It's Not What You Think: Why Christianity Is About So Much More Than Going to Heaven When You Die

It's Not What You Think: Why Christianity Is About So Much More Than Going to Heaven When You Die


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New York Times best-selling author of Jesus > Religion challenges the accepted thinking of contemporary Christianity with the world-changing message Jesus actually brought.

Jesus was most upset at people for seeing but not seeing. For missing it. For succumbing to the danger and idolatry of forcing God into preconceived ideals. What if there were a better way? What if Jesus came not to help people escape the world but rather to restore it? Best-selling author and spoken word artist Jefferson Bethke says that “Christians have the greatest story ever told but we aren’t telling it.” So in this new book, Bethke tells that story anew, presenting God’s truths from the Old and the New Testaments as the challenging and compelling story that it is—a grand narrative with God at the center. And in doing so, Bethke reminds readers of the life-changing message of Jesus that turned the world upside-down, a world that God is putting back together.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400205417
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 10/13/2015
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 236,844
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Jefferson Bethke is the New York Times bestselling author of Jesus > Religion and It’s Not What You Think. He and his wife, Alyssa, host The Real Life Podcast and run, an online initiative equipping families to live as a multi-generational team on mission. They live in Maui with their daughters, Kinsley and Lucy, and son, Kannon. To say hi or to learn more, go to:

Read an Excerpt

It's Not What You Think

Why Christianity is About So Much More than Going to Heaven When You Die


Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2015 Jefferson Bethke
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4002-0542-4





We heard the promises, the value of "coming to Jesus" — payouts such as a better life and no more problems — but when we went to cash in on those promises, nothing deposited. The investment didn't deliver what it said it would deliver. So we put our trust into things that did (or at least felt like it).

I still remember when I first started truly following Jesus my freshman year of college and began to go to church with a whole new perspective. I wanted to learn more about Jesus, but I found myself dreading going every week. The church I was attending frequently put the perfect, shiny-rainbow Jesus follower onstage, who made me feel even worse. Half the time I was expecting an angel to fly over the stage with Handel's Messiah playing from the clouds.

During what was called "testimony time," someone would be invited to share for a few minutes about his or her life before and after Jesus. Usually they'd say something like, "I was an alcoholic for forty years and struggled every day with no hope. I gave my life to Jesus and have never thought about a drop since."

While many people have that type of story, I don't. So every time I'd hear testimonies like that, I'd sink deeper into my chair and look around, wondering if anyone felt the same. Was I the only one who didn't have that kind of experience? Was there something wrong with me? Did God not love me? Did I mess up and not become "Christian" enough?

Because when I started following Jesus, things actually got harder. I had a long season of depression. Things in my life started to go poorly. Relationships broke. Addictions stayed. I knew 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.

When I was a kid, the Christianity I saw never really gave much space to struggle, fail, or ask for help. Growing up in the '90s and coming of age in the beginning of the twenty-first century was a really peculiar place to be. It's as if we are in the middle of that monumental shift from Christianity being the law of the land to now becoming adamantly opposed. How'd we get here?

Western Christianity today is a weird stew of some biblical teachings and some gnostic principles, in a heavy modern enlightenment foundation with a Jesus sticker slapped on it. And sadly that combination leads to erosion, decay, and a Christianity that is honestly neither fulfilling nor enticing. In fact, it's pretty lifeless. It's not a compelling story because it's usually not a story at all. It's a formula, or facts, or a math equation.

But what if there is a better way? I truly believe Jesus tells a better story.

In order for Christianity to start fresh, we have to start with the gospel.

My first memorable encounter with the gospel was when I was in middle school. All around me other middle school kids were crying and hardly anyone was standing. It was a powerful moment — so much so that even now when I think about it, a range of emotions comes over me.

I was at a Christian youth camp.

It was the last night of that camp when everyone "asked Jesus into their hearts." The piano was playing softly while the camp speaker asked all the kids to bow their heads and close their eyes. He would then say, "Okay, whoever wants to receive Jesus, repeat after me...."

Sound familiar? Welcome to 1990s evangelicalism.

Considering how common that experience was for people back then, there's something that has always struck me: Why is it that a similar situation, when read as if it were part of the gospel narrative, feels weird or off base?

Imagine you pick up the Gospel of Luke, and you see a bunch of red letters (the words of Jesus). You start reading those red letters, and it says, "All righty, everyone, bow your heads and close your eyes. The worship leader is going to come play some soft piano music behind me, and if you think you want to follow me, just put your hand in the sky. Don't worry: no one is looking." And when someone raises his hand, Jesus says, "I see your hand; God sees your heart."

It's almost comical, isn't it? Jesus' exhortations to his listeners were almost exactly the opposite. His declaration to follow him bled grace — to the point of bleeding himself — but in that grace he said, "Follow me." The abandon, the unknown, the reference to a first-century torture device, all crashed into that two-word phrase, follow me. We privatize our faith, when Jesus calls us to follow him publicly.

How did we get so far off base? How come our gospel doesn't really seem much like Jesus' gospel?

Here's a scarier question: at what point is a religion only wrong in a few areas but still the same belief system, and at what point is a religion so unrecognizable to its founders they'd call it a different religion entirely? Have we reached that point in Western Christianity?

I can't help but look at the Scriptures and the Christianity I've lived and breathed most of my life and think, Really? Is this it? What happened? The truth is, we are living in a really, really bad story. And a lot of us are not only living in it, but telling others, "If you come to Jesus, you can escape this world." (Yet didn't Jesus say he came to restore this world?)

When I was a kid, this thing called heaven was always spoken of as somewhere far away up in the sky. I always imagined heaven being a place far, far away with winged babies playing harps and floating on the clouds. Now honestly, that doesn't sound like a place where I want to be for eternity. It sounds terrible and boring. In fact, if I ever saw a naked chubby baby with wings, I'd probably run as fast as I could the other way; I wouldn't say, "Oh, I sure want to go there when I die." What if there's better news than the good news that Christians are going to heaven when we die? What if God wants to give us heaven right here? In our families? Our jobs? Our meals? Our art?

Another bad story a lot of Christians live in is what I call "Cliffs Notes Christianity." It usually begins the story with Jesus: Jesus came to show you your sin, die for your sin, resurrect, and float off into heaven. It's a sterile, clean, plastic Jesus. It's the Christianity of show. It's nice, tidy — a neat package with a perfect bow on it. But walking with Jesus is way messier than that, like all of life truly is.

The problem with a CliffsNotes faith is we are disregarding the very story Jesus himself believed and lived! It starts with the New Testament and leaves out the fact that Jesus himself only had Genesis to Malachi as his Bible (or his story).

Many of us, without knowing it, rip Jesus' Jewishness right out of the story. But it's his Jewishness that informs the gospels and the story of Jesus himself. Jesus was a Jew and a rabbi. He probably had the Torah (first five books of the Bible) memorized, if not the entire Tanakh (Old Testament). The Old Testament is a lengthy, weaving, extensive collection of texts that seem to end without delivering what they all call for — a Messiah. A lot of us often skip from Genesis right to Matthew, leaving Israel's story in the dust. There's a reason Jesus didn't come in Genesis 4, but instead in Matthew 1. Jesus is the climax of the story, not the introduction.

If you can tell the gospel — or the story — of Jesus without even mentioning the story of Israel, it's probably not really the gospel, or at least not a full one.

So what story are you walking in? What's the plot? Who's the main character? What's the goal?

We all have answers to those questions whether or not we know them. To many Westerners, the plot is that life has no meaning and so you may as well enjoy it while you can. The main character is myself. And the goal is to enjoy it — gain as much as possible, as easily as possible, with as little pain as possible. When I was in college, this was basically the story every one of my friends was living in.

Others live in a story that is driving toward Utopia. It's about continuing out of primitive religions, philosophies, and ideas, and making the world a better place one step at a time. Sadly, they don't realize that the most "advanced" full century we've ever lived in, the twentieth century, is also on record as the bloodiest. It seems enlightenment of ideas and philosophy aren't going to achieve a utopia.

So what's the true story? Which is the best story?

The truth is, Christians have the greatest story ever told, but we aren't telling it.

The crucial left turn Christians often make when telling our story starts with the first three chapters of the very first book in the Bible — Genesis.

Genesis is a deeply beautiful, poetic, rhythmic, powerful book.

"In the beginning ..."

Quite a start, right? Not, "Let me tell you some facts, theories, and abstract truths," but, "Let me tell you a story."

Yet as Christians we often miss what's going on in the very first chapters of the very first book of the Bible. Many Christians don't even read Genesis 1–2 unless they need an offensive weapon against evolutionists. Because of this, many start their functional Bible in Genesis 3, especially when presenting the good news of Jesus.

This is evident in the "gospel bracelet" that has six different colors to help navigate the American gospel story. (And I say "American" because it breaks down the gospel in a Western, modern, abstract truth way that would have been foreign to Jesus.) The problem with those bracelets, though, is most of them start with the color black. If you've ever seen one, the order they usually take is similar to below.

• Black for sin

• Red for blood

• Blue for baptism

• White for cleansing

• Green for growth

• Yellow for heaven

I used to wear one of these bracelets and could "take people through it" like they were on some type of assembly line. But there's something strange about those six steps. I'd contend that this "gospel" is a large reason for much of the distortion, malnutrition, condemnation, and lack of true healing and freedom in the church today.

The problem is, it starts with black. The bracelet's story starts with sin. That's like trying to build a house on rot. We want to tell people Jesus is the best thing ever, and the first thing we tell them is they are horrible and sinful and wretched. We are literally training people to start the "good news" with horrendously terrible news: "Hi, my name is Jeff. Can I talk to you for a second? You are a sinner."

Some of you might ask, "What's the problem? Isn't it true?" Yes, it's true, we are broken, but even though it's true, it doesn't mean that's where God starts the story.

Starting the story with sin is like starting The Chronicles of Narnia with Edmund's capture by the White Witch. Or imagine the first page of Where the Wild Things Are already has Max in the jungle environment with the beasts. You probably wouldn't even know he was dreaming! Where you start a story drastically changes how you perceive that story.

Stories have a f low and an arc, a beginning and an end. When reading an encyclopedia or a dictionary, we can f lip to any spot and get information, but when reading a story, we need to follow the narrative.

So if Genesis doesn't start in Genesis 3, why would we start there when telling it?

My point is this: black represents Genesis 3. It represents the point in the human story when we stage a coup d'état on God's throne and have been doing so ever since.

It's as if we're saying, "You're not God; I am. You don't know what's right and wrong; I do. I know you've given me the very oxygen in my lungs that allows me to live, but step aside. I can take it from here."

When we begin with sin, we feel spiritually and emotionally naked. Shame, guilt, and condemnation distort our beings at the truest level. Things don't work how they are supposed to work. We know something is broken, amiss.

But that's not where the story starts.

Any reading of ancient Jewish thought would show the first two chapters of Genesis were critical to their worldview and to Jesus'. These were the chapters that concreted their very radical notion of monotheism, which was and still is a pillar of Jewish thought — one God over all creation, as opposed to many other societies at the time of ancient Israel who believed in regional gods of the sun, moon, and crops, among others.

And the first couple of chapters of Genesis are beautifully written. God makes order, beauty, and meaning out of chaos. Before God touched his finger to creation, it says it was tohu va bohu, which literally means "void and empty." But God starts making stuff, starts bringing beauty.

If you've ever seen a painter at work in his studio or a carpenter making something beautiful out of the best cuts of wood there are, you can only imagine the scene when God created everything.

And he just won't stop. Animals, stars, flowers, water, and land. And then, as the crowning act of creation, he makes two image-bearers — male and female — and puts them into the garden to ref lect, cultivate, and steward. He points them to the cultivated part of the garden where everything has been made right and tells them to make the rest of the world look like that.

Talk about a story! The joy, elation, and mystery to be there in the beginning. Purpose, love, marriage, intimacy — it's all there.

So the question arises, why don't we start there? Why not tell that story?

Are you a Genesis 1 Christian or a Genesis 3 Christian? Do you start your story with shalom or with sin?

Shalom is the Hebrew word for "peace." For rhythm. For everything lining up exactly how it was meant to line up.

Shalom is happening in those moments when you are at the dinner table for hours with good friends, good food, and good wine.

Shalom is when you hear or see something and can't quite explain it, but you know it's calling and stirring something deep inside of you.

Shalom is a sunset, that sense of exhaustion yet satisfaction from a hard day's work, creating art that is bigger than itself.

Shalom is enemies being reconciled by love.

Shalom is when you are dancing to the rhythm of God's voice.

And in Genesis 1, everything was shalom. It was shouting out of every square inch of the creation and exploding in every mole- cule in God's good earth. It was a crashingly loud symphony coming through the best surround-sound system you've ever encountered, hitting you from all angles at the peak of intensity. Yet now it's a dying whisper, a fractured song, a broken melody, only brought back into the right key at the feet of Jesus.

Genesis 1 Christians start the story with an appeal to the fact that all human beings on earth have inherent worth and value because they were brought to life by God's very own breath. They are living creatures standing in the gap between Creator and the rest of creation. All of creation God spoke into existence, but with us it said we were formed.

God got particular and creative with us human creatures. He rolled up his sleeves when he made us and declared us to be Imago Dei. Image of God. He did not call us broken, sinner, or failure. Which means our primal identity (the one most at the depths of who we are — in our very bones) is one given by the Creator himself. We are his.


Excerpted from It's Not What You Think by JEFFERSON BETHKE. Copyright © 2015 Jefferson Bethke. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Foreword Ann Voskama xiii

Introduction: living in Color xxi

1 Your Story's Not What You Think: Love Defined You Before Anything Else Did 1

2 The Temple's Not What You Think: It's God Pitching His Tent in Your Backyard 27

3 People Are Not Who You Think: They're Neighbors to Love, Not Commodities to Use 51

4 You Aren't Who You Think: You're a Person from the Future 77

5 The Sabbath's Not What You Think: You Rest As You Play 97

6 Worship's Not What You Think: You Become What You Behold 117

7 The Kingdom's Not Where You Think: It's Not in the Sky; It's Here Now 131

8 Brokenness Is Not What You Think: You Must Embrace Your Scars 159

9 The Table's Not What You Think: It's Not Just a Meal; It's a Sacred Space 175

Conclusion: A Final Word to My Friends 197

Acknowledgments 201

Notes 203

Further Reading 209

About the Author 213

Customer Reviews

It's Not What You Think: Why Christianity Is About So Much More Than Going to Heaven When You Die 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
itsraymarie More than 1 year ago
I loved this one. I loved his first book, so I was pretty stoked about this one. And it definitely lived up. I thought this was such an eye-opening and important book, more so than any other I've read in this category. Bethke delivers in such a way that is easy to understand but impactful. So many things stood out to be in this book that I had to take notes, and I ended up with pages. Bethke breaks down Christianity in a way that shows us what God wants from us, which is to bring heaven to earth, not wait until we die. The chapters were broken up concisely in a way that really helped you absorb information. He reminds of us stories we may have heard all our life, but shows them in a new light. He goes through many subjects, including some we may not think about, such as the table being just as important as our worship. I also love this super important and powerful quote: A person isn't valuable because she's someone's daughter or sister; she is valuable and has dignity and worth because she is an image-bearer. A human. (pg 170) You can tell when a lot of heart and work when into a book, and this is definitely that. I think my favorite chapters was probably the one on Sabbath. I will definitely be implementing some of the suggestions in this book, and think that is the highest compliment. I think this is a very important book, and will definitely be recommending it to pretty much everyone I know.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An exciting journey of Love from our Heavenly Father. What a great perspective.
JKBane More than 1 year ago
It’s Not What You Think is a book the American church needs to read! Background - Jefferson made waves with his video Why Jesus is Greater Than Religion and soon after created a book along the same lines. Between those times he has created videos explaining his perception and interpretation of relevant issues concerning Christianity in today’s society and other Biblical discussions. Last year I was awarded the opportunity to be on the Street Team for his first book Why Jesus Is Great Than Religion and this year I am also able to be part of this new book release. Being able to be part of both book released has been an honor and awesome to meet others around the country who are on the Street Team. Let me say this, I am in no way promoting this book in a bias manner just because I am part of the Street Team. Know that while I am a fan, I do give my full honest opinion. This book talks about Christianity, but is just as relevant to anyone else living in this fast-paced, busy, technology craved society. Who is this for? When thinking about who this book is for I would have to say most definitely for the Americans. Granted others from around the globe will appreciate this book, I think the topics and examples used in the book relate to Americans. Going a little deeper, I think this book is suited for those who are not sure about the background, beginnings, God’s heart, or purpose of our humanity. Basically if you are seeking identity this book is definitely for you. Another target audience this hits are the ones who want to find balance in this very busy, consumer minded culture who is engulfed with information and technology. Brief overview - It’s Not What You Think in a nutshell takes various subjects and defines the subject by what God intended, not what society says per se’. Chapter 1. Your Story Is Not What You Think: Loved Defined You Before Anyone Else Did Chapter 2. The Temple Is Not What You Think: It’s God Pitching His Tent In Your Backyard Chapter 3. People Are Not Who You Think: They Are Neighbors To Love; Not Commodities To Use Chapter 4. You Are Not Who You Think: You’re A Person From The Future Chapter 5. The Sabbath’s Not What You Think: You Rest As You Play Chapter 6. Worship’s Not What You Think: You Become What You Behold Chapter 7. The Kingdom’s Not Where You Think: It’s Not in the Sky; It’s Here Now Chapter 8. Brokenness Is Not What You Think: You Must Embrace Your Scars Chapter 9. The Table’s Not What You Think: It’s Not Just a Mean; It’s a Sacred Space How this made a difference to me - This book is full of quotes that you could color your copy with a highlighter! Jeff is one of the most quotable authors/speakers around. Many times I am pretty much saying, “preach” or “that’s worth a Facebook status!” as I read the book. Being that one of my passions is mobile technology this book hit home on a number of ways. Three of those ways include fear of silence, addiction to phones, and my disfunction of finding rest. Unfortunately, the three play hand in hand with each other and has caused me to think more about my life and how I manage it. Jeff hits a home-run talking about the status of where at least America and the Western church is at. He speaks to us on a real level. It’s as if he is walking through this struggle with us and guiding us. At no point did I sense him just trying to stir up trouble or shame us in any way. But he did bring a relevant message.
MargoH More than 1 year ago
This book has some refreshing insights for new or seeking Christians. Bethke's ideas about what the Christian life should look like are fresh and intiguing, but the book is, to my mind, totally orthodox in its total message (as serious Christians think of orthodoxy). By his style of writing, it seems that the author is aiming to reach the relatively young - like under 35. But, as someone well beyond that age, even I found it worth reading - and so should anyone who is tired of pious churchy cliches. Bethke lends credibility to the topic of genuine Christian living, because he himself started out on the other side of the fence.
courthope2014 More than 1 year ago
Jefferson Bethke challenges us again in this second book. He asks the hard questions and challenges our faith from every aspect in a good way. This book challenges you to reevaluate what you thought Christianity was by giving it a new perspective separating religion from true relationship. Each chapter takes you on a different journey to dig deeper. Jefferson's first book "Jesus > Religion" helped me discover God again and open my heart. His second book "It's Not What You Think" has helped me go deeper in my walk with God by understanding the depth of my relationship with God. This book is an easy read. It's also great for small groups or individually. This is a must read for all Christians and non-believers!
LaurenL_ScullySpeaks More than 1 year ago
This book will change the way you think! Jeff does a great job of bringing old testament truths to light in an interesting and relevant way. This is without a doubt a must read. In my opinion this book is leaps and bounds better than Jesus > Religion. After I read Jesus > Religion I was pretty impressed and learned a lot, then I went to try to read it again a few months later, only to discover that the material in it was kind of bland the second time around. I thought that maybe I was just growing spiritually, so tbh I wasnt sure if I would gain any new insight from INWYT. BUT bc I am a huge Bethke fan (of both of them!) I just had to read this. It did not disappoint! If you haven't ordered this yet, do it now. and then order a second copy to pass along bc you will want to!!!!
BeccaCarter More than 1 year ago
Great book! Lots to think about, plus plenty of insights I appreciated right away. I would say there’s something in there for everyone, though it is primarily written for folks who already consider themselves Christians. If you don’t but you’re curious about this book, let me tell you that Jefferson is a down-to-earth guy who doesn’t just skim the surface when he reads and studies the Bible – he gets in there and finds real gems that translate into practical ways to live with purpose. And who doesn’t need purpose to guide their days?
ShawnceyG More than 1 year ago
Jeff's first book was fantastic. I was looking forward to his new book since he announced it. Finally got it and he did an amazing job yet again. His first book and this book are amazing because Jeff is straight forward with what he says. No color coating. His writing is true and simple and flows very well to keep you wanting to read more. His book makes you look at your own life and quedtion it and adjust for the better if need be. Jeff is an ordinary relatable guy whose writing speaks to each reader personally. I highly recoomend this book and plan on getting some to pass out to friends and family.
HPgirl0609 More than 1 year ago
In Jeff Bethke’s new book, he explains that there are many aspects of our lives and our faith that we have been thinking about the wrong way. In a similar way he does with his first book Jesus > Religion, he takes much of what we know about Christianity and turns it on its head to give us a much needed change of perspective. He takes us on a journey through the Bible that is so much different and more refreshing than any book I’ve read in a long time. You are left with a hopeful outlook on our lives in light of God's plan to bring His kingdom in the here and now.​ This book is a must read for Christians of all ages, but especially to teens, young adults, and those that desire to understand these topics with a new perspective. I would encourage anyone to read It's Not What You Think!
battlecryleader87 More than 1 year ago
Wow what a great read! Let me elaborate. This book is deep. I would describe it as a view of the Bible so far zoomed out that it gives you new perspective to common stories, messages, and themes. Sometimes we may have too close of a view of Scripture, but Jefferson shows some of the actual intents behind what God is saying. Honestly, it took me awhile to wrap my head around some of what was being said because I generally have a very analytical mindset, but once I grasped the overview and yet the depth of what he was saying, I was honestly blown away. I would highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to go deeper in their faith and learn more about how much God loves them and desires them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago