Gospel of Glory
October 12, 2015
Richard Bauckham. Gospel of Glory: Major Themes in Johannine Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015. xvii + 237 pp. $24.99
The author dedicates this book to six great British Johannine scholars of the past. The reader should not expect, however, to find direct traces of all their views in this book. Here are the scholars' names with the number of times they are cited (almost entirely in footnotes) in parentheses: B. F. Westcott (0), E. C. Hoskyns (6), C. H. Dodd (3), J. A. T. Robinson (0), B. Lindars (14), C. K. Barrett (9). Scholars most frequently cited, according to the index, are Rudolf Bultmann, Bauckham himself, and Raymond Brown. Other less frequent discussion partners are D. A. Carson, Craig Keener, Andrew Lincoln, Francis Moloney, D. Moody Smith, Miroslav Volf, and Ben Witherington III. Bauckham takes cognizance of recent scholarship related to his topics. But his discussion consists of relatively independent forays into eight different fields rather than systematic interaction with other scholars' opinions.
In contrast to some at present (e.g., those attempting "theological interpretation" of Scripture, or the projected 30 volume Encyclopedia of the Bible and Its Reception), Bauckham interacts little with Johannine interpretation through the centuries (but see p. 36 on the social Trinity). Augustine does not appear in the index; Calvin is mentioned five times (once quite significantly: see last words of the book, p. 201) and Luther but two.
The book consists of eight chapters. Each seeks to highlight and clarify a dimension of the theology found in the Fourth Gospel (hereafter FG). The first of these dimensions is "individualism." The quotation marks around the title signal that Bauckham does not have in mind contemporary Western individualism. Rather, he means that in the FG, stress is placed on the individual's relationship to Jesus, or to God through Jesus. He suggests that "the imaginary Johannine community has cast such a spell over Johannine scholarship" that readers have missed how frequent and dogged is Jesus' call for individual response to him. A table (pp. 6-7) lays out 67 of Jesus' "aphoristic sayings" beginning with "the one who," "if anyone," "everyone who," "whoever," and "no one." Jesus does not always address the world at large or even the religious community but frequently individuals.
Moreover, Jesus calls for particular kind of individual response: he seeks to establishment interpersonal ties with the individual. One might call it consummated or even covenantal individualism. (Think of Abraham's connection with God.) Bauckham's table of numerous passages that depict it is entitled "In-One-Anotherness" and "Personal Coinherence" (p. 10). The FG "values the relationship of personal intimacy between the individual believer and Jesus" (p. 18). A major takeaway of this chapter (besides the finding that John 6 is utterly bereft of eucharistic reference; see also below on chapter five, "Sacraments?") is that social pressure and scholarly fashion favor stress on corporate religiosity or "community" as the goal of Christian expression. Bauckham, in contrarian fashion, asserts that "we should not be tempted, either for theological or for sociological reasons, to flatten the contours of the canon to the detriment of this specially Johannine emphasis" (p. 19), i.e., the individual's personal response in faith to Christ.
In chapter two Bauckham takes up "Divine and Human Community." He focuses on the meaning of "one" in the FG, which stresses God's people becoming one, especially in chapter 17 (Jesus' lengthy prayer). This oneness comes about through Jesus, who is frequently in the FG said to be one with the Father. Various verses "state an analogy between the unity of the Father and Son and that of the Christian community" (p. 35, Bauckham's italics). This points to a community oneness that comes about by relationship with the Father through the Son. Bauckham explicates social Trinitarian thought of recent decades by various theologians to explain what he sees the FG to be getting at. "Human community" among believers is "formed by participation in the divine community" (p. 39), Bauckham thinks. Here he draws on Moltmann and offers corrections to Miroslav Volf's formulations on this topic.
In the chapters's final section Bauckham deploys these insights to shed light, once more, on John 17 and its implications for the love of God for the entire world. He explains how John 3:16 ("God so loved the world") relates to Jesus' prayer in 17:9 where he states he prays not for the world but for those whom the Father has given him. "World" in 17:9 is "the world in its opposition to God," while in 3:16 reference is to "the world as God's creation and as redeemable through believing in Jesus" (p. 41 n. 45).
Careful Bible readers far less scholarly in their approach than Bauckham may not find these insights revolutionary. For academic interpreters who do not read the FG with as open a mind as Bauckham (an evangelical), his careful unpacking of Jesus' statements with the realist attitude that he might actually have said such things, and that they could amount to more than the bloviating of some hypothetical Johannine school, result in interpretations gratifyingly true to the text and to the Christ many have found in the FG through the centuries.
Chapter three takes up "glory" in the FG. Bauckham recognizes this as a Greek word that John invests with a Hebrew meaning. John uses it in a way distinct among NT writers "to highlight, by paradox, the extraordinary nature of the love of God for the world in going to the lengths of Jesus' abject dying in the pain and shame of crucifixion" (p. 43). This wonder is compounded and completed by the resurrection, but not so as to make the cross secondary or to directly rival it. "It is the degradation and the death, in the light of the resurrection, that constitute the ultimate manifestation of God's glory to the world" (p. 61). Paul's way of putting this was that he preached "Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). At a time when one sometimes observes the cross being minimized in favor of the resurrection regarded as a more upbeat and positive symbol, Bauckham's dogged commitment to John's language and thought are bold and refreshing. So is his care in pointing out how Christ's glory in dying is shared with and among his followers when they follow him in love for one another (p. 61) and if need be (as in Peter's case, according to Jesus' prediction in John 21:19) martyrdom (p. 62).
Chapter four takes up "Cross, Resurrection, and Exaltation." Here as elsewhere Bauckham treats the FG not as sources to be manipulated at the critic's will but as "exquisitely told narratives" (p. 68). He seeks to let the sources tell their fetching story rather than fit them into an awkward grid. He treats the composite theme in the chapter's title, which points to three major foci of Christ's saving work, in connection with four major sub-themes: love, life, glory, and truth. "Truth" is "the hardest to define in John's usage" (p. 74). One way truth and Christ relate is that Christ truly fulfills the Scriptures. Another is that Christ is the truth (cf. John 14:6). Just as Jesus is "the life" through "his death-and-resurrection/exaltation," so he "incarnates the true character of God and the true way for humans to come to God" (p. 75). That "way" is through believing in Christ and the work he has performed to make possible God's salvation of the person who comes to him.
In chapter five ("Sacraments?") Bauckham finds no direct reference to the Christian Eucharist or baptism in John's narrative. Yet to draw on the FG to fund "sacramental liturgies and spirituality with words and images [from the FG] is not problematic, because the sacraments represent those central realities of salvation in Christ" that are so tellingly described in the FG (p. 107).
Chapter six deals with "Dualisms." Bauckham shows appreciation for but ultimately rejects Bultmann's analysis of the polarities in the FG: light and darkness, earthly things and heavenly things, blindness and seeing, children of the devil and children of God, and so forth (see charts on pp. 121-124). The dualisms in the FG do not dominate so as to compete with the FG message; they are rather subordinate to its central concern, which is soteriology (pp. 128-129).
The final two chapters ("Dimensions of Meaning in the Gospel's First Week" and "The Johannine Jesus and the Synoptic Jesus") display the same painstaking analytic work as earlier chapters. Bauckham shows correlations between the first week depicted in the FG and the last (passion) week (see especially chart on pp. 134-135). In various fascinating and sometimes minute ways, the way the FG begins "contains, in anticipation, its end" (p. 184). In the final chapter Bauckham stresses the complementarity, not contradiction, between the Christology of the synoptic Gospels and the FG, respectively, taking issue, e.g., with L. T. Johnson on this point (p. 200). "The 'metahistorical' aspect of John's story--Jesus comes from God and returns to God--does not deprive the historical of its reality, but interprets its meaning" (ibid.). What the FG reports about Jesus is not mere myth or symbol but reality observed by real persons in the same space and time we inhabit.
Issue can be taken with Bauckham's rejection of the apostle John as the author of the FG, concerning which Bauckham writes elsewhere (see Andreas Köstenberger's comments here). This book's claims would be even more robust, at several levels, with John the son of Zebedee as the FG author. But that aside, there is a great deal to learn here. Preachers and other students of the Word (including scholars) who care to delve into FG specifics will profit immensely from the findings that arise from these reverent, insightful, informed, and occasionally brilliant investigations.
Robert Yarbrough is Professor of New Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri