I didn’t know until now, but apparently I have a John allergy. I must have. How else can I explain my aversion? By John, I mean the gospel. You know, Matthew, Mark, Luke and … that one. With four to choose from, I clearly have a preference. I wouldn’t have guessed it, but ferreting through my sermon files (yes, we pastors have them … riveting stuff) the evidence is overwhelming. Luke and Mark are looking positively rosy, Matthew less so, and John … well, let’s just say he’s a bit lonely.
I only know this because I’ve just finished reading Dorothy A Lee’s book Hallowed in Truth and Love. It’s an exploration of the spirituality of John, both in his gospels and letters. I picked it up some time back, more because I’ve met Dorothy and respect her scholarship than out of a passion for the subject. But now I’ve read it I wonder why I waited so long. It’s an inspiring read, so much so that I was propelled to my files to make my sobering discovery.
It makes no sense really, this John aversion. As the product of a robust evangelicalism, I was formed in a tradition with a clear preference for John. I remember the advice to new converts: ‘read the bible … start with John!’ After all, it’s full of the most compelling stories of encounter with Jesus along with beautifully poetic descriptions of his role in the life of faith. What’s not to like? But it’s clear I have stayed away. As for why, that’s probably best left for my therapist and me (I do need to get one of those). Regardless, Dorothy has called me back and I’m glad.
I suppose the path was made easier by the focus of this work. As a pastor and preacher, I struggle a bit with commentaries. In my experience they often treat the text more as a problem to be solved than a source of truth to be discerned. As a bit of a spirituality nut, it is wonderfully refreshing for me to find a New Testament teacher of Dorothy’s ability listening intelligently for the experience of God in the text and allowing that experience an authoritative voice in understanding its truth . Too often, the spirituality of the text, its author and audience, are important to the scholar only in a derivative way if at all. But that’s not the case here.
I do not mean this is an easy read, heavy on the devotional and light on scholarship. Certainly not. But what I valued most as I read was the sense of the writer as more than a scholar. I wrote in the margins of the first chapter ‘preacher, scholar, pilgrim.’ And it was this sense that carried through the entire book. One cannot help but sense the author knows something of this spirituality herself. Not in an overt way. It’s simply there in the text. What’s more, her affirmation of the gospel’s imagery, its acknowledgement of both light and darkness in the way of discipleship, and its appeal to and affirmation of the senses … all of this reminds me of John’s worth.
There is so much in this book that inspire me back to the gospel, and, even more, back to the pulpit. For one who does not often relish preaching, that’s quite a feat.