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Preaching John. .

Preaching John. By Robert Kysar. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002. 252 pages. Paper. $18.00.

Robert Kysar, an ELCA pastor and Bandy Professor of Preaching and New Testament Emeritus at Candler School of Theology, is a prolific writer, particularly on the Fourth Gospel.

This book is dense with academic and homiletic insights. Kysar melds the historical-critical method of study, as well as current scholarship including form, literary, and liberation-theology criticism, with the art of preaching. What emerges is a rich view of John that is filled with paradox, surprises, and controversy. Far from shying away from these things, Kysar implores the preacher to embrace these ambiguities and paradoxes as grist for the preaching mill.

Through philological, historical, and literary study, Kysar discusses major themes of John. He begins by cautioning the preacher (or reader) to struggle with experiencing the gospel apart from deep-rooted Pauline theology. The implication is to see the gospel as an event written for a particular group in a particular context. He supports the current scholarship that John's Gospel was written "soon after a small community of messianic Jews were separated from their synagogue but went on disputing the question of who Jesus is" (p. 44). Kysar then unpacks major themes in John, including paradox, sin and evil, faith and salvation, and Christian hope, in light of what this particular community would have understood those things to mean for them. He concludes each major section with sermons that discuss and give examples of how a contemporary preacher might struggle with the same issue today.

There are two major elements of this book that I would lift up. First is Kysar's understanding of Christ: "Christ's identity is forever a mystery that we need not try to solve" (p. 48). Considerable time is spent discussing the imagery and rich symbolism in John, and Kysar excels in holding paradoxical terms or ideas in tension. This is one of the great gifts and challenges of the book. He engages the preacher at every turn, demanding that we hold ourselves responsible to the text. If the text is ambiguous, why should we feel that it is necessary to preach something definitive?

Second is the "inclusion of the excluded." Kysar devotes a chapter to discussing both the passages that are included in the Revised Common Lectionary and those passages that are left out of the lectionary. Again, this supports Kysar's thesis that one must consider the whole of John when preparing to preach John. This section, as well as its format, is extremely helpful for preachers who map out sermons and link lectionary readings together in cycles.

Some may find the dense historical-critical or philological sections intimidating, yet Kysar gives ample time to inviting the preacher to struggle with contemporary implications for the texts. I understand this as an indispensable work for not only reading John but for the art of preaching in general.
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Author:Holland, Katrina
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 2003
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