Practical Pastoral Question of Theology

On Saturday 15 February 2014 12:08:31 pm a priest wrote:
> Could use a little help theologically.
>
> Apparently, Xxxx Yyyy came in to the Confirmation Class while I was away  > and laid out his characteristic Evangelical Theology, challenging my
> “authority” with regard to the E. Church’s take on Holy
> Writ.
> I’m getting prepared for tomorrow’s class and would like
> to be able to respond effectively when/if he throws out
> John’s “I am the way…” quotation.
>
> What was going on in John’s world wherein Jesus would
> make such a claim?  I know that John’s Gospel is the
> latest, as far as we know, and that a wave of
> persecutions were ramping up.

The basic conflict in John’s gospel is the expulsion of
Christians from Judaism. The conflict is over what is the
correct “way” of life given us by God. The Jews had Torah
which is a set of directions and guidelines for living
Godly. The word “Torah” is related to a verb meaning “to
point the way.” The other Hebrew word about this is “derek”
which is way, road, path. When Jesus says he is the way, he
may be saying that the way is his lived person. (Thats is
certainly my faith.) It’s a doing as much as a teaching;
the teaching is to point the way to doing. It is not
something he teaches, but something he is, does, lives. He
goes on to say that he is truth and life, and I think the
best translation is “I am the way, truth and life” Truth
and life specify what he is.

Now the church has used this to say he is the only way. But
we have used it to say there are those who do not know
Jesus and that they are lost. This has been useful in all
sorts of conflicts with non-Christians and other Christians
alike. It serves to divide and to organize into ins and
outs. The point of this is to buff up the pride of the one
who says they are an in, and to denigrate others as outs.
Religious wars result. And this is not Jesus’ way. Indeed
it is the exact opposite of the Jesus who in the Synoptics
strove to include all. John likewise moved to include all.
the Jesus way, the New Torah, is open to all. But John also
reflects the very fresh wound of rejection by those who
were their world.

An additional take on this is the idea that Jesus is Wisdom
personified. The Wisdom books are full of maxims on how to
live. Jesus is himself how to live. See:

http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/I-Am-the-Way-Alyce-McKenzie-05-16-2011

Also there is the recent evangelical take on this saying. I
suspect it started out as invitation, “Here, this is the
way, come on in.” But somewhere along the line it got
corrupted by the Calvinist fear-of-hell, how-can-I
know-that-I am saved crowd. See Bunyan’s “Grace Abounding
to the Chiefest of Sinners,” which chronicles his
interminable painful and anxious wresting about whether he
is saved or not. And then the fear was projected on others,
not “Am I saved?” but “Is he saved?” and the consequent
preaching of hellfire and damnation, compelling people with
mortal fear. A strain of this also made it’s way into Roman
Catholicism and Anglicanism. Again this is clean contrary
to the Jesus we know. I am reminded of a passage from “The
Last of the Just.” Ernie Levy is a Jewish man. He looks at
the Christian scriptures and the figure of Jesus. He tell
his girlfriend what a wonderful person Jesus was, and she
asks him where it went wrong. He tells her that they took
the cross by the wrong end and turned it into a sword. Nuff
said.

But does it mean that you have to know Jesus by name? Or can
you follow the Jesus Way in living justly and righteously?
Do you need to /know/ Jesus or can you just follow the way
he did. Who knows? And as the Pope recently said, “Who am I
to judge?” One principle might be to judge them by their
fruits. And who knows what God thinks and decides?

> What does the church today make of Jesus’ I am sayings?
They are all proclamation of the nature of God. “I am” is
what God tell Moses God’s name is. What Jesus says are
further specifications of Godness given us to show the way,
light door living water, bread of life, etc.

So where does the rubber hit the road with Mike. I had a
discussion with him once about intelligent design. I soon
realized that what they want is intelligible design.
Something they can comprehend, so they have a sense of
being on top of it. This shows some deep insecurity about
the world and life. They want it all specified. Mike is an
accountant, right? This strain of organizing the world is
called bureaucratization by the German social philosopher
Juergen Habermas. He talks first about the
bureaucratization of the work world, and then the
subsequent, perhaps consequent, bureaucratizatiom of the
life world. And there you have some evangelicalism and
fundamentalism.

My God, what a spate of words your question has let loose.

A further note, not really related, is that Torah and Way
are similar in a sense to Buddhist Dharma and Chinese Tao,
both meaning way.

Finally Catherine of Siena says, “The path to heaven lies
through heaven, and all the way to heaven is heaven.”

> I’m being lazy in asking you rather than doing my
> homework, but I would really like your perspective on
> this, if you have a minute.

Right, one short minute. 🙂

Comments are welcome

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