The Letters of John -- Introductory words to a new Study Guide
The Letters of John lay at the end of the New Testament. There are a few passages that we hold on to because of love. But, do we pay attention to the entirety of these letters. I've written a study guide that fits the Energion Publications Participatory Study Guide series (it's the third book I've written for this series, the others being on Ephesians and marriage). I think these letters are worth exploring either in groups or as individuals. I hope my attempt at creating a resource will facilitate that conversation. Below are the opening paragraphs of my introduction, just to give you a sense of where I'm going with this book.
“What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” Love is a central theme in the letters of John. The author of the first letter declares that “God is love.” Indeed, we are to love one another, because “love is from God” (1 John 4:7). There is more to these letters than a message of love, or perhaps I might put it this way. While love stands at the heart of these letters, there are disturbing elements to these letters that might raise questions about the nature of the love proclaimed. In any case, these letters, which likely date to the end of the first and perhaps well into the second century give us a glimpse of how early Christians struggled to live faithfully in difficult times.
This study guide is intended to invite users (whether individuals or groups) to dive deep into the biblical story. You may find this journey into the text difficult at some points. You may also find it to be liberating at other points. The Bible cannot be read flatly, as if everything should is equally giving voice to God’s word. At the same time, when approached with care and reverence, I believe we can hear a word from God even in passages that shock and dismay us. We may decide to argue with the text, saying no to its implications. That is an appropriate way of engaging the text.
The series in which this study appears is intended to bring heart and head together. As the Shema, the Jewish confession of faith, invites adherents to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might,” not only keeping the commandments, but also reciting them to one’s children, talking iii iv about them, binding them on your hands, fixing them on the foreheads, and writing them on the doorposts and gates (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), so we will seek to love God with our entire being.
This book offers a study of the three Letters of John. It is part of the Participatory Bible Study series that was developed by Henry Neufeld, which seeks to build upon the devotional principles of the lectio divina model of reading scripture. It is an invitation to inhabit the text of Scripture, so that one might experience oneness with God. Although this has a strong devotional foundation to it, the method also invites critical investigation of the text.