Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

Blog Block

I was telling my administrative assistant that I am suffering through “blog block”. I am not aware if there is such a malady, but I am having a difficult time coming up with my next post. Maybe it is because ministry has gotten so darn hectic as of late. My reading of books has taken a hit. I’m not sure if I am going through a bit of a drought because I can’t find a read that just stops me in my tracks and consumes every waking moment, or I am just distracted. And this is a serious loss. After all, the winter is the great time to read.

But part of it has to do with the fact I am writing a book, and this has screamed for every spare moment of my time (which I can’t seem to find much of lately). And I am discovering that writing a book on the Gospel of John has its own challenge. Part of me wonders—does the world need another book on the Gospel of John? Have you been in a seminary library recently and seen how many books have been written on the subject? And John is not the easiest material to work with.

Some years ago, in preaching John, I came across an imaginary letter addressed to John. It was a response from the editors of a publishing house, after reviewing his gospel manuscript. It sounds similar to letters I have received. I’ve added some of my own imagination : )

Dear John- 

Enclosed, you will find our comments on your book.  Overall, it looks good.  The story has suspense, mystery, and lots of good characterization.  You do have potential as a writer. But some improvements need to be made if there is any hope of getting published.

Right off, you need to delete the opening section.  It’s too abstract—“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  It’s sure to make the average reader say “Huh? What’s going on here?”  Logos is so mysterious—so philosophical.  Maybe start with John the Baptist interrogating the Pharisees. This kind of introduction is so in your face—so intense!

Don’t get us wrong. We get the “top down” vs “earth up” emphasis, so if you want to skip the birth narrative, that’s okay. Matthew and Luke covered this well. But put it in language people get. An anecdotal story might be a good start. We think you get “simple”, but sometimes your language comes from another realm.

Second, your vocabulary is pretty basic (which is good, because most readers have not developed one), but your thoughts tend to be redundant.  You repeat certain themes a lot (like Jesus was sent by the Father). This is important theology, but do you need to tell us 35 times? You do a good job of character portrayal when you focus on Jesus and His conversations. The variety–from the hopeless paralytic to the self-interested, manipulative brothers, to the lady of the world in John 4—advance the story line.  They are all pictographs of us.  But there are these confusing parts of the story. Almost everyone misunderstands Jesus. Nicodemus seems out of it, the disciples are often confused (did someone bring Him food?), and this part where Jesus said “Before Abraham was, I am” really twists the brain.  Did you intend to write it this way? 

It would help a lot if you could develop the scenes.  What kind of day was it when Jesus stopped at the well?  What were the smells? Readers like to have their imaginations stretched.  Engage our senses. Let us breathe the vitality of the ancient Mediterranean world.  Try to beef up the dialogue with John the Baptist. “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness” has a bell like tone.  Sorry, but people just don’t talk that way.  Have this fanatic talk like someone wild—“Hey, I’m shoutin’ my fool head off out here, and nobody’s listening!”

And, speaking of tones, verses like those speaking of eating the flesh of the Son of Man are just too graphic and will turn readers off.  You need to tone it down.  Telling Nicodemus he must go through a birthing process again just does not connect. His relationship with His family has awkward moments. Could you flesh this out more? And this upper room discourse scene takes up a good part of the book. Could you condense it?

Also John, we have to think of marketing. We’re sorry, but the publishing world is a cruel world these days. If the marketers are not convinced of a profit, this book will go nowhere.  This mention of Jesus providing wine at the wedding feast of Cana could be a problem with some readers.  The paralytic being confronted with sin and Lazarus’ sickness being seemingly disregarded are a bit insensitive, especially in a therapeutic culture. We need to see a more caring Jesus, and not the cold and aloof portrayal you paint. This being said, you also need to use better illustrations to show Jesus’ compassionate side. Maybe Jesus could be a bit more firm with the woman caught in adultery.  I know you want to also portray Jesus as kindhearted, but letting her off scot-free will suggest you are condoning sin.  It’s dicey.  A Christian audience is pretty sensitive to the subject of sex.   Maybe you could rewrite it as a woman caught in shoplifting.

Now, about the authorship.  The “one Jesus loved” part—I mean, we know it is you.  And though it is a bit like Hitchcock doing his cameo appearances, this is just way too confusing for the readers.  It also seems a bit pompous.  And maybe you cannot see this, but it is clear at times you make yourself look a bit better than Peter. Is this intentional? 

Not that we want to discourage you.  Spirituality and narrative are big in our market, so you’re timing for this work is very good.  This could be hot.  So we should keep exploring.  But one last thing—we need to work on the title.  Gospel is a bit overused.  We need something more intriguing.  The Jesus Code maybe.

 The Editors

 PS-Some pre-endorsements could help. Check with other noted authors like Luke or Paul.


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