Review: Seeing by the Light

Seeing by the Light: Illumination in Augustine’s and Barth’s Readings of John, (Studies in Christian Doctrine and Scripture), Ike Miller. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.

Summary: A study on the doctrine of illumination examining how both Augustine and Barth exposited this doctrine in the gospel and letters of John.

Through most of my Christian life I’ve thought of illumination primarily in terms of the work of the Holy Spirit in opening my understanding and my heart to the scriptures. Drawing upon John 15:26-27 and John 16:13-15, I understood the work of the Spirit as pointing to Christ, testifying to and glorifying him, and instructing in all things.

In Ike Miller’s study of John’s writings, he affirms and elaborates this into a much fuller understanding of illumination in the economy of the Trinity, and in the experience of the believer. To do so, Miller studies Augustine’s homilies on John and previously untranslated lectures on John by Karl Barth.

In the first two parts, Miller successively treats Augustine and Barth. In each part he begins first with their methods of theological interpretation, helpful in each case in understanding how they worked with texts and reached the conclusions they did. Then Miller looks at the doctrine of illumination in each interpretation of John. Finally, he sets this within the larger context of the theologian’s doctrine of illumination, finding these largely consistent.

Part three then synthesizes the material in arguing that John’s gospel is a narrative of illumination. This begins with John’s prologue to his gospel, with God’s nature as light, life-giving light in the creation, light on a mission in the Son, coming into the world to bring light in the darkness, and the experience through the Spirit of coming to see the light and walking in it in a new life of faith and ongoing obedience. He goes on to discuss illumination in our reading of scripture, and in our human experience.

All of this leads Miller to a fresh definition of illumination:

[I]llumination is human participation in the Son’s knowledge of the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit. In language more attuned to the language of illumination, it is human participation in the light of the divine life.

Lest readers think Miller is jumping on the participation bandwagon in contemporary theology, he demonstrates how this idea is found in Augustine’s study, not of Paul, but of John. He moves us beyond the knowledge of scripture to the knowledge of God through the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. He goes beyond mere cognition to the experience of the believer in ongoing dependence upon the light for our lives.

All of this makes for a rich study of illumination, exposing most of us to new material in Augustine and Barth, and a far greater vision of the Triune God’s illumination work in creation and salvation. In doing so, we see yet another of the wonders of the grace of God, through the coming of the Son bringing light into the darkness, and through the Spirit for illumining minds and hearts to see this light and come to it.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

One thought on “Review: Seeing by the Light

  1. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: August 2020 | Bob on Books

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