Tuesday, February 17, 2009

John 3:16 and Rival Worldviews

Long before Max Lucado's book 3:16: The Numbers of Hope was released in 2007, I had been using John 3:16 in relation to systematic theology and the evaluation of worldviews. It serves as a helpful teaching aid, particularly when demonstrating the differences between Christianity and other beliefs.

In short, I demonstrate that John 3:16 encompasses theology, Christology, soteriology, eschatology, anthropology, and harmartiology. By doing so, each facet of its theology excludes rival worldviews. "For God" does away with atheism, for example, while "so loved" establishes God as a personal being, thus excluding pantheism. I'd also argue that the phrase "so loved" excludes deism because a loving God is actively at work in creation.

In teaching on new religions, I tweak John 3:16 to illustrate differences. For instance, here's my rendition of John 3:16 as seen through the eyes of the New Age or New Spirituality:

"For an impersonal force so permeated the cosmos that it provided Jesus as one example of how we, too, might achieve Christ-consciousness by realizing that we are sinless and divine ourselves."

This is not only disarming, but quickly illustrates key differences between Christianity and the New Spirituality.

Every Christian does not need to become an "expert" on other worldviews before being able to interact with those who adhere to them (though it certainly helps to have a solid grounding in Christian theism combined with an understanding of other worldviews).

Instead, ask how this other worldview -- whatever it may be -- would view John 3:16. What does it say about God, Christ, salvation, our final state, human nature? In this sense, John 3:16 contains not only "the numbers of hope," but the numbers of discernment.


Kevin Winters said...

Insofar as you include Buddhism in this "New Age" and "New Spirituality", as you do in Examining Alternative Medicine, I don't see it in your re-working of John 3:16. There is no "impersonal force" at least in most forms of Buddhism. Furthermore, I would imagine that most Buddhists who are familiar with Christian scripture would emphasize "partaking of the divine nature" (Peter 1:4), or perhaps God's own words that "the man is become as one of us" (Genesis 3:22), or that when God appears "we shall be like him" (1 John 3:2). in relation to the "divine" issue. Lastly, in Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, the highest ideal is the bodhisattva ideal, which is a life of service to help alleviate the suffering of all beings. I can't think of a more "divine" goal that fits very well in understanding John 2:16.

The primary disagreement, then, is the source of our suffering: is it some supernatural being or a demonic ("fallen") nature, or is it our own attachment to things? There definitely seems to be something to the latter and we can all think of examples in our own lives and others: why we act selfishly, why we hurt others, why we are not content with our lives, etc. Furthermore, it does seem like we can move beyond these attachments. What does a supernatural tormenter add and how is it that we cannot, given our "fallen nature", move beyond our suffering, if it is caused by our attachments. without some supernatural intervention? And, lastly, what is the nature of "sin" such that it can be accumulated and "paid for"?

Yes, this is beyond the scope of your post and it raises a lot of questions that probably can't be addressed here, but they came to mind and point to a need to be very careful that we do not paint with overly-broad strokes as those who don't know any better won't know that overly-broad strokes are being given.

Robert Velarde said...

Thanks for the comments, Kevin. I don't recall what was covered in relation to Buddhism in Examining Alternative Medicine. The manuscript was written some ten years ago and coauthored (meaning that no, I did not always agree with my coauthors on every point).

Yes, an examination and/or evaluation of any religious tradition needs to be nuanced. In the case of Buddhism some aspects of some forms of it could be lumped with the new spirituality, but there would indeed need to be some clear distinctions between various forms such as Zen, Pure Land, Nicheren, etc.

Were I to adapt John 3:16 to a Buddhist model, I would not use the new spirituality example provided and would, indeed, narrow it down to addressing a certain form of Buddhism.

Martin LaBar said...

A good idea, and like most such, fairly simple.