What do I think of Paul Rainbow’s book on the theology of John? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Johannine Theology is over 400 pages of looking at a highly complex topic. John is the Gospel that is often the most problematic for people due to its being so different from the others. Even N.T. Wright has said it is like his wife Maggie. In speaking of her he says “I love her, but I do not claim to understand her.”
Rainbow begins with a brief history on Johannine studies and with a defense of authorship and the date of the writing and such and from there, it’s off to see what the book has to say. The opening should be sufficient for those who are interested in the basic apologetic aspect to understand the usage of John in studies of the historical Jesus.
Rainbow argues that while John’s Gospel certainly tells us about the life of Jesus, the main character being it all is really God. The Gospel should be read not just as a Christological statement but as a Theological one. This is fitting since we are told that it is the Son who is explaining the Father. We know God by knowing the Son. He who has seen the Son has seen the Father. We cannot know God as He truly is apart from knowing the Son and the Son came to reveal the Father.
I found this to be a highly important insight. Rainbow is not at all downplaying the importance of Christology. He has plenty to say about that in a later chapter and of course, he comes down on the side of orthodox theology, but he does want to stress that we cannot leave God the Father out of the equation in John.
I will say when he got to Christology, I was disappointed on one aspect. Much of the Christology came from the Gospel. I find an excellent place to go to really to get Christology in the Johannine corpus is to go to the book of Revelation. I did not see this interacted with in the work. Revelation begins after all describing itself as the Revelation of Jesus Christ and it does say that the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
Rainbow also covers other themes related to theology. He covers the question of salvation and that of apostasy. He covers issues related to free will and predestination and points out that John has no desire to really address our questions there. It could be argued that John in fact argues for both sides of the equation. He also argues for how John says the church is to be to the world.
Surprisingly, there is little on eschatology and this was one area I did have a difficult time with as I happen to highly enjoy discussions of eschatology. Rainbow does take a futurist stance in his writings and that is not something that is argued for. I find it interesting for instance that Revelation is said to tell us about the antichrist and yet Revelation never once uses the term.
Still, Johannine Theology is a difficult topic to handle and I think Rainbow for the most part does an excellent job. I would have liked to have seen more on eschatology, but then that could be its own book entirely. Still, if you want to understand the writings of John in relation to theology, then you should get yourself a copy of this volume.