Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
July 14th, 2015 by Joel Watts

Review, “Reading John”

Christopher W. Skinner’s latest work, Reading John, stands out as a bridge to a wider world of Johannine scholarship.

At the beginning of my dissertation process, I had in mind the goal of rendering Gospel of John to a reduction of quotes, citations, allusions, and echoes of Deuteronomy. In doing my due diligence, I discovered the grandness of the Gospel of John cannot be measured by literary sources predating it or completely captured by later Christian theology. Rather, the Gospel of John still has many caveats for those adventurous spelunkers willing to risk calmness in reading and seek to better understand our Fourth Gospel.

Christopher W. Skinnner‘s recent contribution is not a grand commentary on the text, or a theological diatribe meant to sway one into reading John as if it contains fully developed Christian theology, but it is meant to be something a quite bit more substantial than an small group study book. Rather, Reading John is aimed at the student, new and old, capturing the current scholarship around the nascent Text that relies neither on Christian theology or the rest of the New Testament canon, but insists that it be understood on its own terms and merits. This doesn’t mean Reading John is absent Christian theology or contributions from the study of the Synoptics, only that Reading John examines the Gospel of John as an independent work.

English: Beginning of the Gospel of John, deco...

English: Beginning of the Gospel of John, decorated headpiece (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reading John is divided between 8 chapters, with chapters 1 and 8 serving as bookends to the intervening chapters that are focused on the Text itself. It is not a straightforward reading, as in chapter 7, Skinner returns to GJohn’s third chapter to finally explain the summation of the entire book — Skinner doesn’t end John at chapter 21, but in John 3. In the meantime, Skinner examines the various theories of the composition of John, including the hypothesis of the two-level drama (chapter 3). Likewise, he explores the possibilities of an identity crisis in John — Jewish or anti-Jewish? — in chapter 4. (Skinner maintains hoi Ioudaioi  is used against the Jewish leaders rather than Jews.) In chapter 5, we read about the uniqueness of language of both Jesus and the narrator (such as the literary aside — I’d like to have seen Skinner deal with John 12.33, a universally important aside) while in chapter 6, Skinner invites us to explore the rhetoric of GJohn and why people simply do not understand. Along the way, he includes small details that are often left out of books this size — such as literary connections in John and those hidden clues that the narrator is actually writing for the audience to understand (such as the connection between Peter and Judas). Through it all, we are given our own asides via space-saving charts and sidebars, that insure we get our author’s point in minute detail. Accompanying each chapter is a plethora of bibliographical notes and sources, containing a wide-ranging view on Johannine scholarship. Skinner does not simply stick to one school of thought, but is quick to bring in various (sometimes countering) viewpoints to give a fuller picture.

Skinner does not leave the theology behind, but does not insist that it is the same as later Christian theology. Rather, what you see is the beginning (and I believe a natural trajectory) of a theological strain that leads to current Christian theology; however, that may be my reading of it rather than Skinner’s intent. Regardless, what is everpresent is sound scholarship, an easy reasoning, and a needed approach to the Gospel of John informing the reader of current academic approaches without a complete deconstruction of the reader’s cognitive environment.

I am always concerned with a book this size (a mere 145 pages) — that a reader will simply not get enough information for it to matter. I am happy to have had my concerns alleviated. While only 145 pages, Reading John is efficacious in dealing with the material at hand, without straying down rabbit-holes or leaving us wondering if there may be more.  Skinner writes with a scholar’s pen, and a classical pedagogue’s finesse, delivering to his students (that would be us) a well-lit door into the study of the Gospel of John.

Dr. Christopher W. Skinner blogs here, where you will find his engagement with scholars and the wider-world. 

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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