John the Maverick Gospel. By Robert Kysar. Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993. Revised edition. 157 pp. Paper, $12.99.
When I first began reading the book I had high hopes of finding some worthwhile observations within it, despite the author’s liberal credentials. And I was encouraged, while still on the first page of the preface, when I read that this introduction to John was specifically organized to draw its readers into the pages of the Gospel itself rather than to function as a substitute for personal interaction with the biblical text. However, it took only a few pages before the author’s antisupernatural assumptions became painfully obvious. While Dr. Kysar admits that he doesn’t know who wrote the Gospel or whether the author was a man or a woman, he can definitely rule out the man traditionally assumed to be the human author—John the son of Zebedee. This served as a preview for his consistently liberal views throughout the book. In his discussion of the relationship between the Gospel of John and the Synoptic Gospels, Kysar directly questions the historicity of both, asking, “Which of the two accounts (if either)—the Synoptics or the Fourth Gospel—is historically accurate?” (p. 6). While he simply assumes that John and the Synoptics can’t possibly be reconciled, he more than once ridicules anyone who would suggest possible harmonizations. So much for objectivity!
As far as sources are concerned, Kysar believes that there are three major and “different” (read contradictory) “traditions” found in the NT. One is represented by the Synoptic Gospels, a second is represented by the Gospel of John, and a third is represented by the writings of Paul. He thus is free to say, “I want to stress at the beginning of this introduction to the religious thought of the Fourth Gospel that it represents a unique form of early Christian thought. It is a heterodox form of Christianity, at least when compared with the other literature in the New Testament” (p. 2, italics added).
In the body of the book, one finds chapters on the Sonship of Jesus, dualism in John, the concept of faith in the fourth Gospel, Johannine eschatology, and John as the Universal Gospel. Throughout these pages Kysar does what liberal theologians tend to do—add an “extra step” to his exegesis. That is, after describing “what the author says,” he goes on to explain that away by revealing “what the real meaning should be for modern readers.” Thus while Kysar will admit that the author of the fourth Gospel wrote to reveal that Jesus was “a divine, heavenly being” he will also tell us that in reality Jesus was only a very enlightened human being.
Chapter three, “Seeing is Believing—Johannine Concepts of Faith” will be especially disappointing to members of the Grace Evangelical Society. Kysar sees a categorical difference between what he labels “signs faith” and “mature faith.” And he makes a serious exegetical error in stating that “believe” means “personal allegiance” to Jesus (p. 93). Near the end of this chapter he makes the incredible statements, “The Fourth Evangelist never uses the noun ‘faith’ or ‘belief,’ but always and only the verb ‘to believe.’ What does this mean? Faith is not a state of being but a dynamic becoming. If faith is always a verb, that surely implies that faith is not something one does once and for all time. Rather, faith as a verb means that believing is a decision made once only to have to be made over and over again, or a gift accepted not once but again and again. Faith is a continuing dynamic, not a state of being” (p. 94).
In summary, this work is not recommended except to those who are interested in examining how the liberal mindset explains away the clear meaning and intent of the Gospel of John. This book is a sad example of how “modern scholarship” can completely misread both the basic narrative and the underlying theology of the Bible generally and the fourth Gospel in particular.
Tanglewood Bible Fellowship