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.