navigating between the everyday and theology

The Blog of Bo Sanders


November 2012

John 14:6 may not even be about salvation

Over the past two months we have been having a lot of fun talking about John 14:6.  The release of Brian McLaren’s new book Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World  and our subsequent live event with him at Wild Goose West (audio here) got us started.

Then Jericho Books gave us some copies to give away so we put out the John 14:6 Challenge. People stepped up with posts and used the speakpipe to leave us messages.

I swung first with “Jesus wasn’t talking about Muslims in John 14:6” and followed it up with “an alternative to John 14:6” saying that one that famous passage is off the table for thinking about how to deal with other religions … where does one start? What are the alternatives?

Last week, Tripp and I recorded a TNT that will come out this afternoon where we listen to some of the calls and talk about some of the posts…  in that midst of that conversation, (beginning in minute 15)  we put out an idea that I thought should be in written form and not just audio.  Here it goes:

Not only is John 14:6 not about other religions – since it is a disciple’s invitation – but it is not even about salvation. It is about relationship and not salvation.

I blame it on lazy reading that results in conflating subjects. I think that Jesus is inviting those who follow him to relate to ‘the Father’ (Abba) as he relates to Abba by:

  • living the life he laid out,
  • walking the way he modeled and
  • embodying the truth we proclaim.

Tripp implies that is has something to do with Calvinism and it’s histroical impact of making salvation:
A) transactional instead of relational
B) individual instead of communal

So I want to ask the question (you may want to listen to the TNT episode to hear the whole context):

What if John 14:6 is not only not about other religions – but isn’t even about salvation? How would that impact your use of that passage and where else would you turn in the Bible for an alternative?

Personally, I would go to Acts 4:12 “God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”  Mainly because it has the word ‘saved’ in it AND sounds semi-exclusive … which is what people TRY to get John 14:6 to be – but simply isn’t.   That is the conflation that I am talking about.

Thoughts?  Responses?   

Hopefully the Politicizing of Rape is over

This is part of  a series over the next 2 days of posts that were written a month ago. It is interesting to read them now. I will tweak the intros to each, but I fear that they will be ongoing issues until we seriously revisit some of our flimsy thinking behind these subjects.

Yet again a Republican candidate came out with an outlandish comment about rape  that has drawn widespread criticism from those outside the ideological bubble.

  Indiana Congressman Richard Murdoch, during a debate, made the latest in what has become a consistent string of rhetoric for white conservative men – notably on the heels of Senate candidate Todd Akin’s introduction of ‘legitimate’ rape into our vernacular.

Apparently Akin, who is on the House Science Committee, thinks that a women’s body can sense if the conception was because of ‘legitimate’ rape and take of the matter on its own. Richard Murdoch took it a step further, beyond biology, and introduced theology into the mix. The resulting pregnancy would be ‘God’s will’.

 Let me be clear: I get why some people hate abortion. I do. I get it. I was raised watching movies like ‘Silent Scream’ and listening to Carmen rap/sing about our nation’s demise and invitation of God’s wrath.  I get it. That is not what I want to address here.

 My concern is with the consistent and frequent rhetoric that is coming from the conservative right on the issue of rape. 
There are 3 reasons that this hits so close to home for me:

  1. My wife ran the rape crisis hotline and prevention education for the county where we lived in NY. For a decade this was a major part of our life and focus.
  2. As a minister, I have sat with countless women and heard their stories. We have walked a really tough road of recovery and healing with many.
  3. I have traded my narrow/shallow theological adolescence for a more critical-aware- sophisticated-and progressive one.

These three things come together is a very painful way for me when I hear these continuing statements from non-women candidates.

 One starts to ask “What exactly is going on with these guys? What in the world are they thinking?”
If two is a trend and three is a pattern then this is a full-blown school of thought!

Are they just trying to fire-up their base? Are they trying to out religion each other? Are they so fixated on abortion that it blinds them to the absurdity of their other positions?

 Or is it worse than that?  Is it that there view of God is fundamentally determining this stuff?  I’m afraid that this might be true. I think that these might be really good hearted christian men who have bought into a view of God that is so limited and narrow that it necessarily dictates utterances like we have been hearing.

I am suspicious that one’s view of God is like an operating system on a computer and that given enough time, this N. American conservative/fundamentalist program that gets downloaded just inherently comes with some unavoidable glitches and bugs that eventually result in stances like we have been seeing.

Thomas Jay Oord posted the following on Facebook:

 Candidate Richard Mourdock’s statements about rape, pregnancy, and God’s intentions point out a major problem with most theologies. John Calvin summarized the problem well, “There can be no distinction between God’s will and God’s permission! Why say ‘permission’ unless it is because God so wills?” The Mourdock episode suggests that those who (rightfully) object to his statements implicitly support a view of divine power closer to process theology’s view, even though they may not realize it.

 I’m not trying to pick a fight.  I am not trying to be partisan. I am simply heartbroken about these hurtful things that have consistently come to the surface during this election cycle.

Maybe a new guideline should be put in place: as a candidate you are not allowed to talk about rape unless you have walked a mile in those shoes.

At a minimum, I would like to see the name of God disconnected from this subject in political arenas. 

Race and things like Politics

by Bo Sanders 

[I initially wrote this for Ethnic Space & Faith
but thought it would be fun to cross pollinate.]  

Despite what the caller said on this week’s ‘Take Them to Task’ segment from the Smiley & West show said, race is still an issue in North America – not everyone is color blind. In fact, here are four stories that caught my attention in the past couple of days in the areas of politics, music, TV, and sport:

 Politics:  Much analysis is being done – and will continue to be done – about the U.S. Presidential election.  I had heard leading up to November 6 that if Gov. Romney was to win, he would have to do it with the largest percentage of white voters in recent history.

While he did not win yesterday, the ethnic breakdown was stark and is causing much consternation in conservative circles. Whites, and especially Evangelicals, reports say, voted over 80% for Romney. It is almost exactly the opposite (some reports say as high as 93%) of Latino voters went for Obama.

My only point is that if you think that the election of a Black president makes this a post-racial country, you have another thing coming. Race is still an issue and will continue to be an issue as we move to 2048 when Whites will not be a majority in America.

How will we lead? How will we transition? How will we hear new voices? 

Music: You may have seen the uproar over the music group No Doubt’s new video “Looking Hot”. Rolling Stone describes it this way:

The clip for the second single off their long-awaited new album, Push and Shove, featured a Wild-West theme, replete with tee-pees, feather headdresses and smoke signals. After releasing the video on Friday, No Doubt quickly drew complaints for using the stereotypical imagery, with threads such as “Appropriating Native American culture” appearing

The band did apologize and did remove the video.  Continue reading “Race and things like Politics”

Praying Against Big Storms

This begins a series over the next 2 days that were written a month ago. It is interesting to read them now. I will tweak the intros to each, but I fear that they will be ongoing issues until we seriously revisit some of our flimsy thinking behind these subjects.

Hurricane Sandy was only one day in to its battering of the East and the religious weighed in.

The first thing that caught my attention was a fake picture of ‘the storm’ over NYC

I was introduced to this photo and I was immediately  suspicious of both the sunshine in the foreground and the speed boat that looks oddly mis-sized.

I thought it humorous until that afternoon when I logged onto Facebook and notices that it had already been shared by hundreds of  people. What really caught my attention, though, was a response in the form of a prayer.

My friend had stated in the captions to the photo: “This is an amazing shot of New York today with the Frankenstorm bearing down. Nature is so powerful, yet so beautiful.”   I thought “someone should tell him that it’s a fake”.  Before I could, someone else had offered this response:

Father, all the elements of nature obey your command. Calm the storms and hurricanes that threaten us and turn our fear of your power into praise of your goodness. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

I was stunned. There are so many elements of this ‘prayer’ that concern me. I was filled with questions. Perhaps the biggest one was : Is there a god who hears these kind of prayers? 

This past Sunday at the Loft LA I had preached a sermon called ‘Why Pray?’ about this exact type of thing … so my attention was immediately piqued.

On a side note – I especially appreciated that just hours later this fake meme showed up in the twitter-verse.

I am deeply concerned about people who think that their prayers can command whole weather patterns. This concern is primarily at two levels.

  • The first is that I know so many of them.
  • The second is that a wooden reading of the Bible can lead one to think that this is acceptable and permissible.

This kind of stuff really pulls at me as an emerging evangelical-charismatic.  I was prepared to let the whole thing go when this showed up on the wire:

[I had written multiple times about John Piper’s stupid storm theology and simple Bible reading]

A Christian religious leader has already claimed that Hurricane Sandy is further proof that “God is systematically destroying America” as political judgment for the “homosexual agenda.” John McTernan previously made similar allusions about Hurricanes Katrina (2005) and Isaac (2012), which he reiterated in his urgent call to prayer posted Sunday evening (via Gay Star News):

Just last August, Hurricane Isaac hit New Orleans seven years later, on the exact day of Hurricane Katrina. Both hit during the week of the homosexual event called Southern Decadence in New Orleans!

McTernan believes that it is noteworthy that Hurricane Sandy is hitting 21 years after the “Perfect Storm,” because 3 is a “significant number with God”:

Twenty-one years breaks down to 7 x 3, which is a significant number with God. Three is perfection as the Godhead is three in one while seven is perfection.

It appears that God gave America 21 years to repent of interfering with His prophetic plan for Israel; however, it has gotten worse under all the presidents and especially Obama. Obama is 100 percent behind the Muslim Brotherhood which has vowed to destroy Israel and take Jerusalem. Both candidates are pro-homosexual and are behind the homosexual agenda. America is under political judgment and the church does not know it!

Religious spokespeople have frequently tried to draw bizarre connections between natural disasters and the LGBT community. Last year, the American Family Association’s Buster Wilson similarly claimed that Hurricane Isaac was punishment for the Southern Decadence LGBT festival. Rick Joyner had the same to say about Hurricane Katrina, claiming that “[God]‘s not gonna put up with perversion anymore.” Pat Robertson has long believed that acceptance of homosexuality could result in hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, terrorist bombs, and “possibly a meteor.”

It’s likely that McTernan will not be the only religious figure to draw such allusions from this devastating storm.

One anti-gay (former lesbian) activist actually targeted  the state of Vermont as a litmus test of who her god was mad at. I loved the first comment on the post:

Considering that Lower Manhattan is troublingly at risk, I say there’s a good chance it’s Jesus cleaning up Wall Street – a modern-day version of when He cleared the moneychangers out of the Temple…

As funny as that last comment may be, I am not amused – because it concedes the rules of the game to the antiquated notions of centuries past and abdicates the metaphysical realities of 21st century life to the … let’s just say – the conceptions of bygone eras.

  • The picture was a fake.
  • It triggered real prayers.
  • I respect those intentions.
  • I questions the ‘god’ who they were offered to.
  • I am flustered that in the midst of suffering, those who claim Christ offer blame and not compassion.
  • They justify that stance by saying ‘if you only did what we said was right’.
  • It signals a pattern of christian response to tragedy.

I am concerned that the fake-ness of the pictures and posts we respond to correspond to our notion of reality and our conception of how the world works … and thus how our prayers are effective.


I asked Rob Bell about planting another church – he talked about Eucharist

In the a recent episode of Homebrewed Christianity, I asked Rob Bell what he would do if he were starting from scratch again.  I was particularly intrigued for three main reasons:
1) I actually am starting a new gathering so I wanted to pick his brain.
2) Bell is so creative and innovative – who better to ask?
3) His answer was somewhat surprising.

“I would have Eucharist a lot. And I would make it really clear to everybody that the Eucharist is our only hope. Because otherwise, there’s a thousand forces – the entropy is overwhelming…preferences and particularities…there are a thousand ways for a church to go in all these different directions – you end up just barely being able to hold it all together. But if you have the bread and the wine, and on a really regular basis, you put the bread and wine on the table and you say “Okay everybody – here you go: Body broken, blood poured out…”

I am not the most sacramental minister in the world so I pressed him on it a little bit. I said that both my co-pastor and folks like Nadia Bolz-Weber are really sold that Eucharist is the thing! I have even heard some RO types say that it is the only thing that can fix the world.

I heard  that and thought … look, I like communion as much as most (I would guess)  – but really Rob? The eucharist?  So I said (basically) “Yeah, I guess I’m just not that into it.  I’m more relational about it.”  By that I meant that when we sit at any table, the Spirit of Christ is with us and in that sense we are communing. When it is at church and we have special elements, it is Communion (capital C). I just don’t get into the ‘real presence’ thing at any level.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Roger Haight (and his book Jesus: Symbol of God).  I get the difference between a sign, symbol, and sacrament. I was just a little surprised that if Rob Bell were going to start from scratch … Eucharist is the first thing on the table?  (pun intended)

Rob doubled down. He said “Well it is relational!” He went on to clarify that you put the bread and the cup on the table and then ask:

“Alright – everyone have their rent payed this month? Anyone have any medical bills?”

I was stopped in my tracks. I was inspired. I even said to Rob that he almost converted me.

It’s moments like that where you realize when we say Eucharist or Communion … we may not all be saying the same thing.   It is sad at one level.  It is also inspiring at another level.

All I know is that I sure am glad that I asked that follow up question. Bell gave an incredible answer and really has me thinking about community, service and communion differently.

I recognize the gap between my and Rob’s take on this … but he has me thinking.


I Voted For the First Time Last Week

Seven days ago I voted for the very first time.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to puncture the seal – cross that threshold – and break my long string of abstaining.

 Here is the background on why I have never voted: 

  • In High-school my family moved from the Chicagoland area to Saskatchewan, Canada. After High-school I stayed in Canada to play football when my family moved to NY and I became a dual citizen.

When you come of age outside your culture of origin, you see some stuff within that culture a little differently. Voting (and politics in general) was one of them. I didn’t see its impact locally like I would have if I was a farmer or a school teacher, I saw it through the media circus. Loyalty and responsibility take on a different meaning when you have dual belonging.

  • When I got filled with Holy Spirit and called to ministry I was initiated in a very dualistic form of evangelical charismatic christianity. It was spiritual in contrast to physical. Church in contrast to world. Supernatural in contrast to natural.

I was a zealous young man and so I took it further than most. Many would quote the verse “we are in the world but not of the world”. I would take it further and quote 2 Timothy 2:4 “”No good soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer.”  I followed the Lutheran idea of ‘two kingdoms’ (kingdom of God and kingdom of this world) all the way down.

  • When I became Ordained I not only opted out of Social Security (which ministers are allowed to do in their first two years of filing taxes) but I registered with the Government as an objector.

I am a registered objector. I indicated that what remaining taxes I did pay, I did not want them going to pay for wars … and this was before W was in office (!). I would tell people “I am not political. I am focused on the spiritual realm not the physical. The government takes care of people in this way, I take care of people in a different way. Plus, I don’t want my loyalties in the natural realm to limit my ministry to people in the supernatural.”  It actually worked quite well for me for a time. I was very vocal about my opting out of the system and in my congregation was a eclectic mix of New England Democrats and pre- Fox News Republicans.

Here is why I was thinking about voting for the first time: 

  •  I no longer subscribe to the dualism of natural – supernatural, physical – spiritual, or church – world. I have shed my understanding of Luther’s two kingdoms.  I read Jesus’ admonition about “In the world but not of the world” differently now … and all it took was an introduction to Biblical scholarship and some Roman political history. 
  • Randy Woodley was my mentor in seminary and he would ask me to explain my politics to him and then challenge me that it was incoherent and inconsistent. I play my conversations with him over and over in my head. Once you study colonial history (or even 20th century history) you realize that to be silent in the face of systemic oppression and repressive legislation is to become complicit with the injustice and suffering that the God you claim to serve is so opposed to.
  • I read Martin Luther Kings “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”  and realized that I was one of those white ministers he was talking about being disappointed in and let down by.

“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; …Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

  •  The attacks on September 11, 2001 and the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld (and Halliburton) parley into two wars under the false guise of ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ haunts me when I think of how a different administration might have proceeded differently.
  • As one getting their PhD in Religious Education I have become all too aware of the impact of economic and bureaucratic decisions on children’s education. I don’t see how you can know what I know now and not do something so little that can make such a big change for so many.
  • I live in California where we don’t just vote for candidates (which I was still leery about) but we also vote on propositions. Some of these propositions directly impact school budgets and it would be gross neglect to stay silent on them when our public schools are in such desperate shape.
  • The Paul Ryan budget was and is immoral and unimaginable. I was still siting on the fence about voting – even with the whole Tea Party and Occupy movement thing – until Romney’s selection for his Vice Presidential running mate. I have watched the union stuggles in Wisconsin and Chicago, I have listened to the disgusting rhetoric of this latest financial crisis and continueing bailouts of Wall Street and too-big-fail banks… but when Romney picked Ryan … and I had just recorded that interview with Randy Woodley … I was horrified.

 Why I was still hesitating: 

I read Chris Hedges ‘Death of the Liberal Class’ and can not shake the nauseating reality of just how broken our democratic system is. Both candidates are owned by big business and the election (thanks to the Citizens United decision) is a sham.

It seems to me that to participate in a process this corrupt is to somehow be complicit with the immorality and to sanction or validate these compromised actors.

I have gone this long and there is just something in my identity, something about the way that I imagine myself and tell my story that can not conceive of crossing that line – of breaking the seal and entering into this realm. It was the strangest thing to think about.

 In the end: 

Smiley and West is my second favorite podcast in the world (next to the one I am on). No, President Obama did not do so many things that he said he would do the first time (like close Guantanamo) but … he also did some stuff (like health care reform) that was much needed (although I question the for-profit nature of our insurance companies).

I’m still leery about endorsing professional politicians, but in the end I just didn’t know how I can have learned what I have learned about education in the country and not do something that would so greatly impact the young people – and disproportionately young people of color.

After all, I would hate to have the problem of Christopher Reeve that I spoke so harshly against.

 I am interested in any thoughts on my journey and process.  Comments? Questions?  

Not All Differences Are The Same – or simple God talk

There are two distinct kinds of differences (among many) that show up in my dealings across the religious landscape.

The first kind of difference is a seemingly superfluous, ‘icing on the cake’ kind of difference. This is when you share a large majority of opinion or agreement with someone but in the end you diverge and there is some significant application or implication that really provides a contrast.

For instance: you can have a great conversation with someone or a friendship where there is great connection and resonance, but there is something like … they think that communion elements are really sacred, or that a specific translation of the Bible is superior or that one kind of music makes God happier than another.  It’s not a deal breaker, it’s just a difference – not the end of the world.

Then there is another kind of difference – the kind that exposes the root of the problem, that provides a missing key that unlocks the rest of the mystery. Sometimes your hear someone say something and it stops you in your tracks.

You think “Wait! Is that what you’ve been doing this whole time? Is that what is driving these other things we disagree on?”

This kind of a difference is most often exposed when someone takes something you have encountered before – only they take it way too far. It is in the excess (or extreme) that the pattern is exposed and you are suddenly able to see it  in smaller or more subtle way where you have never been able to discern it clearly before.

This has happened to me in the areas of

  • PMS cramps – Maternity Leave (Eve ate the apple)
  • The war in Iraq (angels with flaming swords guarding Eden)
  • Africa’s poverty (Noah cursed his son who then went to Africa)
  • Racism (we have a black President)
  • Global Warming (God promised Noah never to destroy the earth with a natural disaster)

and far too many other examples to list here. I could talk about topics ranging from dinosaur bones planted by the Devil to ‘Manifest Destiny’, from open parking spots at the mall to Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who fulfilling the book of Ezekiel.

Sometimes it takes someone saying something so outrageous or outlandish that you are smacked out of your naive fantasy that we are all basically doing the same thing as Christians – or that Christianity is one thing, even if it is a diverse thing. 

A while ago I wrote a little blog about John Piper and his horse like faith. It got quite a good readership at first and then, as most posts tend to, faded into the shadows of the archive. Recently, however, this post has been getting tons of clicks and sometimes is getting more reads in a day than the new stuff!  So I went back to read ‘Horse Gods’ again to see what might be causing the comeback.

While I was there, I noticed in the comments section, someone had asked me to distinguish my view of God from someone like John Piper or Mark Driscoll. My original response seems more interesting with recent developments:

Actually there is quite a substantial difference. Let me point out just a couple of things to start:

1) I don’t believe that language about God is univocal (a 1:1 equation). SO we begin in humility understanding that all our words, metaphors, and concepts are OUR best attempt.

2) I believe that language (since it is not univocal) functions relationally. When Jesus uses ‘Father’ language, he is talking about the WAY in which relates to a father. Not that God’s ontological being is Father in an exacting and representative way. It is an expressive use of language. That is the nature of language.

3) The way that Scripture is expressed is historic. I believe that the Bible is Inspired by Holy Spirit. That means that Holy Spirit was at work in the authors and ultimately in those who collected and validated the canon. (I confess this by faith). Those authors were historically situated and particularly located. They expressed their thoughts in their best language in their best frameworks. We see that historical locatedness and account for it when we engage their writings.

4) Whether you call it ‘original sin’ (I don’t) or ‘human nature’ or (my favorite) relational brokeness and conflicting biological impulses … humans have a problem. We are not 100% whole. Something is wrong (we don’t even do the good we WANT to do). That means that in every epoch and era there are things in place that are not perfect. Those show up in scripture – since it is a snap shot of its environment. The Bible is fully human (and I believe fully divine in a Process sense) but it is not ABSENT of humanity. It is full of humanity.

So If you take just those 4 things in contrast to Piper and Driscoll, then my God talk is:
A) In humility not certainty or pushy
B) Relational not static or exacting
C) Historical not trans-historic
D) Human not un-human

That is my starting point. From there I diverge wildly from  those two.


Changing McLaren’s Mind

Last month Brian McLaren posted a very interesting note from a former fan who was feeling the need to ‘break ranks’ with the author over his position regarding homosexuality. 

I wanted to post part of it here for several reasons.

  1. I have been saying that ‘People Do Change Their Minds’. 
  2. We talked about Brian doing the religious  ceremony for his son and his son’s partner on this TNT.
  3. In the post Brian quotes his new book.
  4. Brian doesn’t allow comments on his blog so I thought it would nice to host a little comparing of notes conversation.

After the reader’s very cordial note, McLaren begins his response by saying that we don’t actually have to break ranks with each other.

So, it’s important for you to know that if you hold a different view than I do, whatever the issue – I would not want to “break ranks” with you. In fact, I am continually enriched, instructed, and challenged by people who differ with me on this and other issues – and I hope the reverse could be true.

Brian’s second point is that in the current configuration of conservative v. liberal positions, some groups place a lot of pressure of people to ‘break ranks’ with those who differ – or they are in danger of ‘guilt by association’.

McLaren’s third point is that if you just look at sheer percentages, that if roughly 6% of every population is homosexual …  if they were not forced to live in silence,  in denial, or in the closet  … that the numbers quickly become significant of people who are directly affected (parents, siblings, and friends) to the point that old views simply become untenable. [you will actually want to read McLaren’s reasoning here if you plan to push-back on it.]

Then he gets to the quote from the book (p. 52).

I think of a friend of mine from the same background of Christian fundamentalism I hail from. When his son came out, he had no support to help him accept the possibility that his son could be both gay and good. With deep ambivalence, he stood with his tradition and condemned his son. The cost alienation from his son – was high, but it grew unspeakably higher when his son internalized the rejection and condemnation of his community and took his own life. Or I think of another friend, the mother of a gay son, also from my heritage. She came to me in secret to talk, knowing that one of my sons had come out around the same time as hers. Through tears she said, “I feel like I’m being forced to choose between my father and my son. If I affirm my son, I’m rejecting everything my father stood for. If I stand with my father, I’m rejecting my son.”
In religion as in parenthood, uncritical loyalty to our ancestors may implicate us in an injustice against our descendants: imprisoning them in the errors of our ancestors. Yes, there are costs either way.

Finally McLaren says the most interesting thing of all: 
“I want to add one more brief comment. You ask, if we change our way of interpreting the Bible on this issue (my words, not yours) “- what else will happen next?” Here’s what I hope will happen. After acknowledging the full humanity and human rights of gay people, I hope we will tackle the elephant in the room, so to speak – the big subject of poverty. If homosexuality directly and indirectly affects 6 – 30% of the population, poverty indirectly and directly affects 60 – 100%. What would happen if we acknowledged the full humanity and full human rights of poor people? And then people with physical disabilities and mental illnesses and impairments? And then, what after that? What would happen if we acknowledged the spiritual, theological, moral value – far beyond monetary or corporate value – of the birds of the air, the flowers of the field, of seas and mountains and valleys and ecosystems? To me, Jesus’ proclamation of the reign or commonwealth of God requires us to keep pressing forward, opening blind eyes, setting captives free, proclaiming God’s amazing grace to all creation.”

And that is why I thought the conversation might be worth hosting here.   What are you thoughts about the last part?  

Besides John 14:6

Since John 14:6 is not about other religions … in fact, it doesn’t mention ‘salvation’ either.  So if we can not use that verse either about other religions or salvation (since it is relational and a disciples invitation) then what other verse – or other place – would you start at?

Now I want to follow up on that and begin the different direction. In case you missed it, my argument is based on the fact that John 14:6 is in no way about other religions but is a disciples invitation to follow Jesus’ way and relate to God as Jesus related to God. 

It is predicated on the fact that:

  • He is not talking to a person of another religion
  • He is not answering a question about other religions
  • He is not addressing other religions

 John 14:6 is in no way about other religions.  Having said that, SINCE John 14:6 is off the table … where DO we start in thinking about the question of other religions?

I am interested where you would begin the response if you can’t go to John 14:6 as a trump card. How would you play the hand that you have been dealt?

—— please craft the rough outline of your response before you read mine ——

Here is where I begin : it is a 1-2 punch Scripture and Tradition!  First I go to acts  Acts 17 (in the positive) for the precedent and then I go downstream and find where things have gotten plugged up and dislodge the block that limiting the flow of God’s Spirit.

In Acts 17 Paul walks into the Areopagus (Mars Hill in Athens, Greece) and he says three interesting things to start:

  1. He honors their religious culture “I see that you are very religious”.
  2. He quotes their poets and philosophers.
  3. He includes them in the ‘We’ (both v. 28 & 29).

This should be our model for cross-cultural missions. We honor their religious tradition. We learn their artists and thinkers. We include them in the we.

Unfortunately what has been the predominant modus operandi is a Colonial version of missions that does none of the three.  It disparaged previous religious traditions as paganism, witchcraft, sorcery and superstition. It had no interest in indigenous voices and expressions. It was an us/them – in/out approach.

The second thing I would do is historical. I would revisit and reject the Filioque (Latin for “and (from) the Son”)  a phrase found in the form of Nicene Creed in use in most of the Western Christian churches. It is not present in the Greek text of the Nicene Creed as originally formulated at the First Council of Constantinople, which says only that the Holy Spirit proceeds “from the Father”.

This later change (about 1,000 years into church history) is a disaster for mission. The application has been that the Holy Spirit does not precede the Gospel (preparing the culture) but follows the preaching of the Gospel. Thus when you showed up in another culture, don’t look for where the Spirit has been at work and join in … until Jesus is proclaimed, God is not at work.

Reject the Filioque and recognize that Holy Spirit has proceeded from the Father – equal to the Gospel – and is not limited to only working in kind of a 3rd tier operation. Holy Spirit is a work in every place and with every people, when we show up there we can humbly look around (as in Acts 17) to find signs of the divine activity. Having recognized it we can learn from it, and participate with it.

That is where I would start.

John 14:6 simply isn’t about other religions

I love John 14:6. I take so much encouragement from it and it challenges me deeply.

I love John 14:6 but I do not like what many today are doing with it: hiding behind it as a catch-all explanation for other religions...

Here is what I love about the passage and the three things I don’t like that people do with the passage:

What I love – this is a disciples invitation. It happens within a story, it is in dialogue that Jesus’ famous sentence “I am the way, the truth, and the life”. It comes in response to a very specific question. Here is the thing – the question is not “What about other religions?” The question was a disciples’ question about following.

Three things people do that scare me – My first concern is that people only quote John 14:6 and not John 14:1-5 or even 14:7. They have ripped this one sentence out of its narrative context and acted like it emerged in a vacuum. This is never a good sign. In fact, the only way this famous sentence of Jesus works as an answer to the question ‘What about other religions?’ is if you isolate it from the rest of the story and place it in a vacuum.

The second concern is that our inherited (non-Hebrew) concern with substance and our language’s (non-Hebrew) lack of relational emphasis really handicaps us when reading the scriptures. I have to explain to people all the time that when Jesus calls God ‘Father’ he is speaking relationally – he related to God as one relates to one’s pappa (or abba). He is not saying that god IS ontologically a Father. Language about God is not univocal, it is equivocal. Or, if you prefer, as Nancey Murphy points out, language is not representative of God, it is expressive. Language does not represent God is a 1:1 ratio – it is merely expressive of some aspect or nature of God.

The third concern is that in John 14:6 Jesus could not possibly have been talking about Muslims. He had never met a Muslim (as Islam didn’t exist yet) and therefore could not have been talking about them. In fact, once one comes to terms with this reality, one has to question whether Jesus would have even know about Buddhists or Hindus either. No, Jesus had probably never encountered them and certainly wasn’t referring to other religions in John 14:6.

(Unless of course you are retroactively ascribing attributes … at which point you are going to have to explain why you chose this one over other preferable ones.)

This sentence was uttered:

  • in conversation with his disciples
  • in response to a very specific question
  • as an invitation to his disciples
  • to relate to God as Jesus related to God

Where the problem seems to lie: When people miss the relational language (come to the Father as related to God), remove the sentence from its narrative context (as if it emerged in a vacuum) and assume that Jesus was referring to things he couldn’t possibly have known about … then irony sets in.

The ironic thing is that quoting John 14:6 as a stand alone explanation – without receiving it as a disciples invitation – one may actually be doing the exact opposite with that passage as Jesus was asking one to do: follow his way.

Having said all of that: Maybe Prophet Isa was talking about Muslims in John 14:6. Maybe he was saying that if they want to relate to God as he did – that they could only do so by walking his way and following his life.  In fact,  if you take away the univocal  calling God Father (ontologically) and see it as expressive (or equivocal) of relating to God as one relates to a loving father … you would remove the biggest obstacle Islam has to Jesus – namely that the Quran tells Muslims not to say that ‘God has children’.

You may think that I am way off here – but until we:

  1. stop quoting John 14:6 in a vacuum
  2. stop thinking that Jesus was talking about other religions
  3. stop thinking that Jesus’ Father language is univocal (instead of relational)

We won’t even be able to have the conversation and explore the possibility.


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