Thursday, January 11, 2007

PB Schori and Right Belief

For some Episcopalians, John 14:6 is a litmus test, unum inter alia, for orthodoxy, and indeed Christian being itself. That is a big mistake, I think, but more on that in a moment. First, have a look, a rather long look, at the verse in question:

(VULGATE) dicit ei Iesus ego sum via et veritas et vita nemo venit ad Patrem nisi per me

(KJV) Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

(NRSV, NIV, TNIV) Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

(MESSAGE) Jesus said, "I am the Road, also the Truth, also the Life. No one gets to the Father apart from me.

(AMPLIFIED) Jesus said to him, I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except by (through) Me.

(GOOD NEWS) Jesus answered him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me.

(ARABIC LIFE APPLICATION) فَأَجَابَهُ يَسُوعُ: «أَنَا هُوَ الطَّرِيقُ وَالْحَقُّ وَالْحَيَاةُ. لاَ يَأْتِي أَحَدٌ إِلَى الآبِ إِلاَّ بِي.

And we could go on and on, but I think it is clear that the verse is ambiguous between at least two contrary readings. For it does not specify, and neither does the context, exactly what is meant by coming to the Father through Jesus and Jesus being the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus doesn't stop to Chisholm his theology; that is, he never stops to list out necessary and sufficient conditions in clear language. So we are left with a couple readings at least:

EXCLUSIVIST: All those who do not come to the Father by consciously accepting Christ here below are damned.

INCLUSIVIST: All those who do not come to the Father by accepting Christ, whether conciously here below or in some other way, are damned.

The inclusivist leaves it open that there may be, as the Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner suggests, anonymous Christians who accept Christ without making any conscious assent to him. Or it may be, as Karl Barth suggests, that God may yet give those who have not consciously accepted Christ here below an opportunity to do so. There are other ways of setting out just how Christ could be the single and only way, even if it does not involve conscious assent.

The exclusivist closes the door on any such interpretations of John 14:6: without conscious acceptance, damnation--period.

Rihgt away I admit, being a father myself, to having a problem accepting the Exclusivist reading of our verse. One might well worry about certain special cases; so much, for instance, for baptized infants who die before developing the ability to consciously assent to propositional content: damnation for them too? Would the moral absurdity, even atrocity, of damning babies baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit suffice to move purblind exclusivists to inclusivism? I do not think so; the vitriol hurled at our PB is just too damned bitter--indeed, such Episcopalians seem to be well on their way to becoming Baptists. You might have other questions for our crypto-Baptist bretheren in Christ, but pace nunc.

PB Schori and John 14:6
Here, in a recent interview, is how PB Schori reads John 14:6:

ADG: I want to ask you about a couple of other things you’ve said in interviews. One of those was in the 10 questions in TIME magazine about the small box that people put God in. Could you elaborate a little bit on your take on “Jesus is the way, the truth and the life” [a paraphrase of John 14:16]?
KJS: [1]I certainly don’t disagree with that statement that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. But the way it’s used is as a truth serum, or a touchstone: If you cannot repeat this statement, then you’re not a faithful Christian or person of faith.
I think Jesus as way – that’s certainly what it means (A) to be on a spiritual journey. It means to be (B)in search of relationship with God. We understand Jesus as truth in the sense of (C)being the wholeness of human expression. What does it mean to be wholly and fully and completely a human being? (D)Jesus as life, again, an example of abundant life. We understand him as bringer of abundant life but also as exemplar. What does it mean to be both fully human and fully divine? Here we have the evidence in human form. So I’m impatient with the narrow understanding, but certainly welcoming of the broader understanding.
ADG: What about the rest of that statement –
KJS: The small box?
ADG: Well, the rest of the verse, that no one comes to the Father except by the son.
KJS: [2] Again in its narrow construction, it tends to eliminate other possibilities.
In its broader construction, yes, (E)human beings come to relationship with God largely through their experience of holiness in other human beings. (F)Through seeing God at work in other people’s lives. In that sense, yes, I will affirm that statement. [3] But not in the narrow sense, that people can only come to relationship with God through consciously believing in Jesus.

What I have marked out above as [1], [2], and [3] imply a key point in Schori's reading of John 14:6 that nobody will dispute, I think: her complete rejection of the Exclusivist interpretation.

However, if you take just these pieces together, I think you get also a more positive view, that of the Inclusivist interpretation. In [2] she claims to want to leave open "other possibilities" through which God may work to save. What does she mean? Possibilities other than that of conscious assent. Certainly that is what she wants to leave an alternative to in [1], where she rejects using the verse as a litmus test: repeat this or else! Not repeating the relevant formula, or even choosing not to say it, is insufficient to make one non-Christian. [3] is 'icing on the cake' confirming my understanding of where she is on John 14:6.

And folks, notice that is an orthodox reading of John 14:6. That is not a Pluralist reading of John 14:6; the fact she affirms 14:6 and brings up the issue of conscious acceptance and using the verse as a litmus test affirms she is an Inclusivist reader of the verse rather than a Pluralist reader. Surely anyone so heedless as to condemn Inclusivism as unorthodox bears a tremendous weight, going against both Barth and Rahner among others, and even the weight of theological understanding in the Roman Catholic church.

What Suffices?
I removed italics from certain other parts of Schori's answer that I would like to note for the light they shed on her positive vision about how one might qualify as Christian without having made conscious assent to Christ. For all we know, the atheists, Buddhists, New Agers, and openly fascist, epicurean investment bankers, say, whom to all the world appear to be anything but Christian do in fact count as Christian--and that is perfectly consistent with Inclusivism. We just, in effect, cannot tell saved from damned, city of God from city of Man, even Christian from mere Heathen here below with certainty.

Still there might be marks of belonging to Christ which fall short of bringing certainty but might bring some confidence; I think that is what Schori has in mind when she talks in those parts from which I removed italics. Thus, as she notes above at (A), one could accept at least part of John 14:6 nonconsciously by being on a spiritual journey, one whose destination is given in (B): a relationship with God. I.e. being in a process constituting a relationship with God at least brings one toward being Christian, even if one had never heard of or even rejected Christ. But she has more to say.

What else? (C) and (D) go together--(C) speaks of becoming wholly and fully human and (D) gives the content, as one becomes fully human after the pattern of Jesus. Presumably patterning oneself after Buddha or Paul, Gandhi or Stephen--all that is good, but why drive a Pinto when you can go with the Rolls? I.e the pattern for her, the supreme pattern, is set Christ's human life: imitate this.

Putting (A)-(D) together, you might picture a reluctant atheist who nevertheless desires a relationship with God (perhaps even crying out: help my unbelief!) and in this desire is led to pattern his life after that of Jesus in the synoptic Gospels, even though he thinks Jesus is not God. So far, such a one on Schori's understanding could count as Christian, I think.

You might even picture a rigidly devout pagan in Julian's day who does (A)-(D) without having Jesus in mind at all--he just happens while having a Stoic or Cynic sage in mind to be following a pattern substantially like that of Jesus in the synoptics--even such a one could be Christian.

Look at (E) and (F); whence the pattern to follow? One learns the right patterns from experiencing and being affected by God at work in the lives of others: i.e. mimesis. God may be at work in a number of ways--through those preaching Jesus, through those working for the MDGs who are atheists. Either way, patterns become actual in such work, contagious, infectious patterns which are the stuff of transformation, which are the stuff from which God gets Christians even without conscious assent. That is to say in churchyspeak, God's grace overflows the exterior acts of faith in confession, indeed grace is like floodwater, waves of anointing oil, in relation to attempts that aim to cage the Spirit in confessions and tests of conscious obedience.

The "broader construction" Schori speaks of is, I am just about sure, the Inclusivist reading of John 14:6. The points in (A)-(F) give the lie to hollow chatter among Anglicans who pretend clarity on Schori's being somehow unorthodox; Schori seems to have a very firm, concrete sense of what inclusivism comes to in the world here and now.

15 Comments:

At 10:37 PM, Blogger Marshall said...

You've caught a wave, I think. There is a a parallel discussion on this going on over at dailyepiscopalian. This is a helpful analysis.

 
At 11:23 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Thanks; I just could not sit still and listen to people get Schori twisted. It is good to see Jim Naughton's hit the nail on the head indeed.

 
At 10:16 PM, Blogger Annie said...

I have a number of thoughts over this one. Of course, we know that it is purely Evangelical to pull this one verse out of the text and examine it this way. Once pulled out it is used, as you claim as an exclusivist. It is used as a proud statement, i.e., lacking humility, which is not Christlike and by Christ's own character and stated desires this could not have been his intention. He said that he did not suffer even one to be lost. Its root is obviously in the doctrine of the elect. Why stay myopically close to the tree?

First there would be the macro view and we should first look at the entire forest. God is the creator of all mankind and Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. We have the Law written on our hearts (this is universal), even the Gentiles according to Saint Paul. God wills all of us to come to him and this has been made possible through Jesus. It is hardly exclusive. God is wholly inclusive.

Perhaps we should look at the bark of the tree. "I am the WAY." The use of the term indicates a path that we follow that he has prepared for us. We are to do what he has taught us to do (walk the walk) and there is a reason. "I am the TRUTH." There is no other truth although Christians are always trying to claim what the truth is--we need no other truth but Jesus Christ himself and it is through faith in him that we have the only truth we need. "I am the LIFE." You cannot have life, eternal life, without him and without what he has done and will do for us.

Who was he speaking to? And would our God condemn people simply because they never heard this statement and understood it just this way? I am not convinced by looking at the forest that a person who is born of another faith cannot find God through the Word which is available, as it always has been, through the spirit that is available to all of mankind in all walks of life. I don't think we need to know his name, what is written in the Bible or anything that he ever taught, but just follow the Law written on our hearts. Love and compassion are universal laws.

 
At 11:25 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

annie,
I like your reading of the passage. Indeed, if I understand you, you seem at least sympathetic to Universalism--the notion not merely that Possibly, everyone is saved, but rather Actually, everyone is saved. That is where my sympathies stand, in spite of some rather strong feelings from time to time to the contrary.

It seems Exclusivism is often brandied about by those who seem eager to see the many condemned to the unimaginably horrific torments of Hell, a spectacle sometimes invoked with evangelical fervor, as if it were a basis for conversion. I think it is rather to the contrary a reductio of anything good Christianity claims, or better a grotesque evacuation of substantive moral content in favor of the merely formal "the good is just what God wills".

Indeed, the threat of Judgement invoked by Christ need not imply Hell or for that matter Divine Command theory.

 
At 3:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As one who took on much of that reduction with Mother's milk, and have been recovering from since my teens, I am delighted to follow your comments and Bishop Katherine's remarks, AS & others--I'm very proud of the one who leads us through these times; at least those parts I could follow--mostly Barth & Rahner--caused me to wish to investigate some of the other leads which may develop. My Historical Theology are sore lackin', Sir.

Thank you and Thanks to God for finding this discussion.

 
At 9:29 PM, Blogger Annie said...

Yes, I think we must agree. I also have strong feelings to the contrary at times, too, but perhaps that has a different answer. I really think that the answer to that is in the here and now, in spiritual life in him--just as our lives are bleak and empty without God in the here and now. But is this really only Universalism, or is it also the ancient Christian faith? I'll check a reference and see.

But at any rate, I'm very pleased with our ++Katherine!

 
At 9:43 PM, Blogger Annie said...

I know that I'm off topic now!

Here is the link that I thought might work, Idylslinger

Annie

 
At 12:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the link. Perhaps I shall be making more use of my local seminary's library! Oh, yes; that wa I above.

JohnieB

 
At 3:39 PM, Blogger Annie said...

I thoroughly enjoyed perusing that entire site, Johnie. I hope that you do too. Since I first found it, I have followed up on this introduction but still have a lot of reading to do.

 
At 3:44 PM, Blogger Annie said...

Gosh, I'm doing it again! This morning I was reminded that we traditionally depict the three magi as being of three different races and obviously would be of three different faiths. This predates the reformation.

 
At 10:25 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

I am not sure Constantinople 543 is authoritative on Universalism as a possibility, or as something promised.

I would argue:
(1) It is not really ecumenical, and so is missing a necessary condition for authority;

(2) even if it were shown that it was genuinely rather than merely traditionally ecumenical, that is insufficient for being authoritative on this point at least--esp if it can be cogently argued that Universalism is true.

 
At 10:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do you think of the Pelikan history, Scotist? The second volume is in my "to Read" stack. At least I finally remembered from it what "PE" refered to; I shan't read the Church Fathers while waiting on Ms. JohnieB!

Mr. JohnieB

 
At 2:30 PM, Anonymous Charlotte said...

Utterly irrelevant to this debate, Todd, but did you and Susan make it through the tornadoes all right?

Prayers rising for you and everyone else in your part of Florida. Sebring dodged the bullet --this time.

 
At 8:09 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

charlotte,

Thank you for your prayers! We dodged a tornado, probably one of several, by a few blocks--too few if you ask me. These things cut a swath of destruction about a quarter-mile wide, and the one that came nearest to us snapped trees in half at about ten feet or so, slammed into brick houses punching through the roof and windows, etc--formidible. As of this hour, we seem to have escaped a fatality in Deland, incredibly. I have great gratitude for all the workers, volunteers, and officers who are putting the whole back into order.

 
At 2:17 AM, Blogger URfriend, Dean Johnson said...

This topic also came up on my blog:
URfriendly Reflections


The John 14 passage is Jesus comforting Peter concerning his coming thrice denial of the Christ,
John 13:38
.

Jesus comforts Peter by explaining that Christ is the way to God. Peter is included in the Christ who is the temple of God and the house with many mansions, that returns to the Father.

Access to the Father is provided in the Christ. Even if we deny him, and even "If we believe not, [yet] he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself." (2 Timothy 2:13)

Access to God is found in this temple. Peter is included in the temple, and in the Christ. And so Christ is the way to the Father, not only for Peter, but also for all who are included. In
Ephesians 2:14-15
, Paul explains this more explicitly by stating that Jews and Gentiles or all humanity is included in this cosmic body of Christ [Ephesians 1:10, 4:6] that returns to the Father. This universal temple that has many mansions for all humanity is the house that God is building.
Ephesians 2:19
.

For every house is builded by some [man]; but he that built all things [is] God.
Hebrews 3:4
.

Jesus words are far more inclusive than is commonly understood.

Check it out if you like.

URfriend, Dean Johnson

 

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