Thursday, July 03, 2008

The particularity of John 14:6 revealing God as Father

The retreat center I was at last weekend happened to be a Southern Baptist camp, and it had a number of signs with verses like John 3:16 and John 14:6 and the Ten Commandments posted around the grounds. Very intentional and evangelistic of them, of course, that these things are quite visible to any who might visit.

I happened to be glancing at one sign of John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me," and I wondered to myself how non-Christian visitors might respond to that if they were seeing it for the first time. And something occurred to me that I'm not sure I'd thought about before.

John 14:6 is very particular that no one comes to the Father except through Jesus. But does that necessarily mean that no one can have any knowledge or understanding of God apart from Jesus? I'm still playing with this, but it seems significant to me that Jesus is specifically talking about coming to "the Father" here.

Perhaps it's not that Jesus is completely invalidating the religious experience of people in other world religions. John 14:6 doesn't rule out general revelation. Perhaps the emphasis is rather that if you want to know God as a Father, then you need to come through Jesus. That's Christianity's uniqueness among all other religions. Jesus alone reveals God as Father.

I think sometimes Christians misuse John 14:6 to claim that all other religions are completely invalid, or that adherents of other faiths do not know anything of the true God. This probably overstates what John 14:6 actually says. I think Christians, when interacting with other religious traditions, can say something more along the lines of, "I'm glad that you're spiritual and people of faith. It's great that you're committed to your religion, and I don't doubt the authenticity and sincerity of your religious experience. But y'know what? Jesus claims that we can know God as Father, and that's unique. No other religion or faith tradition claims that kind of personal relational intimacy with the divine. And Jesus invites us to know God as Father through following him and believing in him."

Back in the mid-'90s, I remember getting into discussions of postmodernism's critique of propositional truth, and one insight I had was that John 14:6 is not merely a propositional statement about the exclusivity of Jesus. Sometimes Christians wield that verse like a blunt object, as if merely quoting it to people will persuade them of its truth. And I think we need to experience John 14:6 the way the disciples did. Imagine, instead of just hearing it as an isolated verse ripped out of context, you had actually lived and walked with Jesus for three years. You'd heard his teachings, seen his compassion, witnessed his miraculous actions. Only then, after three years of embodied, lived experience, does he say, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." And you'd say, yeah, that makes sense. No one else speaks and lives truth like this Jesus. No one else has this kind of life. Of course Jesus must be the way.

So instead of seeing John 14:6 as a trump card to close the deal and hammer home the uniqueness of Jesus and Christianity, see it as an invitation. Jesus invites us to discover that God is a different kind of God than we might have presumed. Hang out with Jesus for a few years, explore who he is, experience what he does. And then it won't seem so strange that this Jesus claims to be the way.


Unknown said...

Hi there. :D My name is JT Eberhard. I run my own blog, and I contribute to Teh Juggernauts blog.

I'm commenting to invite you to a blogalogue with me about either the existence of god or the truth of Christianity. As my writings will show, I am not a believer. I am willing to have my mind changed, I've just never encountered a good argument for why I should. It is my hope that you and I could reach a meeting of the minds on the subject.

Here are my rules for blogalogues:

1. Stay courteous. We're in this together, searching for what is true, and we should treat each other as such.

2. All posts are posted on each participants blog.

3. Either party may end the blogalogue at any point.

If you are interested, please leave a comment on Teh Juggernauts and we can work out details.



Steve B. said...

Thanks for your blog thoughts on John 14. I agree with you that some Christians do use verses like this as a conversational/witnessing trump card to forestall further and deeper interaction. Unfortunately, it seems there are far more Christians who are not trained or motivated to interact at all! I think there has to be confidence and flexibility in sharing the Gospel or "doing life" with potential believers.

BTW, I read your book on Singles, and as a 50-year old guy who has never married, it's time for another attempt to shake up the "Marital-Industrial Complex." I've been involved in single group leadership at Willow Creek and AHEFAC, and have actually started a non-profit for Christian Singles - Full Life. Please let me know your thoughts at

Steve Burdan

Unknown said...

This is money. Well said, Al Hsu.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Al. Really good stuff here.

I've batted around a similar interpretation of this verse for a while now as well, but I think you've articulated it better than I might have.

I think it's just another example of our tendency to take a nuanced and context-heavy passage, and apply our modern, black-and-white filter...

And in doing so, turning a beautiful statement about the way in which a person can come into relationship with the God of creation, into a statement about how Jesus is blocking the way to God and you've got to "get through him" (as if he was some kind of Divine Linebacker) if you want to get to God.

Good stuff, keep it up.