Finding the Way again

For those interested, here is a paper that I submitted to Tyndale Seminary as a graduating student for the Victor Adrian Award in Christian Apologetics and Missions.

At the recent online graduation ceremony, I noticed that my name was printed beside the award.

Maybe I was the only entry, maybe not. Regardless, I was humbled and thankful to have won.

My desire in putting this paper ‘out there’ is the off chance that the content could benefit someone in the ‘real world’. If you have read my first published booklet (hello Jesus, goodbye church), some of the content will be familiar to you.

I have to admit that I am somewhat saddened now that my seminary journey is complete. The five-year journey has been an enriching, positive experience that fed my soul when I needed it the most.

As a Pentecostal Studies major, the online ceremony with Master’s College and Seminary will occur next week. I have talked about the deep impact of Dr. Van Johnson in previous blogs. At my exit interview with him, I was able to share my utmost thanks for his continuing call and passion to see ‘guys like me’ enrol in Tyndale through the Master’s Seminary door. I am glad that I did.

Thank you Tyndale, and thank you Master’s College and Seminary for bringing me closer to God and understanding Him in deeper ways.

My life has changed, and I have found my way again.

Here is the paper:

Finding the Way again.

By Joel Holtz

Submitted to:Tyndale Seminary for the purpose of applying for the Victor Adrian Award in Christian Apologetics and Missions

Date: January 19, 2021

As the world continues to watch the unraveling events in the United States, I believe that there is a growing confusion surrounding Christianity, Jesus and those who claim to be followers of God.  This paper is not to be negative and critical in any way concerning traditions of Christianity in the West, nor is it my desire to encourage people to walk away from any faith community.  My goal in writing this paper is to awaken a movement of disciples who will carry out the mission of Jesus to heal the world and work to establish a culture that is reflective of God’s Kingdom.  It is my conviction that now more than ever, followers of Jesus need to recalibrate our life and love to His. 

The Ancient Path

Let’s travel back in time to around A.D. 85.  To be a follower of Jesus Christ is a very dangerous thing.  Times are bad and the situation looks bleak.  For the past thirty years Christians have been persecuted and put to death under order of Emperor Nero, most notably was Peter.  The Gospel of John is set against a backdrop where a community of Jesus followers (let’s just call them disciples) were experiencing a tremendous amount of trouble.  Perhaps the word trouble does not carry the right meaning.  When we hear the word trouble, we can be led to think that we have done something wrong.  But these early disciples did not do something wrong, they actually did something right.  They believed in Jesus.  However, believing in Jesus was a dangerous thing for someone to do.  For a Jew, it meant that they were affirming heresy, blasphemy and aligning themselves with a traitor.  It meant expulsion from God’s Temple and disfellowship from the established social relations within the Jewish culture.  They were outsiders looking in. 

The recent church attendance trend in Canada also has more outsiders looking in.  Regardless of the reasons, the possibility exists that there are more people in Canada who have left the church than what currently remain.  Whether people have either found themselves not fitting into a traditional expression of Christianity, or perhaps actually received the left-foot of fellowship from the religious institution of their day, the fact remains that Elvis is not alone.  Millions have left the building.  But all is not lost because the goal of Christianity was never to simply fit in.

Scholars tell us that it was around the turn of the first century when John began to write.[1]  As far as he knew, no other living witness remained alive.  Peter was gone, and so was brother James.  All of the others have gone silent or are missing.  Paul, Andrew, Thomas, Philip, Matthew, Bartholomew, Simon, Jude and James Alpheus are now all presumed dead.  John was potentially the last living witness of Jesus.  His testimony needed to survive.  But what would he say? 

After listening to words of testimony from others who had met Jesus, and combining his own first-hand experiences with Him, John began to collectively tell the story.  With each passing story there came with it a heightened anticipation and ongoing desire to be reunited with Jesus.  With each passing day, more and more stories were told.  Memories of how Jesus healed eyes, cured leprosy or made legs walk again.  Mary had her own unique memories too.  However, there was a day that stood out to many.  It was the day that Jesus stood up in the Temple and brought everything to a screeching halt. 

It was on the eighth and greatest day of the Feast of Tabernacles when Jesus addressed the crowds.  For the past seven days crowds of people had gathered to remember God’s protection, deliverance and provision in the past.  For the past seven days people also were reminded to look forward to the time when God would return and bring a fulfillment to everything He promised.  These feasts and gatherings were sacred times for the Jews.  It was here, during the greatest day of this sacred time, the eighth day, when Jesus stood and spoke.  It was if the whole world stood still. 

John is pretty clear that Jesus disrupted the pomp and circumstance of the Feast of Tabernacles by doing this very thing.  We are told that Jesus stood up and said, “If anyone is thirsty, they should come to Me and drink.”  He also said something would begin to flow out.[2]

J.D. Greear in his book, Gaining by Losing says that the Judea-Christian faith means to align oneself with a God who is described as a spiritual cyclone.[3]  According to Greear, the Hebrew God pulls you in so that He can send you back out.  This means that to follow the God of the Bible, and Jesus is to recognize that we serve and follow a God that sends. 

In Chapter 2 of John’s gospel we are told about a wedding that took place in Cana of Galilee.  John mentions the location twice just in case we needed a reminder of where this little town was.[4]  But Mary would know these small regions of Galilee well, and perhaps she is remembering this encounter vividly.  How could she forget this moment because she may have been there to help oversee this wedding.  Like any good hostess, Mary leaped into action as soon as she noticed that the wine had run out.  I can almost see her retelling this story among the believers in Ephesus with a glint in her eye.  Not only was she able to do something about the situation, she more importantly knew someone who could help.  Jesus was there.

In the ancient middle east, hospitality is a sacred duty, and the failure for a host to adequately provide for guests is a major problem.[5]  To run out of provisions at a wedding would cause terrible humiliation for this young bride and the bridegroom in the eyes of everyone.  Running out of wine would be a complete disaster.  For a Jewish feast, wine was essential.  ‘Without wine’, said the Rabbis, ‘there is no joy’.[6]

We know the story well.  Mary asks Jesus to help, and Jesus turns six vessels of water into wine.  No big deal.  But it is important to highlight what John highlights.  It was not just one jug of water that Jesus turned into one jug of wine.  No.  It was six containers that were filled with twenty to thirty gallons each.  Think about it.  Jesus turned one hundred and eighty gallons of water into one hundred and eighty gallons of the best wine!  

Here’s the point: Jesus converted an extravagant amount of water into an extravagant amount of wine.  Why does that matter?  For a Jewish audience, this could indicate something about the arrival of God’s long-awaited Kingdom. 

The Hebrew people believed that wine was a gift given by God and was associated with His blessing and abundance.[7]  The Old Testament talked about wine overflowing in abundance in the coming days when God would fulfill His promises and lead His people into a time of blessing and favour.  This means that the coming fulfillment of this blessed time of abundance was heralded to be an event that would be marked by an overflowing of wine and an abundance of food.[8] 

Our contemporary Western ears could miss the biblical significance here.  John seems to believe that in Jesus, the long-awaited fulfillment of the promise of abundant blessings was beginning to be fulfilled. [9]  No wonder John links the ‘glory’ of God with this miracle of abundance at a wedding, where there is a feast.  And to top it all off, it happened on the ‘third day’. 

I do not believe that this is just some random miracle in poor-town Galilee.  John is seeing more and wants his audience to see deeper too.  John understands that this miracle is somehow manifesting the very same glory of God that was experienced by Moses on top of Mount Sinai on the third day.[10]  Except, this time, God is doing it through Jesus, at a wedding, on the third day.  Could Jesus be unleashing God’s kingdom now?

The picture of the kingdom of God as a wedding feast has wide biblical support and also summons up biblical images of the long-awaited messianic era.  For God’s people, it was going to be a time when God would bring an end to everything that robs people of joy and life.[11]

Now we can see what John is beginning to teach us.  A new mountain has arrived, and a new place is able to receive the glory of God.  Why does this matter?  I am quite certain that the Johannine community in Ephesus would have raised an eyebrow when it was reported or read to them that the glory of God was manifested in a place outside the Temple.  Remember, the physical Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed, and to make matters worse, they were not welcomed into the local building either.  But the glory of God is no longer contained to a physical building anymore, nor is it restricted to a certain place.  It is manifesting through a Person here on earth in the lowliest of places.      

For eons the doxa of God had only been linked with one place within the Jewish tradition: the Temple.  In other words, Judaism had an understanding that God had already given them an incarnational symbol of His presence here on earth.  The Temple was the place where the living, breathing Almighty God would dwell.  But all of that has now changed.  Jesus is here, and He is acting as the Temple, in person.[12]

The Temple had long been identified within Judaism as the place where God resides on earth.  As such, the Temple was understood within Judaism to be the place where the realm of God (heaven) and the realm of humanity (earth) overlapped.  In other words, the Temple was the place where heaven and earth met.[13]  This meant that the Jews already had a symbol of what God looked like here on earth: the Temple.  But John redefines this dramatically. 

John does not present the Temple as the place where God dwells, nor does he present the Temple as the overlapping place of God’s abiding presence.  John redefines all of this, and places Jesus at the very centre of it all.  If this is true, then Jesus is now the place where God Almighty dwells.  He is the true logos, light and life of God on earth.  In other words, the glory of God looks and acts like Jesus.[14]    

For the early disciples in Ephesus this would mean some radical implications.  Would they be able to meet with Jesus in a place other than the dedicated buildings of their past?  Would they be able to discern the ways of God without the established religious structures and voices of systematic protocol?  How could they possible navigate their way in the midst of a pagan polytheistic culture? 

Perhaps the pressing question is: what does life with Jesus look like now?

The Path of Love

John 13 is sometimes referred to as the footwashing chapter.  The ancient Eastern world taught that guests feet, often begrimed from the dusty streets, should be washed by a slave upon arrival and entrance of a house.[15]  The general rule was that a slave or person from a lower social class would be assigned this task by the host.  Washing feet was a particularly humble task, often looked down upon and something that even a Jewish slave would not be required to perform.[16]  The following details from John’s memory are particularly revealing. 

In the footwashing scene we are told that Jesus rose from the table and prepared Himself to do something that deviated from the customary practice of the day. [17]  Rather than sitting back and finishing the meal, Jesus took it upon Himself to once again demonstrate something that was going to rock the disciples’ world. 

In this revolutionary scene, Jesus astonishingly abandons the established social codes and normal scripts of the ancient Jewish world and washed the feet of His disciples.[18]  You might be thinking to yourself, ‘what is so revolutionary about this’?  Jesus is simply showing an example of humble servitude.  True.  Judaism stressed humility, and Jesus could be illustrating the importance of this essential characteristic.  But there is more.

You may also be thinking that Jesus is doing this because of the cleansing from sin that will happen on the cross, and knowing this, Jesus is foreshadowing that upcoming event.  True.  Oftentimes scholars do interpret the passage this way highlighting the purification and sacramental implications from this scene.  However, all of those interpretations ignore the fact that Jesus did this in the context of a meal.[19]

In the ancient world meals were highly social events and were held so that statements could be made about relationships, identity, closeness and the honor of those who were invited and actually came.[20]  But this was not just another social meal for Jesus.  John says that this also happened around Passover.  Now watch what Jesus does.

In dramatic fashion, the Teacher, changes roles with this students by washing their feet.  By doing this Jesus intentionally crosses the common social lines of the day and breaks all of the established social norms that the disciples have grown accustom to and were comfortable with.[21]  He has dramatically overturned their understanding of social status positions, by assuming this ‘lowly’ position.[22]  

This picture of Jesus washing the feet of His loved ones is reminiscent of the same God that loved the world so much that He descended into the very depths of the human story.[23] The transcendent God has entered into our time and space to reveal His unprecedented love through Jesus.[24]  This love of God in Jesus has opened a new living reality that followers are now to express and bring to the world.[25]  In other words, God has given us the ability and opportunity to express a new way of being human.  This is John’s way of describing the awesome love of God: it has taken a foot-washing form.[26] 

By washing the feet of the disciples Jesus was doing something that would be an incomprehensible social act.[27]   No wonder Peter had a hard time allowing Jesus to do this.  Peter objected because Jesus violated so many social standards of the day.[28]  He was lovingly changing roles with those ‘beneath’ Him.

Undercover Boss is a reality TV show featuring high-ranking executives or owners of corporations going ‘undercover’ as an entry-level employee.  The executives alter their appearance and even assume an alias so that they will not become detected.  They do this so that they can receive an inside look at their company and the people who work within.  At the end of their time being undercover, these top executives return to their true identity and oftentimes reward their hard-working employees.  But in Jesus’ world, we are not to return to our ‘top positions’.  We are to perpetually look for opportunities that demonstrate a socially upside-down way of loving.

It is striking that Jesus pushed past Peter’s boldness and refusal, to make a very profound statement: in order to ‘have part’ with Him means partnering in a movement of self-giving love.[29]  He was doing it to show that if footwashing was not beneath His dignity, then nothing was.  But being loved is not the end of the story.  Accepting a love like this also means bringing it to the multitudes. 

The Greatest Example

Oftentimes within Western Evangelicalism, Jesus is presented as a solution to the sin and hellfire problem.  In this way, Jesus is sometimes viewed as coming to earth in order to get humanity off the hook so that we can go to heaven when we die.  God the Father is often painted as an angry God that needs some sort of payment or sacrifice in order to balance the cosmic scales of justice and wrath.  However, this is not how John sees the cross.[30] 

John has very little to say about familiar theologies that emphasize wrath, payment, or any type of substitution.  He actually talks more about abiding with God than needing to be saved by God or from God.[31]  Furthermore, any type of payment or courtroom metaphors often used to describe the cross are completely absent in John’s gospel.  What does matter to John is that there is a reason for the cross and that somehow it was necessary so that humanity can receive the gift of life from the Father.[32]  For John, the cross is an expression of God’s radical love.[33]  It’s as if God the Father in Jesus was saying, I will even do ‘this’ because I love you so much.  The cross then becomes not only an expression of love, but also an open invitation for all to accept a love like this, be changed by it, and welcome others via it.  This is exactly what Jesus was modelling: a love that crosses social barriers. 

We are also told that on the cross Jesus looked at Mary and then to John and basically said to them: this is your new family.[34]  By doing this, Jesus is asking John and Mary to begin modelling faith and family in a completely new way.  In other words, because of the cross and from that moment onward, a new family in Jesus has been created.[35]  Jesus was asking them to unconditionally accept one another and model faith in a new way: a loving community

The Way Today

Sometimes the message from Western church culture insists that Christianity only gets good when you die.  In other words, ‘Jesus has come to earth to get us off the hook so that I can go to heaven when I die’.  For John, everything about that statement is completely wrong.  John believes that Jesus is somehow able to not only brings the abundant life of God into our reality, He also opens up a new way of living now. 

There is an ancient document that potentially helps us understand how followers of Jesus were living in Ephesus.  It is called the Didache, which means ‘the teaching’.  The Didache was written during the second century of Christianity and can help us understand the cultural context of the church during this time period.  The following quote comes from an early document called an ‘Epistle to Diognetus’.  The writer is unknown but is responding to a pagan of high social or political rank.[36]  This high ranking official had requested this writer to tell them about this ‘new Christian religion’ that was permeating the Roman Empire.  The writer insists that the Christian way of living ‘conformed to the customs of the country in dress, food, and mode of life general’ and ‘the whole tenor of their way of living stamps it worthy of admiration and admittedly extraordinary’. 

The writer also goes on to describe more about the ethical lives of these Jesus followers and makes another riveting statement: ‘Christians love those who hate them.’[37]  This is extremely helpful for us because this unknown writer was from Ephesus and was describing John’s faith community.   

If we are to take seriously John’s memory of Jesus and the truth of his gospel, then the goal for followers today is not simply to remain in a holy huddle, but to physically bring and model the reality of this upside-down kingdom life to the world.[38]  In other words, followers today ought to be modelling a different way of being human. 

Today, the church has many competing options.  We are surrounded by theological frameworks and systems that communicate aspects of God’s Truth to many listening ears.  Oftentimes Western theology has its roots in specific Western church fathers like Luther, Calvin, Augustine and Aquinas.  Most, if not all, were products of the Monastic movement that renounced worldly pursuits in order to devote themselves to a more full, spiritual work.  This type of thinking has been handed down through the church and oftentimes produced a gospel with legalistic tendencies.  For my own tribe, this has unfortunately been all to true.   

Bradley Truman Noel summarizes Classical Pentecostalism well by highlighting its emphasis on ‘separation’ from the world.  Early Pentecostals were encouraged to give evidence of their commitment to Christ by pulling away from and denouncing the world’s evil culture and institutions.  For Pentecostals, to follow Jesus and be a Christian meant separating oneself from your surrounding community and culture so that you could live a life free from its negative influence.  In this way, others too would enjoy a similar separation from the evil world and come to know Jesus.  Noel says, ‘this understanding, of course, does not fit well with Christ’s own description of believers as in, but not of, the world.’[39]

The imagery within John’s gospel challenges the separation notion and ought to return the ‘church’ today to a continual dependence in knowing and experiencing the ‘embarrassingly intimate and personally and socially disarming reality’ of Jesus and His Kingdom.[40]  I cannot think of a better analogy than to describe Jesus’ loving descent into a broken, hurting and grimy world than the footwashing scene.   

In an ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and with church attendance trends still spiralling downward, perhaps it is time for followers of Jesus across our nation to rethink how we have modelled God’s self-giving love to the world.  Maybe it is time to start living another way.   

Summary

On November 12, 2019 a brand-new American style space Western streaming series hit the online community.  This live-action series is called The Mandalorian.  The storyline features and follows Mando, a warrior-type hero who is a member of a clan-based cultural group known as the Mandalorians.  This unique community is composed of members from multiple species who are all bound by a common culture, creed, and code.[41]  Mando is often heard referring to this code by saying, ‘this is the way.’ 

In this paper I have demonstrated that John’s gospel speaks a radical message about the way Jesus lived and loved.  Furthermore, I believe that contemporary followers today would do well to return to our ancient path, Jesus.  His is after-all the Way. 

John was there when Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and would have been on the receiving end of Jesus’ boundless love.  John was also in Ephesus establishing a new community that would operate in love’s way.  If you listen closely, you can almost hear the unspoken creed declared from this group: This is the way, the way of love.  Perhaps if we do, we will begin to model to a culture that the church was never a place to leave, but was actually a way of being human.

Lesslie Newbigin says that the church is be the bearer of good news to all the nations of a gospel that announces that the kingdom, the reign, and the sovereignty of God has now come.[42]  In other words, the gospel is not meant to call people out of the world and into a safe religious enclaves, but rather the gospel calls people out, in order to send them back into the world as agents of God’s kingdom.[43] This is a call that ought to move and motivate every believer to push past and challenge the status quo and social lines within our communities with crazy demonstrations of God’s radical love. 

For our local church it has meant purchasing new clothing items for those in need, partnering with a community food organization to help address food insecurities in our community, running a lunch program in the local middle school, and giving away back-to-school backpacks filled with school supplies.  However all of these examples do not fully grasp the revolutionary and vulnerable display of self-giving love depicted in the footwashing scene. 

The point however, is that our embodiment of the Father’s love needs to be awkward, and it needs to be weird.[44]  It also needs to be a catalyst the expresses our love for Jesus and others in a radical crazy way that not confined within a physical building.  When done correctly maybe, just maybe a new community of self-giving love will re-created.  When done correctly, maybe, just maybe this ideal will be accompanied by concrete practices within a committed community of disciples.  When done currently, maybe, just maybe followers today will continue to fuel the passion of the Father’s self-giving love demonstrated and embodied like the living Jesus. 

To ‘recalibrate’ means to ‘calibrate to (something) again’.  N.T. Wright says that the early church understood that whatever God was doing, He was going to do through them.[45]  Today, if we listen to one ancient voice, I believe that John would say: This is the way.       


[1] Ian W Scott. Gospel of John: Light in the Darkness. Lecture notes Week 2. NEWT 0726, Tyndale Seminary Online, 2020.

[2] John 7:38

3. J.D. Greear. Gaining by Losing. Grand Rapids: MI. Zondervan. 2015. pg. 80

[4] John 2:1, 11

[5] William Barclay. The Gospel of John. Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press. 2001. Pg. 114.

[6] Ibid

[7] Deuteronomy 7:13, Jeremiah 31:12

[8] Francis J Moloney. The Gospel of John. Sacra Pagina.  Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press. 1998. Pg. 66.  Also see Hosea 2:19-20, Isaiah 25:6-8, Jeremiah 2:2, Song of Songs, Joel 3:18, Amos 9:13-14

[9]Colin G. Kruse. John: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 4). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 2003. Pg. 97

[10] Moloney, 66. See Exodus 19:16

[11] Isaiah 25:6-8

[12] NT Wright, Simply Jesus. New York, NY: Harper One. 2011.  Pg. 133   

[13] Wright, 132.

[14] John 1:14

[15] Bruce Milne. The Message of John: Here is your King!  Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 1993. Pg. 233

[16] D.A.Carson, The Gospel According to John. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans. Pg. 461

[17] Jan van der Watt. “The Meaning of Jesus Washing the Feet of His Disciples (John 13).” in Neotestamentica 51, no. 1 (January 2017): 25–39. doi:10.1353/neo.2017.0001. Pg. 30

[18] Scott, Lecture 7

[19] van der Watt, 27

[20] Ibid

[21] Scott, lectures

[22] van der Watt, 31

[23] John 3:16, John 13:1

[24] Thomas L. Brodie. The Gospel According to John: A Literary and Theological Commentary. Oxford University Press, 1997. Accessed November 10, 2020. ProQuest Ebook Central, Pg. 456

[25] Ibid

[26] Brodie, 446

[27] van der Watt, 31

[28] John Christopher Thomas, Footwashing in John 13 and the Johannine Community. Cleveland, TN: CPT Press. 2014. Pg. 53

[29] Moloney, 375

[30] Scott, lecture 10

[31] Ibid

[32] Ibid

[33] Ibid

[34] John 19:25-27

[35] Moloney, 504

[36] Wahba, Wafik. Gospel, Church, Culture. Lecture notes. MISS 0782. Tyndale Seminary. Online. 2020

[37] Ibid

[38] Daniel Castelo, “The Improvisational Quality of Ecclesial Holiness” in Towards a Pentecostal Ecclesiology: The Church and the Fivefold Gospel.  CPT Press; Cleveland, TN: 2010. Pg. 100-101 

[39] Bradley Truman Noel, Noel. Pentecostalism, Secularism, and Post-Christendom. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers. 2015. Pg. 181.

[40] Ibid

[41] Fandom, “Mandalorian,” https://starwars.fandom.com/wiki/Mandalorian (accessed December 4, 2020) 

26 Lesslie Newbigin.  Foolishness to the Greeks. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. 1986. Pg.124

[43] Ibid.

[44] Scott, Lectures

[45] N.T. Wright. God and the Pandemic. Zondervan. Kindle Edition. Pg. 32

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