“Grace Always Wins.”
Jefferson Bethke Jesus>Religion (page 140)
Jeff Bethke is a Calvinist. Contrary to some stereotypes painted of Calvinists I have found Jefferson to be a most down to earth, honest and humble young man. From his gracious tone displayed in his interviews after his viral video (Why I Hate Religion…) to the way he personably communicated his theology in his first book, Jesus>Religion, I have only respect for this up and coming herald of pure grace.
That is because he gets it. He gets the heart of Calvinism: our salvation is all of God and therefore all of grace. He has awoken to and heard the essence of the gospel and it is drowning out all other voices. While for many of us it has taken decades to learn that we cannot “become Christians” by trying harder Bethke has lived and experienced the fast track to grace. Suffering and temptation have trained him to identify the false god of DIY religion and collapse on Jesus alone for the power of holiness.
Jefferson Bethke represents much of what is good and beautiful about Calvinism. He highlights the pure grace of God as being His work from first to last, even the faith to believe. His presentation of the gospel does not come demanding a new heart and a saving faith but this gospel comes supplying it all! Jesus>Religion is a balm for many who think God has given up on them or that God does not understand their suffering as humans in this fallen world. It is for anyone who might think God has removed Himself from the sinful, the unworthy, or the failure.
Interestingly Bethke also represents the most beautiful elements of the opposing theological camp of Arminianism: that God is in love with humanity and has “a better plan for your life.” While he hones in on the aspects of Calvinism’s view of pure grace throughout the book he also provides the sweeping inclusive language only an Arminian theology could allow:
“God uniquely highlights marriage as one of the main ways we know who he is and how he relates to us. That’s why Jesus is so strongly against divorce. Every time divorce occurs, the couple is telling a lie about God’s relationship with humanity. He never leaves because we are under covenant.” (pg 145)
“He’s near you…I don’t know where you are or where you’re coming from, but I know Jesus has a better plan for your life than you do…come as you are.” (pg 200)
I appreciate his omission of federal Calvinism language heard by some of the hardcore neo-Calvinist teachers today that relay how God hates those who are still in unbelief or how God’s glory overrides a desire to love and save. He does not do what former Calvinist Austin Fisher described as “rubbing our noses in our humanity” or defining God’s glory as a separate expression from His love.
I love what Bethke loves about Calvinism. I love the fact that Calvinism has defined Christ’s salvation as DONE and not DO. That the finished work of Christ is truly finished and that His “alluring, compelling, stunning, and powerful” grace is “irresistible.” But I am confident that what I hate about Calvinism are most likely the same things Bethke hates–those elements which he does not believe possess enough “good news” to share with his viewers or readership.
I am speaking about the doctrine of a “limited atonement;” a fixed election that determines beforehand who is saved and who is not. A doctrine that is then defended on the grounds that it is ultimately for God’s glory. It appears from his video and his book that he is afraid to divulge what a consistent Calvinist position reveals. He’s not the first to omit this doctrine and like the others we are not told why. However in the candid words of no-longer-Reformed Austin Fischer he tells us how he viewed this doctrine of a predestined limited salvation:
“So God creates to flex his glory muscles to allow the full manifestation of all he is; that is to say, the ultimate end for which God created the world was to display the full range of his glory. As such God ordains the eternal damnation of the humans he also wants to save because he wants to display his wrath and justice even more than he wants to save them. When it comes down to it, God values his self-glorification above their salvation. It’s all about God’s glory…” Austin Fischer Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed pg 15
Yes, Jesus is indeed greater than Religion.
But could Bethke say that Jesus’ love and grace are “alluring, compelling, stunning, and [a] powerful force” greater than an eternal hell that separates His image-bearers from Him for all eternity? Is the grace of God greater than the power of death and sin that he believes will continue on throughout all eternity cycling forever without end like an open wound in the universe? Is this how “Grace always wins”?
If you are a Calvinist like Bethke then you must admit that grace only wins with those whom God has elected and preordained to be saved. Or if Bethke is offering an Arminian version then the sentiment, “grace always wins” would only be true if the person can grasp it and embrace it by their “quality decision.” Sadly the statistics reveal that this grace hasn’t won very many souls. But maybe that is our fault for “not preaching a clear gospel” says Bethke. But the ramifications for this statement are too much for most grace teachers to face: We have been given the mission to save people from hell and yet we are not preaching the way clearly and therefore many are going to an eternal hell on account of our failure. Wow, do we really have that much power? (But then again, that is an Arminian line of thinking so I suppose Bethke can switch and appeal to his Calvinism.)
I do agree with Jefferson Bethke’s summary statement: “Grace always wins.”
I’m not sure how any less scandalous that statement is than “Love Wins.” But you will discover that what Bethke is unconsciously communicating is that grace will indeed have the last word. How that thought coexists within his Calvinist mindset I do not know. But as we keep highlighting here on this website: The Body of Christ is the collective thought and heart of our Father and Savior who “desires all men to be saved and come to repentance.” We continue to champion these leaders, pastors, and teachers who proclaim a hope far beyond what they are allowed to believe!