Looking Forward To God’s Surprises

There’s been an ongoing bloggersation about pluralism, universalism, inclusivism and so on involving this blog and several others. I’ve already posted a quote of the day for today, but then I came across this:

I can’t help but think of the scenario in Jn 8.1-11 involving the woman caught in adultery. I wonder, if at the moment of judgment, once we have been fully confronted with both our own sinfulness, our own complicity in the broader structures of sin, and the ways in which those who sinned against us have been sinned against, if what will result is similar to what happens to the woman. In 1 Cor 6.2, Paul tells us that the saints will judge the world. I wonder if this means that God will say “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone.” I wonder then, if we are unable to throw stones, if God will also say to those being judged, “then neither do I condemn you. Come now and leave your life of sin.”

This comes from a blog belonging to Dan (HT Chrisendom). It represents an impressive attempt to think about some troubling aspects of the Bible in relation to its more fundamental principles, and thus seems to me to illustrate nicely how one might apply today’s “quote of the day” to our ongoing bloggersation.

UPDATE: Another blogger, Prophets and Pop Stars, has joined the bloggersation.
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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04144487212639973542 Bryan L

    I think it’s funny that such a textually suspect verse (from the most theologically oriented Gospel) which would be disqualified from telling us about the historical Jesus would then be held up as a possible paradigm for what Jesus might say to us on the final day of judgment.It sounds nice and all and I would like that to be the case too but I just find that a bit odd or ironic. Why wouldn’t we instead expect him to say something like “depart from me I never knew you”?Blessings,Bryan L

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01119080394574322124 T. Michael W. Halcomb

    Wow, James, you surprise me. The whole conversation started when Jason cited Jn. 14 (I am the way…) and you got agitated by that. You said Jn. was the most suspect of the Gospels, least trustworthy w/Jesus’ words, etc. but then, the “only thing” you can offer on the topic of confession is a quote from someone else about a passage from Jn. With the sentiment of Bryan, I am quite unimpressed here. Sorry, I just can’t get past what you said early on and what I’m reading here. If this is all you can offer….well…I’ll stop here.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    I’m not sure I’m being inconsistent (although this may just be a blind spot on my part). My view of the statement in John 14, “I am the way…”, is that one absolutely must read it the way the author intended the whole Gospel to be read, i.e. through the lens of the prologue. The one speaking those words is the Word become flesh who gives light to every human being. One can only read it as a statement of exclusivism (or at least of pure exclusivism) if one ignores that broader context and interpretative framework.As for the story in John 7-8, there is little doubt that it was not originally part of the Gospel of John. Does that mean it is unhistorical? Or does that improve its chances? :) For a story to be added in the way this one was, and not quickly removed and the situation rectified, the story would presumably have had to circulate widely and be well-known. At any rate, there are obviously two ways that one can approach this topic: in a historical-critical fashion, and a canonical one. If one takes a historical-critical approach, then one will find more that can be said about the historical Jesus with confidence in the Synoptic Gospels than in John, although the criterion of coherence and other considerations might still allow one to make a case for there being some historical basis for the story in John 7-8. If one takes a canonical approach, then the story is ‘canonical’ for most Christians, if that term is to have any meaning at all. In either case, one finds the evidence at the very least to not line up unanimously in favor of exclusivism.I can’t help but wonder whether, if the pericope about the woman caught in the act of adultery had something to offer in support of exclusivism, you would be this unimpressed! :)When it comes to Biblical interpretation, one will inevitably choose to emphasize some things over others. There is no way to simultaneously maintain two contradictory views (at least not without one’s head exploding). And so the question boils down to why some choose to emphasize “depart from me you evildoers” (which, please note, does not say “depart from me you who failed to believe”) while others emphasize “neither do I condemn you”. But it also reaches the point that in both cases, the issue is judgment based on how one has lived, and in neither passage is the question of whether or what one has believed.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01119080394574322124 T. Michael W. Halcomb

    James,I only think you’re being inconsistent in that (1) you questioned Jason’s use of John and then you turn around and use it, and all the while kind of changing the standards, and (2) you still haven’t answered my question and it appears that you refuse to do so. It would seem, then, that conversation has kind of come to a close. That is, unless you wish to keep it going. Either way is fine with me. I’ve enjoyed it so far, though.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    There is nothing inconsistent about concluding that some things in a particular literary source are historical and others are not. If you ask me about some of the chronological and geographical details in John, I think some, at the very least, deserve serious consideration as possibly reflecting historical realities. If you ask about the words attributed to Jesus in John, these are (at the very least) filtered through the author’s own unique perspective and expressed in the author’s own style. There are even here, however, sayings of Jesus that are embedded in the narrative, but we only know that by comparison with other sources, and also at times from the way they stand out from the rest of the Gospel. But most would admit it is unlikely that the historical figure of Jesus talked about having come down from heaven, and everyone but the Fourth Evangelist somehow missed it.As for your question about Romans 10, I did not mean to refuse to answer it – I did certainly neglect it, but I’m not sure any of us has kept up with the bloggersation to the same extent over the past few days. At any rate, I did not mean to ignore your question – if anything, the delay was intended to address it when I felt I could give it the attention it deserves. In order to really address the issue, I would need to begin with the idea that Israel is still, up until the time of Jesus, “in exile”. This is a much-discussed and still somewhat controversial subject. It makes sense, however, of the reason why Paul focuses on Deuteronomy 30, which talks about the possibility of an end to exile, and thereafter talks about a word that is not too hard to be obeyed, which Paul apparently identifies with the word of the Gospel, in contrast with the Law. His overall point is made in the terms of the passage he is interpreting, and is to at least some extent determined by it. His focus is on faith, on trust, and on calling upon – those are the terms he reverts to once he has stopped paraphrasing and expounding his text from Deuteronomy 30.I do not see that his point about the importance of faith and of declaring that faith, here put explicitly (and unsurprisingly) in terms of specifically Christian faith in Jesus as Lord and the proclamation that he has been raised, necessarily contradicts either his affirmation that Gentiles who respond to the “law written on their hearts” may be acquitted on the day of judgment (Romans 2:14-16), nor his repeated warnings that those who live in certain ways “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21).Hopefully this clarifies some of my thoughts about the passage you referred to and how I relate it to the broader discussion. Of course, I’ve said “Paul cannot simply mean that faith+confession=salvation, because elsewhere he says…” and you can easily turn around and say “Since Paul says here that faith+confession=salvation, those other passages cannot possibly mean…” For me, the big question is whether we can find an understanding of Paul’s thought, including his unarticulated presuppositions, that make sense of all his statements. I for one do not feel like I am near to accomplishing that, but at the very least, that’s the goal!