The start of discipleship

Last week, I ran across this video by noted evangelical, Francis Chan, entitled “How NOT to make disciples.”

The money quote is “When Jesus says something,you don’t have to do it, you just have to memorize it.”  I instantly related to that line because of my days as an evangelical kid in Young Life.  To be clear, I loved my days in YL.  I credit Fletch and the gang for helping me become the disciple I am today.  I’m not saying that my YL leaders didn’t want us to follow Jesus, but I do remember feeling like Bible memorization was pretty important.  And maybe it is, but only as a beginning to discipleship.

Of the maybe four verses I actually memorized in high school, the first one was from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, which we will hear on Sunday. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has gone, the new has come!”  For a guy who isn’t good at memorizing things, I was pretty proud to have learned 2 Cor 5.17.  I knew it forward and backward, inside and out, and yet, it made little, if any impact on my life.  I spent most of my late teens, making plans for the future based solely on what I wanted to do, not asking for God’s help or opinion on anything.  I graduated from high school after a serious case of senioritis, and headed off to the University of Pittsburgh to study civil and environmental engineering.  I hated every. single. moment.

I knew that I had been made a new creation in Christ, but I wasn’t living it.  I had memorized the words, but hadn’t internalized them.  Discipleship may meaning learning, but it is much deeper than reading about Jesus.  Discipleship is about allowing Jesus to change your life, and it starts by realizing that we are a new creation.

Love Wins – a post about the word “the”

Jesus said to [Thomas], “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14.6a)

Several years ago now, Rob Bell wrote a book entitled, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.”  The book raised the ire of many an Evangelical leader because of Bell’s seemingly Universalist stance (In the midst of the brouhaha that lead up to the launch of his book, Bell denied that he was a universalist).  None other than leading Evangelical John Piper tweeted what was essentially the 21st century version of an anathema, excommunicating Bell for modern Evangelicalism and forcing him into the Oprah speaking circuit, effectively ruining him as a theologian (a post for another day, perhaps).  Many [former] Mainline Christians received Bell’s book with no more than a yawn, noting that this is really nothing we hadn’t heard before.

One can read the Bible cover to cover and reasonably conclude one one hand, that everyone is saved by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus or on the other, that God has elected only a select few to be saved and will send the rest of the reprobate to eternal damnation, or on any number of other hands, some gradation in between.  So, I don’t presume to speak the definitive word on this subject, mostly because anybody who argues that there is a final word on it is either a heretic, a liar, or insane.

I bring this matter up because Sunday’s Gospel lesson gives us the line I’ve quoted at the beginning of this post, with that pesky word “the” included three times.  Attempts have been made to soften the blow of Jesus’ claim by suggesting a translation that reads, “I am a way, a truth, and the life” or some such thing, but the Greek of John’s Gospel very clearly a definite article before each of the key words: way, truth, and life.  It is unambiguous that Jesus is making a very exclusive claim, which is clarified in the next sentence, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”  It seems clear, at least in this oft cited portion of John’s Gospel (cf John 12.32), that Jesus is making a very narrow claim about the salvation of God.

Let me suggest another reading, however.  What if Jesus’ exclusive claim that he is the only way to the Father is actually very inclusive.  Radically inclusive, even.  What if love really wins?  It seems clear in the Scriptures and in our Creeds that there will be a final judgment “of both the living and the dead.”  A final judgment infers that there will be a time between now and the end.  What if, in that interim period, the overwhelming love of God continues to work on the souls of those who have departed this life?  What if, the gift of grace continues to be offered again and again and again?  Sure, there is a chance that some will reject it, flat out, no matter what, but more likely, in my opinion, is the possibility that love will prevail; that in the end all will come within the reach of Christ’s saving embrace.  It won’t be forced or coerced, it’ll be nurtured and cajoled.  What if Jesus really is the only way to the Father and that ultimately everybody finds that way?  What if there is a hell, but in the end, it’s empty?

Like I said, I don’t have all the answers, and surely something in here has made me a heretic, but this is what comes to mind every time John 14.6 comes up.  Love can win, even with the word “the.”