It’s funny that this one choice we make may be the single biggest divider of them all.
Is Jesus the only way to God?
Well, watch your step.
Most of our questions about the nature of God, Jesus, and their relationship exist in multiple dimensions of analysis.
Like in seminary, when I would sit in my Hebrew Scriptures class and questions of theology would come up. Then I’d go to Church History and we’d talk about the Patristics and the development of Greek Scripture. And I’d go to Systematic Theology and hear about GOD and I would want to apply what we found in all these other places.
So our view of Jesus’s relationship to God is tangled about in Scripture and Theology and Tradition.
First, some words on Theology
Theology also has a separation between what we call Systematic Theology and Philosophical Theology. Different traditions which get conflated.
In Philosophical Theology, we focus on the metaphysical. When Christians feel compelled to fight with Atheists, this is always the terrain. Unprovable arguments over the conceptual and the hypothetical.
Philosophical theology deals with questions like If God exists, then what is God made of?. Cool thought experiments, but ultimately not what 98% of us concern ourselves with.
In Systematic Theology, we focus on developing a working system of thought which explains the nature and mission of God. Here, we are less concerned with how God exists, but in what God’s purpose is.
Second, some subtext.
So when we talk about Jesus as the only way to God, we weave these arguments together disjointedly and paradoxically. We mix in philosophical and systematic theologies with Scripture and tradition into a stew of heated rhetoric. By the time we’re served, it’s often too hot, far too seasoned, and an assault on our tastebuds.
We talk about Jesus calling himself in John “the way the truth and the life”. Then we jump to a theological argument about the need for an exclusive path to God. And then we shout out some condescending warning about universalism and the dangers of the slippery slope. So by the time I get to speak, I’m bombarded by a jumbled mass of half-planned ideas, taken together to form a cloud of certainty.
But the question of Jesus as The Only Way has these layers and I prefer to peel them back.
As we do, I think we need to ask ourselves another question. One to hold in tension with our first question.
Is God a dick?
The original question, “Is Jesus the only way to God?” is one we often tackle with defenses of logic and Scripture. We do a little theology, open our Bibles to a few favored passages, and we make an argument which starts with “Well, the Bible clearly says…”
But if we also take into account who we know God to be, we’re likely to find ourselves closer to the right sandbox.
For arguments from defense can get us to some pretty tenuous and conflicting places. Without consulting where we ought to be, we might find ourselves out in the middle of wilderness asking “where is everybody?”
But if we also look from the picture as a whole, we can get a better sense of what the question is really asking.
And the question I asked was not, Is Jesus the way to God? but Is Jesus the only way to God? And that question is not about Jesus’s relationship to God at all.
That question is whether God is or is not a dick.
And there are other questions. Like
Is Gandhi in hell?
Is salvation dependent entirely on the sinner’s prayer?
The problem with basing one’s theology of salvation on a few lines from John is that even John names competing ideas.
Jesus is a narrow gate. But the gate is wide open.
He is the shepherd of the sheep. But he has many who are not of this flock.
Even the statement Jesus makes (only in John) about being the way, he doesn’t say only.
And while the fear of universalism is valid and the argument that we’re all going up the mountain at the same time is kind of weak, scripture doesn’t get the last word on this.
What does is something else: practical theology.
The true fear, deeper than fears of questioning scriptural authority or traditional teaching is actually the questioning of authority itself.
If we question whether or not Jesus is the only way, many of us start to freak out. We wonder who gets to say and where any of our grounding will come and suddenly the sky is falling now and satan’s armies are storming the gates.
Just because you were all, “Yeah, I’m not sure I buy that.”
But I subscribe to no theology which begins with Sola. So I don’t fear a lack of authority.
The fear I, and dare I say most Christians throughout history have is far more practical and rooted than that. It’s
What then do we believe?
Where is the center? Does it matter? Can this whole thing function without the exclusivity of Jesus? And their hyperventilating makes the rest of the questions hard to understand, but they all have to do with another form of the sky falling and satan’s armies and all that.
“And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
It’s ultimately about faith.
For me, the original question as I presented it is easy. No. Hell no. Because of the second question I posed: God is not a dick.
The real problem is that word: only. That messes us up.
We feel compelled to argue for Christian exclusivity because we’re afraid. Afraid that God will let in people we don’t like. And that what we believe is garbage. Or that our parents were fools for believing this.
Afraid that Scripture isn’t the authority we claim it to be. Or that Conservative / Liberal / Pentecostal / Catholic / Orthodox / Progressive / Fundamentalist / Agnostic / Civic Religion believing neighbor of ours has the same claim to Christ that we do! And they suck at this!
Putting the “only” in the question has nothing to do with the theology of Jesus’s relationship to God. It’s about power and control.
And there is no faith in that.
Is Jesus the Way? Hell yeah!
Does that mean Gandhi is in hell? Oh, for Pete’s sake! Aren’t you listening?
Jesus is the Way to God.
That doesn’t mean God’s love only shows up at the end of a life-long maze or after playing Where’s Waldo with Jesus-framed glasses.
When we say Jesus is the only way, we’re really saying God has no say.
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This is from a series on Choices. We have plenty more choices to make!