Is exclusivity a good thing? There is a certain quality of exclusivity in consumerism; a limited edition adds value to your purchase. When something is rare, it is more often than not, valuable.
Followers of Jesus have a claim to exclusivity in Jesus’ words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
The dualistic problem that I am steering us into is exclusivity and pluralism within the church. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” has been the hallmark statement of the evangelical church of exclusivity. There is only one way to God, and it is Jesus. Within that narrow way of Jesus only, we offer the “limited edition” of God through the only begotten Son, Jesus.
Otto and Katrin, in Leading from the Emerging Future, observe that fundamentalism contains three tyrannies:
One Will (fanaticism)
One Truth (ideology)
One “Us” versus “Them” (rigid collectivism)
Let’s consider comparisons of the three tyrannies of fundamentalism and openness and Jesus’ “exclusivity” claims:
When Jesus made these I AM claims, I doubt he was trying to make a defense against pluralism. He was thinking about his coming suffering, cross and resurrection where a new creation would be birthed within the spiritual realm. He saw a cross where death and sin’s power would be broken. Jesus’ cross made an exclusive way to the Father for us. Only he could reconnect heaven and earth and create the relational bridge back to the Father for us.
Otto and Katrin define being stuck in fundamentalism as “absencing” and the alternate when living with creative future focus, as “presencing.” Presencing is the future beginning to be present in us, emerging in us. Absencing is living in our blind spots and old patterns, being stuck.
The cross and resurrection are the presence of the future. They speak of the new creation. An older order passing. Of all barriers coming down, gender, race, class. We are narrowed by one cross and one resurrection at one point of history. We are stretched by the grace of a carte blanc forgiveness of all humanity.
A lot of people scream, “unfair” when the church claims exclusive rights on God through Jesus. We should be challenged by that exclusive claim by the nature of God’s limitlessness, his abundance. God is accessible to all people. God visited the cunning prophet Balaam, he spoke to tyrant kings like Nebuchadnezzar in dreams. Jesus attended dinner parties with bona fide sinners (religious and unbelievers alike).
Feel the constraint of Jesus as the only one found truly worthy to bring conclusive judgment over the world systems and all participants. Choose to acknowledge the limitations, the foolishness of a criminal’s cross and rejection being the ultimate way God revealed his agape love. Never lose grasp on the high value of our good news being unique in its counter-intuitive, humble approach. Always have awe at the otherworldly, absolutely unique holiness of Jesus.
Find openness to the voice of God through a liberal (or conservative) neighbor, his visitation to us through friendship with a Buddhist priest. This is the kind of pluralism the church needs more of. People exist because God exists. Their existence is already an act of God’s grace, his statement that they have value.
“I AM the way, and the truth, and the life” is a piece of real estate both transcendent and immanent. It latches onto the brilliance of God’s goodness as when Moses glimpsed God’s glory in passing. It is too vast a Canaan for the church to march through and possess. Instead, we should marvel open mouthed. We should bow in worship. We should be possessed by it. Only then can we begin to share it with our neighbor and our enemy in veritable earnest. Don’t emphasize the narrowness of the gospel without being astounded at its infinity of grace.