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According to John: I Finished the Work

According to John: I Finished the Work

Tonight (4/2/15) at 7:00 pm central time I’ll be continuing my study of John using the book Meditations on According to John by Herold Weiss. We’ll be working from chapter 10, “I Finished the Work.”

This is an exceptionally good chapter to be studying on Maundy Thursday, though I’m going to assume nobody will miss a Maundy Thursday service in order to listen! We’re going to talk about footwashing, signs, miracles, works, and witness and the difference between a sign and miracle. We’re also going to discuss what Jesus meant by “greater works” (John 14:12). What are these “greater works”?

Here’s the key quote from the chapter that will guide what I’ll be talking about tonight:

Jesus lived performing signs that pointed to the time when he would finish his work. Therefore the life of the Christian must provide signs that advertise the source of strength and vision for those who live by faith. Signs and faith must remain closely bound in the lives of the disciples of the one who is THE SIGN that must be seen and believed. (91-92)

According to John – Excursus 1 – Interview with Dr. Bruce Epperly

According to John – Excursus 1 – Interview with Dr. Bruce Epperly

9781938434136sThursday night will represent an excursus in my study through the gospel of John, as I interview Dr. Bruce Epperly, author of the books Healing Marks and Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God, about the healing stories of Jesus. We’ll be discussing what it means to say that Jesus was a healer and we’ll likely have time to talk about words like “panentheism” that have come up in the study thus far. You can use the link above for more details. I’m embedding the YouTube player for this event at the end of this post.

There’s also something to look forward to further down the road. Dr. Herold Weiss, author of our text Meditations on According to John, will join us on March 12 to discuss his approach to the gospel. We’ll touch on date and authorship, but most importantly on the theology of the book.

Follow-Up to According to John: No One Has Ascended into Heaven

Follow-Up to According to John: No One Has Ascended into Heaven

I want to follow up a bit on the study last night. I’ll embed the YouTube below for those who want to view this study after the fact. A few things occurred to me since the study.

  1. Meditations on According to JohnI’m really spending a great deal of time on the use of stories and of metaphors in discussing theology. I’m convinced that we don’t recognize the metaphors we’re using often enough. For example, it’s worthwhile to note that most discussion of substitution occurs inside the metaphor of the courtroom. It’s then important to recognize when a discussion, whether current or in scripture, occurs within another metaphor. John 3:16 occurs in a different metaphor, or perhaps more than one, and it comes after John has evoked the story of the serpent in the wilderness (Numbers 21:4-9). In that story, the key line is “look and live.”
  2. It’s very important to distinguish “light” as John uses it from our 20th/21st century use of that metaphor. Yes, that word is another metaphor. Jesus did not claim that he as going to provide physical light to the whole world. The modern tendency is to think of light as information and enlightenment as the reception of information. For John, and for Jesus as represented in this gospel, light is more closely connected to life. To mix the metaphors, you look up at the light as he is lifted up and you live. The healing of the blind man in John 9 links closely to this metaphor. There is light and the ability to see light.
  3. Metaphors allow us to talk about the same general subject from different perspectives. Thus one can talk about atonement using the metaphor of the battlefield, the courtroom, and the family/community without being contradictory. I would suggest that one shouldn’t mix these metaphors, at least without being very aware of what one is doing and doing so carefully.
  4. I had an excellent audience question, and this time one that wasn’t in my notes as something I might discuss. Just what was John doing? Jesus speaks so differently from the way he does in the synoptic gospels. Why? It’s a good question, and I went the right direction as I started to answer it. Overnight it occurred to me, however, that the synoptic gospels also had in mind building community. They were just more tied to an existing sayings tradition in doing so. The change, in my view, is one of emphasis. The particular kind of community building involved is one of defining oneself. What is it that we believe as a group that makes us a spiritual/religious community? There is a danger here in following the example of the community reflected in According to John. They are distinguishing themselves from the Jewish community, of which they had previously been members. Who are we apart from being Jews who believe in Jesus? We have to avoid following this line of reasoning to anti-semitism, as Dr. Weiss points out. In addition, however, we need to avoid community building that is done over-against others. There is a certain amount of “and you’re not” when one defines a community. But we need to avoid defining ourselves in a way that reflects negatively on others. The community in John had good reason—they were a persecuted minority. We have less reason.
  5. I’m very glad for Dr. Herold Weiss as a guide in this study. I’m assuming those who are joining me are reading his essays. He’s much more to the point. I’m adding a good deal of discussion of the nuts and bolts to help people think about their own theology, or at least I hope it helps. This can get boring, but sometimes wading through the nuts and bolts (intentional mixed metaphor!) is precisely what we need to do.

And here is the YouTube embed for those who may have missed it:

Quote: The Son of Man Lifted up on a Cross

Quote: The Son of Man Lifted up on a Cross

From my reading for next week’s study on John (Thursday night, 7:00 pm central time via Google Hangouts on Air):

In the same way in which a flag lifted up on its pole draws together a people and constitutes it a nation, the Son of Man lifted up on a cross draws toward himself all who believe and constitutes them “born of God.” (Weiss, Meditations on According to John, 42)

I am truly enjoying my reading in preparation for this study. I’ve been talking about metaphors, and leading toward the point that we use multiple metaphors to describe something that cannot be readily depicted in concrete language. Metaphors allow us to talk about the same subject in a variety of ways, each of which may contribute to our understanding.

When a single metaphor becomes the one and only one permitted in describing an event, we begin to lose some of the content of the reality. Similarly, any time we allow one word for (or description of) God to replace God—what I call conceptual idolatry—we lose some of the reality of our experience of God. We can allow our description to limit who God is. In terms of the atonement, I believe that stating that the one explanation of the atonement is the metaphor of substitution in a forensic context, we start to lose some of the meaning of the atonement.

Unlike some, I do see forensic and substitutionary metaphors in play in some scriptural descriptions of atonement. I don’t deny them as ways to discuss and understand atonement. My concern is that they not become the sole view, driving out other strong metaphors. The gospel of John uses a couple of different metaphors, especially centering around light and family, and we need to read those in their own context with their own integrity.

When I was in college, I took Exegesis of Romans, which was intended as a sort of taste of Greek III, from a professor (Malcolm Maxwell for my fellow Walla Walla alumni), who was an advocate of the moral influence theory of the atonement. I was very attracted to the theology involved, but despite my best efforts, I couldn’t find it in Romans. It is wrong, in my view, though without any diminution in my great respect for Dr. Maxwell, to force the moral influence metaphor onto Romans. It is equally wrong to force forensic substitution onto the gospel of John. You may hear its echoes, but it doesn’t dominate.

The quote above provides a taste. I’ll be discussing this in more detail on Thursday night.

Some of My Own Books on Sale (Gospel of John Study)

Some of My Own Books on Sale (Gospel of John Study)

henry_saleThe advantages of being a publisher is that I can put books on sale to go with posts. Normally I only do that for things on my company page (Energion Publications), but since I’m starting a study of the Gospel of John on my Google+ Page/YouTube Channel, I’m doing it with a few of my own books. I haven’t spent time pushing my books for some time, I think.

In any case, the book I’m using for the study, Meditations on According to John by Dr. Herold Weiss, and three of my own books are on sale for 30% off until the end of the month, so this is your opportunity.

While I’m following Dr. Weiss’s book, I won’t be reiterating the contents of it in the video. I intend to spend more time in the nuts and bolts of how one interprets the passage. Dr. Weiss subtitled his book “Exercises in Biblical Theology,” and I’m going to be doing some exercises during the week myself and sharing these each Thursday night. So if you want to get what he has said, you’ll need to buy his book.

 

Meditations on According to John

Meditations on According to John

Meditations on According to JohnAnyone who has made a serious effort to teach from the Gospel of John has likely experienced the difficulty of giving people a clear picture of the connections between various parts of the book, not to mention the frequent allusions to passages in the Hebrew scriptures. One can easily run out of fingers to “hold that passage” while one flips to another in order to compare. The difficulty is that one needs to get an overview of the entire book before one can truly comprehend the individual parts, and people rarely study Bible books in that way. Too frequently they jump into a passage on a particular topic from the middle of the book, and the Lectionary encourages this, and never really get a full picture.

So I was delighted to get a manuscript from Herold Weiss, at one time a professor at my alma mater, Andrews University, and later at St Mary’s College, Notre Dame titled Meditations on According to John. Editors generally look with some disfavor on collections of essays, meditations or sermons. I’ve had to reject not a few such collections. They often don’t sell. One of the reasons they don’t is that people rarely read sermons by anyone who is not famous. They tend to prefer books that cover a particular topic in some detail than a collection of different thoughts.

But this book is not that sort of collection. It does not consist of unrelated thoughts that have no particular sequence. Rather, the 24 meditations on this book take particular passages in the gospel of John, According to John as Dr. Weiss likes to call it following the Greek title, and then fits them into the scheme of the entire book. I like to invite people to read a Bible book multiple times in order to get an overview. With this book, you get that sort of an overview multiple times, each with a different theme.

The gospel of John is extremely simple on the one hand, but very challenging on the other. The language is easy to understand at the basic level. But as you meditate further it tends to grow on you and make you think again … and again and again.

I think I have an excellent group of authors represented in the Energion Publications catalog. I have a long list of books I want to write about, but haven’t had time. Sometimes these books challenge me. Sometimes I am simply saying, “Yes, that was a good presentation of the _____ topic, and people should read it.” But some books stand out in that they inspire me to study as I read the manuscripts as an editor. This one had be referencing my Greek New Testament frequently, and eventually had me re-reading the entire gospel in Greek just to follow some of the thoughts presented.

You may agree or disagree with some of the conclusions. For example, Dr. Weiss does not accept this gospel as the source of sacramental theology:

The sacraments were established toward the end of the first century when Christianity was becoming institutionalized and starting to create official channels through which the Holy Spirit could flow under ecclesiastical control. (p. 152)

and

It is a bit disconcerting, therefore, to find that most commentators consider this gospel as the New Testament document that provides the basic source for sacramental theology. This judgment is based on interpretations which see the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus as supporting the sacrament of baptism, and the discourse following the feeding of the five thousand as supporting the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The texts, however, do not support these interpretations. (p. 152)

Now that will annoy a number of my friends! A bit later Dr. Weiss says:

In According to John Jesus is not baptized, does not celebrate a Lord’s Supper, and does not institute bread and wine as sacraments that need to be administered by authorized clergy. Jesus only institutes the washing of the feet which must be administered by everyone to everyone, in this way democratizing the kingdom of heaven. (pp. 156-157)

That, I think, is worth discussing. Why is it that only authorized clergy can administer sacraments? I know the theology, but is it well rooted?

In any case, both reading this book and reading John after reading this book have been beneficial experiences for me. I strongly commend this one to my friends who are interested in either biblical studies or theology. It’s a great text.