Okay, Imagine Jesus as the Door Guy at a Club …

(This is basically the print version of the point I made in my little Theology Bears video, Christian vs. Non-Christian: Who Gets Into Heaven?)

Christians big on talking about who does and doesn’t get into heaven inevitably point to this quote from Jesus found at John 14:6:

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

That’s the passionate evangelical’s go-to Bible quote; such folks depend upon that quote as ultimate proof that only those who believe in Christ are admitted into heaven.

“I am the boss of this nightclub,” said the formidable bouncer-type guy outside the hippest club in town, his hand on one end of the velvet VIP rope. “No one comes into this nightclub if I don’t let them in.”

Make the nightclub heaven and the door guy Jesus, and what’s the difference? They’re making the same statement.

At John 14:6, Jesus doesn’t say that only those who believe in him can get into heaven. Jesus was a bright, devastatingly articulate person. I think it’s safe to say that if he had wanted to communicate that the only people admitted into heaven are those who believe in him and the god he represented, he would have said exactly that.

But he didn’t say that, at all. What he said was, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Which is to say that he and he alone decides who gets into heaven. It says nothing about the objective qualifications necessary to make it onto that awesome roster.

As the non-Christian Theology Bear says, “Saying that it is up to me to decide who gets into this Moose Lodge is not the same as saying that every person who gets into this Moose Lodge must be a Moose.”

If evangelicals want to impress upon non-Christians the wonderfulness of the Christian way, it would behoove them (and all of us) to stick to the actual meaning of the actual words Jesus used, rather than lay upon any of his words an interpretation the words themselves don’t support.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.

See? When Jesus really wants to be understood, he makes darn sure he is.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • Susan in NY

    Whooooo Hoooooo!

  • Richard W. Fitch

    Is this one of the many passages that translate so poorly from Koine Greek to modern English? Perhaps you can provide some hardcore linguistic tools for the understanding here.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Richard: You know, I don’t do that. I make a point of always dealing with the text as it’s most often translated and known. That way, I’m arguing with the text AS it’s used, on its own terms, you know? I want to engage right on the playing field, and not in any way sort of CHANGE that field going in, if you see what I mean. I’m saying, “These words, that YOU use, don’t make sense.” To me that’s a stronger place to be/stay.

  • JB

    agreed. I’ve had this very same conversation with some people. Used the same example, too.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      JB! I was just the other day wondering how you are! how are you? Good to hear from you. (People: JB is this guy.)

  • Steve

    Excellent, as usual, but can we really equate “comes to the Father” with “going to heaven”? Isn’t this another misinterpretation of this passage?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      Thanks! It seems to me they’re the same. And that’s certainly the way everyone understands that phrase. Which is … the point I’m here addressing, of course.

      • Steve

        Granted, that’s how “everyone” understands it, but I’m increasingly moving away from such understandings, unless one regards heaven as here and now, in the same way that being one with the Father is here and now.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

          I think that’s a very fruitful avenue to travel down.

          • http://leap-of-fate.com Christy

            This is a lovely response, John, full of simplicity and grace. I’ll have to remember it…

          • Ted Hayes

            I think a bumper sticker sums it up rather succinctly: “God wants spiritual fruit, not religious nuts.”

  • http://www.BrianWendt.com Brian W

    Interesting interpration John. I say that because it seems you’re saying that “…except through me” means Jesus simply gives permission on who can come to the Father. Jesus also said “marvel not, you MUST be born again”. So considering just these other words from Jesus too, it can be said “….except through me” is more than Jesus just giving permission on who can can come to Father, or in other words to be given permission, conditions apply. So, yes ultimately Jesus is the only source for permission, but there are indeed requirements.

    Using the door man illustration as you did, permission is granted provided they have the right hand stamp, clothing, ID, cover charge, they’re attractive (after all it IS a club) etc.

    Just my .02 cents, just a thought on your post.

    • http://www.BrianWendt.com Brian W

      ekxuse the tiepo errorrs pleez

    • AP

      It might be helpful for you to explore what “born again” means and how your interpretation of that may be guiding your interpretation of this verse. Evangelical Christianity has provided a very concrete vision of re-birth but I think it would be helpful to wonder more about Jesus’ idea of “born again” instead of what we call it- since we do get a lot of stuff wrong basing it on what we’ve been taught.

      • BrianW

        AP,

        Actually the discourse between Jesus and Nicodemus (where the term “born again’ comes from) is pretty clear, Jesus even refers back to the Old-Testament. What do you mean by the “Evangelical Christianity concrete version” of born-again? What I read in the Bible IS Jesus’ idea of born again. Perhaps I’m confused, so forgive me, but you seem to insinuate that “what I’ve been taught” isn’t the same as what Jesus says in the Bible.

        • DR

          Brian, referring back to an earlier comment I made to you; your interpretation of born again being “pretty clear” is not really an answer. Your evangelical community has interpreted ‘born again’ in a particular way. Some don’t come from your tradition so they will ask you what it actually means. There are many Christians in the world who don’t interpret the term “born again” in the same way that the Evangelical community does. So when you enter into a conversation here, just saying “the Bible is pretty clear on what this means” is not really engaging in the conversation. You tend to do very simple math here – “What I believe is what Jesus said verbatim about the subject we’re talking about”. And it may be simple for you but to expect others to do that math who don’t share in your evangelistic-specific traditions is a bit unrealistic.

          • http://www.BrianWendt.com Brian W

            DR,

            You claim,

            “Your evangelical community has interpreted ‘born again’ in a particular way.”

            Can you expound on that and in more detail on who my ‘evangelical community” is and in what ‘particular way’ we interpret ‘born again’?

            Could you be so kind as to share your interpreation and/or definition of ‘born-again” Could you perhaps further detail how other Christians define the term born again since you say that “many Christian around the world” have a different definition.

            My Christian beliefs aren’t based on the “modern evangelical community” or what my church teaches. I take God’s Word very seriously and the teachings contained therein. Biblical hermeneutics is systematic and methodical, scientific really. My beliefs are a result of thorough and careful study of the Bible and personal prayer.

          • DR

            BW: Can you expound on that and in more detail on who my ‘evangelical community” is>>>

            DR: Here is an excellent description of evangelistic Christianity from Wikipedia. If you don’t identify with this below, then let me know.

            “Evangelicalism is a Protestant Christian movement which began in Great Britain in the 1730s[1] and gained popularity in the United States during the series of Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th century.

            Its key commitments are:

            The need for personal conversion (or being “born again”)

            Actively expressing and sharing the gospel

            A high regard for biblical authority, especially biblical inerrancy

            An emphasis on teachings that proclaim the saving death and subsequent resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.”

            BW: and in what ‘particular way’ we interpret ‘born again’?>>>

            DR: I don’t know, that’s why I’m asking you. And I’m asking because you’ve said it is a requirement, How do you practically define “born again”? How do you know if someone you’re interacting with online or offline has had a born again experience? It seems like knowing that would enable you to draw the line at who needs to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached in a particular way.

            I’d prefer not to answer your other questions until I have a better understanding of your response.

          • DR

            PS, everything you stated in your last paragraph are the common tenants within Evangelism. I don’t care if you self-identify as an Evangelical; I’m trying to get you to provide more detail about being “born again” given you’ve said it’s a requirement for a Christian. What does that mean practically? How do you know if someone is born again? What are the boundaries of experience? Is it only particular to one denomination within Christianity? Christy is asking this as well, it’s odd that you won’t provide details behind something that is for you, a requirement.

            I’d like you to respect the discussion and those of us trying to have it with you by actually answering our questions prior to asking questions of your own. Thank you.

          • http://leap-of-fate.com/ Christy

            BW: “Biblical hermeneutics is systematic and methodical, scientific really.”

            “All-wise. All- powerful. All-loving. All-knowing. We bore to death both God and ourselves with our chatter. God cannot be expressed, but only experienced. In the last analysis, you cannot pontificate but only point. A Christian is one who points at Christ and says, ‘I can’t prove a thing, but there’s something about his eyes and his voice. There’s something about the way he carries his head, his hands, the way he carries his cross – the way he carries me.” ~ Frederick Buechner

            BW: “My beliefs are a result of thorough and careful study of the Bible and personal prayer.”

            Many of us here also came to our understandings through study and prayer, asking questions and wrestling them out in a state of ongoing discussion with the One who is always listening…..and then in the silence, the One made itself known to us as only the Divine can do….and then we knew what was true ……for us. Divine understanding is a wholly and holy personal experience.

            Some people like pizza. Some people don’t. For some of those who like pizza they can’t fathom how there are other people out there who don’t like pizza. After all, what’s not to like about pizza? And, yet, if you rearrange the ingredients these same folks love a baguette and a caprese salad. Now some folks who like pizza like to say that the non-pizza lovers like something completely different. Yet the non-pizza lovers can see how they like the exact same thing as the pizza lovers….just in a different way.

        • http://leap-of-fate.com/ Christy

          Brian, you asked: ‘What do you mean by the “Evangelical Christianity concrete version” of born-again?’

          I can’t speak for AP, but I will speak for me.

          It means “following the Roman’s Road”, “Saying the Sinner’s Prayer”, “Committing your life to Christ”, “Accepting that you’re a sinner, Believing that Christ died for you, and Committing to living for him”, “Asking Jesus Christ into your heart to be your personal savior.” It means you raised your hand in a church service when the Pastor told everyone to close their eyes and bow their heads and then asked if there was anyone there who wasn’t sure if they died today where they would spend eternity and that if you wanted to be sure about where your soul would spend eternity then just repeat this prayer after him…..

          However you choose to phrase it, it means believing the right list of things “about Jesus” and saying a prayer.

          An interesting exercise might be to ask those who are here, who are willing, to share their “other than this” type of born-again or conversion experience as an example……like John’s closet experience.

          • http://www.BrianWendt.com Brian W

            Christy,

            The “easy believism” you refer too is not what I meant by “born again”. Now it COULD result in someone being born-again, but most of the time the result is a spiritual abortion, not a birth from above. The “1-2-3 repeat after me” prayer recital is found nowhere in the Bible.

          • Christy

            Would you be so kind as to share with us what you mean when you say “born again” and how the story of Nicodemus is “perfectly clear” when in this discourse alone between 4 or 5 people we are not understanding each other?

            I was reared with the easy believism which I described….MANY evangelical churches still preach this “beyond a shadow of a doubt” theology.

            For me, the spiritual journey has lead to an understanding that might be described as: A changed life, a new beginning, a fresh perspective, a new way of seeing, an awakened awareness, an enlivening of the Divine within brought about by an experiencial understanding (gnosis) of/with the Divine. I’m sure others have experienced it differently, yet it was no less real or authentic for them.

            Spiritual Certainty is bright and shiny and……blinding. It’s the largest stumbling block I’ve ever tripped over.

          • vj

            “Spiritual Certainty is bright and shiny and……blinding. It’s the largest stumbling block I’ve ever tripped over.”

            This is soooo cool :-)

    • Don Rappe

      I don’t think this passage speaks of the “permission” of Jesus either. The figure of Jesus as represented in the book of John is not the gatekeeper, he is the Gate. Just as he is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The divine figure of the Lord Jesus Christ as represented by St. John is constantly telling us who he is, by telling us What he is. “No one comes to the father except through Me,” means an infinity of things such as: “I am the Good Karma, I am the Vision of the Buddha, I am the Tao, I am the Dance of Vishnu, I am the Ears of Quan Yin and the Heart of the Spider Grandmother etc.” He is the Meaning of the universe, not what the universe means, but He who gives it Meaning.

      • http://leap-of-fate.com/ Christy

        Love this, Don. It was…..enlightening. Thank you for sharing it.

        • BrianW

          Don,

          This is really good….

          He is the Meaning of the universe, not what the universe means, but He who gives it Meaning.

      • http://sparrowmilk.blogspot.com Shadsie

        Jesus is… 42?

        I’m sorry, I could not resist.

        • Don Rappe

          Too deep for me, Shadsie. I don’t get it.

          • Diana A.

            I think she’s making a reference to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe by Douglas Adams–but I could be wrong.

      • cat rennolds

        There’s a bit in the Bhagavad Gita where Krishna tells Arjuna that he comes to all peoples in all ages, and that they will all attain to him in the end no matter which version they worship, but that those who know him directly, not as one of his avatars but in the fulness of godhead, will come directly to him, do not pass go, do not collect $200.

        I have to look up the exact passage now.

  • Jeff

    So how do we deal with Jesus’ parable of ‘the sheep and goats” in Matthew 25:31 to 46?

    “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

    “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

    “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

    “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

    “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

    “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

    “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

    “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

    By Jesus’ own words (utilizing the NIV) there will come a time when he will say to some: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” And then it is reinforced in verse 46 where he talks about about some going away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal live.

    Anybody have thoughts?

    • Jeff

      sorry, that should be eternal life…..

    • Marti Bradshaw

      Fling the doors wide open….God will sort it all out. Take-Home, Open-Book exam! How cool is that? We have the questions ahead of time….and they aren’t “Do you believe in the virgin birth, the trinity, transubstaniation (sp?), abortion, same-gender marriage, etc…….?” No! The questions are in matthew 25. I think I need to keep busy answering those. Then I can stand on the promises. I believe that “when Jesus said ‘Love your enemies’, I think he probably meant ‘Don’t kill them.’” (Church of the Brethren song-writer). I’m still open to revelations as to how to love, but in the meantime, I’m sticking to the ‘not killing’ mandate. As a follower of the Christ, I cannot justify war. Peace is priceless! War is (very) expensive, and definitely NOT Pro-life.

    • http://leap-of-fate.com/ Christy

      Jeff, It seems to me that the parable of the sheep and the goats is wholly consistent with the greatest commandment.

    • Don Gollahon

      Matt 25:31-46 is the Judgement of the Nations. Both the sheep and the goats were surprised by the judgement. The sheep wondered “When did we do this?” The goats wondered, “When did we NOT do this?” The King told the sheep they were doing it even though they didn’t know it. And he told the goats they were not doing it even though they thought they were. What is the difference? It seems to be a heart issue to me, not a “works” issue, since apparently both groups outwardly did the actions they were being judged for. In this light, the goats seem to be like the Pharisees, “Look what I’ve done! I’ve helped someone.” The motive: pride, self-exaltation. The sheep just did it out of the goodness of their hearts. A natural response of those truly living by grace, i.e. the love of God.

      Jesus, time after time, kept pointing to the heart as the main issue, not the actions. The whole sermon on the mount is based on this idea. I’m afraid that many “Christians” will find themselves included with the goats.

      • DR

        This is SO RIGHT ON. Thank you!

      • http://leap-of-fate.com/ Christy

        Love it!

    • Don Rappe

      Here’s my thoughts on your comment, Jeff.

      This story told by the figure of Jesus in Mathew certainly indicates that salvation and condemnation are real for him. It does not indicate that the “flames” are physico-chemical objects. They are poetic symbols Jesus uses to represent complete annihilation. Those who have willed and done the Will of the eternal God share in his Life and can never die.Those who have lived in enmity with God share nothing with Him. They participate only in the powers of destruction and share their fate with these powers. When the harvest is brought in it is threshed and winnowed. The good grain is stored in the barn, but, the straw and weeds are burnt.

    • skip johnston

      I’m going to offer a different take on this—which is to say I’m entirely open to being corrected by those who know better. For me, it all hinges on my understanding of “eternity” or “eternal life”. This doesn’t mean a super long, never ending amount of time nor especially, a really long time after I die. It means what I’ve heard others call the “eternal now”, that is: the moment I am in (and forever in) right now. The past and the future are only abstractions to the moment I’m living in right now.

      When Jesus talks about eternal life, he’s referring to what’s going on with me right now at this moment. (Okay, maybe he’s talking about really big cosmic stuff but all I’ve got at the moment is, well, this moment.) What decisions am I making? Based on what? Am I acting on my fears? (Meaning my thinking is trapped in the future.) Am acting out of guilt? (Meaning my thinking is trapped in the past.) Or am I seeing what’s right in front of me at the moment and opening myself up to his help on what to do in the next moment? This last thing is what I think he means by eternal life. It’s also a clue for me about what he means when he says he’s the only way to the Father. He’s talking about an attitude, his attitude, not a special club.

      So—and I know I’m being really simplistic here— the sheep and the goats aren’t referring to other people but the choices or attitudes I have to present to Jesus for his help in getting to the next moment. The sheep are those moments of humility and openness to Jesus. The goats—ever handled goats?—are those stubborn, self-centered moments when I think I’m in charge of the Universe. The “cursed… eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” is a really colorful way to say those attitudes are ultimately worthless.

      And how do we show the eternal attitudes? Seeing the needs in front of us right now and reaching out, connecting, living this moment with and for others. In other words, love.

      • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

        Brilliant. I love this.

        • http://allegro63.wordpress.com/ sdgalloway

          As do I.

      • http://leap-of-fate.com/ Christy

        Very excellent ….

  • http://www.barnmaven.com Barnmaven

    This was the concept that when I first read how you articulated it, blew the lid of Christianity for me. I had already come back to the fold, so to speak, but this interpretation of that particular bit of scripture literally knocked the breath out of me. Still does. It changed the way I see my faith, it changed my relationship with Christ, it changed how I see my role in relating my faith to others.

  • Steve

    Some more thoughts…I don’t see Jesus as the bouncer at the door keeping people out. I see him as the club owner throwing open the club doors and inviting everyone in, not just inviting them in, but dragging them in.

  • Mindy

    John, how is it that you seem to “get it” when so many don’t? I read Brian W.’s critique and laughed – “attractive?” As if Heaven is some sorority or fraternity or exclusive club and Jesus is going to say, “Sorry, you have all the right credentials here, as in you’ve lived a meaningful and compassionate life, but you just aren’t cute enough – translation, you didn’t attend the ‘right’ church.”

    I just don’t buy it. But of course, Brian W. didn’t make the rules. He’s just trying to enforce them. So he’s off the hook in his narrow-mindedness. THAT’S the one that slays me.

    • BrianW

      Mindy,

      The “attractive” comment was to keep in line with the illustration of John’s post, it wasn’t meant to be taken literally. Actually, there are “credentials” one must possess to come unto the Father (“right” church membership or baptism isn’t one of them) When you read the entire Bible (not just selected verses), you will discover precisely what those “credentials” are. I previously mentioned just ONE of them,,,you MUST be born again. Mindy, yes Jesus said “NARROW is the way and strait is the gate…”. I don’t want to sound holier-than-thou but living a “meaningful” life full of “compassion” aren’t the credentials Jesus requires, because even atheists can have a meaningful life in their eyes and it could very well have been full of compassion. Should Christians be compassionate? Absolutely, not out of duty, but out of desire to do so, from the heart, the NEW heart that was changed by God the Holy Spirit.

      • DR

        So how do you know if someone you encounter is born again? What is the experience that one must have? How do you know if they’ve had it or not?

      • http://leap-of-fate.com/ Christy

        Yes, I’d like to know too, Brian.

        • http://www.BrianWendt.com Brian W

          “What is born of the flesh is flesh, what is born of the spirt, is spirit” Who truly is born again is known but by God, but the Bible says you can know them by their works, can you get figs from thistles? If someone tells me they’re a born-again Christian, I’ll believe them, I’m not the judge if someone is truly converted, but if they are, there is evidence. I have enough challenges in my life and logs in my own eye, than to question a person’s salvation or point out splinters in their eye.

          • Christy

            If this is so then is not compassion a fig of this tree? Is it not an evidential fruit?

          • http://www.BrianWendt.com Brian W

            Christy,

            A Christian should be compasionate, but someone who is compassionate is not necessarily a Christian, because even atheists can be compassionate.

          • DR

            Who truly is born again is known but by God, but the Bible says you can know them by their works, can you get figs from thistles?>>>

            Atheists can indeed, have their name in the Book of Life. Based on this statement an atheist can (and often does) deny “God” in order to follow “good”. In doing so they are actually rejecting the evil of this world that is represented by those who claim to know “God”.

          • Christy

            Bingo. And you yourself said that it is up to God…..only God knows: “Who truly is born again is known but by God…”

            I have tried to coax you into expressing if you ascribe to free will or total depravity…..or something else, which I am still very curious about hearing but which you seem hesitant to share.

            If only God knows then it seems to align with Calvanism and some predestination…..which I’m not being critical of, I’m just saying that – fruits is fruits – and if only God knows then one’s reconciliation with the Divine does not depend on a proclamation of faith or belief in that Divine being.

          • http://leap-of-fate.com Christy

            PS: Jesus said they would know we are his followers by how we love one another…..not by how we claim to be one of his followers. This also emphasizes the fruits, not the proclamation of faith or allegiance. The parable of the sheep and goats from Matthew 25 also implies this as does Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

          • http://leap-of-fate.com Christy

            Brian, Frederick Buechner’s take on it: “Many an atheist is a believer without knowing it just as many a believer is an atheist without knowing it. You can sincerely believe there is no God and live as though there is. You can sincerely believe there is a God and live as though there isn’t.” From Beyond Words: Daily Readings in the ABC’s of Faith

  • http://byronscurse.blogspot.com Ashley Prince

    I love this! It just makes sense. And I particularly enjoy the picture you chose for this post.

    Great post, John!


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