Spirituality According to John, Rodney Reeves. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022.
Summary: Through an imaginative study of the gospel, letters, and Revelation of John, considers what it means to abide in Christ, coming to faith, living communally in Christ, and facing the tribulations of the end of the world.
In my observation, it seems that much of our instruction in Christian discipleship, if there is such instruction, centers around the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) and the letters of Paul and maybe James, if we are up for the challenge. Of the writings attributed to John, we sometimes commend (or at least used to) the Gospel of John as reading for those considering Christ. Revelation we either shy away from altogether or use it to springboard into end times speculations. And John’s letters? Mostly, it seems we use a few verses like 1 John 1:9 as memory verses but give them little attention.
In this work, Rodney Reeves reclaims the canonical writings attributed to John as valuable in the shaping of our spiritual life. For Reeves, it centers around the world “abide”–what it means to make our home in Christ both individually and communally, and in his Word, which abides in us, enabling us to incarnate the person and work of Christ in the world. For the Gospel, the Letters, and Revelation, Reeves follows a fourfold pattern as he considers how we abide in Christ and his Word abides in us involving hearing the Word, confessing the Word, incarnating the Word, and abiding in the Word.
The Gospel of John is the invitation to follow the Word home. We hear this in Jesus response to the disciples question, “where are you staying?” with his invitation to “come and see.” Come and see gives way to “See and believe” as Jesus invites Martha to confess the power of Jesus to raise Lazarus and as Jesus invites Thomas to see and believe and Thomas confesses him Lord and God and worships. “Believe and see” flips the previous words, inviting the nobleman to return home with only the word of Jesus that his son would be well and the blind man to wash the mud out of his eyes, believing that he would see. They incarnate the word of Jesus, taking it in and living it out and discover its truth. Two women, filled with the word of Jesus abide in it. The Samaritan woman tells her townspeople to see a man who told her everything she had ever done and come to him, becoming the first evangelist in the gospels. Mary at Bethany proclaims Jesus as the anointed king who will die, also saying “see and come.”
The Letters of John, written to communities, speak of how we may commune with the Word together. Hearing the Word together moves the community from self-justification to confession of sin, recognizing that we cannot hate and say we love Christ. In turn, we confess that Jesus alone is the Christ, the anointed one, denying the worldly competitors that vie for our allegiance, recognizing them for what they are “anti-Christ.” The Word is incarnated in our communities by our love for each other and our hospitality to strangers, in contrast with Diotrephes. We abide together in the Word by loving without fear and protecting ourselves from idols, the worship of heroes or anything that supplants our love for Jesus, the source of our love for each other.
John’s Revelation instructs us in how we might remain in the Word until the end of the world–especially when that world is a counterwitness to the Word. The Word we hear in Revelation is a call to worship the Lion who is the worthy Lamb who was slain. Our confession of the Word is a declaration of war. Worship is warfare against the systemic evil of the world, joining, if need be, the two prophets slain and raised, in refusing complicity in the worship of idols. Incarnating the Word, is following the Lamb, including being slain rather than seeking the power of the evil one that promises success and power. We abide in the Lamb by looking for the new heaven and the new earth rather than placing hope in Babylon, which in our day, the author argues, is hopes in American greatness.
There is a strong challenge in the latter part of this book to the political idolatries of both left and right with the invitation to “come out from her, my people.” I’ve been asked whether we are living in the time of the Apocalypse, something any perceptive person might wonder with a global pandemic, rapidly warming and less habitable planet, insurrections, war, discord, economic collapse, and rampant inflation. Reeves concludes with posing for us the question that is most vital, and in line with his theme:
“The Apocalypse is not only a revelation at the end of the world; it is a revelation of the church at the end of the world. God knew that, as we watched the world fall apart around us, we would need to see our place in a crumbling world. When the earth quakes at the weight of glory, when heaven shakes earth to its core, when idols are destroyed and the kingdoms of men fall, when pandemics threaten humanity, when all creation is purified of evil and all that is left is what God has made, where will the church abide?” (p. 257).
Will we abide in the Word of Jesus, in Jesus himself, alone? That is both the question and the invitation posed by this book.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.