Q & R: troubled by growing fundamentalism
Here's the Q:
I recently bought your book, ‘Why did Jesus, Moses,…’, which I have almost finished reading, and will certainly be reading again.
In addition to being an excellent work of literature, I found the book to be of great help to me in my understanding of my Christian faith. Just to clarify matters, I live in England, I am 69 years of age and have been a member of the Church of England for most of my life. Recently I have been somewhat troubled by what I regard as a growing fundamentalism, among members of my own local church and to some extent in the wider C of E community in the UK. There seems to be a growing sense of - ‘all who do not follow Jesus are destined for hell’ - a point of view to which I have never subscribed. In this context I have found your book to be a great source comfort and reassurance.
I have, however, a couple of matters on which I would greatly appreciate your clarification.
Firstly, is there any room for interpretation of Jesus’ statement in John 14, ‘No-one comes to the Father except through me’ (New International Version) ? This has always caused me problems because I have always maintained that there are so many good people in the world - Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddists, Atheists (even Manchester United supporters) etc. etc. who, in my opinion are more than worthy of acceptance into Heaven. I just cannot accept that only believers in Jesus will receive such acceptance. And while I appreciate the contents of chapter 22, ‘How reading the Bible responsibly…..’. it seems to me that the statement in question is perfectly clear and unambiguous, and as such is not open to interpretation. Over the years I have asked for clarification on this matter from a number of clergymen friends, but I have never really been satisfied with the answers I have received. Our present in incumbent (for whom I have the highest regard) simply addresses the matter by saying, ‘Ah, yes, there we do have a problem’.
My second question concerns, again, chapter 22. I found your description of Paul’s handling of the ‘darker passages’ of the Old Testament quite brilliant and satisfying. But then I thought to myself, that’s all very well, but what about followers of the Old Testament who are not Christian, e,g. followers of the Jewish faith, and therefore would not have access to, or an interest in the New Testament and its treatment of the Old Testament texts; are they confined to following the ‘darker’ Old Testament texts as written ?
Here's the R:
Thanks for your question. I'm sure many in England wouldn't go as far as including Manchester United supporters in those who are possibly redeemable! But aside from that …
On the John 14:6, question, I've addressed this at some length in a few of my books, especially A New Kind of Christianity, Chapter 19. But you'll also find a lot of information on that passage here on this site:
Your second question is very perceptive and important. In Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed ... I mentioned the importance of seeing arguments among the biblical writers. I used the example of Matthew 14-15 being in conversation with Deuteronomy 7, but similar pairings could be made within the Hebrew Scriptures alone.
For example, Ezra presents a rather harsh and exclusive attitude toward outsiders. But Ruth presents a very hospitable and respectful view, as does Jonah. (It's worth re-reading both Ruth and Jonah - which are short - with this question in mind: how should insiders see outsiders?)
If people only choose priestly passages in line with Ezra, people will get what they're looking for - justification for harshness and exclusivity. But if people allow the more prophetic passages of the Bible to be in argument with those priestly passages, they'll have resources to argue for a more humane (and we Christians would say "Christ-like) approach to "the other" as "one-another." My upcoming book - We Make the Road by Walking - will explore all this in a fresh, simple, and coherent way. I think you'll find it helpful.