Category Archives: Philosophy

Truth: A New Way, New Life

According to John 14:6, Jesus says to his disciple named Thomas, “I am the the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” It’s one of the more well known and controversial statements Jesus makes. Too often it seems as though Christians have taken Jesus’s response as either an abstract idea or propositional claim. The former hears Jesus as the promise of salvation but disconnects that promise from the actual life that believers are to live, whereas the later uses the words of Jesus as a thesis statement in a philosophical debate about the nature of truth.

truth

Both approaches miss what Jesus is actually saying. To understand what Jesus is actually saying, we have to take the context into consideration. Within the Gospel of John, the disciples of Jesus are anxious because Jesus is talking to them about leaving. Even worse, Jesus is talking about leaving by means of crucifixion. This frightened the disciples and for good reason. It also left them confused about how they would participate in the coming life (restoration of the kingdom of God). But Jesus had told his disciples to trust in him rather than being troubled because they know the way to the place he is going, which prompted Thomas to ask about how can he and his fellow disciples know the way. That is when Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…”

        “Jesus is assuring his disciples that he, the way in which he lives and what he is doing, is the truth that is life.”

So what is Jesus saying? In the previous chapter of John’s Gospel, all within the same evening, Jesus has washed the feet of his disciples and given them the new command of loving each other. So I’m suggesting that Jesus is making a claim about his way of life being the true way and that by embracing his way of life as the truth to live, his disciples—including us—will live the new life (eternal life) Jesus has inaugurated.

To understand, we have to understand the world that Jesus has entered. It’s a world of brut force in which might makes right. Nothing symbolized that kind of life in Jesus’ day more than the Roman cross that he would soon be crucified upon. But this kind of world is also revealed in less brutal but nonetheless self-serving ways whenever people put themselves above others, seek to serve themselves at the expense of others. There may not be a cross, gun, or other instrument of death involved but there will still be coercive (and manipulative) power involved.

Frederich Nietzsche described the kind of world Jesus entered into with the phrase “the will to power.” And it is this world of coercive power that Jesus is speaking against. Jesus is assuring his disciples that he, the way in which he lives and what he is doing, is the truth that is life. What Jesus is doing in reassuring his disciples is also a subversive claim to the world he has entered which acts as its own way, truth, and life.

Later in the Gospel of John, the Roman Governor Pilate will attempt to dismiss the truth Jesus claims with his question of “What is truth?” (Jn 18:38). Even though Pilate will still have Jesus crucified, his attempt to dismiss the claim of Jesus is already an acknowledgment of the possibility that Jesus’s way of life is the truth. It’s why Pilate must have Jesus Crucified because it’s the last attempt to quash the subversive truth that Jesus is unleashing upon the world. As David Bentley Hart points out, “Jesus has already subverted the order of truth to which Pilate subscribes, and Pilate has no choice but to act to restore it. Christ’s, however, is a truth that is only made more manifest in being suppressed; its gesture is that of the gift, which is given even in being rejected; and so, on the cross, Christ makes the sheer violence that underlies the economics of worldly truth transparent to itself, and opens up a different order of truth” (The Beauty and the Infinite, p. 333).

     “For us to truly embrace the claim of Jesus as truth, we must also embrace the way of Jesus as our particular and peculiar way of life.”

The truth, Jesus has claimed, is the way of life he lives. Pilate, threatened as he is by Jesus, attempts to rid his world of this subversive truth by having Jesus nailed to the cross. But even death on the cross cannot quash the truth and when God raised Jesus from death, it was a vindication of Jesus that emphatically declares his truth as the way of life.

What makes this so important for Christians today is that we claim to be people in pursuit of the truth and for good reason. That’s because we confess that Jesus is the Son of God and thereby claim that Jesus is indeed the way, truth, and life. But as mentioned earlier, this claim is neither abstract nor propositional. Rather, the claim of Jesus is a new concrete reality. It is the new way and life we are to live. For us to truly embrace the claim of Jesus as truth, we must also embrace the way of Jesus as our particular and peculiar way of life. We live as we believe and so to say we believe that Jesus is the way, truth, and life, we must learn to embody the life Jesus lived on earth as his followers. Anything less just numbers us among the ranks of the Pilates in this world who dismiss Jesus in order to cling to their own way of life.

Now it’s hard to think of a better opportunity to show the world the truth that Jesus is by embodying this truth in the midst of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic. We do this by loving each other and loving our neighbors, extending compassion and showing mercy as people who serve in the name of Jesus Christ. I’m not saying or suggesting that God has this virus or that this virus is good but it is an opportunity for the churches to show that the God revealed in Jesus Christ is good. So how about it!

Advertisement

Water to Wine: Drink Freely and Live

“I have climbed the highest mountains
I have run through the fields
Only to be with you…
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.”

These lyrics from the band U2’s song I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For seems to capture the journey that most of our religious and philosophical pursuits seek. We go in search for meaning and purpose in life. When we near the end of our lives and are ready to, in the words of Alfred Lord Tennyson, cross the bar, we want to be at peace.

chateau-lafite-1965According to the Gospel of John, all of our religious and philosophical pursuits find their answer in Jesus Christ. One of the stories John tells early on is Jesus changing the water into wine at a wedding celebration in Cana of Galilee (John 2:1-11). Only it’s not just any old wine that Jesus offers. This is the best wine, kind of like being served a premier bottle of aged Chateau Lafite Rothschild. It was the first of many signs Jesus did, which revealed his glory (v. 11). In other words, the Gospel of John tells us this story about Jesus turning the water into wine so that we might believe and have life in his name.

But I wonder how much some really believe — Christians included?

Just ponder that question for a moment while I explain the question. You see, I’ve been serving as a pastor for nearly twenty years  has allowed me to meet numerous Christians from every state in America and many other places around the world. Some Christians seem so full of life and they’re filled with love, joy, and peace. But some are not.

I’ve stood bedside of some Christians who were near death and listened to them express, with fear, uncertainty about their own salvation. I’ve encountered other Christians who are hostile towards anyone with a different viewpoint than their own while others are fearful of anyone whose race, religion, politics, and sexual orientation is different than their own. And these days, in the age of social-media there are Christians increasingly becoming angry over politics, blaming people who vote differently than they do for for the direction the country seems to be going (and that cuts both ways).

In the Gospel of John there are plenty of religious people who are missing out on the best wine that is life because their pursuit has taken them down the wrong way. So now might be as good of a time as any to remind ourselves that no matter how much we go to church and how much biblical language we use, we can still take the wrong way too. And this should especially concern us if we find ourselves constantly consumed with anger, fear, and uncertainty, all of which are not the way, truth, and life of Jesus.

The Gospel of John says that Jesus is the answer to the life we seek but the answer comes with an invitation. The invitation says come drink the wine and do so believing that in Jesus is life. So as we raise the glass of wine we receive from Jesus and drink freely, we receive his life which is the eternal life that begins now and lives on beyond death into eternity in Jesus Christ.

May we know the difference between cheap wine and the best wine!

Paradigm Shift: The Prophetic Vision of Acts 2

There are some things that seem almost universal to most cultures. One of those things is drinking, especially at festivals and parties. Whether it’s a glass of wine to bring in the new year with a toast or a beer to go along with the barbecue at the family reunion, drinking is quite common. So it’s not surprising to discover that some of the Jewish people present in Jerusalem for Pentecost thought that the apostles were drunk when they began speaking in the native languages of all the Israelites.

But they weren’t drunk. Instead, God is pouring out his Spirit on all people just as he promised to do and the apostle Peter points this out by quoting from the prophet Joel. However, Peter says this — the outpouring of the Holy Spirit — is happening because God had raised Jesus from death and exalted him as Lord and Messiah. That’s the essence of Peter’s famous Pentecost sermon as Luke tells us in Acts 2. However, the point is neither just that God is pouring out his Spirit nor just that Jesus is now the Lord (and Luke’s point isn’t about how people get saved). The second chapter of Acts recalls how God is unleashing a new reality, a paradigm shift, that will revolutionize the way in which people understand and live life. It’s a new paradigm ruled by Jesus and formed by the power of the Spirit.

MIT philosopher Thomas Kuhn coined the term “paradigm shift” to described the changes in the criteria by which resolve problems (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, p. 50, 109). Basically, when it comes to life, we all live out of a particular paradigm that incorporates a set or rules or criterions that help navigate through life. Whatever our paradigm is, it works until it doesn’t. That is, when the criterion of our paradigm ceases to make sense with what we are encountering in life then we undergo a paradigm shift in order to continue going forward.

Well, the outpouring of the Spirit coupled with the proclamation that God has raised the crucified Jesus from death, making him the Lord and Messiah, is a paradigm shift. It is if we believe…

“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young will see visions. Your elders will dream dreams. Even upon my servants, men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and a cloud of smoke. The sun will be changed into darkness, and the moon will be changed into blood, before the great spectacular day of the Lord comes. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

~ Acts 2:17-21

The prophetic vision of Acts 2 is the new reality that God has unleashed. It is a life in which the Spirit is poured out upon everyone… Son and daughters prophesying while the young see visions and the old dream dreams. God will pour out his Spirit on all of his servants, both men and women, and they will prophesy. But even Peter, who is the one reciting this text from the prophet Joel didn’t fully understand. It would take the Lord speaking to Peter in a dream to see that this promise wasn’t just for Jewish people, that the promise extended to the Gentiles as well (cf Acts 10:14-16).

But we all know that Peter isn’t alone. Throughout history Christians have weaponized the Bible by proof-texting a few passages to justify and universalize racial and gender inequality. Right here in America, much ink was spilled by Christians in the past to defend the institution of slavery and argue against the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote. And these positions were always justified on the basis of “scripture” and a “rationale” argument.

Though the social structures that differentiate between Jew and Gentile, slaves and the free, and men and women were not immediately changed, the momentum for this change begins here in Acts 2. Now virtually every Christian I know has come to the conclusion that slavery is morally wrong and yet slavery still exists in our world, in the form of human trafficking or social-economic structures that keep people oppressed. In many churches patriarchy still exists even though there is discernible evidence that along with men, God has equally gifted women to serve as ministers of the gospel. Too often racism and hatred still exists among Christians too, as less than three years ago I had a Christian man storm out of the worship gathering while I was preaching shouting that he would never go to church where there’s a “Muslim loving preacher”.

So yes, we need to hear the prophetic vision of Acts 2 again and again. The future has been unleashed with the outpouring of the Spirit and this future is ruled by the crucified, resurrected, and exalted Jesus Christ. The prophetic vision of Acts 2 is an invitation to us all, to see and embrace a new paradigm called new creation.

For us who have eyes, may we see!