Book Review: Johannine Theology
Author: Paul A. Rainbow
Publisher: IVP Academic
Reading Level: Moderate
John's whole theology is a theology of persons...(pg. 359)
The breadth of academic attention given to the Johannine corpus in the Bible is quite stunning. One might even say that the focus given to John in the academic world is over-saturated. Thus it is a commendation in and of itself that Paul A. Rainbow has found a place for a comprehensive 400+ page volume on the totality of John's writings that has not yet been done.
Paul A. Rainbow's Johannine Theology: The Gospels, The Epistles, and the Apocalypse (henceforth Johannine Theology) is just that. In Johannine Theology Rainbow sets out to find the key themes in John and then explore the ways John expresses them. Ultimately, Rainbow believes that the Biblical writings of John are preeminently personal. That is, they concern persons and relations between God, the world, and humanity. Rainbow states that John "sets forth [his] theology according to the relations among the divine persons (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) and the world made up of its various constituents." (pg. 28)
Rainbow's methodological approach in coming to John is very important to any reader interested in this volume. Rainbow notes that John's writings present a "special problem." This special problem, Rainbow writes, is that:
[John] expresses thoughts not in logical order but through a meditative interweaving of key words and themes, constantly repeated in fresh, kaleidoscopic patterns. John's interest in a given topic we must gauge not by finding a rich paragraph but by noting scattered reference throughout his writing. (pg. 30)
Rainbow backs up this claim thoroughly throughout Johannine Theology by the sheer number of Biblical references to the writings of John when any given topic or theme is considered. At times it can even seem daunting as Rainbow lists off key themes in John with their Biblical reference in parenthesis.
Johannine Theology breaks down into 10 chapters (chapter 1 as introduction) each considering a different (relational) theme in John. Ultimate to John's theology (in Rainbow's estimation) is God the Father who is the aim and goal of the entire Johannine corpus (chapter 2). Next Rainbow considers John's writings concerning "The World" (chapter 3). Both the Person and Work of God's self-revelation in Christ are considered at depth in chapters 4 and 5. Chapter 6 focuses on the attention John gives to the revelation of the Father in the Son by the Holy Spirit. Beginning in chapter 7 Rainbow turns to the individual Christian, specifically how one comes to Christ (chapter 7) and how one is to abide in Christ (chapter 8). Rainbow rounds off his comprehensive study of John by looking at the ways that John views the Christian community (chapter 9) and how that community is to be disciples of Christ in the world (chapter 10).
What makes Rainbow's work unique from other volumes on Johannine theology is that it considers all of the Biblical works that are traditionally ascribed to John (the Gospel, the Epistles, and the Apocalypse). Each of the chapters listed above goes to great lengths in showing how all of John's writings address each of the topics discussed. Other contemporary works that have attempted to address the breadth of John's theology have tended to do so while avoiding either the Gospel, the Epistles, or the Apocalypse.
It should be noted that Rainbow's intended audience (it seems) is mainly conservative in it's view of Biblical authority. Rainbow does spend some time defending the authorship of John but annexes most of his critical argumentation to the substantial footnotes throughout the book. While some of these footnotes carry on conversations about differing debates, most of them cite works that Rainbow chooses to argue for him.
Further, there were some key areas of this book where I disagree with Rainbow. Rainbow believes that the proper time for all baptisms is after a profession of faith (pg. 395) whereas I believe the Bible teaches that infants should be administered the rite of baptism. In my estimation, the doctrine of credo-baptism or "believers baptism" tends toward an individualized theology. I felt that this showed up in chapters 7 and 8. While I disagreed with very little in these chapters the overall individual emphasis made me give pause.
Additionally, Rainbow insinuates (throughout) that several of John's writings were written after the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD while myself (and most preterists) believe the entire Biblical canon was completed before 70AD. While this may seem like a small matter, the fact that I believe much of the Apocalypse was addressing what was soon to happen in 70AD and Rainbow believes it was written post-70AD carries much weight in the scope and direction of a theology of John. That said, I was delighted in the fact that Rainbow highlighted (again throughout) that in Jesus' life, death, and resurrection the eschatological order has broken in to the present age.
In conclusion, I am sure that Rainbow's contribution to Johannine scholarship will neither be overlooked or under appreciated. The sheer number of Biblical references in this book will, no doubt, serve as a frequent reference to all things "John" for many.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."