Johannine Theology, Paul A. Rainbow. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.
Summary: A comprehensive treatment of the Johannine corpus that assumes a common source and explores the theology of these books in light of the major relationships between persons divine and human, and of those persons with regard to the church and the world.
Of the books that have been written . What Paul Rainbow has done in this volume is to summarize some of the most significant scholarship and questions in this area of biblical theology. A basic assumption of the book is a common authorship of the Gospel and Epistles of John and the Apocalypse (Revelation). Rainbow adopts as his “working assumption” that the Apostle John is the common author of these texts. In fact, one of the later discussions in the book argues strongly that John was a churchman and not a sectarian, against the “Johannine sectarian” approach to this corpus.
Rainbow takes the interesting approach of delineating the theology of this corpus as a theology of personal relationships, and he synthesizes the teaching of all parts of the corpus under these headings. Following his introduction in chapter 1 where he outlines approaches to Johannine theology and scholarship, including his own, he follows this plan, which he summarizes in chapter 10, which considers the relationship of the church to the world:
“God the Father (chap. 2) loves God the Son eternally (chap. 4) and is united to him by God the Spirit (chap. 6). He also loves the world that he made, despite its rebellion toward him (chap. 3). He sent his Son to show his love supremely by making propitiation for the world’s sin on the cross (chap. 5). The Son, on returning to glory, sent the Spirit to indwell his disciples (chap. 6) so that they might abide in the Son, both individually (chaps. 7-8) and corporately (chap. 9) until he comes again (p. 399).
There are times where the reading of this work is heavy going when the author is summarizing passage after passage as it contributes to a particular theme. My suggestion here is that such material is probably most helpfully read by looking up the passages and giving careful thought and reflection to their import. What is clear is that this process often leads to insight on the part of the author who may “zoom out” with insights on the relations of the divine persons, discussions of the procession of the Spirit and the controversy of churches East and West, a defense of propitiation, the blessedness of eternal life and union in Christ, the life of abiding in Christ, and the nature of the Church and its relationship with a World that often hates the followers of Christ as it does Christ.
What is interesting is that rather than provide a separate chapter on “eschatology” the author weaves eschatological concerns throughout the book, as he considers the relation of the Triune God to a fallen world, explores the redemptive work of Christ, the hope of the believer, and the mission of the Church. This is consistent with his approach that integrates consideration of The Apocalypse with the rest of the Johannine material, rather than bracketing it off to itself.
One comes away from this work with the sense of having sat with someone who has soaked deeply in the Johannine material and seen connections most of us may miss in our readings or studies of the separate books. More than simply biblical study, however, this is truly biblical theology in the sense that it works from the biblical material to explore what this material discloses of the character and workings of God, and how humans may indeed relate to him and to one another through Christ. Rainbow’s careful and extensive study lays out a banquet for any who will come to the table!