances of the love that has finished the work for us out of His benevolent grace and mercy on the cross. It is a powerful presentation of the Gospel and honest about sin.*  Yet he leaves out the vital element of an eternal hell which Tim Keller, one of Bethke’s heros, calls an essential part of “the ecosystem of the Gospel.”

Instead he chooses to speak and declare the Gospel like someone who believes in the complete work of redemption for all creation! He speaks like a Christian Universalist!  “It is finished” is indeed the Gospel according to God but not according to Bethke’s favorite theologians.  They would say that it doesn’t apply to all people or for all sin or for all death. They would have to qualify “It is Finished” with an admission that sin, death and hell will not ever be conquered …or finished.  In fact sin, death and hell will all “live on” in the form of billions of people, the majority of mankind, …forever! Sin, death and punishment will cycle forever according to our traditional theologians. (See D. A Carson’s Blessed Conundrum)

Why would Jefferson Bethke leave a fact of such magnitude out of the Gospel Story he meant to proclaim on the Internet?  It would be like leaving the part out about the ship going down in the story of the Titanic. If someone were relaying that story to us and declaring that a great rescue work had been “completed” and “finished” would we not assume that the story ended ultimately, hopeful? If eternal conscious torment threatens to be the fate of most of humanity then Bethke did the 20 million viewers a grave and unimaginable disservice by leaving out the most important warning they will ever need to hear.

Did he simply forget?  Was he embarrassed about it?  Is he revealing that he hates the religious fallout of the doctrine of eternal damnation and punishment?  Is this more in actuality the “religion” he hates?

Ironically by his own definition Bethke exposed the “religious power” that eternal conscious torment holds over people’s heads, hearts and minds.  The threat of an eternal hell for all who do not have “saving faith” or for those that still struggle with sins that cause them to doubt the “finished” work of Christ for them is the cause of the disease of false “religion” in the first place!

By these observations we have concluded that Bethke is fighting the very real and eminent enemy of his own “religion” that depends upon the threat of eternal damnation to sustain itself.

That is why we believe he instinctively left this monumental detail out of his presentation.

We believe Jefferson is following his God-given hope and desire and letting the Good News of “Done” to trump the bad news of sin, death and hell. We were given the last word of “It is finished” and in Jefferson’s sanctified heart, I believe he meant it.


“Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus”


*We must mention that it was unfortunate and confusing that Jefferson left out the resurrection in his 685 word presentation of the Gospel.  The only explanation is that the current Church is still cross-centered and has not recovered its historical roots as a resurrection-centered community.  The Early Church for 500 years did not reference the cross for their symbol but rather the resurrection.  This growing rediscovery of the essential “lynchpin” of our faith as Resurrection will give more sway to the trajectory of a universal restoration of the created order.  Such is the nature of a Resurrection paradigm, by its very power it leaves nothing in its path un-regenerated or un-restored!

See The Cross Is Not Enough by Clifford and Johnson.









Dino February 7, 2013 at 5:23 am

First of all. Sorry, I acknowledge that the article above is about “Jefferson Bethke”.

But, if I may offer my opinion:
Your understanding and the common church’s understanding of the eternal torment is rather the doctrine of the demons. The Lord Jesus Christ’s death would bear no significance if he decides to throw a good non-christian into the *eternal torture chamber.
It is eternal punishment to death. Not eternal ‘punishing’. Also it is clearly written in the word, the very memory of them shall be forgotten. The wicked shall perish forever or eternal ~ Eternal punishment.
The current church if not all, has been manipulating members preaching HELL pretty much which induces FEAR. The Lord Jesus Christ is not a tyrant God who wants his creatures to believe out of FEAR/TORMENT, but rather through *understanding of His Eternal Grace and Love through his Death on the Cross which again signifies His Eternal Magnificence, Glory, Love, Wisdom and Power. Amen!

admin February 8, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Thanks for your comment. I assume you are referring to what is called “Annihilationism” or “Conditional Immortality,” the belief that the lost are not subjected to eternal conscious torment but rather judged and executed. We have responded to this view on an article covering the soon to be released movie on the view you are referring to, “Hell And Mr. Fudge.”

I encourage anyone interested in understanding why we believe the view of annihilationism is neither Biblical nor God-glorifying to the following post:

Dino February 11, 2013 at 12:53 am

Hi admin,

Thanks for responding to my post. Well, I am not quite a believer in ‘Annihilationism’. But, I do believe God will judge the lost, unbelievers, and believers also equally. So, the wicked creatures on earth shall be recompensed equally of their evil they had committed on Earth against their neighbors. Their wickedness shall be cooked up and exposed to themselves and their conscience in the Lake of Fire. And after that they shall be destroyed forever!

admin February 11, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Your description above does appear to be some form of annihilationism albeit with an extension in order to expose the sin of the “wicked.” I am not sure what comfort you find in your view. And there seems to be some triumphalism in the tone of your comment. I do not desire to spend time arguing against what you believe. You are entitled to your conclusions. But I have a couple of initial comments.

One is the fact that your understanding does not acknowledge how “ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and that, “there is NONE righteous, not even one.” Nor does it factor in the promise that, “the steadfast love of the Lord NEVER ceases; His mercies NEVER come to an end.” (Lam 3) Your view has no place for any redemptive purpose for God’s judgment. It appears to be entirely retributive. This flies in the face of the fair judgments we are commanded to make on this earth and in loving our enemies. (See article Righteousness=Justice

Second, the “Lake of Fire” is the same fire from our ONE God who is called the “Consuming Fire,” the “Refiner’s Fire,” the “Pentecost Fire,” and who is said to “baptize with fire.” (See article “Making God Two.”

There is a lot more to respond to but this blog and also address additional issues you have raised regarding “judgment” and the Hebrew/Greek words for our word, “forever.”

Grace and peace.

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