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Old 09-18-2016, 06:26 PM   #1
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John 14.6, the Impenetrable Shell, and Exclusivism

Dear Gnat,

We are still here. I've been posting on the Interfaith forums. Since the number of posts have declined latley, I've decided to copy and paste one of my posts from my blog. If any Baha'i friends would like more and you blog too, just shoot me a private message so we can connect and I'll read your work. I like to read blogs and comment. I also welcome your thoughts and perspectives on this topic. It was partially a response to one of John MacArthur's videos covering John 14.6.


One historian wrote Swami Vivekananda “stole the show” at the World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893


Religious Pluralism’s Rise in America

Throughout much of Christian history Christianity was exclusive until a sudden shift occurred. Or was it a subtle shift, incrementally growing unnoticed like the grass outside until one day you realize it’s very high? Christian exclusivists feel many modern Christians — such as those from the Emergent variety — distort the message of the New Testament with their belief there are many ways to God. The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey in 2008 showed 70 percent of Americans believe “many religions can lead to eternal life” (Butler “Pluralism”). How did public opinion in America shift from one way to many ways? My reading so far has given me a few speculations.

Religious pluralism gained support in the United States with the World’s Parliament of Religions in 1893. As Diana Butler interprets the event, “it introduced, on a popular level, the question of religious pluralism.” People from different religious traditions around the world were invited to share their perspectives, and the event left a favorable impression with the media (even though there were some criticisms, because, after all, have you ever known an expressed opinion to escape criticism?). Of course, this doesn’t fully explain religious pluralism’s explosion today. John Hicks proposes a few possible reasons for this explosion. First, information about other religions are more accurate and widespread today than they were in the past. Second, there’s a dark and violent relationship between colonialism and Christianity, providing negative associations with Christian exclusivism today. For example, one Buddhist scholar says:

“The result of exclusive [only one] truth-claims is not religious agreement but suffering. The track record of religions that claim exclusive and universal truth for themselves is not praiseworthy or uplifting. How much empire building, how many crusades and religious wars, big and small, have gone on in the name of defending the ‘one true faith’? There seems to be a cause-and-effect link between claims of exclusive truth and suffering; or to say it more strongly, the main result of exclusive truth-claims has been suffering, not salvation” (Knitter 513).

Regardless of whether or not it is true, I’m just noting the change in public opinion. I’m sure critics would point out pagans in ancient Rome could also be intolerant. Another contribution to exclusivism’s decline was the Catholic Church’s shift during the Second Vatican Council, which extended salvation to those outside Christianity. In other words, more religious people are becoming inclusivists. Contrast the Catholic Church’s decision with Augustine’s (354–430) view that extra ecclesiam nulla salus, which is Latin for there is no salvation outside the Church, means “all non-Christians are damned” (“Theories of Religious Diversity”).

An Evangelical View of John 14.6

Christian exclusivity — the belief that only Christianity is the one true religion — is often backed up with the following proof text:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6).

Using this text and a few others as proof, John MacArthur believes other religions are false, followers of other religions are idol worshipers or devils, and Christianity has always been exclusive (“The Clarity of Scripture, Part 4”). The latter claim paints a contrast between ancient pagans with their notion of many ways to God and ancient Christian attitudes toward other religions:

“It was widely accepted in the ancient Mediterranean world that the same deity could be called by different names in different cultures. Historian Robert Wilken observes that ‘the oldest and most enduring criticism of Christianity is an appeal to religious pluralism … All the ancient critics of Christianity were united in affirming that there is no one way to the divine’” (Netland 505).

Let’s see why a history of Christianity’s exclusiveness doesn’t negate every other religion, why followers of other religions aren’t necessarily idol worshipers or devils, and why other religions aren’t false. I hope to do this with a brief look at John 14.6. Before further reading, please note the term exclusivist, which I will use below, has negative connotations, but, like others, I’m using it because it is widespread (“Theories of Religious Diversity”).

The Impenetrable Shell

Rumi shines a light on John 14.6 with his statement: “The lamps are different, but the light is the same.” Outer (the lamps) and inner (the light) can also be viewed as the exoteric and esoteric or, in the language of Shi’i Islam, zahir and batin. Everybody can understand scripture’s outer meaning, but scripture’s inner meaning is hidden (“Batin”). This concept of exterior and interior meanings isn’t just limited to Islam, but it’s also found in Christian scripture. In the New Testament we read:

“And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that ‘they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand . . .’” (Mark 4.11–12, 4.33; Luke 8.10)

“Those outside” in Mark 4.11 correspond to the unhidden, outer, exoteric; the parables “explained in private” correspond to the “hidden, inner, esoteric” (Corbin 333). The Jewish Annotated New Testament explains those outside “only hear the impenetrable shell.” I like that wording. The impenetrable shell. It’s a phrase to explain the cryptic nature of scripture. In Judaism one can penetrate the shell with the oral Torah, because it is the key that opens scripture.

“. . . the Bible’s first five books were revealed to Moses along with a key to unlock the code” (Klinghoffer 55–56).

Besides proof from Christian scripture to show traces of esotericism in Christianity, there was the early Christian belief that dogma should only be revealed to initiates (Schuon “The Particular Nature and Universality of Christian Tradition”). Frithjof Schuon reports St. Basil (330–379) said there was a . . .

“. . . tacit and mystical tradition maintained down to our own times and of a secret instruction that our fathers observed without discussion and which we follow by dwelling in the simplicity of their silence. For they understood how necessary was silence in order to maintain the respect and veneration due to our Holy Mysteries. And in fact it was not proper to make known in writing a doctrine containing things that catechumens are not permitted to contemplate.”

Why would scripture have concealed meanings? According to Baha’i scripture, there are reasons why the prophets used concealed meanings:

“ It is evident unto thee that the Birds of Heaven and Doves of Eternity speak a twofold language. One language, the outward language, is devoid of allusions, is unconcealed and unveiled; that it may be a guiding lamp and a beaconing light whereby wayfarers may attain the heights of holiness, and seekers may advance into the realm of eternal reunion. Such are the unveiled traditions and the evident verses already mentioned. The other language is veiled and concealed, so that whatever lieth hidden in the heart of the malevolent may be made manifest and their innermost being be disclosed” (The Kitáb-i-Íqán 285).

Now let’s consider the inner meaning of John 14.6. This is interconnected with the concept of return in the New Testament. Jesus, according to the Gospels, says:

“. . . I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him . . .” (Matthew 17.12; Mark 9.13)

Christ identified John the Baptist as Elijah. They had different names, yet Christ recognized them as one in spirit. This wasn’t reincarnation or the physical return of the individual, which John the Baptist denied (John 1.21; SAQ 133). The statements in Matthew 17.12 and Mark 9.13 affirm the return of Elijah’s perfections and virtues in John the Baptist (SAQ 134). In this sense they are one, not in the sense of their physical body and personality. From this perspective when John the Baptist speaks Elijah also speaks. The “outer” reality is different, but the “inner” reality is the same. The return of Christ is similar. That’s why the pattern of recognition and nonrecognition continues. Recall the thief in the night. In Miracles and Metaphors Mírzá Abu’l-Faḍl — one of the most distinguished Bahá’í scholars — pointed out “Muhammad never denied that he was the reality of the past prophets and messengers,” and that the Qur’an reveals “his appearance represents the return of all those who came before”:

“We make no distinction between any of His messengers” (Qur’an 2.285).

“Our command is but one, like the twinkling of an eye” (Qur’an 54.50).

Let’s assume Muhammad was the return of Christ. Since they are one wouldn’t “I” refer to them both? The words “I am the way, the truth, and the life” now express unity between the two largest religions in the world: Christianity and Islam. In the Bahá’í Faith we regard the founders of the great world religions as one in spirit. Therefore, for Bahá’ís denying Muhammad is like denying Christ.

Works Cited

`Abdu’l-Bahá. Some Answered Questions. US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1981.

Bahá’u’lláh. The Kitáb-i-Íqán. US Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1989.

“Batin.” Oxford Islamic Studies. Accessed August 5, 2016. Batin - Oxford Islamic Studies Online

Butler, Diana. A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story. Harper Collins e-books, 2010.

Corbin, Henry. The Temple and Contemplation. Routledge, 2009.

Hicks, John. “The Non-Absoluteness of Christianity.” Disputed Questions in Theology and the Philosophy of Religions, Macmillan Press, 1997.

Klinghoffer, David. Why the Jews Rejected Jesus. Doubleday, 2005.

Knitter, Paul. “There Are Many Ways to God.” Debating Christian Theism, edited by J. P. Moreland, Chad Meister, and Khaldoun A. Sweis, kindle ed., Oxford University Press, 2013, pp. 509–519.

Netland, Harold. “Jesus is the Only Way to God.” Debating Christian Theism, edited by J. P. Moreland, Chad Meister, and Khaldoun A. Sweis, kindle ed., Oxford University Press, 2013, pp. 497–508.

Schuon, Frithjof. The Fullness of God: Frithjof on Christianity, edited by James S. Cutsinger, kindle ed., World Wisdom, 2004.

“The Clarity of Scripture.” Accessed August 7, 2016. The Clarity of Scripture, Part 4

“Theories of Religious Diversity.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed August 9, 2016. Religious Diversity, Theories of | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
 
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Old 09-19-2016, 07:09 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ahanu View Post
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6).
Whenever it comes up online that a Christian will bring up this quote, I always ask the same thing.

"In your views, Jesus is God, so you would agree that this quote is saying the 'Only way to God is through God'. So isn't it possible that another religion, for example Judaism (I go with Judaism since it tends to be the least controversial belief system to Christians) that believes in God but doesn't believe that God manifested in the early first century as Jesus of Nazareth could still make it to heaven through God??"

Alas, despite the many times I have asked, genuinely curious as to what people will answer, no one has ever attempted to respond or answer me...

Quote:
Originally Posted by ahanu View Post
belief there are many ways to God.
In my spare time I enjoy writing. Not stories, though, I like writing to come up with worlds, settings, and societies. Being a religion-geek, I especially like coming up with religions for these fictional settings.

One that I came up with in particular gave me a new way of thinking of the idea of religious pluralism, it was a religion I wrote for a fantasy setting in a society of mercantile labyrinth-builders. Originally, as this culture was at a crossroads between cultures, controlling trading routes between the nomads in the north, the blacksmith cultures in the mountains to the west, and the empires to the south, the culture had many religions spread to it from the connected regions. They came to embrace the idea of religious pluralism, and for many centuries believed there were many pathways to God. Then came a sage, who saw all these different pathways to God for "what they really were". This sage saw and taught that there were not many different ways to God, but that these "many" ways were, in fact, all part of one Great Path, that branched and looped and was all interconnected in one great spiritual labyrinth. The "many ways" seen by the cultures of the world were merely all part of the one way. The religion that resulted from this religion was an order of "maze-sages" that travel the world studying under other organized religions to "map" the spiritual labyrinth and find the way to God.

Though I came up with that idea as part of a fictional setting, it's resonated rather well with me and its how I've come to view religious pluralism, that there aren't many ways but many branches in one great way.

Last edited by Walrus; 09-19-2016 at 07:12 AM.
 
Old 09-23-2016, 02:13 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Walrus View Post
Whenever it comes up online that a Christian will bring up this quote, I always ask the same thing.

"In your views, Jesus is God, so you would agree that this quote is saying the 'Only way to God is through God'. So isn't it possible that another religion, for example Judaism (I go with Judaism since it tends to be the least controversial belief system to Christians) that believes in God but doesn't believe that God manifested in the early first century as Jesus of Nazareth could still make it to heaven through God??"

Alas, despite the many times I have asked, genuinely curious as to what people will answer, no one has ever attempted to respond or answer me...
With the Baptist church I was raised in the answer is a clear no. Jews go to hell because they haven't accepted Christ "as their personal savior".

Quote:
In my spare time I enjoy writing. Not stories, though, I like writing to come up with worlds, settings, and societies. Being a religion-geek, I especially like coming up with religions for these fictional settings.
Kool.
 
Old 09-23-2016, 02:38 AM   #4
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I recently ran into a scholar worth checking out named Jay Williams. His articles on bibleinterp.com vibe well in some places with the Baha'i Writings, especially on the topic of esoteric Christianity.

His article "Mark, The Gospel Of Radical Transformation" also quotes Mark 4.10-12 as the key to interpreting the text:

Quote:
"The question then is: What are Mark’s inherent principles of interpretation? I would suggest that the first and perhaps most important principle is voiced in Mark 4:10-12:

When he was alone, the Twelve, together with the others who formed his company, asked what the parable meant. He told them “the secret of the kingdom is given to you, but to those who are outside everything comes in parables, so that they may see and see again, but not perceive; may hear and hear again but not understand; otherwise they might be converted and be forgiven.”"
Pay attention to the types of diseases Jesus heals. He doesn't heal cancer, for example. I think this is an important point because he connects the miracles to OT verses. Once a connection is made a symbolic interpretation follows.

Quote:
Although there are bits of teaching and other narrative interspersed, chapters 1-8 are very largely a collection of miracle stories connected by what appears to be only the thinnest thread. In fact, however, they are all examples of the cleansing of the unclean through baptism by Holy Spirit.

The first such incident occurs at the synagogue at Capernaum where Jesus is confronted by a man possessed by an unclean spirit. Like other such spirits mentioned in Mark, this one recognizes Jesus’ spiritual power and so calls him “the Holy One of God.” Jesus simply commands the spirit to come out of the man, and it does. What John did ritually, with water, Jesus does spiritually, with Holy Spirit.

Whether or not Jesus’ subsequent cure of Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever has symbolic significance is difficult to determine. Perhaps the story is no more than an historical recollection. It is interesting, however, that the only times fever is mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures (Lev. 26:16; Deut. 28:22), it is described as a punishment laid upon Israel for the breaking of the covenant. To cure fever, according to this symbolism, is to cleanse Israel and restore the covenant.

It is noteworthy that all of Jesus’ other physical cures are of a rather specialized nature. Never does he cure, for instance, heart disease or cancer or emphysema. Rather he eliminates through the baptism of the Spirit those conditions such as leprosy, an issue of blood, or death that make persons unclean and hence separate them from the community. (Num. 5:2; Lev. 13:45-46, 15:31-33, 22:4-5) The other physical disabilities cured (paralysis, a withered hand, deafness, and blindness) are all problems which would prevent a member of the priesthood from entering the house of the Lord (Lev. 21:16-21).

In other words, Jesus heals those maladies that separate humans from God.
Here's an interesting reading about blindness in Mark:

Quote:
"The second cure of blindness takes place in Jericho, with a man who, while still blind, identifies Jesus as the “Son of David” (10:46-52). After a brief conversation with Jesus he is cured. Significantly, this miracle is immediately followed by Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem where the crowds, like the blind man, cry out to the Son of David to save them. The final chapters of the Gospel are designed to open the eyes of the reader to the truth, that this Messiah does save, but not as the crowd apparently expected. That is, to think of Jesus primarily as a Son of David (or Messiah) in any traditional sense is to remain blind."
Read more in the link here.

Last edited by ahanu; 09-23-2016 at 02:48 AM.
 
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