June 9, 2012

Let's Choose The Right Hill To Die On

If we can learn anything from the current political environment of our nation, it is that we must learn to think for ourselves now more than ever. All at once we are asked to reconsider the limits of government power, the role of women, even the very definition of marriage. Gone are the days when we could simply vote for a party candidate and trust him/her to do the right thing.
If this principle holds true in the realm of politics, then certainly it should apply all the more when we dare to approach the throne of God. What does it mean to be a Christian? What does God expect of us? What must we do to be saved? Far too often we passively follow a family custom, settle for pat answers, and ease into a life of half-hearted devotion. I know, because that’s exactly how I spent the first 28 years of my life.
In his book, The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved, J. Phillips challenges every believer to question the old assumptions and think for himself. We should be guided by the dictates of Scripture, rather than church tradition or some medieval creed or legend.
I couldn’t agree more.
His thesis: The apostle John is not the author of the Gospel that we commonly attribute to him. The testimony of the New Testament itself makes this clear in many places, if only we care enough to look. Further, the NT strongly suggests a different author, someone we already know. (I won’t spoil it for you.)
Why should we question John’s authorship?
For one, the Synoptics record John’s presence at certain important events (such as the Transfiguration) that are conspicuously absent from the fourth Gospel. Why would John fail to report something that he witnessed with his own eyes?
Second, we all know that Peter was pre-eminent among the apostles. So why would John claim to be “THE (singular) disciple whom Jesus loved?”
He may be right. Yet for me it seems a dangerous business for any modern man to dictate what a holy scribe should have recorded.  And of course, we know that John was indeed among the “executive committee” that also included Peter and James.
Clearly the author’s research is solid, his intentions are noble, and his conclusions appear reasonable. Still, it seems to this observer that Phillips has chosen a very strange hill to die on. The current version is a fifth edition, which suggests that he has devoted decades – perhaps a lifetime – to the study of this question.
But to what end? Does he deny the divine origin of the fourth Gospel? Nope. Does he believe that it contains some dangerous misinformation about the life and ministry of Christ? Negative. Again, he might be right. But so what? I don’t get it.
As for me, both in my writing and my reading, I consider myself a practical theologian. That is, I’m interested in subjects that might help me (or others) understand the heart of God. Or refute some old heresy. Or learn how to pray. Or perhaps even suggest a new model for worship or church governance. But this book seems to be purely academic, with no real-life application.
I think back to the Pharisees of the first century. They studied the Scriptures constantly, and looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. Then he showed up. And they didn’t recognize him.
Lord, when you come again, may I not be caught with my nose in a book. 

I review books for BookCrash.

1 comment:

  1. I found out in Grad School that the way to make your name in Academia is to tear apart some solidly held belief.