Theses on Reading and Preaching from the Gospel of John

Following is the outline of my final lecture on the Gospel of John for my seminary course on Johannine Literature:

  • The best way to read and preach John is to enter its narrative, symbolic, and theological world, and to invite your hearers to do the same.
  • The jury is still out, and perhaps always will be out, on certain so-called “introductory issues”—the author(s), the precise historical situation of the community (if there was one), etc. Do not build your preaching and teaching on these matters.
  • There is an increasing scholarly acceptance of the historical basis in the life of Jesus of many of the events and sayings in John. Again, the jury is still out on many issues and details, but there are two mistakes to avoid:
    • Don’t say, “This is a spiritual gospel that is not intended to depict the real, historical Jesus as the Synoptic Gospels do, but only the Christ of faith.”
    • Don’t say, “This is an exact word-for-word account of precisely what Jesus said and did without interpretation.” This claim is not true of any canonical gospel because in antiquity oral transmission lent itself to both faithful transmission and appropriate interpretation.
    • The main purposes of the Gospel of John are christological and soteriological: to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God, Messiah/King of Israel, and Savior of the World who was sent by God the Father to give the world eternal life (life in intimate knowledge of Father, Son, and Paraclete/Spirit) now and forever.
    • This joy-filled and peace-filled life is offered as a gift that must be believed and received; nurtured by word and sacrament; and embodied in such concrete practices as love, unity, forgiveness, evangelization, and pastoral care.
    • The spirituality of John is rich, deep, and multifaceted; it may perhaps be summarized as the mutual indwelling (abiding) of believers and the Triune God that creates a community of disciples, the people of the new covenant, that worships God and participates in the divine mission of bringing abundant life to the world through witness in word and deed to the self-giving love of the crucified and glorified Jesus.
    • The gospel of John is both an invitation to life in the Father/Son/Paraclete and a word of reassurance that, in the physical absence of Jesus, believers can rely on the Paraclete as their teacher, guide, inspiration, and aide, even in times of persecution. It is a gospel for non-believers, but also for new believers, doubting and fence-sitting believers, missional believers, persecuted believers—in other words, a gospel for all people.

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