Eerdmans , Grand Rapids and Cambridge , 2008 , $28.00 .
For some time now there has been a detectable desire, more perhaps on the side of theologians than on the part of Scripture scholars, to have the disciplines of biblical studies and systematic theology talking once more to each other. They have not been doing so, and yet, as Richard Bauckham points out in his introduction to this admirable attempt at a conversation, both disciplines have in recent years eagerly interacted with literary studies, with philosophy, and with social theory; but they hardly ever bothered talking to each other. The present volume arises out of a conference held some years ago at St Andrew's, unde semper aliquid novi, and makes for quite compelling reading.
It is hard to review fairly a collection such as this, so let me simply give the reader a flavour of the offerings contained herein, with a warm encouragement to leap from the review to the book. There are some challenging essays on Johannine dualism by Stephen Barton and Miroslav Volf, where the interest (for me, at any rate) lies in seeing the Gospel of John (hereinafter GJ) through quite different eyes than those of Scripture scholars. The effect, it has to be said, is to yield a much richer reading of the text.
Nowadays we have all to face up to the challenge of Reception History, and two excellent and contrasting essays offer an account of Irenaeus' reading of GJ, and God's ‘aseity’ (D. Jeffrey Bingham), while Rowan Williams takes a characteristically perceptive look at the way some eminent Anglican thinkers (Westcott, Hoskyns, Temple, and JAT Robinson) have approached the Fourth Gospel, each one, in their very different way, inspired by Browning's remarkable poem on John (‘A Death in the Desert’). There is a very useful piece in the same vein by Todd Larson, starting from the very different positions of John Ashton (to whom many of the contributors pay proper reverence) and D. Moody Smith showing how their work (unexpectedly perhaps) has been foreshadowed in the history of exegesis.
Stephen Evans offers an interesting take, from someone outside the discipline of biblical studies, on the historical reliability of GJ, including the following challenging sentence, ‘Surprising as it may seem, it may be perfectly reasonable to have beliefs about John's historical reliability that are not based on any evidence at all, and therefore not based on scholarly evaluation of that evidence …’ (p.93). It is, one has to confess, enormously refreshing to have a philosopher looking at the arguments about historicity.
There is a fascinating piece by Bauckham on the Fourth Gospel as the testimony of the Beloved Disciple, developing some of his well-known insights in this area, and adding the intriguing notion that there is at the beginning and end of the gospel an inclusio in which this disciple frames the entire narrative.
On a different topic, Stephen Motyer forces us to face the fact that Jewish readers are offended by the references in GJ to ‘the Jews’, and he argues that in the text the term refers to a particular kind of Torah-observant Jew, living in Judaea; and he suggests some striking retranslations. Motyer's suggestion is that those who come under such (embarrassingly) vehement attack are in fact Christian apostates: ‘diabolization is restricted to those who had once been followers of Jesus, and restricted to them alone’ (p. 193).
There is a perceptive account by Andrew Lincoln of the unexpectedness of the Lazarus story; and on the same narrative, Alan Torrance's reflections on ‘epistemic base’ in assessing the probability of the story will be found chastening by those of an over-sceptical frame of mind.
A magisterial contribution comes from Martin Hengel on the Christology of the Prologue; and it would only be slightly overstating the case to say about the editors' positioning of this essay and that of Jurgen Moltmann that ‘you have kept the best wine until last’. This book is a joy to read, and will make a generous contribution to the discourse in a number of areas.