There is a growing number of Christians today who are interpreting texts like John 14:6 (“I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me”) inclusively, rather than exclusively.
Some interpreters apply this to the risen, cosmic Christ who they see working anonymously through many different mediums and mediators. The Gospels, they point out, were written from a post-Easter point of view. What others call by a different name they believe is actually the living Christ.
Others interpret Jesus’ statement “except through me” to be a reference to the values and virtues Jesus incarnated. In other words, anyone who embraces the values and virtues of Jesus can know God regardless of their particular beliefs. Acts 10:34 supports this reading: “In every nation anyone who fears (reverences) God and does what is right is acceptable to God.”
Still others, like me, emphasize that John was writing to his particular community. When John wrote “no one” he meant “none of you.”
Gail O’Day, in the New Interpreter’s Bible calls this particularism. That is, the claims made in John 14:6 express the particularities of the Johannine community’s knowledge and experience of God.
In other words, this is not true for everyone, but it is true for Christians. From this point of view, John 14:6 says nothing about how those outside of Christianity can know God. This is how Christians know God, namely, by following the way of Jesus into the truth and life of God. For Christians, Jesus is the definitive revelation of God.
This means, on one hand, that Christians are free to treat with acceptance and respect adherents and participants of non-Christian religious (and secular) traditions without feeling obligated to impose Christian beliefs on them.
On the other hand, this means that Christians must take the life and teachings of Jesus seriously as “the way” to live, not just a doctrine to be confessed.
It’s ironic that some Christians who demand all people adhere to their Christian beliefs in order to know God do not, in practice, take the life and teachings of Jesus that seriously.
Shane Claiborne, a founding member of the “The Simple Way,” recently wrote an article titled: “If It Weren’t for Jesus, I Might Be Pro-Death Too: A Response to Al Mohler.”
He points out that Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote a 1200 word argument for why Christians should support the death penalty and did not mention Jesus a single time. He also noted that the official pro capital punishment policy of the SBC does not contain a single reference to Jesus or the Gospels in support of their position.
How is that possible? How can a President of a
and the largest Protestant
denomination in the country take a definitive moral position without any
mention of Jesus who is our definitive revelation of God? Theological School
Of course, I can’t point my finger at others without pointing it at myself. How can I (or any Christian) harbor anger instead of nurturing forgiveness, or seek money, honor, position, and power over the
, or pursue my own interests above
the interests of others, if indeed Jesus is my guide and standard? kingdom of God
If Jesus is our definitive revelation of God, then not only must all Scripture be evaluated and assessed through the lens of the story of Jesus, but the totality of our Christian lives must be made to conform to the grace and truth he “fleshed out” among us.
Ann Howard of “The Beatitude Society” shares how John 14:6 bothered her as a child. When she was 10 years old a group of foreign visitors came to her little
Minnesota town for a
weekend visit on their tour of America.
Her family hosted a Russian, a friendly man with a thick accent who went with
her family to their Lutheran church on Sunday.
She was sorry when the visit ended, but something Yuri said during the visit really troubled her. She asked her mother about it.
“Yuri said he doesn’t believe in Jesus or even believe in God. I’m afraid he’s not going to go to heaven. What’s going to happen to Yuri when he dies?”
Ann’s mother wisely responded: “Christianity is not a club, Anne. It’s not about who’s in and who’s out. It’s about how we live.”
If Jesus is our Lord, then every moral, ethical, and social position, as well as all daily priorities and decisions should be evaluated and determined on the basis of “the way” of Jesus. Jesus is our authority on how to live.
It’s much easier to believe a doctrine about Jesus and demand that others conform to it, than it is to actually embody “the way” of Jesus and love and accept others where they are.