Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Is Jesus the Only Way?
(Part 2)
The Vocabulary of Faith
Blogging Towards Sunday
John 14:1-17

I followed a car on Sunday that had a bumper sticker that read "Pagan and Proud of it!" [wish I'd had my camera!] I found myself unconsciously thinking "how sad." Then I wondered why do I think that? They obviously are proud to be pagan; not a choice I'd make, and one they've happily made. For me Jesus is the choice I've made, the one I follow, the one in whose footsteps I want to tread, grow and mature. A friend of facebook recently updated their status saying "I know Jesus is the answer. But what is the question?" What does that mean? Is that faith? Or merely endoctrincation? How do I know that Jesus is the only way? That I am saved? That I'm not wrong?

1. How do we know we're saved and consequently that someone else isn't?
We (in the Christian family) have different takes on this. The Catholics would say you're saved if you practice your faith in the membership of the one holy church. Methodists have said (at least historically in Welsley's England) that you know you're saved by sanctification, how God works to redeem and make whole your life (for them the temperance movement and leaving alcohol behind historically played a big part in that). But how do we know we're saved? In a sense you can't know. It's not necessarily visible. Max Weber wrote the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism affirming that spiritual security isn't visible or tangible and so isn't a sure thing. As a consequence he observed that Protestants (in particular Calvinist-leaning ones) worked hear to accomplish economic security as a visible sort of proof of their salvation. This leads in my opinion to the tweaked health and wealth gospel, which dictates that if you're doing well financially you must be loved and blessed by God, aka "saved." Yet I can't accept that the poor and disenfranchised are so because they're not saved. So how do we know?

2. How do you know if Salvation is true?
How do we know that God is true? We can't see him. We can't touch her. We can't prove his existence with an experiment or convoke her to an interview for validity. How do we know that Jesus is the living visible image of the invisible God? Can you prove it? Is Jesus an objectif(ied) truth: one that we can prove, touch and objectively say is truth via the scientific method? Or if Jesus existential truth: one that we can't prove but can point to through our own testimony, life-story and faith-journey? Is existential truth less true than objectified truth? Is truth universal, shared in common between and across all cultures? Or is it contextualized? How do we know? And can we ever know?

3. Is faith, the salvation story, the experience of God merely a contextualized event?
Is it true according to our context: our cultural background, socio-economic situation, gender, a
ge or orientiation? We say following Jesus is a choice. Yet what if you've never been given that choice because of your context, if you've never heard the gospel in word or experience? Can you still know God personally, experientially and existentially? Is it all just a question of where you were born and what you've experienced (or haven't experienced?) Catholic Theologian Karl Rahner posited that you could via his "Anonymous Christian" doctrine [basically that you may have chosen to serve and follow the God known in Jesus the Christ without ever having heard of that God through the way that you live].

4. Maybe in the end it comes down to the question of what does it mean to say "I believe."? Does that mean that if you believe X, that Y is wrong? And when we say we believe X, what are we saying we don't believe in the words we aren't pronouncing?

I believe in an orthodox way that God chooses to reveal God's-self in an unique & exclusive way in a signular historical event: Jesus the Christ. In confessing that, am I saying that there is only one revelation of God? That Jesus is the best revelation among several revelations? Or that Jesus is the best/right revelation of the divine for me?

Historical Jesus scholar Marcus Borg wrote that the resurrection was/is not a video-tapeable moment, meaning that it's beyond objectif or scientifically measured truth. It's an existential choice. Sure would be nice if you could netflix it on DVD. But you can't. And Jesus didn't talk this way about context, existential truth and objectified truth. It wasn't his vocabulary for talking about this question of existence. So if we dialogue about this are we reading into Jesus, projecting our issues on him in a way that can never fully be answered? Is Jesus the path or one of the paths? (Here's a thoughtful video of Marcus Borg talking about this)

So how then do we live faithfuly and faith-fully in our pluralistic world, living the core teaching of Jesus: love your neighbor as yourself, or love your neighbor as God first loves you?

I've been called a conservative traditionalist as well as vaguely referred to as a heretic. I believe with all my heart and life that Jesus is true for me. I can't prove it. I can talk about my experience and point to it with my testimony. It's my existential truth. It's my context. It's my choice (even though I'd argue that it chose me). Does that mean I'm not faithful? that I'm unitarian? that I have no back bone? Or could it reflect a deeper truth that we can only experience and never really "understand" cognitvely or in a cartesian way?

What does it mean that I (or maybe you) claim Jesus as center of my life, life and the universe? How can I affirm that and live in a pluralistic culture and context and completely, honestly and organically respect my neighbor (who may or may not follow Jesus) in a way that recognizes them as a fellow human being and created child of God? I wonder. I love this song. As I listen to it I find it both beautiful and challenging, comforting and disturbing. What does it mean to have Christ as center?

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