About a dozen years ago, a blogger buddy of mine completed a quiz about the Bible, addressing several topics. One was “A teaching from the Bible that you struggle with or don’t get?”
The response: “John 14:6. Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’
“I’d honestly hate to think that good people who aren’t Christians in life will be turned away by God for this reason. I have a very hard time with this notion.”
I remember this vividly because I didn’t have a particularly good answer. Moreover, reading it literally, as many Christians I grew up with would do, caused me to pretty much abandon the church for over a decade.
The narrative propelled the notion that we needed all of these missionaries. Otherwise, the Buddhists and Hindus, and Muslims were all going to burn in hell because they had not “accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and savior.” Though I came back to church, I never found satisfactory verbiage to respond to this mindset. Until now.
The realm of mystery
In one of my small, remote groups at church, we are reading Beyond Words by Frederick Buechner, pronounced BEEK-ner. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister who attended, among other places, Yale Divinity School and the Union Theological Seminary. Buechner is, to the best of my knowledge, still alive at the age of 94.
Beyond Words is “A word a day to keep the demons away.” It is a 2004 compilation of three of his earlier books from the 1970s and 1980s, “tweaking some of the original entries.”
For the word “Christian,” he quotes the above scripture. Buechner added, “[Jesus] didn’t say any particular ethic, doctrine or religion was the way, the truth, and the life. He said that he was.
He didn’t say it was by believing or doing anything in particular that you can ‘come to the Father.'” This is nuanced stuff. “He said it was only by him – by living, participating in, being caught up by the way of life that he embodied, that was his way.”
Here’s the crux of the matter. “Thus it is possible to be on Christ’s way and with his mark upon you without ever having heard of Christ, and for that reason to be on your way to God though maybe you don’t even believe in God.”[Emphases mine.]
Buechner’s theology would no doubt be considered blasphemy in the circles I grew up with. Oddly, I now consider their views to be the actual heresy.