The Baptist Messenger recently interviewed Alex Himaya, pastor of Broken Arrow, Battlecreek, about his new book, Jesus Hates Religion. The book has sparked conversation, and people are listening and are at attention.
Why did you choose the title, “Jesus Hates Religion?”
Well, clearly, it’s an attention grabber, and it gets people’s attention. But, I think the message is that poignant; that we have to say it strong because the Doctrine of Grace is probably the most neglected doctrine in the New Testament church today.
I think to the point that when you begin to teach biblical grace and the amazing grace of God, people who have been in church their whole life will say, ‘What? That can’t be right! That’s not what I’ve been taught. You know, that’s not what I believe.’
You’ll look in Scripture, and you’ll realize it. So, I think it’s important to understand that I define religion as a ‘man-made path to God.’ Anytime you and I look at the distance between us and God caused by sin, and we think, ‘I can fix that’ or ‘I can right that wrong’ or ‘Somehow, I can do enough good things to build a box that I can stand upon and reach God’; that’s religion and its core is pride. It’s arrogance and quite honestly, it keeps us from the intimate relationship with God, that Jesus died to provide for us.
I just have to believe with all my heart that Jesus hates that because He wants us to have that intimate relationship with Him.
Amen. Your book has an appealing format and is a heart-to-heart communication. You have stories throughout that are memorable and that really sink into your mind. One quote where I thought you established that kind of premise really well was in the beginning of the book when you said when “I say ‘Jesus Hates Religion’, I’m not saying God hates the Church. He loves the Church, He created it.” I thought you defined your term very well, and evidently, this started out almost as a sermon series. Talk about the response you received then.
Around 2004, I preached through Galatians. We called it ‘Graceland,’ and themed the whole thing around Elvis. A few years later in 2009, we wanted to reteach that and just began to think, ‘How would we package that?’ and ‘How would we draw it in?’ We came up with “Jesus Hates Religion,” and put up a billboard in Tulsa that said ‘JesusHatesReligion.com.” That’s all it said; it didn’t talk about the church, a sermon series or any of that.
So, we put up a website; I don’t remember the number (of visits), but it was astronomical. The number (ran in) tens of thousands of hits a day. From the one billboard in Tulsa, people were . . . all the way from grateful to irate. It became a social experiment, and this was long before Twitter and Facebook were really big. We were able to capture the comments and use them as we began each message to communicate what people were thinking and how they were reacting to it. That was all the way back in 2009 when we did that, so it took years to put it into a book form, and here we are.”
“What I like (is where) you said ‘A person is saved by grace, but they also have to live by grace.’ Why do you think, Alex, we see our culture so works-driven? So away from the grace we find in God?
Well, because we cannot accept that when it comes to a relationship with God, we have nothing to offer. I write in the book that it starts when we are babies. Our parents applauding our first step and cheering us on; that, somehow, we think it’s about our effort; we are conditioned in our culture.
You know what? It’s true, in almost every arena of life; you reap what you sow. It’s true in education, it’s true in employment, it’s true in sports. You reap what you sow, but in the Gospel, we get to reap what we didn’t sow. It is so contrary because it flies in the face of every other arena in life. I think that’s why it’s so difficult to swallow.”
At the beginning of the book, you talk about some of the tensions going on in a discussion like that (and) that people have preconceived notions about “good religion”, “bad religion”. You, yourself, as a pastor in a church, having what some would call a “religious vocation”, talk about James 1:27, where we see a positive connotation of religion. But then you point out, using Scripture, how Christ, Himself, was on a collision course with the religious experts of the day, and I think we see that in our culture, too. What kind of reactions are you getting? Now that the book is out, are there any initial conversations or reactions happening?”
The reaction has been all over the map, but God is using it. We’re getting emails from people all over the place. (Some) who are calling and saying, “Thank you for teaching this so clearly and writing it so clearly.’ God’s amazing grace is setting me free, and for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m not under this burden’; it’s what the Gospel is (all) about.”
To listen to the podcast interview in full, visit www.baptistmessenger.com/insight. Himaya’s book is available for purchase at local bookstores and online.