Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Is John's Gospel Particularly Relevant for This Age?

A couple weeks ago I sat down to read the book with the most verbose title not written by a Puritan or a doctoral student: Jesus the Word According to John the Sectarian: A Paleofundamentalist Manifesto for Contemporary Evangelicalism, Especially Its Elites, in North America by Robert Gundry.

This book was referred to me a year or so ago; I wish I could remember why and by whom. Regardless, it's an interesting perspective on John's gospel and its particular relevance for 21st century American evangelicalism. Gundry traces two particular themes through John's gospel and concludes by building a case for the Gospel's message to our time.

First, Gundry documents how "a Christology of the Word dominates the whole of John's Gospel more than has been recognized before" (3). He builds a persuasive case for this unique emphasis in John's Gospel, particularly in comparison with the Synoptics. The implication is that John's emphasis on Jesus' words and his identification of Jesus as the Word.
[T]he words that the Father has given [Jesus] to speak deal almost entirely with Jesus himself, nearly to th exclusion of the theme of God's kingdom which dominates the Synoptics, so that not only has the synoptic proclaimer become the Johannine proclaimed. The proclaimer and the proclaimed have also become one and the same (emphasis original, 49).
Gundry's second major section examined John as a divisive figure—a sectarian. Again, Gundry compares John's Gospel with the Synoptics and uncovers a substantial divergence in tone. John, in contrast with the Synoptics, draws stark lines between believers and unbelievers, light and darkness. John portrays Jesus as implicitly aware of these lines. As in John 3:16,
[O]nly God loves the world. Not even his Son Jesus is said to love the world of unbelievers, though John often portrays Jesus as loving believers. . . . Far from eating with worldlings and loving the world, the Johannine Jesus reveals himself to his disciples but "not to the world" (14:22) and even makes a point of not praying for the world . . . (17:9 with 17:6) (58-59).
Gundry's final section, which applies his exegesis to our contemporary ecclesiastical culture, is the most provocative:
[W]e might well ask ourselves whether we North American evangelicals are fast falling, or have already fallen, into circumstances that call for a reinstatement of John's sectarianism with its masterly, totalizing, but divisive Christology of the Word that speaks truth so incisively that as the Word, Jesus is the truth over against the father of lies, Satan, who has deceived all unbelievers. Extreme? Yes, but there are times for extremes (71).
He refers to "evangelical elites," who "reacted against the separatism of their fundamentalist forbears, who precisely in their separation from the world knew they had from God a sure word for the world" (73). He excoriates the atmosphere of tolerance in today's mainstream evangelicalism, which has deteriorated into a Neo-Social Gospel.

The rest of Gundry's analysis of modern evangelicalism would stand alone as a second post, and I hope to do that. In the meantime, I'll share his succinct comparison of the strengths of evangelicalism and fundamentalism and close with a quotation Gundry cites that sums up the entire message. First, the comparison:
So I do not condemn penetration by evangelicals any more than I condemn separation by fundamentalists. Separation was necessary to save the gospel against the inroads of modernism, I think; and penetration has been necessary to save the gospel from irrelevance and a seclusion that threatened to keep it from being heard in the world at large (74).
I understand this sentiment, since I believe that fundamentalists have unnecessarily withdrawn from the world to the degree that they are isolated and not confronting the unbelieving world with the gospel. On the other hand, I disagree in that the gospel cannot be irrelevant. It only needs to be proclaimed. With the quote, I'll close:
[S]trong eruptions of religious faith have always been marked by the appearance of people with firm, unapologetic, often uncompromising convictions—that is, by types that are the very opposite of those presently engaged in the various "relevance" operations. Put simply: Ages of faith are not marked by "dialogue," but by proclamation. [italics original]

Peter Berger, "A Call for Authority in the Christian Community," The Christian Century [of all places!] 88/43 (Oct. 27, 1971): 1262.
Amen to that.

Ok, one more note: Kent Hughes describes how this book impacted him in his SharperIron interview posted today.

4 comments:

Andy Efting said...

Ben,

I also just recently read Gundry's book. He got a blog entry out of me, too:

http://unsearchableriches.blogspot.com/2006/05/call-to-paleofundamentalism.html

NeoFundy said...

This is something that I had noticed in my recent study on John. I do believe that John's gospel, and particularly the epistles, are especially relevant for today. May we dig in and preach them boldly!

Ben said...

Well how did you hear about it, Andy? This wasn't exactly a best-seller. I wonder if we heard about it the same way.

Andy Efting said...

It might have been a Biblical Viewpoint review, but I can't say for sure.