Summary: When I read John 14:6, I face a dilemma...with the challenge of following Jesus as Truth at a time when the concept of universal truth is in question.” (Chan, 2007)
When I read John 14:6, I face a dilemma. I believe the truth, that is not the challenge. Dr. Mark Chan, scholar, theologian, author and professor at University of Nottingham, captures the problem for me. He wrote, “Our concern is with the challenge of following Jesus as Truth at a time when the concept of universal truth is in question.” (2007) He goes on, “When the church declares that [Jesus] is the way to the truth about God and eternal life, she is making a statement about reality that is true for everyone and everywhere, and not just for Christians.”
As a boy my world was simple. There were four mainstream churches – Anglican, United, Pentecostal and Salvation Army. The 3,000 or so population all identified with one persuasion or another. There were a few minor differences – the Anglicans and United practiced communion; the Pentecostals practiced water baptism and The Salvation Army – well, we are who we are! However, we all believed the Christian premise of Salvation through Jesus Christ; that He is the Son of God and that’s that. Even the town drunk and drug addict believed that though they didn’t embrace the teaching.
A respected leader, now retired, told me something once that has stuck with me for years. He commented that in his younger years as a pastor, things were fairly black and white. He told me things are not as black and white anymore but become grayer as he grows older.
I tend to agree, as post-modernism settles to stay. Post-modernism paid us a visit in the 1960s and has been here ever since. Of course there are truths that I can never compromise but I am more reserved to stake a claim on some positions or beliefs I held dear years ago. Life is simply not that easy anymore.
My challenge is the same as yours – embrace the truth of John 14:6 and live that out as commanded in Matthew 28:19, in a world that by and large, does not believe it. Before 1971 less than 1% of Canada’s population declared itself as non-religious. In 2001 that figure had grown to 16% or 4.8 million Canadians. The majority of those are 24 years of age and younger. The 2006 census does not report religious affiliation or information.
Because post-modernism is having a significant influence on religious life in Canada, we need to know what exactly we refer to when we talk about post-modernism. Dr. Chan helps us understand it. He offers, “Postmodernism can mean different things to different people… It is more a mood than a movement… it is better described as a loosely connected bundle of diverse viewpoints.”
If we are to effectively “make disciples” to follow “the way…the truth…the life” we must understand what we’re up against. I’ve drawn some concepts from Dr. Chan’s article “Following Jesus as the Truth”.
1. Post modern thinking rejects stories that explain and give meaning to life
People raised in the Christian faith as followers of Jesus have the same reference points. We know the stories of Daniel in the Lions’ Den, David slaying Goliath and Jonah in the whale. Then the ultimate story springs to life especially at Christmas and Easter – the birth of Messiah and his final work of restoring humanity to God through His death and resurrection – his miracles and anti-religious behaviour make us say “YES” (followed by the familiar arm-pull gesture). As our faith developed from childhood to personally validating it as Truth we declared and proclaim daily with St. Luke in Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."
Here is our bone of contention. Dr. Chan notes that post-modernism rejects such thinking. It believes “there is no simple reality, only representations of it; there is no singular truth, only multiple truths. There is no grand reason, only socially defined reasons…It denies the possibility of a ‘God’s eye view’ of anything, and…we have only community-specific stories that have no truth-validity outside the communities in which they function.” Meaning, we believe the stories of the Bible and Jesus as Truth because our families and culture raised us to believe these things. The same is true of people raised as Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs or Buddhists. These like the Christian faith, are rooted in cultural community and are valid only in the context of that community. Post-modernism suggests that if our communities had raised us in any of these or other alternatives we would be as they are. You can see our problem, our challenge.
Because of these realities post-modernism decides it cannot trust knowledge and must revise it to the current reality because previous explanations are rooted in social contexts.