The “The” Question

Thomas said to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:5-6

Anecdotal evidence suggests that one of the most popular questions in search processes these days is how one handles the “the’s” in John 14:6.  While many liberal mainliners would like to simply ignore them and change Jesus’ words to read “a way,” the reality is that in the Greek, the definite article is there.  Jesus, at least according to John, claimed himself to be “the way.”  So, what do we do with that in an increasingly pluralistic society?  How do live into our baptismal vow to “seek and serve Christ in all persons” while also “respecting the dignity of every human being”?

It is a delicate balance to hold on to the scandal of the particular of Jesus while also embracing the radical hospitality of Christ’s all encompassing loving embrace.  When we focus too much on the “the,” we lose focus on the grace of God.  When we focus too much on radical welcome, we forget that all have fallen short of the glory of God.  In recent years, the answers seems to be some sort of “lowest common denominator” spirituality that basically says, “if you are a good person, you’re ok.”  In this worldview, evangelism is unnecessary, so long as we all give to the Millennium Development Goals.  That’s not helpful either.  So, what are we to do?

i-am-the-way

First, I think we need to be honest about the “the.”  As Christians, we believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  We have found access to the Father through Jesus, and as a result, we are eager to help others find that access as well.  Recently, I have been a part of the General Convention Task Force on Leveraging Social Media for Evangelism, which developed a tweetable definition of Episcopal Evangelism.

We seek, name and celebrate Jesus’ loving presence in the stories of all people – then invite everyone to MORE. #EpiscopalEvangelism

Our story is the story of Jesus.  That’s the only story we can tell.  That isn’t to disparage the story of our Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, or None neighbors, but rather to be honest about our hope and what we believe to be the source of our salvation.  Do we hope for conversion?  Absolutely.  Do we coerce? No.  Are we emotionally abusive?  No.  Do we use scare tactics?  No.  Embracing Jesus as the way doesn’t require that we drag others kicking and screaming, instead, it means being honest about who we are, where we place our hope, and inviting, gently and with love, others to experience that same gift of life.  It isn’t an easy balance to strike, but it is, I believe, our calling as disciples of the one who claimed to be the way, the truth, and the life.

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