By: Fred Plumer
I have often wondered why it is so important for some people to insist that Jesus is the “only way.” As you might imagine, as President of TCPC, I get angry email from “concerned Christians” on a regular basis. The vast majority of them start off by being pretty polite.
“I agree with much of what is on your website but are you saying that perhaps the beliefs that a Muslim holds, or a Hindu holds, or a Buddhist holds, is just as true as the beliefs a Christian holds?”
It is not unusual for these same people to quote the familiar passage from John 14: 6 that was put into the mouth of Jesus by the writer of John: “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
I used to spend a lot of time trying to explain the historical context of that passage of John-the fact that it was probably written over 80 years (two generations) after Jesus’ death, that it is the least historical document in the Gospels, that it is a reflection of a tumultuous period when the followers of Jesus were being rejected in the synagogues and were no longer considered Jews by the families and friends. And this was just the beginning of the recrimination that tore apart religious leaders, social settings and families at the deepest level. When this is understood, many of the Christological sayings of the writer of John take on new meaning and make a lot more sense, including the unfortunate translation of John’s condemnation of the “Jews” which should have been translated as the “Jews who rejected us or did not accept Jesus as the messiah.” Jesus was born a Jew and he died a Jew according to the three Synoptic Gospels.
But in every case, my efforts to try and explain how this passages came to be, have met with everything from strong disapproval to outright rage, including a couple of death threats from these concerned Christians.
What is it that makes it so important that Jesus be the only way, the only one, the initiator of the one true religion when there is so much evidence that makes this a very illogical conclusion? Is it our competitive human nature? Is it our need to be right in spite of all evidence to the contrary? Is it fear?
Why can’t we simply allow Jesus to be a human being, OK a very special human being, who had a profound experience (or experiences) of the divine that changed his understanding of reality. My guess is that when people noticed this change, Jesus was asked to spend the rest of his short life trying to teach others how they might have the same experience of the Oneness with God, how to experience the Oneness with all creation, how to live in Sacred Unity.
he the only one who has had this experience? Of course not! Our books and
our libraries are full of others who had such an experience and they were also changed
by their new awareness. You may even know one of these people today. They also
had or have new eyes to see and ears to hear. Many of them become teachers like
Buddha, Lao Tzu, Mohammed, along with others who are alive today. If you read
carefully and get through the hyperbole their beloved followers wrote about
them years later, their experiences were very similar and much of their
teachings covered many of the same themes. It all starts with becoming
aware of who we really are-part of the divine Oneness. God is not out there but
So if there are many, how do we pick our teacher or teachers? We find one that we can
relate to based on our own culture, social situation and willingness to
commit. We do that naturally whether we realize it or not. But if I am going to try and climb Mount Everest for the first time, I
will find someone who has been there, listen to what they have to teach about
doing it and then try my best to follow the path they have already forged. But I want to follow someone
who I sincerely believe has been there. I want to focus on the teachings, not
the teacher. I want to commit to the path, not worship the one who made the
How do I know that I have the right teacher? Buddha is recorded as
saying: “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no
matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own
common sense.” Jesus tried to sooth his disciples concerns that they would
know if they were on the right path after he was gone: “…you will know by
the fruit that it bears.” In other words we have been given the tools
to assess the truth if we are willing to use them.
New Testament scholar,
Robert Funk once wrote that if Christianity was going to survive, we would need
to “demote Jesus…who has been isolated as the divine son of God, co-eternal with
the Father” from his true persona as a wisdom teacher. Although I do not
disagree with Funk’s conclusion, I do not see it as a demotion but rather as a
freeing. What an incredible thing it would be if we pulled Jesus off the cross
as an icon to be worshiped, and let him be free to be the teacher again.
empowering thing it would be if we actually became disciples of another human
being who had experienced the Absolute Oneness of all Creation and then said,
“follow me and you too can experience what I experienced.” What would our
churches be like if that really happened? Then we might have to take Jesus’
egalitarian teachings on compassion, non-judgment, forgiveness, unity, love,
and the “God-within,” seriously.
Maybe that is the problem.