The Gospel of John: When Love Comes to Town

Written by Paul Louis Metzger Reviewed By Edward W. Klink III

The traditional commentary focuses all its energy detailing and explaining the Bible by means of its original social-cultural context. The life-setting with which it is most concerned is the ancient one. Such an approach, unfortunately, might be viewed as highlighting the differences between the world of the Bible and the contemporary world, that is, between the scholar and the pastor/pew, adding to an ever-accumulating biblical illiteracy. A new model of commentary called the Resonate series, edited by Paul Louis Metzger, attempts to bridge these worlds by reconsidering the appropriate intersection between them. In the series introduction to the first published volume, The Gospel of John: When Love Comes to Town, Metzger admits that both worlds need to be understood and addressed. But for the Resonate series, the starting place is not the Bible’s original context, but its contemporary context. Even those who do not come from a Christian background or know the Christian message are normally “well equipped at engaging pop culture” (p. 11). Metzger writes, “The aim of the Resonate series is to provide spiritual nourishment that is biblically and theologically orthodox and culturally significant. The form each volume in the series will take is that of an extended essay—each author writing about the biblical book under consideration in an interactive, reflective and culturally engaging manner” (p. 12). While other commentaries are concerned to bring the pastor into the ancient, cultural context of the Bible, the Resonate series wants to help the pastor understand the Bible within their contemporary, cultural context. There is “an increasingly urgent need for pastors who feel right at home within the biblical text to bring that text home to today’s Christ-followers by interacting with the text expositionally, by placing it within the context of contemporary daily life, and by viewing their personal stories in light of the original context and unfolding drama of ancient Scripture” (p. 12). And while other commentaries speak a foreign language to the lay reader, the Resonate series wants to bring the Bible into the lay reader’s cultural idiom, for people “who feel right at home within contemporary culture but who are foreigners when it comes to Scripture to inhabit the world of the Bible without abandoning their own context” (p. 12). The Resonate series sees itself as a “distinctive new genre or approach” which has “one finger in the ancient Scriptures, another in the daily newspaper, and another finger touching the heart, all the while pointing to Jesus Christ” (p. 13).

In light of this three-finger approach, The Gospel of John deals not verse by verse but pericope by pericope. By not locating the exegesis at the level of the verse, the theme or message of each passage becomes the locus of interpretation. Only rarely are details discussed or historical insights given. The entry point for the reader becomes the way Scripture “resonates” in us and in the world. For example, Metzger begins his interpretation of 1:1–18 with this statement: “Deep down in our souls, we all long for a sense of touch” (p. 28). Such a starting point is the message Metzger derives from the passage as a whole, unconfined to an “original” meaning, and explored through a point of connection that begins with our culture and in our hearts. And the theme is interpreted by means of synonymous examples and analogies taken from pop culture. For example, longing for a “sense of touch” is explicated through the movie Crash, which explicitly discusses “the sense of touch.” Another example is 2:1–12, where Metzger’s point of connection is “Jesus does know how to have a good time” (p. 55), which for him expresses well the vision the scene projects: the marriage supper of the Lamb. A final example is 3:1–21, where in describing Jesus as “personal,” Depeche Mode, Marilyn Manson, and Johnny Cash are all mentioned in the first paragraph (p. 63). If we could compare translation theory to a commentary, the Resonate series is a paraphrastic commentary.

There are some obvious strengths of The Gospel of John and the entire Resonate series. First, the commentary is willing to allow the biblical text to speak within and through contemporary culture. Metzger is right to demand that our present context be part of our interpretive matrix—a contributing and voting member of the exegetical committee. This focus allows a richly theological gospel like the Gospel of John to speak more directly into our personal lives and world. Second, the commentary helps make connections between pop culture and the message of Scripture. It serves to give examples of how one moves from the text’s larger meaning to a culturally engaging application.

There are, however, some questions that need to be asked. First, what kind of responsibility does a “commentary” have in regard to the text? Since the commenting is mediated through pop culture, the actual exegesis is implicit and behind the scenes. The reader is certainly helped to make connections from an already developed message, but minimal assistance is given to the actual reading of the text on its own terms. Second, what does it mean to be culturally relevant? While the use of analogies and categories from pop culture might resonate with the reader, it is difficult to safeguard against either imposing a foreign category upon Scripture or adjusting (even if slightly) the biblical categories themselves. This is not to deny the benefits Metzger and the Resonate Series bring to the analysis of Scripture, especially with an eye to the contemporary context, it is simply to ask what kind of help is provided for the pastor and the church.

Edward W. Klink III

Edward W. Klink III
Talbot School of Theology, Biola University
La Mirada, California, USA

Other Articles in this Issue

Listening to or reading the reflections of others on preaching is, for most preachers, inherently interesting and stimulating (whether positively or negatively)...

For Christians in the United kingdom, the Bible appears to have suffered a reversal of fortune with regards to its standing in public life.

The relatively recent interest among evangelicals in engaging ancient Christian tradition is without question a welcome development...

Scholars continue to discuss and debate the scope of the biblical canon...

Is the Reformation over? At first blush, this question would appear to be a rather peculiar one to ask...