In a lecture I heard several years back, Eugene Peterson borrowed from John 14:6 in which Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”
Peterson said, “The Jesus truth, only when it is wedded to the Jesus way, produces the Jesus life.”
In conversations about the gospel, we, in the evangelical church, have a tendency to talk about content, about formulations, about Jesus truth. And that’s good. We need to know what Jesus taught, what Jesus accomplished and what the Bible says.
But a myopic focus on Jesus truth reduces the gospel to a proposition to be believed, an event that accomplished something for me, a truism. And it makes the announcer of the gospel into a mere mouthpiece.
The earliest metaphor for Christianity (before there was even an idea of some separate religion called “Christianity”) was “the Way.”
The Jesus way was just what the image evoked: a path, a journey, a following of Jesus. It wasn’t something to be merely believed, but to be walked, lived and embodied.
The Jesus truth, only when it is wedded to the Jesus way, produces the Jesus life.
We’ve done a fine job considering, preaching, teaching and discussing the Jesus truth, and we still have plenty more to do.
But we need to expend just as much energy considering what exactly the Jesus way is – reading the Gospels for insight into the Jesus way and actually walking the Jesus way.
So, what is the Jesus way?
Peterson himself has written an entire book on the subject, as have others. It’s difficult to articulate the Jesus way too succinctly, but, when pressed, I’ll say that the Jesus way is the way of the cross.
It’s the way of self-giving, sacrificial love, the way we see Jesus live and die.
Why is it important for us to keep the Jesus truth and the Jesus way wedded together?
In discussions about world evangelization, it’s common to hear rhetoric like, “We will use whatever means necessary to bring the gospel to people who so desperately need it.”
There’s a great urgency, a great need, and we need to use “whatever means necessary” to get the word out. The ends of world evangelization and saving people’s souls, so to speak, justify the means.
But the Jesus way insists that there are appropriate and inappropriate means when the gospel is being proclaimed.
In the church’s past, we’ve done things like force conversion at the threat of death, combine the proclamation of the gospel with the colonial expansion of Western empires, and manipulate emotional experiences to bring people to something we called faith.
We did these things – even continue to do these things – with good intention. The Jesus truth, but not in the Jesus way.
But when the church has been at its best, it has taken not only the message about Jesus, but also the life of Jesus into its very life.
It has embodied the way of the cross in its movement toward the world instead of preaching a disembodied gospel. It has both proclaimed a message of good news and led the way to the path that leads to life.
When it has done this, it has seen the life of the new creation burst into our world. Because only when the Jesus truth is wedded to the Jesus way will we see the Jesus life.