Emergent theology seems to have reached a muddling place. All kinds of ideas are being creatively combined to produce a “new kind of Christianity.” Others more competent than I am have pointed out that what is touted as new is really actually old. Brian McLaren offers old line Christian Liberalism dressed up in postmodern clothes, but it is still old Liberalism.
A sticking point in today’s emergent conversations is the exclusivity of Jesus Christ as both the only authentic revelation of the true God and the only access point to that God. Brian McLaren rightly questions the haranguing snootyness of some factions in Christianity who harp on “who’s in” and “who’s out” of authentic faith. What I think Brian misses, however, is that it is one thing to question the way Christ’s exclusivity is presented to a wrecked world, but it is a whole other thing to make Jesus just one of the many nice (and religious) ways to get to God. Christ’s exclusivity seems to bother McLaren and others a lot; it seems too intolerant; it seems religiously bigoted; it can be infuriating.
Here’s the skinny. Jesus Christ is an infuriating person. He was in his own day and he is in our day as well. Many are aware of the lexical slight of hand that McLaren uses in his interpretation of John 14:6. He seems to not like that verse, and he certainly doesn’t like the way that verse is used by some. On the second concern–the way the verse is used by some, McLaren has a valid point. To use the verse obnoxiously and intolerantly is way out of line. I don’t think Jesus spoke it as a blunt weapon to be put into our “witnessing kit.” Context is vital.
Yet, the statement is there: “…no one comes to the Father except through me.” That is exclusive on the face of it. Jesus spoke it to the Eleven in the Upper Room conversation. Yet, we must go deeper into this idea of exclusivity. Thankfully, again, Jesus helps us…this time in his prayer recorded in John 17.
Take off your shoes because we are on holy ground. The Son is addressing the Father in his last extended session of prayer with his friends. After this prayer, the dominoes tip quickly, tumbling toward the cross. In this prayer Jesus says this, “I revealed you those you gave me…” (v. 6). There seems to be an echo to John 1:18, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” Exactly who did Jesus make known and/or reveal? In John 17:3 we hear Jesus praying this: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (emphasis added).
We know that Jesus’ exclusive claim to make Israel’s exclusive God known infuriated the Pharisees and entertained the Sadducees. We know that Rome winked at this strange Jewish religion and gave Israel special permission to maintain their exclusive religious beliefs. Yet, when the early church began, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to spread into the religiously pluralistic world of the Roman Empire, the exclusive declaration “Jesus is Lord” (and Caesar is not) became dangerous to your Christ-following health. “Jesus is Lord” infuriated Rome. As N. T. Wright has pointed out: the most advanced religion in the world and the most advanced political system in the world conspired together to stamp out the exclusivity of Jesus the Christ.
There is only one authentic God. Only Jesus has revealed that one authentic God. Only in relationship with Jesus Christ is that one true God known (experienced). In fact, Jesus even explains that “eternal life” is only in that relationship. It is in no other relationship or religion.
There is no grand cosmic unity beneath the surface of all world religions including Christianity-viewed-as-a-religion. Both Old Testament and New Testament concur that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the God of the Lord Jesus Christ sits in judgment upon the religions of the world. I know this is hard to acknowledge. It’s more palatable to muddle. Muddling defuses the exclusivity and we can all be very nice, imagining the great vast unity just below this world’s volatile religious surface. But that fantasy just won’t work in the real world of the Jesus Way.
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