The first chapter of John’s gospel is possibly the thickest Christological passage in all of scripture. It seems that John’s intention, guided by the Holy Spirit, was to provide insight into the mystery of who Jesus is and why he came. Still, that doesn’t make the passage any easier to deal with. In fact, acknowledging the mystery simply reminds us how limited we are in understanding the ultimate reality of God. However, this passage is incredibly important for our understanding of Christ, however limited that may be.
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.
3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men.5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood[a] it.
6 There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.[b]
10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13 children born not of natural descent,[c] nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only,[d] who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
For the believer who is ready for spiritual “meat” in their discipleship, this is great stuff. For younger folks, it is going to be tougher to chew on! I recently taught this passage to some youth and found myself asking two questions: Why is it important for young people to know this and how would I get them to believe it?
This is important because Jesus isn’t a fairy tale we can redefine according to our whims or wants (I’m thinking about Will Ferrell’s infamous”Dear Lord Baby Jesus” prayer from Talledega Nights which you can see below). Rather he’s a real person with real characteristics (which officially makes Grandpa Chip the best theologian in that movie). To know him is to know who he really is, not unlike other relationships that we have.
Still, teaching this passage has the potential to turn into a laundry list of doctrinal statements about Christ’s divinity. We can’t assume that we rattle this list off, officially clear up the potential heresies in student’s lives and walk away with stronger faiths. Theology is always a journey and never a point of arrival. I’ve had to process these things and want to provide opportunity for students to do so as well. I want them to begin, or continue on, their theological journey. This brings us to my second question about teaching John 1 with my students: How do I get them to believe this stuff?
The answer: I don’t. Not to say that I don’t present the truths of scripture. I did that. Not to say that I don’t make sound arguments about why these points of faith are important. I did that too. Rather it is to say that I don’t have the final word on their hearts. I do what I can do, maybe as a guide on the journey of theological discovery, and let the Holy Spirit do the rest. To some of us, this may sound like defeatism, but please don’t get confused. On the contrary I think that simply presenting theological bullet-points with the expectation of full acceptance is the actual road to defeat. Real meat needs be adequately chewed and a real journey takes time.
I decided to test my students knowledge of ‘Christology” before teaching (based solely on John Ch. 1). I did a quick- 7 point survey of students ages ranging from junior high to 25 year old. Less than 35 people took this survey and it was highly UNcontrolled, making it the least scientific survey you’ll ever read about on the internet. Either way, here’s what I found.
Roughly 25% of my students were willing to say that Jesus was half man and half God.
Roughly 35% of my students didn’t realize that Jesus was involved in Creation. (“involved” makes it sound like a conspiracy or something)
Exactly 30% didn’t know that Jesus was the “Word”. (Exactly 100% of people don’t know how this works!)
The average score was 82%, which I guess means that our students are 82% orthodox and 18% heretical. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.
Some students got 100%, but most of those either are currently or had been involved with Christian schools. Does that mean that Christian school kids are more “saved” than public school kids? Maybe just more sanctified.
No question was answered correctly by every student. I don’t know why this is relevant.
It is important that we help students who are ready to grapple with the mysteries and complexities of Christian theology; especially in regards to who Christ is and what the incarnation means for us. However, it is just as important, and realistically a means to the end that we seek, that we present these things in a way that will help them move forward, rather than cause them to stop. Rather than saying that, “this is what you need to believe in order to be a Christian” (which may actually be true), we might consider a more pastoral approach like “here are some things you’ll need to consider as you follow Jesus”.