Well, right off the bat, the title’s not correct, really. The world needs all of us. We’re all connected, all needing to honour our related-ness, all needing to recognize we are part of the same family, like it or not sometimes. We’re all God’s children. There’s no exclusivity in that. But I’ll come back to that because I want to be specific for a minute.
I was pretty excited last week – I still am – because I recently wrote a column that elicited a response from another minister, a pastor of another denomination, one which takes a very different view than I do. We all know that not everyone’s going to agree with everything we think, say or do, but we don’t always have the opportunity for dialogue. So, thank you, pastor, for writing your’s as a column in response to mine. It inspires me.
I wrote a column in which I challenged the understanding that Jesus is the only way to God. Jesus is, indeed, my way – and may be yours – but I believe that we all come to the one God, however we understand that God, in different ways and, for some, that way may not be Jesus. Specifically, I suggested an alternate way to interpret John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” Rather than meaning “me, Jesus,” I suggested that Jesus simply meant “me, as in The Way that I teach you to live, the way that is true and life-giving.”
That is not “correct,” was the response. Jesus is the only way to God and this message is exclusively for those “people who recognize that they are sinners in need of a Saviour. Sinners need a Saviour, not a good example.”
Okay, well, we don’t agree. I do have a little trouble with the language of “correct” and “exclusive” that I want to say a word about, but I would like to thank you for expressing a contrary opinion. Because it’s just that.
I was fortunate to have a professor in seminary who reminded people that the Bible speaks to people how it speaks to them – that’s what makes it so meaningful. I’m paraphrasing her a lot, but she said that we interpret God’s Word as it speaks to us and you can’t tell someone that their interpretation is wrong. You can challenge it with a different one, you can suggest that it’s a misunderstanding or that it’s misguided based on context, historic or factual knowledge, but you can’t say that it’s wrong if it leads to what is true and life-giving, because that’s what the Bible is all about. It’s why it still continues to be meaningful, not matter how much work it can be to understand it: what’s important is its truth, not its literalism.
You write, “is this message only for certain people? Yes. The Good News is only for people who recognize that they are sinners in need of a Saviour. Sinners need a Saviour, not a good example.” But you also say that “we have a sin problem. Outside of Jesus, the entire human race remains in a state of sinful rebellion against God.” If we are all sinners, is the Good News only for those who realize it? I can’t agree with that. I think the Good News is for all, particularly whether they realize it or not.
The thing is, we could debate at length about all the things we disagree about, but ultimately I think that we’re headed to the same place, just from different directions. And when I say “headed to the same place,” I mean building communities of people who live God’s love in the world, trying to be better followers of The Way that Jesus teaches us with his life. Even as I write that, I think but that’s just it: that’s my view of Jesus’ life. Your’s – equally valid – is the view from Jesus’ death. Jesus died to redeem us from sin. It’s Jesus death that brings salvation.
Sinners do need a Saviour, but we also need a good example to follow. Or maybe that could be the other way round: we need a good example to follow, but we also need a Saviour. The point is, we need both and sometimes we lean to the direction that speaks most clearly to us, most clearly of what is true.
All the more reason, I think, to refute the idea that Jesus is exclusive. You suggest that “in all the gospels Jesus encounters hostility precisely because he was exclusive in his teachings.” I think he encountered hostility because his message was distinctly inclusive, available to all and worthy of engagement. Both Matthew (10:34) and Luke (12:51) record stories of Jesus talking about how he brings conflict and division. That’s not because he’s exclusive, but because inclusivity brings engagement, difference of opinion, debate, the sharing (often forcefully) of our uniqueness. I don’t think for a minute that Jesus thought those conflicts would be settled by victory for one and defeat for the other. Rather, I think he wished the result to be growth and learning, the rebuilding of relationships and the restructuring of society on the basis of love, respect and grace. In short, the kingdom of heaven here on earth.
We are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Yes, maybe as you suggest, that image may be broken. But I cannot agree with you that it “has been shattered like a mirror” and “is no longer functional.” We may be broken, but our brokenness is healed by Jesus, by love, by grace, by death and by life. We’re all God’s children, we come from God and we’ll find our way home to God.