I have been asked this question quite a bit in the wake of a series of Wednesday Night Live studies Dr. Gary Brown and I conducted on something he calls “Interspirituality.” During the study, we spent time discussing the western (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and eastern (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc) religious traditions and the ways they intersect with and inform one another. Specifically, we looked at the spiritualities that emerge from these traditions, seeing the ways the Jewish, Christian, and Islamic mystical traditions more closely resemble the eastern religions in their approach to spirituality. Our time together was enhanced by a visiting lecturer from Vanderbilt Divinity School, John Thatamanil, who helped us think about the Bhagavad Gita in conversation with the Gospel of John.
The conversation about the Gospel of John led naturally to a session on John 14:6 – “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This passage had come up several times throughout the semester, both in class and in private conversations. So last night I began a two-session close reading and study of John 14. We only made it to the verge of the verse in question and next Wednesday we will dive right into it.
One of the things we discussed last night is that as in real estate there are three important things: location, location, location; so in Bible study there are three important things to keep in mind: context, context, context. It is easy to get so familiar with passages like this one, especially ones that often get quoted as single verses, that we lose context and, consequently, meaning.
So here’s my question for my readers as I look toward next Wednesday. How do you read this text in light of the presence of people of other religions no longer, as Thatamanil says, across the ocean, but often across the bed? The reality of inter-religious and interfaith dialogue is no longer a theoretical question for missionaries, but a day-to-day practical question for all Christians who take their faith and the faith of their friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members seriously.
Is Christ the only way to God? Should people of other religions be recipients of our evangelism? Are there many paths to God? If so, what do you do with a text like John 14:6 and many others like it (though not as explicit perhaps) scattered throughout the Bible? Does reading this text in a wider context change the way you look at it? How do you personally think about your acquaintances of other faiths? Is there a middle position between the extremes of complete acceptance of other faiths or complete rejection?
Please share your comments. I will keep them anonymous if I share them with the class on Wednesday night, but I would love to know how folks on this blog are thinking about these issues.