This is the final post in this series of four posts. Here are links to the previous three.
- The Requirements Of The Law
- The Nature of Repentance, Humility, and Love
- What is it about Christianity that makes it easier to be good, kind, and loving?
What is this post about? It addresses an objection to Christianity that Heather expressed.
I do see your point that people do not share very well and get greedy. That is a human problem that needs to be fixed. I have a great respect for Christian ideals that have contributed to a tone of civility, love and respect in the country. My issue is that it is perceived as the only way for humans to be good, kind and loving is to be Christian. That simply is not true. (from here)
The Controversy Extends To Christians
Reality and what people perceive rarely happen to be the same. Here is the problem verse that generally drives the controversy.
John 14:6 (Today’s New International Version)
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
What exactly Jesus meant by this statement is not exactly clear, and Jesus probably did not intend that it should be. With respect to John 14:6, ReligiousTolerance.org offers the following observation:
Most Christians hold one of the following three beliefs about other religions and faith groups:
- John 14:6 is often quoted by conservative Protestants as one proof that a person can only attain Heaven after death if they have believed in Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ) while on Earth. This is been referred to as exclusivity or particularism.
- There is a movement among many fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians to accept the inclusive view. This viewpoint was also adopted by the Roman Catholic Church during the 1960s. They believe that the only fully true religion is their own particular branch of Christianity, but that it is possible for some non-Christians to be saved and attain Heaven even though they have never heard of Yeshua or have never heard of Christianity.
- Finally, there is the position found frequently among Christian liberals and progressives: that all faiths are true and valid when interpreted within their own culture.
Even though there is only one Christ Jesus, Christianity is not monolithic. When we read the Bible, how we interpret what we read depends upon numerous factors including the following:
- How much and how carefully we read. Every verse in the Bible must be considered in context. When we read a Bible verse, we can better understand if we are both familiar with the passage where it occurs and we are familiar with the Bible in general.
- What we know about the people the Bible’s authors considered their readers. Because a good Bible scholar is familiar with the history and Peoples associated with the Bible, that scholar usually has a better understanding of what the Bible’s authors intended their readers to understand.
- What we want to believe. We are each corruptable by a propensity to sin. We have to work for the humility required to set aside our pride and personal agendas.
Given such factors, it is almost impossible for us all to interpret the Bible (or just about any other document) in the exact, same way. Nonetheless, if we want to communicate, we have no choice except to do the best we can.
So What Did Jesus Mean To Say?
Because the Bible is such an important work, many scholars have studied it. And the various scholars who have studied it have various opinions. Here are several (including my own. And no, I am not a Bible scholar.).
An Absurd Interpretation
Just to illustrate the possibilities for the absurd, the following is a Muslim interpretation. Muslims worry about the issue of the trinity, the Christian mystery of one God divided into three parts. Thus, the scholars at answering-christianity.com seek to prove Jesus was only a prophet — by quoting the Bible. Here is an excerpt.
Further, the verse clearly states that Jesus was the “WAY” to a mansion. He did not say that he is the “DESTINATION” which would be the case if he were God. What else would we expect a prophet of God to say except “I am the ‘way’ to God’s mercy”? (from here)
The Inclusive View
My personal understanding is that God leaves the choice of accepting salvation to us. Whether we know about Jesus may affect the outcome, but God only knows. So what follows are excerpts from the writings of scholars who take that view.
John 14:9 Today’s New International Version (TNIV)
Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
About that verse, McLaren says the following (on page 11 of his document).
Here the irony becomes nearly unbearable (to me), as we contrast this statement with the conventional interpretation of verse 6. Jesus says in verse 9 that the invisible God has been made visible in his life. “If you want to know what God is like,” Jesus says, “look at me, my life, my way, my deeds, my character.” And what has that character been? One of exclusion, rejection, constriction, elitism, favoritism, and condemnation? Of course not! Jesus’ way has been compassion, healing, acceptance, forgiveness, inclusion, and love from beginning to end. But our conventional interpretation of verse 6 seems to say, “Forget all that. Forget everything you’ve seen in me … the way I’ve lived and treated people, the way I’ve accepted prostitutes and tax collectors, the way I’ve welcomed a Roman centurion and a Samaritan woman. Forget all that. Believe instead that God will reject everyone except people who share your doctrinal viewpoints about me, because I won’t let anyone get to the Father unless they get by me first.” It makes me want to scream.
Because Jesus was both God and man, He set an example for us. Through Jesus’ example, we see the nature of the God.
Pastor Chris Owens provides a similar interpretation in Another Look at John 14:6– What Does Jesus Really Mean? Owens emphasizes that Jesus, not the Christian religion, holds the key to salvation.
Now the sticky question is whether or not John 14:6 is applicable to all people, including non-Christians. Certainly, Christians have used this verse to try to convince their non-Christian neighbors that Jesus is the only way to the Father. So, the logic goes, they’d better turn to Jesus and become a Christian or risk damnation. Now, I firmly believe that Jesus is the one through whom God has fully revealed himself. Jesus is the one through whom God has saved the whole world from power of sin and death. He is the hope of the world.
My concern, however, in holding out Jesus Christ for all people, is that we wrongly insist that the religion of Christianity is the sole means through which people come to Christ and are saved. We tell people to come to such and such church or church event, believe such and such words from a preacher, convert and then become a Christian and church member in the mold of who we are. (from here)
In the mold of who we are…. To be a Christian is to become a disciple of Jesus, not the procedures we associate with any particular Christian church.
What God Says He Wants
Centuries before the birth of Jesus, the people of Bethel asked what God what He wanted from them.
Zechariah 7:1-10 Today’s New International Version (TNIV)
In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, the month of Kislev. The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-Melek, together with their men, to entreat the LORD by asking the priests of the house of the LORD Almighty and the prophets, “Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?”
Then the word of the LORD Almighty came to me: “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves? Are these not the words the LORD proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem and its surrounding towns were at rest and prosperous, and the Negev and the western foothills were settled?’”
And the word of the LORD came again to Zechariah: “This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’
What Jesus taught is that we must love God and our neighbors. Isn’t probable that anyone who does that somehow knows the way of Jesus? Doesn’t anyone who practices humility do what Jesus exemplied? If so, why should we wonder whether they have accepted Jesus gift of salvation?
Because Jesus commanded us to do so, we Christians seek to make disciples for Jesus. Because we remain sinners, even though repentent, we sometimes forget God saves and God judges, not us. Because God decides who is saved, not us, when we presume to say another is not saved — cannot be saved — don’t we presume to know too much?