I got to know Shawn Smucker a few months back when he interviewed me for his blog around the time O Me of Little Faith released. Shawn’s a good guy and a fellow writer (he’s written two books) and he’s in the middle of a year in which he’s not watching TV.
Maybe it’s the lack of stimulus from the TV abstinence, but Shawn’s been exploring some fascinating issues lately on the blog — including one several days ago about how democracy makes being a Christian easy.
Today he asks a big question about John 3:16, which is the one verse almost all Christians know. For many, it’s the be-all, end-all of our faith. It’s the first Bible verse we ever memorized. (Maybe it’s the last one we ever memorized, too.)
NIV: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
I first memorized this verse in the King James: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
If you ask any Christian to give you the verse in the Bible that best explains the Gospel, they will probably tell you John 3:16. And don’t get me wrong: it is a beautiful verse that tells an amazing story.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with the verse, but I think there is something wrong with how we have elevated it above every other verse in the Bible. Do we really believe it’s possible to take one verse and use it to explain something as complex as the line between perishing and eternal life? If one verse can adequately explain that, then why do we have the rest of the Bible?
For many Christians, their spiritual lives are built upon the foundation of John 3:16. It may be the verse that first drew them to God or convinced them of God’s love. It’s a verse about salvation, and about the gift of God. It’s inspiring. But because it emphasizes belief above all else, Shawn suggests, it leaves a lot out, too. It says nothing about a changed life, or about serving the world around us, or about what happens when belief wavers.
John 3:16 emphasizes who’s in and who’s out in terms of “eternal life.” It’s a good barometer verse. Noting this, Shawn asks a provocative question:
What would contemporary Christian culture look like it we rallied around a different verse?
(He suggests John 3:17 — the verse which comes right afterward: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it.” What if our key verse reminded us not of the necessity of spoken belief, but that it was our job to love rather than judge people?)
I think Shawn has posed a fascinating question, and I’ve been thinking about it since reading his post this morning. So I thought I’d open up the question to you:
Are you satisfied with John 3:16 as the verse in the Bible that best explains the message of the Gospel? If so, why?
If not, what verse (or passage) would you propose take its place?