Dear Sir, I was surfing the web when I came upon your site and was curious about your position on a few theological issues. If you have time I would appreciate a response.
On your Home page it says that you respect other religious traditions and are opposed to any exclusive dogma. To help me understand this better I have two questions.
1. How do you interpret John 14:6, where Jesus makes the exclusive claim "I am the way, the truth and the light. No man comes to the Father except through me."?
2. When you use the word "respect" other religious traditions are you embracing Universalism?
I'm not trying to be mean spirited but am truly curious as to your position.
Thank you, Rev. Scott
It is difficult to answer your question fully without a lengthy dissertation about the different ways in which we approach the Bible. Unfortunately, I cannot do justice to that subject in an email but let me try to respond to your questions recognizing that my response might create more questions that it provides answers.
Most of us in the progressive movement have been trained in seminaries that required us to do scholarly work in what was called Biblical Criticism. For example we would agree with scholars who concluded that the Book of John was written by someone who lived and wrote in the last decade of the first century, maybe 70 years after Jesus’ death. Much had changed in the budding Christian movement and the Roman Empire by that time. The followers of Jesus had been pushed out of the destroyed Jerusalem and were struggling for an identity. The Jewish leadership no longer considered the Jesus movement part of the Judaism and there was a great deal of tension between the Jesus followers (early Christians) and the Jewish leadership. Jewish families were divided not only from each other but within the families and early followers were discouraged because the promised Messiah had not returned as expected. Much of what you read in John was a attempt to respond to these challenging and often painful issues. The passage that you have cited is just one of many examples of this tension and the “church” leadership’s response. It was conditioned by the situation and the beliefs of the leadership of that sect of Christianity at that time. There is no such declaration in the book of Thomas, Mark or even Matthew written several decades before when the movement was still considered a Jewish sect.
If you have not done so you might get a better idea of this way of approaching the bible by reading Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism by John Shelby Spong. It is still one of the most concise books on a scholarly way to approach the Bible and often opens people’s eyes to a more informed way of reading the text.
I am not certain what you mean by “universalism” in your second question and not all progressive Christians would have the same perspective on that question. However most of us here at ProgressivieChristianity.org start with the assumption that all religions at one time started with some special person having a fundamental life changing spiritual experience of the Sacred, the Holy, The Great Mystery we choose to call God. Most of these unique people try and find words, metaphors and examples out of their social setting, culture and their time to and explain to their listeners what they experienced in this profound mystery. Over the centuries these metaphors, the language of the times is turned into religious doctrine, and dogma by the much later followers who want to organize and control. However the experience that these unusual people had, when we cut through the crusty layers of dogma and doctrines, are often very similar, unique only in their moment in history and cultural of the time. Christianity is no different.
Here at PC.org we focus on the teachings of Jesus, not the doctrines that were literally created in the fourth century by some very powerful bishops who were more interested in politics than they were in spiritual experiences of the Sacred. We do not care what path one uses to try and experience the truly Sacred or that “Realm of God” that Jesus spoke of. What we care about is helping people find a path that works for them. I have spent that last forty years teaching the path of Jesus and it works for me and many others. If another path works for someone else I celebrate that, particularly if it helps them become a more loving, compassionate person…and if it changes their life and allows them the opportunity to live fully, fearlessly without boundaries or divisions with all creation. If that is universalism than I guess we embrace that.
I hope this is helpful and thank you for writing.
With Warm Regards,
Fred C. Plumer