Yesterday I discussed at length my criticism of Brian McLaren’s perspective on homosexuality, and to some extent sexuality in general, in his book A New Kind of Christianity. Today I want to laud a point that McLaren has gotten absolutely right, in chapter 19 of the same book, entitled “The Pluralism Question: How Should Followers of Jesus Relate to People of Other Religions?” Here I’ll start by letting Brian speak for himself:
“When I’m asked about pluralism in my travels, I generally return to Jesus’ simple teachings of neighborliness such as the Golden Rule, saying something like this: ‘Our first responsibility as followers of Jesus is to treat people of other religions with the same respect we would want to receive from them. When you are kind and respectful to followers of other religions, you are not being unfaithful to Jesus, you are being faithful to him.’ Then I ask them how they would want people of other religions to treat them. They typically say things like: ‘I would want them to respect my faith, show interest in it and learn about it, not constantly attack it, find points of agreement they could affirm, respectfully disagree where necessary–but not let disagreement shatter the friendship, share about their faith with me without pressuring me to convert, invite me to share my faith with them, include me in their social life without making me feel odd,’ and so on. After each reply, I generally say, ‘That sounds great. Go and do likewise.'” (pp 211-212)
McLaren then says that often people’s next question is something on the order of “What about John 14:6?” You all know that one…”No one comes to the Father but by me.” I, too, have heard (and for a long time believed) this phrase of Jesus’ was the principal defense against universalism in the Bible. Only problem is, and here Brian is spot-on, there is nothing at all in the context of that statement, that gives us any evidence at all that Jesus was making a claim of exclusivity when he said it. Quite a different conversation was going on at that point, where Jesus had just been telling his disciples of his impending departure and death, and telling them they couldn’t follow him just now, but that they still knew the way to the Father. Thomas had just interrupted that no, they DIDN’T know the way (for that matter, they didn’t know what the heck he was talking about). Jesus’ answer in John 14:6 is “but you DO know the way, I AM the way.” To use this verse, woefully out of context, as the trump cards in an argument of “my religion is better than yours”, is doing complete violence to any reasonable reading of the text.
In this chapter, McLaren makes a compelling case for the notion that introducing people to Jesus is not the same thing as converting them to the religion of Christianity (in this vein, I have had some pretty conservative Evangelicals tell me of places in the world where Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus are choosing to follow, love, and worship Jesus without giving up their respective religious practices). He is not arguing universalism, though some may accuse him of that (his footnote #32 on p. 292 makes this abundantly clear). He is, however, saying something you might have heard before on this blog (see my entire series on hell), that where you go when you die isn’t the point of calling people to Jesus, and that John 14:6 is not talking about where ANYBODY goes when they die.