this week on a recent blog post, a regular reader went back and read my theological essentials i’d posted last year. in his response, he and i engaged in a little back-and-forth concerning the exclusivity of christ. in order to to preemptively avoid the john 14:6 conversation (in which we often misinterpret the verse to mean that jesus acts as the bouncer of heaven), i had suggested he take a look at the context of that passage.
in his reply, the reader asked ::
Does that make me a heretic, Michael, for believing that Jesus is the only way to salvation?
here’s part of my response ::
of course not – i don’t at all believe it makes you a heretic to believe jesus is the (only) way to salvation.
in fact, i believe the same thing.
what i think we’ve missed, for a myriad of reasons, is the WAY in which jesus is the way.
does that make sense?
you see, by limiting the work of christ to a few words said in the sinner’s prayer with the grand prize of an eternal ticket to some cosmic amusement park where we each get mansions and walk down golden streets, i think we’ve gotten the message of jesus wrong…terribly wrong.
further, by claiming only those that believe the same things as me and you (or whatever self-proclaimed-gate-keeping group one most aligns themselves with), and believing them in the same way we do are invited in, i think we continually move further and further from what christ actually taught.
christ’s teachings weren’t just a theological improvement upon judaism – they were literally counter-intuitive, counter-cultural and revealing a kingdom different than the status quo in the here and now (others have spoken and written a great deal about this – lewis, wright, mclaren, bell, et al).
it seems to me the way in which many within the church have communicated and lived the message of jesus (and most certainly how those outside the church have understood it) has become more concerned with maintaining positions of power, privilege, prestige and political clout than reaching out to the marginalized, disenfranchised, rejected and the Other.
is that not in direct conflict with the life and teachings of jesus?
believing in the exclusivity of christ does not dictate we as the church must be exclusive. by having a proper understanding of God’s compassionate and unconditional love (hesed), the meaning of the word grace (undeserved merit or favor) our position as the unworthy beloved (all of humanity) and the divine irony of the incarnation, i am convinced we can find room for those with whom we disagree and develop more peaceful and productive ways to engage with them with respect and dignity rather than desperate attempts to convince and convert due to a belief they are headed to a place of literal and conscious torment at the hands of an angry God for all eternity if they don’t believe the same stuff.
what do you think?