Tuesday, January 19, 2010

John 3:16

Tuesday, January 19, 2010 -- Week of 2 Epiphany, Year Two
Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester, 1095

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 945)
Psalms 26, 28 (morning) 36, 39 (evening
Genesis 9:1-17
Hebrews 5:7-14
John 3:16-21

John 3:16. I remember the first time I saw that sign being waved at a football game. For a while, "Rainbow Man" became a celebrity, with his multi-colored afro hair, waving his "John 3:16" sign at sports events, positioning himself behind the goalposts for extra points, and other key places where he was likely to be on camera. Some have said John 3:16 is the most recognized verse of the Bible. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life."

Rarely do you hear John 3:17 quoted, however. "Indeed, God did not sent the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."

Sometimes John 3:16 has been used like a bludgeon or an ax, to threaten people with eternal death if they do not believe in the Son. Believe in Jesus or die.

What kind of God do we believe in? Is it Jesus' purpose to give eternal life to those who believe in him and to deny it to those who do not? What about the faithful lives of holy people like Gandhi or the Dalai Lama?

In 1997 the Committee on Theology and Faith of the United Church of Canada offered a study that described four approaches to other religions based on Biblical passages. Here is a portion of what they offered:

How are we to understand the saving significance of Jesus Christ in a pluralistic world in which we are called to love our neighbour? It would seem that we have two obligations in this matter: first, to affirm that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Godself; second, to love our neighbour as Christ loved us.

As we come in contact with neighbours, co-workers, or casual acquaintances who embrace other faiths, we see that the same capacity for good and ill that shapes us, shapes them. We are often struck by the "Christian" quality of their lives. How are we to understand our own convictions and commitment to Jesus Christ in relation to them? Can we proclaim God's salvation in Jesus Christ in a way that respects the convictions of those whose faith is different? Can we understand Christ in a way that values other religions and God's work in them? When we say, "Jesus is Saviour," does it mean a clear line is drawn between who is saved and who is not?

There are many ways to describe the relationship of Christianity to other faiths. Here are four approaches (listed alphabetically). You may find that no one approach fits your own understanding.

Exclusivist Approach

* the only path to God and salvation is an explicit confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord
* Jesus Christ is the sole mediator between God and humanity
* God's revelation and saving work in the incarnate Christ possesses finality in determining the destiny of all creatures
* this approach proclaims the importance of membership in the Christian community
* this approach believes that evangelistic mission is vital
* those who do not make an explicit confession of faith in Jesus Christ may be excluded from the love and ultimate purposes of God
* texts such as John 14:6 and Acts 4:12 are cited in support of this position.

Inclusivist Approach

* the reconciliation of the world takes place uniquely through Jesus Christ
* the saving work of Christ is essential for peace with God
* there is room for the salvation of those who make no explicit profession of faith in Christ
* grace is experienced and Christ is present wherever people experience the goodness of God's creative love and redemptive mercy
* Jesus Christ is the Wisdom/Word through which all things were made and through whom all things will be restored and perfected
* the purpose of evangelistic mission is not so much to save as to enlighten
* John 1:1-5 and Colossians 1:15-20 are cited in support of this position.

Pluralist Approach

* there are many paths to God
* there is no absolute "court of appeal" by which to evaluate the different paths
* Jesus is the way for Christians, but not necessarily the path for all
* no single religious tradition can speak with finality about God/spiritual truth/ultimate truth
* our relationship with other faiths is to be one of respectful dialogue
* co-operation with other faiths is for the sake of the common global good
* Isaiah 55:8 and I Corinthians 13:12 are cited in support of this position.

Transformationist Approach

* no single religion has a monopoly on truth
* from its beginning, Christianity has been a constantly evolving expression of faith
* respectful dialogue and mutual learning may lead to transformation for all participants
* Christian faith may be transformed by such encounters in ways that we cannot imagine
* Christians can expect to experience Christ in their encounter with people of other faiths
* Mark 7:24-30 and Acts 10:1-16 are cited in support of this position.

I find I agree with something in each of these approaches, though less in the Exclusivist approach than the others. I find that the understanding of God as Trinity opens a Christian path for interfaith understanding. The Word of God and the Spirit of God is ubiquitous, present wherever the divine character is manifest.

For the Gospel of John, believing in the Son is key. But the word believe can have much more content than a mere acceptance of fact. The word believe has a heart relationship as well, as in to "belove." The Latin "credo" - I believe - can also mean - I set my heart on. And John's imagery of the "light" and of the "Word" are both images that resound with trans-religious power.

The story of Jesus expresses God's loving intention to save the world and to rescue us from our deadly ways. It violates our understanding of Jesus' basic mission and of the fundamental nature of the God Jesus points us toward if we turn his good news into yet another way to divide and condemn.


Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117

An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 10:00 AM, Anonymous janetlgraige said...


I remember (especially when this verse comes up in daily reading or worship or prayer) when caught up in all the suffering, that God gave Godself to this world, that Christ's redemption was for this world, the world loved into being and redeemed by a loving Savior.

The Interfaith Harmony day on Sunday was an astounding reminder that to love one another is not at all difficult. In the open and honest forum of mutual exploring and sharing, the art of loving one another in our day to day living of our faith is truly a reality. I saw it in active form on Sunday.



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