Portrait of A.J. Swoboda

A.J. Swoboda

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Location: Portland, Oregon | USA

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Mar 1, 2014

I'm Not the Only Way to God (Neither are you)

Jerry Seinfeld once asked security exists in old-folk homes: is it to keep old people out or to keep people from stealing old people? I wonder the same about the heaven. Is it to keep people out or is it to keep people in? What’s the need for the keys?

Jesus said, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." (Matt. 16:19)

I appreciate this text because I was a latchkey kid. From thirteen to fifteen, I’d catch the big yellow bus to a humble stop a couple of blocks from my house, spitting distance to a rather notorious smoker’s corner. At the time, the smokers were a scary people. I’d dodge on through, lucky if I’d escape their attention, and run into our one-story ranch-style house to play video games and watch Montel Williams until mom came home.

There was something powerful about having keys. About unlocking my own house. And locking it back up. I had an inordinate amount of control; a level of control someone going through adolescence shouldn’t legally be able to have.

I lost my key once. My step-dad went ape-mad. He told me he may need to change the locks because some criminal out there had the key now and could get in if they wanted. He was a cop. He knew the dangers.

When Jesus says he gives us the keys to the Kingdom, my emotional response remains the same: what a large amount of power for someone who shouldn’t have the legal authority to have it, and, I hope I don’t lose them. Truth is, what exactly Jesus meant when he said this remains rather perplexing. Biblical commentaries and preachers have wrestled with this one for sometime. One thing is for sure. Jesus seemed to think that we would have some kind of keys that could open up the kingdom of heaven so that we might bind and loose stuff. By that, we mean that Jesus actually gave his followers some power, some authority.

If we assume that Jesus wasn’t just speaking to Peter and he was speaking to every follower of Jesus, then this is a powerful idea. It means the access Peter had, we have. Same key. In reading this passage, I find God’s nature so profoundly trusting; too trusting. Who gives keys to their business, their house, their ranch away? Who’s that secure? Who’s so utterly kosher with just anyone coming over whenever the heck they want to? Talk about being security.

Turns out that two thousand years ago, during the life and times of Jesus, people didn’t actually have locks on their homes. People couldn’t afford them. Their homes were open. A key would only exist on a gate, most likely at the King’s estate. They were the only one’s who could afford them. So Jesus wasn’t talking about a house, rather, he was talking about a palace, a section of town, domain, whole district.

He was talking about the Kingdom of God. The realm where the King lived.

Spatially, that would mean that Kingdom is somewhere around town. It isn’t just “up there” but it’s somewhere down the street. It’s close by. That is that the key isn’t to a mansion but to a whole kingdom. Our image of heaven is so often way up in the sky, isn’t it? Which, don’t get me wrong, might be true. But for Jesus, he seemed to pray a lot that the Kingdom, that heaven, would come down here. On earth. That it would be available. Nearby. Not distant. But then again, why the need for keys?

Jesus is the locksmith of the Kingdom of God.

And that’s refreshing. I think it’s natural for people resist the idea that Jesus is the only way to God. I did. I read and re-read the part in the Bible where Jesus says he was the only way to God. (John 14:16) It was a heresy to my young brain to believe that there was one single path to God and countless false paths. For some time, I believed I could follow Jesus and mentally white out that part of his message. But I came to agree with Bono who said that either Jesus is who he said he is, or, he’s a lunatic like Charles Manson. I came to believe wholeheartedly that Jesus is the only way to God.

Unfortunately, I think when many Christians say Jesus is the only way to God, what they’re actually intending to say is that their way is the only way to God—that their church or denomination or theological preference is the only path. Jesus didn’t say that. The religion of Christianity is not the only way to God. Jesus Christ himself is the only way to God—my church, my denomination, my theology are not the only way to God. Only Jesus is the way to God. And that means I’m not the only way to God. And I certainly don’t make the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. I can only borrow them until the keys are taken from me. 

Jesus allows us borrow the keys. But he never allows us be the locksmith.

This would mean we can’t get to heaven on our own, wherever it is. We can’t make our own keys. We aren’t the only way to God. Jesus is. Humans make bad locksmiths. So do churches. So do books. So do ideas. Only one locksmith still knows the key pattern to the kingdom of heaven.

Christians make horrible locksmiths. They make great latchkey kids.

Don’t confuse the two.

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Books I've Written

Tongues and Trees: Toward a Pentecostal Ecological Theology


Introducing Evangelical Ecotheology: Foundations in Scripture, Theology, History, and Praxis

A Glorious Dark: Finding Hope in the Tension Between Belief and Experience

Messy: God Likes it That Way

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Top 10 Books Ever

#1 Theology and Hope: On the Ground and Implications of a Christian Eschatology (Jürgen Moltmann)

#2 Church Dogmatics (Karl Barth)

#3 Systematic Theology: Doctrine, Witness, Ethics (William McClendon)

#4 Scandalous Beauty: The Artistry of God and the Way of the Cross (Thomas Schmidt)

#5 On the IncarnationDe Incarnatione Verbi Dei (St. Athanasius)

#6 Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt & Certainty in Christian Discipleship (Leslie Newbigin)

#7 Narratives of a Vulnerable God: Christ, Theology, and Scripture (William Placher)

#8 Personal KnowledgeTowards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Michael Polanyi)

#9 Desiring the KingdomWorship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (James K.A. Smith)

#10 Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Miroslav Volf)

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