Congregation at Duke Chapel

How Certain Are You That Christ Is The Only Way?

How Certain Are You That Christ is The Only Way?

presentation at Adult Forum by
Nelson Strother
Congregation member
March 2, 2003

Ground rules for our discussion

This topic should be foundational for every one who knows Christ.

We may see or I may say some provocative things; the goal is to stimulate your thinking and your faith, not to spoon feed conclusions to you.


Christianity is merely religion, which is merely mythology ...

"It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward, in counteraction to those other constant human fantasies that tend to tie it back."

Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, p.11


Different peoples, common myths?

"The cosmogenic cycle [the great vision of the creation and destruction of the world] is presented with astonishing consistency in the sacred writings of all the continents ...."

creation

flood

virgin birth (e.g. Aztec, Hindu, Finn, south Rhodesian, Tonga)

...

Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, p.39


Each of the common myths has a similar hero ...

"The hero has died as a modern man; but as eternal man - perfected, unspecific, universal modern man - he has been reborn. His second solemn task and deed therefore (...) is to return to us, transfigured, and teach the lesson he has learned of life renewed."

Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, p.20


Monomyth: separation - initiation - return

"A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder; fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."

Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, p.20


Instances of the Monomyth

  • the Decalouge of Moses
  • the world-transcending deed of Prometheus (bringing fire to the Greeks)
  • the visit of Aeneas from the fallen Troy to the underworld of the dead
  • the Great Struggle of the Buddha ... transcending the eight stages of meditation ... experiencing perfect enlightenment at the break of day sitting beneath the Bo Tree - analogous to crucifixion of Christ on the Tree of Redemption, with an archetypal World Savior, a World Tree motif

Be careful about claiming that only one religious form is authentic

"... many Christians ... seem unaware that toleration alone, while desirable, is not sufficient in a world of religious pluralism. Even the most influential theologians during the 20th century have failed to see the limitations of toleration. They have conceded only that other faiths may be 'lesser lights' (Karl Barth), or that representatives of other faiths can be saved because they are 'Christians incognito' (Paul Tillich), or 'anonymous Christians' (Karl Rahner). Tolerance like this concedes only minimal value to other religious traditions."

Dr. Joseph C. Hough, Jr.


Are you exclusionary?

"Tolerance is the response of a dominant religion towards subordinate religions.... But I think we need to go beyond that and the way we go beyond that is I think to begin to acknowledge that in our own tradition we have a theological problem that prevents us from giving full and authentic respect to other religious traditions. .... [That problem] is what I call the exclusionary principle. It is the claim that God is only known truly and fully in the Christian tradition, and not in any other tradition. And that the knowledge of God that might appear in other places in the world is insufficient, in the Christian tradition it is claimed to be insufficient for the salvation of human beings."

Dr. Joseph C. Hough, Jr.


Are you humble?

"... I think it is wonderful to be passionate about your faith. I am passionately Christian. But part of being passionately Christian is having a little bit of humility about any claim to absolute knowledge about what God is doing in the world. I know something God is doing in the world, for I have experienced it in my faith. But I would never want to make that claim that I know everything that God is doing in the world that is redemptive, and that it is only in my tradition. That to me is a step that divides human beings from each other across the board."

Dr. Joseph C. Hough, Jr.


What about a literal interpretation of ...

"How do you respond to members of your own church who might quote you these words from the New Testament that are attributed to Jesus. Jesus says 'I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.' [John 14:6] How do you get past that roadblock?"

John Ydstie, posing a question to Dr. Joseph Hough, Jr., President of New York's Union Theological Seminary


One response ...

"Well, for me that is not a roadblock because the Johanine materials were written by a Jewish man to other Jewish followers of Jesus. At the time it was not a church, there was a Jesus movement, and it was in contention with other Jewish movements about the future of Judaism. The answer the Jesus movement gave was "Look, we're expecting the Messiah to come back, we need to be ready, in the words of John the Baptist, to repent." That was not absent in other groups in Judaism, but there was this sense that while the Messiah was to be expected that in the interim Judaism needed a unifying center, and it became the Torah. So that conflict between those two, was very intense. So what you've got is an intra-religious conflict. Now by the end of the first century, there was a church, and the church was predominantly Gentile. They did not know this history. And all of those sayings, in John, and in other places in the Gospels, were then translated into an anti-Jewish position, and you had the emergence of the Christ-killer myth which is the basis for enormously brutal persecution of Jews down through the centuries by Christians. So I just think what happened is, just put it out there bluntly, there is an interpretive mistake here. And it needs to be corrected. The blessing of the Jews and their Covenant is still valid, and it is just as valid as the blessing of the Christians in the New Covenant."


But how unquestioningly inclusive should I be?

  • respect for culture, communication style chosen by others...
  • Must I:
    • have a tattoo on my right forearm
    • have a sunburned neck
    • have frizzy orange hair
    • make the sign of the cross before sliding into a pew from the aisle
    • wear a white hood over my head
    • speak the same dialect, or even
    • like you to be acceptable to you?
      • Is my style of worship or my flavor of faith equally frivolous?

Do you share hope, promise, and redemption?

"I just don't think that all religions are morally permissible. But that is a moral test. The principle I operate on is that redemption means God's activity in the world to bring hope, promise, and redemption to human beings. And any religious group that is acting in the world that brings destruction upon other people, cannot possibly be acting with the God I know. And that is true of the highest and best of all of the world's great religions. I think that some of the things that Christian fundamentalism is advocating in the United States are destructive and I do think that they simply do not represent the heart and the best of Christianity."

Dr. Joseph C. Hough, Jr.


from Jesus' Farewell Discourse and prayer

"Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.'" [John 14:6, RSV]


Excuses to use to hide from these words

  • the Jesus Seminar version of the Five Gospels (remember Richard Hayes' critique of this group and their methods?) does not attribute these words to Jesus
  • consensus among Biblical scholars is that none of the four canonical gospels were written until decades after the human death of Jesus
  • contemporary studies demonstrate the fallibility of eyewitness accounts of events
  • earliest surviving complete copy of any gospel dates from 175 years after Jesus death

What if this 1787 parchment had been misplaced?

image of 'We the People ...' United States Constitution parchment


... and the earliest surviving copies were found in 1962 ...

  • among the collected papers of (the then deceased) Senator Joseph McCarthy, or
photograph of Senator Joseph McCarthy
  • among the resources used by (the then future) Senator George McGovern in his research toward his doctoral degree in history at Northwestern University ?
photograph of Senator George McGovern

Access to God solely through Jesus ...

"All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. ...." Matthew 11:27, The New International Version

No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. John 1:18, TNIV


... solely through Jesus (continued) ...

".... No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. ...." John 6:46, TNIV

" ... Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved." Acts 4:12, Peter, explaining how he healed in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth


returning to Jesus' Farewell Discourse ...

"Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me. ... '" [John 14:6, responding to Thomas' question: "Lord we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?" This is the same Thomas, called Didymus, who wrote the Gospel of Thomas, with which the Jesus Seminar is so enamored. ]


"I am ...."

Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." John 6:35

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." John 8:12

So Jesus again said to them, "Truly, truly I tell you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not heed them. I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." John 10:7-11

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" John 11:25-26

"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful." John 15:1-2


The Way

a concept embedded in Jewish culture, e.g.:

You shall be careful to do therefore as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land which you shall possess. [Deuteronomy 5:32-33]

And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not pass over it, and fools shall not err therein. [Isaiah 35:8]


The Truth

According to a rabbinical legend, "Moses and his law are truth" is constantly recited by Korah in Hell. [see Numbers 16]

No one but Christ has embodied the truth they taught.


The Life

Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. Christ foretells his own resurrection.


Knowing the Father

No one approaches God except via the actions / grace / mediation of Jesus.

Each person must know Jesus.

Alternatively, no one knows and understands God as a Father but through the life and example of his Son.


Seek and ye shall find, but ...

Beware of finding a Jesus entirely congenial to you.


Religion is ...

not
man seeking God,
but
God seeking man.
Peter Kreeft, Socrates Meets Jesus

References

  • Joseph Campbell, The Hero WIth a Thousand Faces, Bollingen Series VII, Princeton University Press, 1949, 2nd edition 1968.
  • A conversation on Religious Tolerance between Weekend Edition - Sunday's host John Ydstie and Dr. Joseph Hough, Jr., President of New York's Union Theological Seminary, about the state of religious tolerance amongst Christians in America and why tolerance is not lofty enough a goal. (9 minutes of audio, text available immediately below).

Here is an unofficial transcript of a segment from Weekend Edition - Sunday of Sunday, January 27, 2002 from http://www.npr.org/archives/.

[Ydstie] After the terrorist attacks of September 11th, sporadic acts of violence against Muslims and mosques took place around the country. There were even attacks on Hindus and Buddhists, and in Mesa, Arizona a Sihk was murdered by a man who allegedly threatened to kill Muslims. The pervasive response from Americans, however, has been tolerance and compassion toward their Muslim neighbors. But tolerance of other faiths is not enough, says Dr. Joseph C. Hough, Jr., the President of Union Theological Seminary in New York. In an article earlier this month in the New York Times, Dr. Hough called on Christians to adopt a new theology, a new approach to other religions.

[Hough] Tolerance is the response of a dominant religion towards subordinate religions. And if you think about it, the use of the term itself suggests that we have a decision to make about whether you can operate in our context with minimal interference. Now, I do not want to be misunderstood, because I think we need a lot more tolerance in this country than we have. That is certainly important. But I think we need to go beyond that and the way we go beyond that is I think to begin to acknowledge that in our own tradition we have a theological problem that prevents us from giving full and authentic respect to other religious traditions.

[Ydstie] And what is that theological problem?

[Hough] Its what I call the exclusionary principle. It is the claim that God is only known truly and fully in the Christian tradition, and not in any other tradition. And that the knowledge of God that might appear in other places in the world is insufficient, in the Christian tradition it is claimed to be insufficient for the salvation of human beings.

[Ydstie] Now that is not an exclusive problem for Christianity, is it?

[Hough] Of course not. But I am a committed Christian, and so I begin with the theological problem in my own faith, and I think it is up to other people to raise this question within the context of their own faith tradition. I do think all religions tend to move toward a kind of exclusionary principle, because the claim is that what we are looking at is thinking and believing in the highest one or the highest value, and if you have come through a single tradition to that understanding and to that revelation, it's tempting to say this is the one true one, because it has changed your life. And I think it is wonderful to be passionate about your faith. I am passionately Christian. But part of being passionately Christian is having a little bit of humility about any claim to absolute knowledge about what God is doing in the world. I know something God is doing in the world, for I have experienced it in my faith. But I would never want to make that claim that I know everything that God is doing in the world that is redemptive, and that it is only in my tradition. That to me is a step that divides human beings from each other across the board.

[Ydstie] Why isn't it alright simply to be tolerant, and to say, you know, you believe what you believe, I'll believe what I believe, I won't try to convince you, you don't have to try to convince me, but we can believe in different things and get along. What is wrong with that?

[Hough] That's not how tolerance operates for the most part. That's indifference. It's sort of like one of our Presidents said one time "It doesn't make any difference what you believe, as long as you believe it." It does make a great deal of difference what you believe, what you believe about your own religious faith and what you believe about the religious faith of other persons. And if you want to just draw a line, the exclusionary principle ultimately has appeared in Christian history in a variety of ways. Just have a look at the history of Christians and Jews, the Crusades against the Muslims. It shows that in the name of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, Christians have killed, looted, raped, and murdered, and a host of other transgressions in the name of Jesus Christ. Why? Because ultimately, the exclusionary principle said these people are infidels, and therefore they are enemies of God. There is sort of a line that you move when you make that claim. And if you look at some of the statements made by American religious leaders about Islam, some have said it is a Satanic religion. The president of one of the major denominations in this country just a few years ago described Hinduism and Buddhism and Islam as instruments of Satan in the world. I think there has got to be a way to combine a passionate response to the revelation of God in your own tradition, with the capacity to say it is valid for other persons to experience this in another culture in a different way, and it is equally redemptive for them.

[Ydstie] How do you respond to members of your own church who might quote you these words from the New Testament that are attributed to Jesus. Jesus says "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me." [John 14:6] How do you get past that roadblock?

[Hough] Well, for me that is not a roadblock because the Johanine materials were written by a Jewish man to other Jewish followers of Jesus. At the time it was not a church, there was a Jesus movement, and it was in contention with other Jewish movements about the future of Judaism. The answer the Jesus movement gave was "Look, we're expecting the Messiah to come back, we need to be ready, in the words of John the Baptist, to repent." That was not absent in other groups in Judaism, but there was this sense that while the Messiah was to be expected that in the interim Judaism needed a unifying center, and it became the Torah. So that conflict between those two, was very intense. So what you've got is an intra-religious conflict. Now by the end of the first century, there was a church, and the church was predominantly Gentile. They did not know this history. And all of those sayings, in John, and in other places in the Gospels, were then translated into an anti-Jewish position, and you had the emergence of the Christ-killer myth which is the basis for enormously brutal persecution of Jews down through the centuries by Christians. So I just think what happened is, just put it out there bluntly, there is an interpretive mistake here. And it needs to be corrected. The blessing of the Jews and their Covenant is still valid, and it is just as valid as the blessing of the Christians in the New Covenant.

[Ydstie] How do you deal with fringe cults that might be a danger to individuals who join them or to society, the David Koresh's of the world, or the Aum Shinrikyos of the world, the Japanese cult that attacked the Tokyo subway with lethal gas.

[Hough] I just don't think that all religions are morally permissable. But that is a moral test. The principle I operate on is that redemption means God's activity in the world to bring hope, promise, and redemption to human beings. And any religious group that is acting in the world that brings distruction upon other people, cannot possibly be acting with the God I know. And that is true of the highest and best of all of the world's great religions. I think that some of the things that Christian fundamentalism is advocating in the United States are destructive and I do think that they simply do not represent the heart and the best of Christianity. That is true of fundamentalist Islam, and any other religion that is acting totally upon an exclusionary principle and acting in a destructive way toward other human beings, on the basis of classifying them as less than human. The term used is usually infidel.

[Ydstie] You have been preaching this view since before September 11th, but have you found any more interest in it after September 11th?

[Hough] What I have said has been said by some scholars years ago, but the response to this small article has been so overwhelming that I think we haven't realized the degree to which many people who aren't theological specialists are ahead of some of the theologians and the clergy on this issue. The overwhelming response from Christians who have written and e-mailed and called has been positive. There are a number whose responses are less than positive, and some warning me of the fact that God will bring judgement on me because I am a false teacher. I actually am willing to take that risk.

[Ydstie] The Reverend Dr. Joseph Hough, Jr. is the President of Union Theological Seminary. He joined us from our New York bureau. Well, thank you very much.

[Hough] Thank you!