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The Word of Life: A Theology of John's Gospel [Paperback]

Craig R. Koester
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

1 Dec 2008
This accessible, engaging work explores the major theological dimensions of John's Gospel, including God, the world and its people, Jesus, the crucifixion and resurrection, the Spirit, faith, and discipleship. Craig Koester's Word of Life is notable for its comprehensive treatment of themes and its close, careful focus on the biblical text, on the narrative itself. In his introduction Koester provides a succinct overview of the Gospel and shows how disputes about John's theology throughout history have significantly shaped the church and wider society. In the course of his discussion, such expressions as being "born again" and Jesus as "the way" -- which evoke both interest and uneasiness today -- become much clearer in the context of the Gospel as a whole. Koester interacts with the best of current research and makes creative proposals about how to understand the many aspects of John's theology. His clear and highly readable guide to the theology of John's Gospel will appeal to a wide range of readers.

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The Word of Life: A Theology of John's Gospel + THEOLOGY OF JOHNS GOSPEL AND LETTERS (Biblical Theology of the New Testament Series)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: William B Eerdmans Publishing Co (1 Dec 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802829384
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802829382
  • Product Dimensions: 22.4 x 15.2 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 846,477 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Reading The Word of Life is like taking a guided tour through the intriguing world of John's theology, a tour led by one of the world's most able and experienced Johannine scholars. Craig Koester integrates the history of interpretation with thorough and responsible theological analyses of the text of the Gospel in ways that constantly enrich the reader. One discovers how John's Gospel constantly shaped the perspectives of its first readers and still does so for readers today. Koester has an excellent way of exploring and explaining the power of the abiding message of John. By focusing on the major actors and events of the Johannine narrative, he systematically unfolds the richness of John's message and leads the reader into the thought structure of the Gospel, showing how the different theological themes interrelate and interact in order to present the reader with the message of the Word of life. His treatment of the Gospel's themes offers an in-depth look at not only the problems but also the solutions offered in research. This book will most certainly appeal to both students and experienced scholars of John, not only because of its theological depth but also because of its accessible style and clear argumentation. The book's thoroughness and conciseness will surely make it a winner in classrooms among students." Jan van der Watt, Radboud University, Nijmegen, the Netherlands

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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Word Of Life 24 Jun 2010
I purchased this book (along with others) for my brother (a non computer type) a priest in Australia. He seems content with it, as I am pleased with all aspects of Amazons book dealings
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top Notch, Rock Solid 5 Dec 2008
By Carl Albing - Published on
Remember your favorite professor from college, that great lecturer whose class you'd take just because he or she was teaching that subject? It didn't matter which subject - with that professor you knew it would be worth taking the class. Craig Koester must be one of those professors.

With 8 chapters and around 250 pages, Koester covers the major theological themes in the New Testament's Gospel of John in commanding style.

Koester's writing style is casual yet matter-of-fact, terse in the best sense of the word, backed by such strong expertise that I get the feeling that he could "riff" on any of his phrases for hours more.

The book looks at themes - issues and answers - that cut across the chronological narrative of John's Gospel. You can see them in the chapter titles:

1. Introduction
2. God
3. The World and Its People
4. Jesus
5. Crucifixion and Resurrection
6. The Spirit
7. Faith, Present and Future
8. Discipleship in Community and World

There are 17 pages of end notes and 10 pages of bibliography, which indicates the scholarly underpinnings of this work. This can be enjoyed by anyone interested in a good reading of sound theology, but also would make a fantastic text for any college-level or graduate-level course in the Gospel of John. (Koester avoids academic jargon and writes in plain English, though he's not afraid to explain the occasional Greek word.)

My biggest complaint: I wish there were discussion questions at the end of each chapter - or a companion study guide. This book would work well as an 8-week small-group study series.

Finally, Koester takes John at his word, explains the themes, the interconnections in John's writing. Koester is not out to prove John wrong/naive/primitive; this isn't "gotcha" theology. It is a marvelous unfolding of the theology of the Christian faith as found in John's Gospel, illuminated by great scholarship and deep familiarity with the text itself and with the world which is its context. Koester shines that light on John's telling of the life, death and resurrections of Jesus in an eminently readable distillation of major scholarship, a semester's worth of great lectures from a rock solid professor. Get a copy and savor it.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Dubious Disciple Book Review 27 Mar 2011
By Dubious Disciple - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Koester is relatively conservative; his treatment of John won't offend traditional Christians by travelling down esoteric or Gnostic highways. Nor does he present many original ideas. This is a book that covers the basics of John's theology from a Christian viewpoint, and does so very well. That doesn't hide the fact that John marches to the beat of his own drum. The fourth Gospel is very different in tone from the first three, and Koester is faithful in presenting John's unique theology. Some examples ...

On the meaning of sin: John's Gospel portrays little interest in moral failings. Instead, "sin" is almost universally tied to belief. Sin means not seeing Jesus for who his is, believing in him. This leads to ...

On the meaning of belief: Unlike Mark, there is no Messianic Secret in John. Instead, from its very beginning, John embarks on a crusade to help us believe. And what we are to believe is that Jesus is the Messiah.

On the meaning of life: What does "born again" really mean? "whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me ... has crossed over from death to life." John alternates between future eschatology (eternal life to come) and present eschatology (eternal life is ours now) to the point of leaving us bewildered. Koester takes the conservative stance that John meant both; we have abundant life in human form, with the promise of eternal life to come.

On the meaning of the crucifixion: Jesus planned his death from the very beginning, and all signs led up to that "hour" when he would be "lifted up in glory." This means lifted up on the cross, and it is the climax of Jesus' victory over Satan.

As mentioned, I don't think you'll find many new revelations in this book, just solid research, focusing carefully on the text of the Gospel itself. It's a book quite worth reading.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Well done... 8 Mar 2011
By J.B. Hughes - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was my first encounter with the works of Craig Koester and I was pleasantly surprised with how rich this work was. He examines much the gospel themes categorically looking at what John teaches about the Father, Jesus, the Spirit, the community of believers, eschatology and discipleship. In each these he asks questions and proceeds to answer those questions with very rich and meaningful commentary.

Let me start with the parts of the book that impressed me. He has a unique way of a spinning a topic around and looking at it from different angles. Every student of John's gospel is aware that John sometimes appears to contradict himself and Koester is not afraid to address apparent paradoxes to show that in fact a synthesis is possible. He is very good at employing the dialectic approach to resolve apparent conflicts to the reader of John. He has a unique way of combining various perspectives without resorting to heavy criticism or pushing his own viewpoint. He argues that the Gospel of John is all about man's alienation from God and God's desire to restore relations with man in order that man may partake of his life.

One thing that I appreciate about him is his ability to handle theological issues with care. For example: Some Bible commentators take a book like John and use it to push theological issues such as free will/election, conditional/unconditional perseverance of the saints. While Koester is not silent on these issues he is thoughtful so as to include both viewpoints and the paradoxical thinking of John seems to often indicate both. Such as "No one can come to me except my Father draw him" while in turn upbraiding the Pharisees for searching the scriptures but refusing to come.

The only negative things I have about this book is the section on eschatology. He seems to be clearly advocating soul sleep but I did not feel that the premise for his argument was strong or convincing. I realize that this is a book about John but one cannot ignore or pass over other passages outside of John that indicate the opposite. While his belief differs from mine I don't think that he made a solid case for this idea. Also, at times he tends to be a little overly repetitive. However, this is really minor and the book overall is very good. I would encourage you to pick up a copy if you are seriously seeking to understand John's theological worldview.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Commentary 31 May 2014
By Timothy P. Monaghan - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is not a verse by verse commentary, it's more thematically organized. Koester has a brilliant, in-depth understanding of John. That's what came through to me in this slim commentary. I liked it so much I bought the Kindle and the paperback versions of it. And it's the kind of book I find myself going back to again and again to get the works right -- I'd remember the thought but went back to the book to flush out just how Koester phrased it.
However you buy it you won't waste a cent. Koester has a real Bible-soaked, deeply thoughtful mind for Scripture.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Theologically Comprehensive and Refreshing 20 Mar 2014
By Michael - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Koester, Craig R. The Word of Life: A Theology of John’s Gospel. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2008. vii-xiv + 245 pp. $23.00.

Craig R. Koester is the Vice President of Academic Affairs, and Asher O. and Carrie Nasby Professor of New Testament at Luther Seminary. He is also the author of Revelation and the End of All Things and Symbolism in the Fourth Gospel. According to his nineteen page Curriculum Vitae he also has a forthcoming Anchor Yale Bible Commentary on Revelation, which is no small achievement. He has co-edited a Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testamen (WUNT) volume pertaining to John’s Gospel, and is also an essay contributor to another forthcoming WUNT volume pertaining to John’s Gospel. His most recent publication was a contributing essay to Engaging with C. H. Dodd on the Gospel of John: Sixty Years of Tradition and Interpretation, published by Cambridge University Press. He is well qualified to write in his field, as a Johannine scholar.

The purpose of The Word of Life: A Theology of John’s Gospel is given in the subtitle: It is to understand the theology of the Gospel as a whole (xi). The Contents reveals a neat outline of chapters, which are, starting with chapter one: (1) “Introduction,” (2) “God,” (3) “The World and Its People,” (4) “Jesus,” (5) “Crucifixion and Resurrection,” (6) “The Spirit,” (7) “Faith, Present and Future,” and (8) “Discipleship in Community and World.” The Gospel’s narrative framework is broken down by Koester into three main sections: the Prologue; Act I (chs. 1-12); and Act II (chs. 13-21).

Koester explains that God communicates through his Word, now incarnate, to reveal salvation to an estranged world (27-30). As the creator, source, and giver of life, God desires relationship with all people so that they may believe and have life in him (30-2). To overcome the world’s nature of sin, death and estrangement, God sends Jesus and the Spirit to give witness concerning himself and the offer of eternal life; but this witness may also be confrontational for unbelieving people and even result in wrath (33-40). God’s purpose for Jesus’ crucifixion is also relational, i.e., it is purposed to overcome the world’s estrangement (41-7). Life is a central theme for John (56). But death, sin and evil are also forces to be reckoned with (56-80). These forces are also characteristics of “the world” in John’s Gospel (80-1).

Jesus – the incarnate Word, teacher, prophet, Messiah, and Son of God (83-107) – comes to bring eternal life by means of his death and resurrection, so that the estranged world may know God (109-32). The Spirit is the means of appropriating this faith and life – which is seen as a new birth (137-60). John recognizes a rift in time with the coming of God’s Word, so that there is now a present and future aspect to eternal life and judgment (175-86), just as there are present and future dimensions to Christ on earth, who has promised to return to his disciples, and promised to always be with them (182-6). During the interim, the risen and ascended Christ continues his work of giving life to the world through the Spirit and his disciples until his return (188-206).
The primary emphasis of Koester throughout his book is the relational aspect between the world – which is characterized by darkness – and God, who reveals his Son so that the unbelieving world may believe and have life in his name (20:31).

Since he correctly identifies Johannine theology as summarily relational, evaluating Koester’s kerygmatic theory of atonement proves somewhat difficult. This is because his theory builds upon a view of sin that is also centrally relational (65-81; esp. 65-66). Sin and unbelief become a confused mixture: “The crucifixion of the Lamb ‘takes away sin’ by taking away unbelief” (116). And further: “The Lamb is sacrificed to create a relationship of faith in the face of alienation created by sin. If a label is needed for this way of construing the death of Christ, it is kerygmatic.” (116; emphasis original). For John’s Gospel, the world’s relationship to Jesus is the fulcrum of salvation and judgment. Either the world responds favorably to Jesus by believing in him for salvation, or the world responds to him in unbelief resulting in wrath (66-7). This is, so far, in agreement with Koester’s general theology.

However, the crux is this: Sin is understood by Koester as unbelief in essencia (33-6; 59-65; 66; 72; 110, 113-7; esp. 113). But is unbelief a full-orbed Johannine hamartiology? While some texts in John may speak of sin and unbelief together, sin still clearly exists before an estranged world of evil is met by the incarnate Christ. In fact, it is for this sin that the world is judged: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (3:19-20, ESV). Sin is, here, not seen as unbelief but as evil works of darkness.

Koester also leans heavily on an analogical view of theological language. As an example: “Human beings belong to the earth, and in his teaching Jesus refers to the things of the earth – like bread, light, and water – to convey what comes from above.” (112; cf. also 32). The subheading “Images of God in the Preaching of Jesus” also underscores an analogical understanding of revealed theological truth (36-40). Koester writes: "As Jesus is sent, he bears witness to God by using richly metaphorical language. (…). To use figurative language is to speak of one thing in terms appropriate to another. Jesus will use images that are both similar to and different from God. This means that listeners must discern analogies between things that are otherwise dissimilar. (…). God is different from the world, which is why Jesus uses figurative speech." (36-37).

While symbolism is used in the teachings of Jesus throughout John, an analogical language of theology should not follow prescriptively upon his Gospel. God’s transcendence is not always cause for analogy. Actually, God has incarnated himself as a man, and the revelatory importance of this would seem to militate against any necessary use of analogical language in order for the world to relate to God. Further, creation remains God’s creation, and man – as part of this creation – is created for communion with God, and created in ways that include cognitive knowledge of him. Since man is created in God’s image, he is capable of understanding God and his love univocally. As an example: God really does love us as a friend whose love is so great that he is willing to give his life in our place (15:13). This revelation is not best observed as an analogy of truth concerning a transcendent deity. It is a revelation better understood as a univocal truth. A God who incarnates as man is not a god that must be known by analogies and symbols.

Koester’s book is a remarkable theological treatment of John’s Gospel. His relational-theological emphasis is carefully substantiated and richly rewarding. Though two criticisms were presented and should be kept in mind while reading The Word of Life, particularly Koester’s faulty view of the atonement, the overall significance of his book still stands.
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