“In the beginning was the Logos,* and the Logos was with God, and what God was, the Logos was … In the Logos was life, and the life was the light of all people … the true light which enlightens everyone.”—John 1:1, 4, 9
“Christ is the Logos of whom all people were partakers; and those who lived reasonably [i.e., by the Logos] are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and others like them.”—Justin Martyr, First Apology, 46, ca. 150 CE
Christian faith is fundamentally good news. It’s downright “evangelical”—a Greek-derived word that means, not “dogmatic” or “conservative,” but “good-news-centered.” It’s good news. But some popular versions don’t sound like good news. They sound as if you’re bound for Hell unless you pray the right kind of prayer or believe the right kinds of things. But there are older and deeper strands of Christian faith that aren’t so narrow, where the news they offer is every bit as good as it sounds. Here’s a brief summary (with a respectful nod toward another well-known campus ministry):
- God loves us and all creation into being, so that everyone may share in God’s common life.
We’re here because God loves us and wants us to live in love with God, our friends, our enemies, and the entire world, our whole environment. God’s love is unconditional—there’s nothing you can do, nothing about who you are, that can make God stop loving you. And the common life God aims to share with us is a life that makes each of us unique and different even as it makes us “members of one another” (Eph. 4:25).
- The world is a mess, and so are we, because we and the world reject God’s love.
Because God summons us and everything else into being out of love, for the sake of love, we and all others are free enough to accept or reject love. And the reason we now find it so hard to get along with ourselves and others is that we’ve been born into a world that’s been rejecting love for as far back as we can trace. So we have to be honest about that and stop playing games. We need to admit that we need God’s healing presence in our lives, and we need to keep realizing that God’s love for us doesn’t depend on how good we are.
- In Christ God’s love embraces us and everybody else even in our rejection.
God’s love is too stubborn to let our rejection have the last word, and as Christians we celebrate how God’s love keeps overflowing into history to draw us back. We especially remember the story of God’s promises in calling Israel to be God’s people. We find all of those promises offered to the whole world in a startlingly new way in the life, death, and risen life of Jesus of Nazareth. That’s a story worth sharing with everybody. But it’s a promise, not a threat, and it doesn’t mean that everybody has to become a Christian to know God’s reconciliation. Contrary to how some Christians read it, the Gospel of John presents Jesus, not as the exclusive way, but as the all-inclusive, inescapable way (John 14:6), because Jesus embodies “the true light, which enlightens everyone” (John 1:9), that is, the Logos (1:1), the “expressing,” of the God who is present everywhere. No one comes to God except through God’s Logos. The only way is the all-inclusive way, the inescapable way. That’s what makes it the only way—its all-inclusive inescapability. It’s fleshed out in Jesus (1:14), but it’s never absent, then or now. That’s why early Christians believed that people who had never heard of Jesus, like Heraclitus and Socrates, could be Christians without knowing it. Yes, we Christians still dare to invite everyone to awaken to this inescapable way as the all-inclusive life of the risen Jesus, but that’s an invitation to an ever deeper awakening, not a prerequisite for God’s embrace, and Christians may have as much to learn as to teach about following this inescapable way from conversation with other traditions who speak of it in different terms. Still, we find our own terms uniquely transforming, so we dare this invitation:
- We’re all invited to find our lives by letting them go into God’s common life with us in Christ.
We believe that in Jesus God let go of God’s very own life in the world, suffering and arising from its worst, and that God’s Spirit is relentlessly drawing each of us to live out the shape of that life in our own different ways, in a community that celebrates and promotes God’s unfailing generosity. It’s a messy and threatening prospect, but God promises to be with us and to keep drawing us into love no matter how often we mess up. So the question for all of us to wrestle with is: Are we going to let this happen in our lives? Are we ready to let God open us up to share our lives with the world God loves? Whether we’re ready for that or not, the good news is, and always will be, that God is always ready for us. We might as well stop resisting it.
*Logos is the term John uses in his opening verses. While it’s often translated as “Word,” in Greek it’s a much richer term. It can also mean “reason,” “expression,” “communication,” “ultimate principle,” etc. Early Christians, like Justin Martyr, understood this whole range of meanings when they saw this word.