Saturday, February 27, 2010

Preaching that Jesus is the only way

A pastor colleague wondered on Facebook, “If you're not preaching that Jesus is the only way, then what in the world are you preaching?” I take this to be a rhetorical question with the implication that one ought to preach that Jesus is the only way.

I’ve been giving this a great deal of thought since he wrote it. I asked him what he means by “preaching” and what he means by “Jesus is the only way.” By “preaching” he means “proclaiming”. By “Jesus is the only way” he means that “Jesus is the only way to the Father” and so forth.

I’ve been wondering whether anything that is true is simply by virtue of its truth something to be proclaimed. I’ve come to think that it is not. The following are examples of statements that may be true, but are the sort of statements that should generally NOT be proclaimed: “I’m sorry.” “I need you to know that you hurt me.” “You’re mistaken about that.” “You’re confused about that.” “What you did was wrong.” It seems to me that generally these are statements that ought to be spoken tenderly, vulnerably, and with respect. The context of these statements requires a different tone of utterance than proclamation. If they are proclaimed, they are unlikely to lead to a truly honest conversation.

I can affirm that “Jesus is the only way.” (Though not in all the ways that my colleague affirms, but those may be small disagreements). At the same time I recognize that making that statement has as its implication some of the statements I cited above as ones that ought not generally to be “proclaimed.” Since those are some of the implications, I resist preaching that Jesus is the only way.

I am aware that Jesus sometimes spoke sharply to his adversaries. As far as I remember, these situations were ones in which the adversaries were in the habit of proclaiming judgment on the weak and vulnerable and outsiders. Jesus’ proclamation in the Gospel of John that he is the only way are made, not in public contexts of argument, but in the context of the most intimate conversation he has with his disciples (John 14:6).

I think that Jesus’ preaching by his word and deed of the will to powerlessness is a more fundamental proclamation. To the extent that Christians live out THAT proclamation instead of adopting an arrogant and triumphalist tone, the more paradoxically compelling will be our witness.

More on Jesus As The Way

Jesus says I am the way, the truth, and the life. What does this mean?

The early Christians were known as "the people of the way." This referred to their peculiar way of life. They practiced forgiveness and non-retaliation. They had also been instructed by Jesus to eliminate rivalry in their relationships with one another. Their only rivalry was to be rivals in their practice of love for, and servanthood to, one another.

This way of living together leads to truth. For in such a way of life, there is no attempt to manipulate the conversation. Neither is there manipulation of relationships within the community out of pride or defensiveness that obscures reality. Communities living such a life together liberate their members for life.

When rivalry or injury emerges, Jesus' way is forgiveness and reconciliation. These are two of the practical dimensions of the command that Jesus gives his followers to love one another.

Following this way is following Jesus. Following Jesus leads to the Father. Only this non-rivalrous, forgiving way of life leads to the Father.

Moreover this community lives this way not only within itself, but seeks to extend this way of life in its members' relations with neighbors. This way of life – in itself – is its proclamation. This way of life – in itself – is the invitation to others to participate in the kingdom that Jesus proclaims in his life, death, and resurrection.

In this sense, I affirm that Jesus is the way the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father but by him. For as the Apostle John proclaims, “God is love.” There is no WAY to love. LOVE is the way.