Book Review: Under An Open Heaven

Under An Open Heaven:  A New Way Of Life Revealed In John’s Gospel, by John E. Johnson

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by Kregel Book Tours.  Because they sent it to the wrong address, though, I had to pay postage, annoyingly enough.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

At the beginning of this book, one can tell that the author is trying to make his book sound as appealing as possible to readers who may be understandably irritated at the large number of books about the Gospel of John that are written [1] and less than thrilled at the thought of another such volume.  This desire to properly set expectations is laudable, as the ambition the author has of being thought of as having delivered a great message.  Likewise, the author’s understanding of people who listen to sermons, and this book can be compared to a series of sermons, as critical-minded reviewers is spot on at least when it comes to me.  In my own defense, given the amount of time and effort I spend in reviewing books and other cultural artifacts, it is to be expected that I should turn my critical and satirical mind to the subject of sermon messages even with some compassion due to my own knowledge of the challenge of the task from personal experience.  Even so, this book lost a lot of goodwill as the author continually demonstrated that instead of something new and worthwhile to say about the Gospel John, that he had forced the Gospel into his own old wineskins of tired and ungodly social gospel thinking all too common among Portland-area Christian writers, and I became increasingly upset at the author the further I read in this book.

The contents of this book are fairly straightforward, and the author’s approach is consistent, if often consistently bad.  There is a foreword, acknowledgments, and an introductory section that builds a lot of goodwill towards the author.  Then the author discusses various stories that, in his mind, show Jesus’ work on earth as discussed in the Gospel John to be far larger than people tend to think, which is certainly true, and the body of the book consists of his commentaries on various stories in the Gospel of John, including his meeting Nathanael/Bartholomew, the wedding at Cana, his conversation with Nicodemus, his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, his conversation with the invalid at the pool of Siloam, his conversation with the crowd about the Passover feast, his conversation with his brothers about the Feast of Tabernacles, his conversation with unbelieving believers, the striking account of his healing of the man born blind and its sad aftermath, his conversation with Martha at the resurrection of Lazarus, his conversation with believers in John 13-17, his deeply ironic conversation with Pilate, and his restoration of Peter to leadership after Peter’s three denials.  There follows a short conclusion, substantial endnotes, and a bibliography and bio of the author.  The author manages to correctly note that John is often unappreciated for its high, abstract theology and for its pervasive tone of understated irony, all of which I greatly appreciate given my own high level of irony and abstract thinking.

That said, this book quickly grows tiresome for a variety of reasons.  A large part of this book’s problems stem from two overarching and consistent failures.  One of these failures is the failure of the author to engage in genuine exegetical reasoning.  Because the author believes himself to be a model example of the expansive way of Christ, the author’s ignorance of the biblical nature of God as a family as opposed to a Trinity and the author’s total failure to understand (or likely follow) Jesus’ examples in obeying the law of God out of love and acquire the character of God through obedience show a wide gulf between the reality and the author’s misunderstanding of it.  The author’s continual political jabs are also upsetting, as the continual strident left-wing political comments demonstrate that the author is not someone worth listening to at all.  By the time I finished this book, I was of the firm conviction that the paper used to create this book, and other social gospel books of a left-wing political worldview like it, would be better spent making bathroom tissue than to serve as books.  Even so, given the fact that the author does appear to have at least some understanding of the Bible’s sense of irony, the book is not a total loss despite the fact that it is worthy of no recommendation whatsoever.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Book Reviews, Christianity, History and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Book Review: Under An Open Heaven

  1. Pingback: Y U No Finish: Fear Not | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Red Letter Revolution | Edge Induced Cohesion

  3. Pingback: Book Review: The Shack | Edge Induced Cohesion

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