Spirituality According to John: Abiding in Christ in the Johannine Writings. By Rodney R. Reeves. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press 2021. 280 pp. Paper, $28.00.
Rodney Reeves has a PhD in NT from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and is a lifelong Southern Baptist. He is a gifted communicator and uses a number of stories and illustrations. This book is easy to read. It is divided into three parts: John’s Gospel, John’s Letters, and John’s Revelation.
For Reeves, abiding in Christ and discipleship are equivalent to being a Christian (p. 2). One must obey the teachings of Christ in order to be eternally saved (pp. 132-33). There is no better way to learn how to abide in Christ than to hear or read the Gospel of John. He says that John wrote the Gospel so that we might see and believe in Christ and have eternal life. But the Gospel was also written for those who have already believed, telling them how they are to act after He has left (p. 3). John uses stories in his Gospel because we are not just to focus on doctrinal purity. It takes a lot of imagination to follow Christ as we fill in the gaps in the stories (p. 9).
The author accurately points out that John has very little material on Christian living, which is in contrast to the Synoptics (pp. 81, 144). Instead, the reader is to learn from the examples of the disciples. In these examples, John shows us that it takes time to become a Christian. It is not a one-time conversion. It is only at the end of our lives that our conversion will be revealed. Until then we are to look for signs that God is working in us (pp. 23-25).
Reeves offers a number of personal insights into the different encounters the Lord has with individuals in the Gospel of John. When Jesus applied mud to the eyes of the blind man, it reminds the reader of Gen 2:7 when God created man from dirt/mud. The Lord was going to create through dirt once again. This time, He was going to create sight. In addition, the man with mud on his eyes comes to see, while the Pharisees become blind by what the Lord does through the mud (pp. 72-73). Another example is when Mary anointed Jesus’ feet. She offended the guests because the pungent smell would have ruined the taste of the food (p. 91).
Even though Reeves believes in the inspiration of John’s writings, he also believes that an “editor” wrote chapter 21. He maintains that we don’t know with certainty who wrote the Gospel of John either (pp. 99-100).
In the Epistles of John, John’s community of believers can only abide in the Word of God by hearing John’s Gospel. Abiding in Christ means to remain in the church and through the Gospel of John, learn how to live like Christ lived. True believers will do both (p. 103). Following Christ is something we do corporately (p. 108).
The antichrists in 1 John show they were unbelievers by leaving the church. If anybody leaves the church after denying Christ, there is no hope, having committed the sin unto death (p. 136). The antichrists in 1 John reject the teaching of the Gospel of John. Reeves believes that the anointing in 1 John 2:20 refers to the Gospel of John (p. 131).
True believers also confess their sins (p. 112). They walk in the light, which is equivalent to hearing and obeying the Gospel of John (p. 115). Reeves maintains that this confession of sins is to be public, in front of the church (p. 117). All real Christians will keep the commandments of Christ, especially to love one another (1 John 2:4; p. 143).
Reeves has a very inclusive view of the gospel. Catholics, Anglicans, Arminians, and denominations that require water baptism all proclaim a message that saves. We must be accepting of such views (pp. 156-59).
According to Reeves, the church is a major focus in the book of Revelation. The purpose of the church is to bear witness of Christ until He comes (p. 180). Reeves does not believe in a Rapture, a future Tribulation, or millennial kingdom. Instead, Christ is currently reigning in heaven, and the church is called to reign upon the earth as a kingdom of priests (p. 189). Much of the book of Revelation deals with the Roman Empire and the conditions of the church in the first century. But we can apply the things written to what is happening in our day. When the church meets to worship God, we wage war against the forces of evil, just like in the book of Revelation (p. 204).
An interesting part of the discussion on Revelation is Reeves’ extreme dislike for many Republican policies. According to him, Christians who supported Trump’s policies regarding immigration were engaged in a denial of the faith. Trump also caused the death of many when he downplayed the threat of Covid for political purposes and caused an insurrection and threatened democracy on Jan 6, 2021. Trump became an idol to many Christians. He says support for gun rights also runs counter to the teachings of Christ (pp. 210-11, 216, 249). America was the modern-day Babylon of Revelation when it bombed Iraq during the Gulf War (p. 248).
The idols of Revelation are seen today in the idols of Wall Street, nature, the military, patriotism, entertainers, politicians, and medical experts (p. 228). Reeves does a good job of showing how churches often give too much adoration to such people and institutions.
Reeves has a good discussion on loving by deeds and not words (p. 168). He points out the importance of the corporate body as well as listening to the Word of God. Many will agree with some of his insights in the Lord’s discussions with various people in the Gospel of John. He also accurately points out how Christians on both sides of the political aisle can be blinded by our political views. This is particularly helpful in these times of political turmoil. For those interested in how a non-dispensationalist might interpret Revelation, this book will be helpful. I recommend this book for readers looking for such things.
However, there are many things to dislike about this book. Reeves’s gospel is definitely a gospel of salvation by works. In his view, some people have committed a sin that disqualifies them from receiving eternal life. He makes no distinction between having eternal life and being a disciple of the Lord. He repeatedly says that true believers hold on to the end. A reader of this book who agrees with the author will have no assurance of salvation. Reeves believes that those in the seven churches in Revelation that Jesus says need to repent are not believers (p. 240). In the final analysis, he completely misunderstands what abiding in Christ means for John. Reeves says that he did not want to focus on theological issues. For those looking for those things—specifically what John has to say about receiving eternal life as a free gift through faith as opposed to abiding in Christ—I do not recommend this book.
Kenneth W. Yates
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society