Saturday, August 14, 2010

Review of Father, Son, and Spirit: The Trinity and John's Gospel

Köstenberger, Andreas J., and Scott R. Swain, Father, Son, and Spirit: The Trinity and John's Gospel, NSBT, Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: InterVarsity Press and Apollos, 2008. Pp. 224. ISBN 978-0-8308-2625-4. $22.00 paper.

Andreas J. Köstenberger and Scott R. Swain (KS) provide a clearly argued and accessible study on the trinitarian theology of the Gospel of John. The introduction establishes the need for the study and addresses some of the concerns that are raised when discussing trinitarian beliefs within John (e.g. accusations of historical and theological anachronisms). KS then lay out their hermeneutical approach which is described as “confessional criticism” (p. 23).

Chapter one argues that an understanding of Jesus as God is compatible with exclusivist monotheism and that it is historically plausible that an understanding of Jesus as God emerged quite early within Christianity and thus was not a creation of the church later during the Patristic Period. This chapter provides a brief overview of relevant scholarly works which impinge on Christological studies and Johannine literature, devoting time to the important work of Richard Bauckham and Larry Hurtado. KS provide a clear argument for the Apostle John’s authorship of the Gospel while critiquing Bauckham’s view that John the Elder wrote the fourth Gospel. The important contribution from this chapter to the argument of the book is that it demonstrated that early Christianity re-defined its inherited understanding of monotheism and thus God’s identity by including in it Jesus as the pre-existent Son of God (Deut. 6:4; Jn. 10:30; 1 Cor. 8:4-6). This reconfiguration is described by Bauckham and cited approvingly by KS as “Christological monotheism” (p. 44).

Chapter two surveys the use of theos in the Gospel of John and notes that it is used to refer to both the Father and the Son. KS recognize that this suggests “an apparent ditheism” on John’s part but comment further that “these two persons sustain a nuanced and complementary relationship” (p. 60). Chapter three provides an overview of the use of pāter with reference to God. It serves to broaden the accepted understanding of monotheism while also functioning as “the dominant, controlling metaphor” with regard to “Jesus’ relationship with God” (p. 73). Chapter four explores John’s application of the terms monogenēs, son of Joseph, Son of God, Son of Man, and Son. Chapter five provides an overview of the presence of the Spirit which evidences a marked increase in the latter half of the John’s Gospel. Chapter six summarizes the findings of the book up to this point and concludes that the trinitarian presence in John’s Gospel centers on mission.

Chapter seven provides a theological interpretation of the Trinity in John’s Gospel. This chapter argues that John’s Christological perspective is fully trinitarian which also has as its focus Jesus’ filial agency and mission of redemption (p. 124). Chapter eight demonstrates the trinitarian nature of John’s Christology by investigating the role of the Spirit in relation to the Son. KS discern in John’s Gospel a pattern in which the Spirit is sent from the Father, persists with the Son, and likewise continues with his followers (p. 148). Chapter nine argues for the centrality of the Trinity in God’s mission in the world and provides practical suggestions for the way the church should participate in that mission. Chapter ten utilizes Jesus’ high-priestly prayer to organize the trinitarian themes evident in John’s Gospel and in subsequent ecclesial reflection with regard to the correlation between Immanent and economic Trinity.

Andreas J. Köstenberger and Scott R. Swain have written an accessible and practical volume that provides a stimulating overview to both current trinitarian thought as well as the broader scholarly debates within the field of Johannine studies. This work will prove useful for thoughtful pastors, seminary students, and informed laypersons. It fills a lacuna in the field of biblical studies by providing a biblical survey and theological overview of the Trinity as it is presented in the Gospel of John.

A slightly different version of this review was originally published as:
Review of Andreas J. Köstenberger and Scott R. Swain, Father, Son, and Spirit: The Trinity and John’s Gospel. (Nottingham, England: Apollos, 2008), Bulletin for Biblical Research, volume 19, no. 4 (2009): 616-17.

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