Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Jesus Christ the only Way, Truth and Life

Is there a ‘Perennial Philosophy’ which is “embodied in Jesus and other sages of the ages” so that Jesus’ words from Scripture “I Am the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through me,” is merely an overarching new age outlook that sees the true reality of humanity as a single divine consciousness? That is the thought of retired Presbyterian Pastor John Wilde on the comment section of my blog posting Jesus, the coming King. Picture by Stephen Larson

Is that really what the Scripture is saying in John, chapter 14 the sixth verse, or is it something else far more profound? Isn’t it rather that Jesus is proclaiming that the God who is beyond us, yet personal, loves us so much that here He is in a unique person, prepared to live with us, to die for us.

And isn’t he saying that the God who cares that much for us knows us so well that He knows we can’t get our lives together by ourselves. No reaching some kind of ecstatic awareness or consciousness since we are not god. No connections to a universal goodness is possible without Jesus Christ the eternal Son of the Father. It is that born again part that is so hard for some to bear.

As Jesus told Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of heaven.” (John 3:3)

John Calvin makes an interesting observation on the ‘truly, truly’ of this verse. He writes, “Christ repeats the word ‘truly’ (‘amen’) to catch his attention. For when he was going to speak about the most important and weighty of all subjects, he needed to make Nicodemus more attentive; otherwise he might have passed over this whole discourse carelessly and lightly.” So this is a very important subject.

Calvin goes on for several pages explaining that ‘born again’ implies a complete renewal of a person and that this was the work of the Holy Spirit. He also insists we are not united to the universal church nor can we be called children of God without a second birth.

So the classical Hindu, a great many branches of Buddhism, perhaps the pantheistic Sufis and many westerners involved in New Age ideology will accept the idea of a perennial philosophy which sees all of reality as one. And those adherents will seek in various ways to realize their true Self which they see as the unity of all. But the Christian belongs to a person, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the resurrected one, and we, his adopted brothers and sisters are united to Him.

The work, whether meditation, dharma (duty as in Hinduism) or bhatki (devotion), of the various Eastern religions supposedly brings about the state of consciousness where one becomes one with god, the universe, the true self, etc. This is not what Jesus does; this is not what he means. We are not ignorant of our true self; we are ignorant of our sinfulness. The Holy Spirit convicts us and takes the word and makes Christ’s gift of life clear to us. The Father receives us into the Kingdom as sons and daughters because of Jesus.

As Professor Andrew Purves puts it, Christ takes us like the mother cat who takes the baby kitten by the scruff of their neck. He overpowers us and gives us his righteousness bought by his death on the cross. Jesus turns us around and causes us to walk as renewed people.

Interestingly enough, the conversation about Jesus as the only way and perennial philosophy began when I quoted from the Barmen Declaration both John 14:6 but also this:

Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and death.

We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation. (8.10–8.12)"

The idea of a perennial philosophy would be another revelation and a syncretism of other gods alongside the living Word of God, Jesus Christ.

The Confessing Church of Germany during the Nazi era saw Hitler, Nazism and the ideology of the German Christians as other figures, truths and powers they must deny. They weren’t claiming the I Am for themselves.

But they also looked down that long road of the future and worried that the Church might be deceived by other ideologies. They named, “historical events or reason, culture, aesthetic feelings, progress, or other power and figures,” as that which should not have a claim beside the Holy Scripture on the Church. For the Christian there is no perennial philosophy but only Jesus Christ and his word the Old and New Testament.


Debbie said...

I just had this verse as part of my personal devotion a few weeks ago. I guess I don't know the Greek, but it has often struck me that, in English at least, Jesus doesn't say "I am a way." And then in the very next verse, he says, "No one comes to the Father except through me."

So in order to understand what he says here as his just being part of some divine consciousness, or even as part of some group of great sages, one would need a certain level of sophistication in philosophical or theological interpretation, because the plain interpretation of that phrase is pretty darn exclusive: Jesus is the only way to the Father.

So if it were true, the ability to understand these words of Jesus in terms of the "Perennial Philosophy" sounds like something that must be taught to the initiated, and not something available to people when they read the Scriptures without knowing about this type of thing beforehand.

Is that the way that the advocates of the "Perennial Philosophy" think it works?

As for me, the plain interpretation of Jesus's words works just fine. Jesus is THE way, THE truth, and THE life, and no one comes to the Father except through him.

(And I do consider it possible, since mercy is one of his great attributes, that he gives people very unexpected ways to reach the Father through him, ways that we may never know about. He can do anything, after all.)

Debbie Berkley
Bellevue, WA

Viola Larson said...

I have forgotten my Greek but I know that in John Jesus is using the I Am statement of Exodus. If you go here and follow several segments of sermons by my first Presbyterian Pastor Darrell Johnson he explains all of it so well. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ma-ofLhlnZ8 He is now a pastor in Vancouver but was a professor at Regent. This is always his theme.

John said...

I just wrote the following to my wonderful friend and colleague John Shuck:

Hi John.

Let me work for common ground. For some reason, it is important to me. Keep doing what you are doing.

Marcus Borg has it right. Those who take the Bible literally are OK unless they decide who is in and who is out. That's where he draws the line and I do too. But I am going to keep working on it because I do believe the main problem is language and not our core values. I do believe that even the early Christians knew what they were doing as they creatively worked with archetypes and symbols. But they did speak a different language in many ways and that makes it hard to embrace their doctrines. I do think we can and even must find common ground as Progressives allow the Church to have Literalists within our big tent and Conservatives allow people to receive the ancient creeds and scriptures as totally metaphor and sacrament (Borg's idea).

Thanks for all that you are doing.



There IS room in our big tent for John Shuck and me and you. We are all fighting for an authentic Christianity. I respect your right, even duty, to promote the beliefs and values you hold dear. I do believe there is far more common ground than you are willing to acknowledge at this time.

I embrace the human and divine Jesus as Lord and Savior. I am comfortable with that language. I also am comfortable with the belief of Orthodox Christianity through the ages that the Trinity is a Mystery. It simply can not be explained adequately with words. We do our best but sooner or later all of our attempts to explain the ways of God become incomplete and even possibly wrong due to our human limits which are indeed profound. Yes, we are sinners relying totally on the grace of God.

I appreciate your devotion to Jesus Christ and even your particular path. I will probably never be able to convince you of the validity of the Perennial Philosophy as the common ground of all religions. But I can ask you over and over again to allow me to "work on my salvation in fear and trembling" on a path which seems heretical to you but not to me, to allow me to be a member of the flock even if I differ a lot from you in my understanding of the cosmos and the way God works among us.

Please remember that Calvin was dealing with a political and cultural reality far different than our own. He lived in a world where Europeans considered all the rest of humanity savages and primitives. He lived in a world where even he could burn a "heretic" at the stake.

Working for the "peace, unity and purity" of the church is hard work. It takes huge doses of "energy, intelligence, imagination and love."

Thanks for your blogging. I love blogging. There's some common ground. Right?

You are a fantastic and wonderful person. God made you that way.

+ Love + John A Wilde + Whitesboro NY + The John A Wilde Blog"The spirit of liberty is the spirit of not being too sure you are right.” – Judge Learned Hand

reformedpastor said...

John, can you state, succinctly, what the "perennial philosophy" is? I think I know what you mean by that term, but I want to be sure before I respond.

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

John said...

Dear David,

That's a good question and I'm still working on it -- working on a mystery. I have been working for years on what I like the call the Nine Charcteristics of Heaven: Abundance, Joy, Wisdom, Beauty, Love, Truth, Peace, Justice and Freedom. I focus on the Perennial Philosophy particularly in the Heavenly Attribute of Wisdom. Please check it out!

I offer quite a few links to many different PP websites.

My own take on the Perennial Philosophy is often offered in my signature thought:

We are intimately, intricately and infinitely connected by a matrix of unconditional, unlimited and uniting love which is miraculous, mysterious and marvelous.

Some of the big names associated with PP are Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts and Huston Smith.

Mysticism is so essential to the Perennial Philosophy that the two term, Mysticism and the Perennial Philosophy, are sometimes used interchangeably.

+ Love + John A Wilde + Whitesboro NY + abundancetrek.com + "My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind." -- Albert Einstein

John said...

Sorry for the typos. Why do I always see them after I "publish?"

I will try to do better.

love, john a wilde, whitesboro ny + www.abundancetrek.com + “Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” – Mohandas Gandhi

Pastor Bob said...


I could comment all day about what you have said but I will stop with a small historical correction. The City fathers of Geneva sentenced Servetus to burn at the stake. Calvin tried to change their minds, show mercy and hang him instead. They refused to do so.

Not a big thing, I admit, but there it is: a strange kind of mercy.

Debbie said...

Viola, Darrell Johnson and Jim were on staff together at Jim's first pastorate, when Jim was an Assistant Pastor at Ventura Community Presbyterian (back in the days when Assistant Pastors existed.) I'll take a look at that video later. Darrell is excellent, I know. Thanks!