Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Odd Theology: Pluralism & the John 14:6 Challenge

The epic fellas over at Homebrewed Christianity offered up a challenge of how to interpret John 14:6, and what progressives Christians have to say about it. Well, I don't identify as a progressive Christian, but I figure I love a challenge.

And I may get a free book out of this. Which is better.

FEAR AND ASSURANCE

The first recorded words spoken after the resurrection are, "Do not be afraid." The angel speaks this, and proclaims that Christ has risen. In fact, we see this throughout the gospels [1]. The assurance of the heavenly being is to remove the fear beset a physical creature.

John 14 begins with the context of the previous chapter, where Christ was in fellowship with his disciples. There he washes their feet, predicts his betrayal and generally makes St. Peter look stupid.

I imagine the disciples are pretty down after this. Here is where it gets interesting. In the previous verses (1-4) you have the assurance of future rewards of belief, of fulfilling the promises of old, and the covenant given that Jesus will not abandon them. This has practical implications for all people, but I won't go into that.

How will we know the way? This verse is immediate and pressing. How are we to see such things? How are we to know? What assurance, and so forth.

This makes the next section far clearer.

THROUGH ME

Imagine a son watching his parent leave for war. Imagine the tiny hands clasping to keep hold of his beloved parent. This example serves as a great reason to think that Thomas (and the disciples in general) felt, perhaps, abandoned by Jesus.

Which makes his declaration that He is the only way. This is probably about salvation (and I'm inclined to think it is), but the pressing context is of future reconciliation and of restoring their doubt and giving them cause for faith.

Given Thomas' question in the previous verse, this makes more sense. The relationship could be about future eschatological restoration (heaven, hell, purgatory, etc) but the immediate fulfillment is Jesus assuring his disciples of a present separation and future reunion.

Does this equate to pluralism? I don't know. I don't think so. Jesus seems to be pretty particular. Perhaps the debate between universalism (which is where I lean) and pluralism is something that should take place in the future.

PARTICULAR PLURALISM?

I know some universalist scholars have argued that Paul (extrapolating from Jesus) is both universalist and particularist. The tension comes from the judgment passages and the universal salvation passages. The best effort seems to come from the idea of context and the audience to whom Paul is speaking.

In short, particularism is necessary in contexts where people would abuse universal salvation, and is proclaimed loudly where some would be less inclined to so.

Can pluralism be particular?

I'm not a pluralist, so I'm more interested in the question of particularism withing Christian views of pluralism. Because it seems that if one is both a Christian and a pluralist, does that entail a particular view of pluralism? Or does it come down to subjectivism? As someone who leans towards an orthodox understanding of universalism (Origen, Tom Talbott, the eastern church), where do I fit in regards to religious pluralism?

I've never really thought about pluralism, so I'm branching out right now. ;)

Thanks Bo and Tripp for the challenge. Hope I did well.

--Nick

FOOTNOTES

1. See also Luke 8:50; Mark 5:36; Matthew 14:27. 

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