Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Does John 14:6 support exclusivism?

Dan Martin says no.

HT: Jonathan Deundian.


GREV said...

Good article. I am with him on some aspects --

"When Christians loudly proclaim "no man cometh to the Father but by me," they are not talking about following Jesus. They're not talking about obeying Jesus. They're certainly not talking about staying faithful under hardship and persecution. No, they're talking about how wrong Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Liberal Christians, Humanists, and sundry other "infidels" are. They're usually talking about their certainty that all of the above are destined to burn forever in hell."

-- but must say that the verse does point to an exclusive claim made by Christ.

The mystery of salvation must remain a mystery centred around the exclusive claim of Christ. He is the one who saves.

B. Prokop said...

An excellent article! thanks for calling our attention to it, Victor.

Reading John ALWAYS requires careful consideration of context. It's ironic that the most quotable Gospel is also the one most easily misinterpreted by people who prefer soundbites to analysis. There's more nuance to John than any other writer I know of. The only person I can think of who comes even remotely close is the poet T.S. Eliot for depth of meaning and richness of texture.

B. Prokop said...

Whenever I hear that passage from John, I am reminded of a perfectly wonderful quote from Saint Catherine of Siena, which was a favorite of Dorothy Day:

All the way to Heaven is Heaven, because Jesus said, "I am the Way".

GREV said...

My vote for most often abused verse being taken out of context is -- 20 Listen! I am standing at the door and knocking! If anyone hears my voice and opens the door I will come into his home and share a meal with him, and he with me. Rev. 3:20

Rarely do I ever here it applied in its proper context. To believers.

Jason Pratt said...

The author (Dan Martin) agrees that Christ is making a very exclusive claim about Himself as the Way, the Truth and the Life, including in relation to salvation.

He disagrees (and I agree with his disagreement) that Christ is making an exclusive claim about Christianity being the Way, the Truth and the Life (in relation to salvation or otherwise).

That's Dan's main point, and what he's complaining about. It's something that Arminians and Calvinists ought to have less than no problem with. Especially the latter; although ironically I usually find the former having less problem getting the point than the latter: no religion saves us, Jesus does.

(But certainly that claim is itself a religiously exclusive claim. Buddha doesn't save us, Jesus does. YHWH saves us, but Jesus is YHWH and no other man. Etc.)


B. Prokop said...

Another misunderstood passage from John is where Jesus tells Thomas, "Blessed are those who have not seen and believe". Jesus is in no way saying that blind faith is superior to evidence-based faith. Again, consider the context. He has just ensured that all the Apostles (now including Thomas) are now eyewitnesses to His life, death, and resurrection. So He tells them they are blessed for "having seen". Now He is in effect telling them to pass this eyewitness testimony along to the rest of the world, so that they too may be blessed. It is John's version of the Great Commission ("Go out into all the world", etc.)

Ana said...

I think Jason hit the nail on the head.

Although, I find it easy to see why Christianity would be presented as being the only Way, Truth, and Life (in other words, the word "Christianity" being used interchangeably with "Jesus" when it comes to the above words) if we ask the question, what other religion, apart from Christianity, acknowledges that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and now one goes to the Father except through him?

So it is most easy for people to confuse acknowledgement of a single access to the Father(Christianity), with the actual access itself (Jesus).

Nonetheless, it is important to be aware of the distinction. Thanks for linking us to the article Victor.

Especially the latter; although ironically I usually find the former having less problem getting the point than the latter: no religion saves us, Jesus does.

What if it's worded this way?
"Christianity doesn't save us, Jesus does."

Gimli 4 the West said...

"I submit John 14:6 as the single most blatantly misquoted saying from Jesus' entire ministry,"

I have my own list of Jesus' sayings misquoted. There is probably no greater gauge of influence than how often someone is misquoted. It indicates how serious people take their words.

By the way, I'm glad Jesus' sayings always reinforce my opinions.

Jason Pratt said...

Ana: {{What if it's worded this way?
"Christianity doesn't save us, Jesus does."}}

I would still agree with that (and intended it to be included in the broader statement, since after all Christianity is a religion, too. {g})


Ana said...

I would still agree with that (and intended it to be included in the broader statement, since after all Christianity is a religion, too.

well what I meant with the question was -- given where you said that ironically Arminians get the point with less difficulty than Calvinists -- if you think Calvinists might get the point more easily if the statement is presented to them as
"Christianity doesn't save us, Jesus does."

Jason Pratt said...


Who knows?? I am routinely amazed at how Calvinist preachers and theologians, when considering the proposition that Christ might graciously save more than just the elect in this life, have this weird tendency to turn around and critique the position as if they're Arminian: 'What, God could save someone who is evil and not good? God could save someone who hasn't first assented to a bunch of beliefs? What kind of God would that be, you heretic?!'

(Uh, the kind of God Who Calvinists have no problem gratefully affirming graciously saves their own sinful and unworthy unbelieving hides without waiting for them to first become good and/or doctrinal Christians... {wry g})

So yeah in theory Calvinists might have an easier time getting it if put that way, but in practice Calvinists tend to get as squicky about denying Christianity to be the Way the Truth and the Life as Arminians do. (There are exceptions on either side, thank God. But the exceptions aren't typical.)


Anonymous said...

To be fair to the Calvinists didn't one of their councils say God will not fail to save any of His Elect even those of them whom he has not called to visible membership in the Church?

or something like that....

Dan Martin said...

Thank you, Victor, for highlighting my post! I enjoyed reading the discussion that has ensued.

I would point out that my primary point may have gotten somewhat underemphasized: whatever claims made about exclusivism throughout scripture, John 14:6 is not one of them.

Jason has provided a pretty solid summary of my other point, which is that Jesus being the way is not the same thing as "religions" (including "Christianity" as Ana has said) being that way. While I still believe that Jesus is the one and only means by which the Father is reconciling creation to himself, this is not at all the same thing as saying that the rituals and beliefs that have accreted to "Christianity" are in any way necessary (or even contributory) to "salvation" (another badly-misunderstood term).

To push this even further, however, I truly wonder if the Father has not worked out with Jesus (THE Way), a "way" to rescue those people who have earnestly sought him, even though they never knew what they were seeking. I don't just mean the "ignorant savages" here either. I think particularly of those people who have been driven from faith--and who may have consciously rejected Jesus--not because of Jesus' own character and claims, but rather because of those of "Christians." When we have misrepresented God and people reject him, it's us, not God, that they are rejecting. I hope--and suspect, see Luke 12:48--that these may yet find mercy from the Father that they have not found from us.

Gandhi himself is reported to have made a comment that illustrates my point:

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.

I've heard similar statements attributed to the Dalai Lama. These guys' diagnosis of Christians is spot-on. Might it be because they have, in some way, understood Christ? Might The Way extend mercy to that understanding?

I don't claim we'll ever know the answer this side of eternity. Nevertheless I think it behooves us to show more mercy than we usually do...

Jason Pratt said...

The Westminster Catechism (Long Form), a Puritan document and still a key Calvinist doctrinal statement, does in fact add up to that result, Anon, even though it doesn't quite explicitly state it.

I know because I was recently checking it over again the past week on a related topic; namely whether it incorporates the wrapping statements of the so-called Athanasius Creed. Much to my not-surprise, it absolutely doesn't. {g} But a Calvinist Anglican priest was appealing, in conversation with me, to the AthCreed's wrapping statements as dogmatic testimony of orthodox catholic theology over-against universalism! Wth???

(He still hasn't replied to me about that, but I noted to be fair that the WestminstCat was primarily a Puritan doc, not an Anglican one per se.)

He is far from the first Calv authority I've seen go this route, but he's the most personally recent. It's mind-bogglingly strange; I could expect that from Arminians, but they have more tendency in practice to trust God to be the chief evangelist of salvation (and so be inclusivistic despite false religious beliefs.) Shouldn't it be the other way around?!--Calvs should be more that way, while Arms should be more likely to go super-pelagian or even into outright gnosticism?!

Well, there are good points and good grace on either side, thank God. {g}


Jason Pratt said...

Dan: {{When we have misrepresented God and people reject him, it's us, not God, that they are rejecting.}}

Yep, I make that same point on occasion, too (including self-critically.)

Dan: {{I truly wonder if the Father has not worked out with Jesus (THE Way), a "way" to rescue those people who have earnestly sought him, even though they never knew what they were seeking.}}

The mature sheep compared to the baby-goats (who were expecting Christ not only to judge them but to judge them as faithful servants!--unlike the sheep who are surprised to be found as faithful servants.)

The gifts of the Spirit really are the gifts of the Spirit regardless of what the beliefs of the recipient currently are. And thank God for that. {s!}


Gregory said...

John 14:6 supports "exclusivism" in the sense that Christ, alone, is "the Way, the Truth and the Life". Therefore, Christ's conclusion that "no one comes to the Father but by Me" follows necessarily. Or, as another scripture says, "no other name under heaven has been given by which we might be saved." Again, an "exclusive" claim.

The question is really this: who are the beneficiaries of salvation through Christ?

And the answer should be obvious: everyone

Why? It is simply because God became man in Christ. By taking human flesh (i.e. all things comprising human nature) as God incarnate, God had initiated the reparations to human nature that we had--by our own choice to sin--sullied and sickened. Furthermore, Christ died in human flesh. Not because He was appeasing the anger of God, but because He wanted to vanquish the human tendency to doubt God's true love and affection for all of humankind.

Doubting and disbelieving the love and mercy of God was the "curse of the law"....which is nothing other than death itself. And I mean to emphasize this: especially doubting God's love for others.

But the scripture even goes so far as saying that Christ became a "curse" for us (i.e. physically died) to put an end to our "cursed" existence; that is, that we would no longer doubt God's true affection for humanity....that we would no longer experience alienation from Him by our own unjustified and wretched disbelief.

What is more, Christ rose and ascended to the Father, having--as an ambassador of humankind--raised us from death by His own death and resurrection. To which He presented us all to the Father (i.e. having fully healed us)--having destroyed any possible wall of separation between God and man--by His ascension to the right hand of God. This was also a promise of things to come (i.e. that we, too, will be raised from the dead).

This is the Gospel.

Therefore, we can only reject "salvation". And this can only be done by rejecting "love" (1 John 4:7,8). Consider that "eternal life" does not primarily consist in what you "know" or "believe", but in the degree that you "love" (1 Cor. 13)--whoever or whatever else you might happen to be. For if any person has come to truly and sincerely "love" from the heart, he/she will already have passed through the shadow of death into life everlasting.