John E. Johnson
Under An Open Heaven: A New Way of Life Revealed in John’s Gospel
Kregel Publications, 2017
$15.99 | 264 pp.
Dr. John Johnson, Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Western Seminary, brings over thirty years of pastoral ministry experience to his exposition of selected texts in the Gospel of John. The book includes a foreword by Gary Thomas and is endorsed by a number of prominent scholars and Christian leaders. F. Dale Bruner calls Johnson’s book “a delicious exposition.”
The book begins with Jesus’ conversation with Nathaniel, where Jesus promises that, as Jacob had experienced at Bethel, so Nathaniel would “see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51). Johnson continues this theme through the book to show how an “open heaven” changes things by bringing about new realities with exciting spiritual potentials for God’s people.
The thirteen chapters of the book consider Jesus’ conversations with Nathaniel, Jesus’ mother Mary, Nicodemus, the woman at the well, the invalid at the pool of Bethesda, the crowd at the miraculous feeding, the brothers of Jesus, the “unbelieving believers” (John 8:30-59), the man born blind, Martha, the disciples in the Upper Room, Pilate, and Peter after Jesus’ resurrection. In each chapter Johnson presents the biblical story in an engaging manner, challenging the reader to contemplate what it means to live today “under an open heaven.”
I really enjoyed this book! Johnson uses what might be called “a sanctified imagination” to recreate Jesus’ encounters and conversations in a way that is true to the biblical text, yet, through cultural backgrounds along with spiritual insight, helps us “read between the lines.” Johnson’s insights help readers consider these familiar gospel stories in a fresh way.
My only minor frustration with Under An Open Heaven was that the references – up to 28 in a single chapter – were all located at the back of the book instead of in footnotes where they would be immediately accessible. As I was reading, I was interested to see who said what and where a great quote was found. As such, flipping to the back of the book, searching for the right chapter, then locating and reading the reference became an annoying interruption.
Still, despite this minor grievance, this book is more than just a “good read.” Johnson is a seasoned wordsmith, and each sentence in this volume has been crafted to communicate its message with poetic power. The book is loaded with quips and quotes collected over the years. Moreover, it is apparent that Johnson is well read and in touch with both American culture and the contemporary state of the church. All in all, Under An Open Heaven is a spiritual feast.