Book review: Life In Abundance

by John R. Donahue, Editor


I introduced Raymond Brown a couple books back as one of the most important theologians of the 20th century. A few years after his sudden death in 1998, St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore hosted a conference titled “Life in Abundance,” to follow Brown’s lead in discussing the state of Johannine studies. This volume brings together presentations by scholars there.

Anyone who is a student of John’s Gospel will recognize many of the contributors: Alan Culpepper, Robert Kysar, D. Moody Smith and more. The articles are grouped into four categories: [1] Johannine Studies: Challenges and Prospects, [2] Historical Context and the Gospel of John, [3] Johannine Theology, and [4] Interpreting the Work of Raymond Brown.

Brown, according to Culpepper, “represents an advance over both the skepticism of Bultmann (and more recently the Jesus Seminar) on the one hand and the conservatism of Dodd, Robinson, and later D.A. Carson on the other hand.” For example, Brown originally accepted the traditional identification of the Beloved Disciple as John, son of Zebedee, but later changed his mind.

Brown entered the world of Johannine scholarship at the perfect time, it seems, just as the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls revealed a Jewish sect in first-century Palestine that expressed itself in much the same dualistic, exclusivistic terminology as John’s Gospel. We no longer need to explain the Fourth Gospel in terms of Hellenistic or Gnostic thought, for we now know there were similar forms of Jewish thought contemporaneous with the birth of Christianity. When  in verse 5:24, John explains that “those who hear and believe have entered eternal life and have passed from death to life,” we can see traces of John’s realized eschatology, without completely rejecting the future eschatology displayed in the verses immediately following. Life in abundance … both now and later.

This is a scholarly book, very good for those wanting to catch up on the latest thinking about John’s Gospel. For that purpose, I give it five stars. If you’re looking for inspirational reading, this is probably not the right book.