Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
February 27th, 2014 by Joel Watts

Review of @BakerAcademic’s “Encountering John : The Gospel in Historical, Literary, and Theological Perspective”

That this is a textbook is no secret; yet, it provides something to the autodicate as well. It is an introduction and commentary. Indeed, as far as textbooks go, this is a premier one and should be included in every Johannine scholar’s booklist. Written by Andreas J. Köstenberger, it provides a multi-perspective introduction to the Fourth Gospel.

The book, geared to students, is divided between 5 parts, including 2 appendices and 10 excursuses. Each chapter begins with “didactic material,” including a verse, an outline, objectives, and oftentimes, supplemental reading. At the end of each chapter are study questions and key words. In between the natural bookends, there are side boxes to give more detail about the examined chapter in John’s Gospel, such as “Jesus’s Display of Supernatural Knowledge.” (p58) Further, there are other helps as well. On p59, there is a box on the appearances of “the Son of Man” in the Fourth Gospel as well as a box on the seven signs of Jesus. The information in these boxes will aid the student in connecting the whole of the Gospel to what they are reading. I am not one given to an overly redacted Fourth Gospel, so to have these boxes acting almost like cross references connect the Gospel among its “various parts,” it helps to smother the need to dissect John unnaturally.

On other hand, the author’s almost outright refusal to introduce historical criticism to his students does leave me worried. While he marvelously deals with textual criticism (for instance, his discussion on John 1.18), Köstenberger refuses to allow a theological agenda uniquely Johannine. In discussing the “Johannine Pentecost,” Köstenberger rails against those who would see John has offering a view different than Luke of the beginning of the Church. He writes that the view “charges John with altering historical fact in order to accommodate his particular theological bent. And while this is a serious enough offence for you and me, it is infinitely more serious for a writer of inspired Scripture.” (p174) The author presupposes an unprovable, and still yet theological controversial tenet, that of inspiration. Further, he presumes an apparent monolithic orthodoxy at an early stage of Christianity, something not proven and in reality, the opposite of what we believe we know. His need to merge John with evangelical inspiration is made readily clearly when he runs into Johannine disagreements with the Synoptics (for instance, his discussion on the chronology of the passion, p133).

With an evangelical wind at this back, Köstenberger delivers a wonderful introductory textbook to facilitate deeper studies of the Fourth Gospel. While his exclusions of notable Johannine commentators, such as Rudolph Bultmann, is noticeable, his inclusion of relevant data such as Rabbinic sources and his use of literary criticism makes this book a welcomed addition to my library. Further, the ten execursuses, addressing topics ranging from the asides to the Aporias gives me pause to consider the deep majesty not just of the last canonical Gospel but of those who have take it in their hands and attempted to extract to the last full measure the supreme mystery buried in the Gospel According to St. John.

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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