During my sabbatical in 2015-2016, I am working on a new book in missional hermeneutics, this time (unlike Becoming the Gospel) focusing on the non-Pauline NT literature. I will be posting occasional excerpts of that work, in draft form, on these pages from time to time. Since I am beginning “in the beginning,” to so speak (that is, with the Gospel of John), the first posts will be about that gospel. Here is something on John 15:
In John 15 we find a creative and significant paradoxical tension within the text between the main verb, “abide” (menein; eleven times), on the one hand, and the verbs “do” (poiein; v. 4) and especially “go” (hypag?te; v. 16), on the other. Semantically, the former has to do with resting, staying put; it connotes, or could connote, spiritual ease or even apathy. The latter, however, has to do with moving, acting. This tension is expressed in, but not fully resolved by, the image of an abiding, fruit-bearing branch, for although healthy vines and branches naturally grow and bear fruit, they do not naturally move from place to place. The disciples, however, have been appointed to go. They constitute, in other words, a mobile vine, a community of centripetally oriented love that shares that love centrifugally as they move out from themselves, all the while abiding in the vine, the very source of their life and love, the source of their power to do.
Here is perhaps the most powerful symbiosis of spirituality and mission in the New Testament. This chapter, rooted in John 13-14 and further developed in John 16-17, is the quintessence of a participatory missiology. But it is even more than that; it expresses a profound theology of missional perichoresis and theosis (mutual indwelling of Christ and the disciples leading to transformation into Christlike Godlikeness). Fruit bearing is participating in the missio Dei embodied in Christ—to bring God’s light, love, and life to the world—and truly is the way we become more fully what we already are: Jesus’ disciples (15:8).