Triperspectivalism in John 15

Tim Brister —  October 23, 2012 — Leave a comment

[Caveat]

A month ago, I made the case from a macro level that there is a triperspectival structure to the gospel of John. I am not saying of course that John was writing/thinking triperspectivally when he wrote this gospel account, but I do believe that God has a way of presenting truth perspectivally (hence, four gospel accounts as opposed to one). John Frame argues, “God’s knowledge is not only omniscient, but omniperspectival. He knows from his own infinite perspective; but that infinite perspective includes a knowledge of all created perspectives, possible and actual” (Primer on Perspectivalism, 2). Speaking of human and divine authorship, Frame later adds,

“God reveals himself by inspiring human beings. He generally does not dictate, but rather enables them to write consistently with their own gifts, education, and personalities, that is, their own perspectives. And by such divine enablement, each author writes exactly what God wants him to write” (ibid., 4).

So when I’m asked whether John was thinking triperspectivally, my answer would be no. But he was writing from his own perspective, and God used that as one of multiple perspectives to convey the beauty and brilliance of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

[/Caveat]

As I continue in my morning meditations in the gospel of John, I found myself in John 15. It’s a passage many Christians are familiar with and one I’ve read numerous times. One might think I’m fishing for triad of perspectives so as to force a paradigm into a text, but this morning was another case I believe that disproves this imposition. Let me explain.

In my Bible, John 15 is broken down in three large paragraphs (mainly).

Paragraph 1 is John 15:1-11
Paragraph 2 is John 15:12-17
Paragraph 3 is John 15:18-25

In my meditating on each of these paragraphs, the normative (Prophet), existential (Priest), and situational (King) perspectives surfaced rather convincingly to me.

Paragraph 1 speaks of Jesus as the Vine and his followers as the branches. The goal is to bear fruit and experience the kind of life characterized by the Father’s love and joy in the fullest measure. The way of getting there is by “abiding” or “remaining” in Jesus as the branches abide in the vine for nourishment, life, and growth. The illustration isn’t theoretical but experiential. The Christian life is all about experiencing the love and joy of Jesus through abiding in Him.

In Paragraph 2, Jesus begins with “my commandment.” He is setting a standard, a norm for the Christian community. The paragraph concludes with “these things I command you”. What’s inside these bookends? Jesus says,

  • I have loved you (v. 12)
  • I have called you (v. 15)
  • I have made known to you (v. 15)
  • I chose you (v. 16)
  • I appointed you (v. 16)

Jesus, the ultimate law-giver, is giving shape to the standard by explaining His work in our lives. His loving, calling, choosing, appointing, etc. is the sovereign work of our Savior intended to govern our lives. The standard is this: Jesus laid down his life for us, and those who follow Jesus ought to lay down our lives for one another.

Paragraph 3 is dominated with the world in which we are situated. Later Jesus is going to pray for His disciples in the world, but for now, he gives us a clear picture of what to expect. The world will hate you. The world will persecute you. Why? Because you are not of the world. You are chosen out of the world. The world does not know the Father. In fact, the world hates the Father and Jesus. All of that in just 7 verses. What’s the point Jesus is making here? Jesus is telling His disciples they are going to live out their faith in a hostile environment where laying down your life will be “normal” (normative). If the vine was cut down, what will they down with the branches?

So . . .

Paragraph 1 (John 15:1-11) has an existential perspective, and the Spirit of Jesus is our Comforter, making the presence and promises of Jesus known to us.
Paragraph 2 (John 15:12-17) has a normative perspective, and the Spirit of Jesus is our Revealer, making known the words and ways of Jesus.
Paragraph 3 (John 15:18-25) has a situational perspective, and the Spirit of Jesus is our Bearer, giving us words to say and the boldness to live unapologetically in a world that hates us and persecutes us.

In the Gospel of John, we learn from Jesus the work of the Holy Spirit. He is our Comforter. Jesus promised not to leave us as orphans, and by His Spirit we are continually reminded of our adoption, crying out “Abba, Father!” The Spirit is the divine agent in our existential abiding in the Vine. Not only that, but the Spirit magnifies Jesus. He inspires the Word, illumines the Word, and brings conviction to the Word. He is the one who appropriates the work of Jesus in our lives.  Lastly, the Spirit is given to aid us in bearing witness of Jesus, supplying us both the words to speak and the boldness needed to stand in a hostile world.

I thought this was not just a helpful pedagogical tool to teach John 15, but it is a faithful hermeneutical application of the Christian life. We are to experience Jesus (existential). We are to obey Jesus (normative). And we are to suffer like Jesus (situational).  John 15 is an incredibly rich passage of Scripture, and I was helped this morning in seeing how each of these paragraphs point me to Jesus and the ways His Spirit indwells me to know, believe, and follow Jesus.

Share Button
Print Friendly