Friday, June 26, 2015

How a Book Changed My Life: Reading John by Christopher Skinner

I’m fairly new to the whole academic approach to the study of the Bible. Let me just say that there are A LOT of words, and very few of those words are familiar. That means that reading these books is a long slow process, and as a lifelong skimmer of fiction, presents a new kind of challenge.

Bill, knowing my desire to further understand the fourth gospel, bought me a copy of Christopher Skinner’s Reading John when he saw that I was trying to win a copy from the Jesus Blog.  We have a plethora of books in our home, many of which have been faithfully opened and bookmarked for my personal study by the aforementioned husband of mine, but I have mostly felt frustrated and completely out of my depth.

Reading Skinner’s foreword was encouraging. He states that the book is about “thinking at the highest level and communicating with those who want to learn” and though it isn’t the mission statement, per se, it very well could be. This book strikes just the right tone for readers like me who would like to dive into further study, but aren’t strong swimmers. Yet.

It’s a life jacket. I have to keep kicking, but I’m not going to drown. Hallelujah.

The book systematically discusses the different aspects that are important for a better reading and context for the Gospel of John.  Chapter by chapter, Skinner gently guides the reader through the the differences between this gospel and the synoptics, the language used by the author and the scholarship surrounding the mystery of the writer himself.

His writing is clear, and the use of analogies at the beginning of a new topic is helpful. Even better, once he’s done describing the analogy, whether it’s watching the movie Toy Story, or his wife’s feelings about the end of a great fiction series, his switch into academic language is not jarring. You get the sense that the author is a good classroom teacher- one who truly wants his students to get the topic and will meet them where they are without a condescending tone.

The chapter on the language of the gospel (“An Alien Tongue”) was a personal favorite in which Skinner discusses the use of irony, double entendre and literary asides. It is read-out-loud-to-your-spouse-able, and definitely flipped a light switch on for me.

Because an interest in the Samaritan woman is how I got into this mess to begin with, I do wish the book had elaborated a bit more on her character, rather than taking the tact of predecessors and assuming her “marginalized” status, but I’m truly influenced by Cohick’s scholarship which infers that there is more to her character than just ostracized hussy. Comparing and contrasting the story of the woman at the well with the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus is the context for bringing her up, so I appreciate that he had other fish to fry.

While reading, I found myself making connections and moving along a trail of thought only to find it confirmed at the end of the chapter/paragraph. That’s damn good writing right there, and it works on two levels. One, obviously- it helps guide the reader to the conclusion the author is making and two- it makes the reader believe in their ability to think/process/learn. Now I feel smart, or at the very least, not dumb. I think I can tackle Bauckham with less frustration.

I will be keeping this book on my shelf and referencing it, not just for the valuable material it contains, but as a reminder that there is a way through the difficulties of studying the New Testament, and that there are people out there who have blazed a trail and who want others to find their way.

PS. I just finished reading Bauckham’s “The Beloved Disciple as the Ideal Author” from “The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple." It's hard to believe how different the experience of reading it AFTER finishing Skinner’s book was from before when I threw the book down in tears of frustration. It is literally like night and day.

                                                Image result for chris traeger literally meme

Four stars and two thumbs up for Reading John.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Study of the Samaritan Woman- Introduction

In 1997 in a living room outside of Atlanta, I heard a message on the Samaritan Woman.  The speaker had the traditional viewpoint of her character: that she was ostracized, that she came to the well alone because of the scorn of others, and that she was a whore. I was very moved by the message, and though I can’t remember what exactly struck me so significantly, since that night I feel a pull to TELL HER STORY every time she is brought to mind.

I always considered that I would write a fictional account, due to an apparent dearth of information, but that has changed. In the last year as I have slowly begun to dig into her story, I think it must be told as truthfully as we can determine, based on the more-than-I-ever-imagined resources that exist. Whether the writer of the fourth Gospel puts this incident in for literary quality only, or remembers her as an amalgam of several experiences are possibilities I haven’t personally ruled out yet, but at this point I am taking the tack that she was a real woman whose interaction with Jesus became history, not only because her story was written down (halleluiah) but because she was pivotal in spreading the gospel in Samaria.

I’ve become familiar with my biases. I want her to be strong, independent, respectable. I can hardly avoid looking for the angle that tells the story I want told. However, the research and the study I have done so far have proved that the possibilities are fascinating, and digging into her actual story will benefit far more than just using her story for my own agenda. Whether I will succeed remains to be seen. Right now, I’m trying to set my biases aside, and explore the biases that really matter here- those of the author of the gospel of John.  More on that soon.

Sunday, June 21, 2015


"I would hope that as they read scripture more that they read it with their whole self. That they don’t separate out intellectual questions from obedience questions and that they don't see the project of learning more about the Bible as different from becoming a more faithful follower of the Lord. I wouldn’t want them to lose their first love as the Ephesian church was claimed to have done right in Revelation 2. But it’s a danger, the more knowledge one has, especially the way knowledge is understood in our education system. We can kind of bifurcate action and head knowledge and that’s not how the biblical text understands a wise person. A wise person is one who acts wisely, not just thinks grand thoughts. So I think that would be a caution and I worry about myself as well, being in this field and I would hate to in any way present the idea of learning about the Bible as somehow something you master. The Bible is to master us, so our exploration in the biblical text is not so that we have a greater command of it, but rather that it has a greater command over us. And I hope then that by studying the Bible they would grow in love of the Lord and also grow in the recognition that the Lord loves them beyond measure."

Dr Lynn Cohick (her stated hope for all her students at the end of this podcast)