The iPad Commentary
There are plenty of biblical commentaries that look like they were produced on a cranky old manual typewriter. And there are plenty of very big commentaries that look like they were produced on high-caloric computers with no word counter. But what would a commentary produced on an iPad look like?
There’s no reason to think that iPad commentary could not be pithy and substantive. And if it were written using the screen keyboard, it probably wouldn’t be horribly long. We would expect the writer to occasionally break away from writing to visit Facebook or blogs or websites—even YouTube. Such a commentary might even be written in a coffee shop. The background montage of music, clatter and conversations would keep it grounded and interactive with contemporary culture, written with real people in mind.
As a matter of fact, that’s what you’ll find in IVP’s new series of biblical commentaries we’ve called the Resonate Series. And the initial volume, on the Gospel of John and written by the editor of the series, Paul Louis Metzger, is now available!
I’ve been dipping into this commentary for the past several weeks, and I’m always pleased with what I find. Metzger has clearly done his homework on John. His endnotes give us confidence that he has been informed by the best of Johannine specialists. But he doesn’t let the library dust collect on his sleeves as he comments on the text. The man obviously gets out once in a while. And it’s not like he begins each section with something contemporary, then goes into the text, then emerges with a pearl of application. That would be bubble tea commentary, with tapioca balls bobbing in the sweet mix. No, this commentary is blended, more like a smoothie, with Johannine text and contemporary culture well mixed, their flavors interpenetrating each other. Or you could say text and culture are bouncing off each other, echoing or, well, resonating.
You can see it in the title—The Gospel of John: When Love Comes to Town. And you see it in the section titles: “My Own Personal Jesus” (John 3:1-21) or “TV Preachers” (John 10). But you can also observe it on most any page. Close your eyes, open the book and place a finger on the page. What do you find? I tried it. And I found this (John 6, the feeding miracle):
Jesus’ followers don’t appear to be trusting very well. I doubt if I would do any better. After all, Jesus is on a prime-time stage now, and the odds against him are greater. Unlike the turning of the water into wine and the healing of the lame man episodes, which only appeared on local stations, Jesus is now on national TV performing an even greater feat. If Jesus can’t follow through and deliver, it will be a public relations disaster. If there isn’t enough bread and fish to go around to feed the people’s faces, there will be egg in his and his followers’ faces. What would Jesus’ PR disciples say if Jesus can’t perform the magic trick? How would they spin it? Perhaps they would say: “People started gorging themselves and wouldn’t share,” or “Jesus only meant for the morsels to serve as finger food, and the National Guard was supposed to fly in supplies for the main course, so direct your complaint to the Pentagon,” or “Barley farmers have just gone on strike, and Jesus, being an old-school Democrat, is a union man; he’s cancelled the miracle show until the strike is over,” or “Given the dwindling salmon population, Jesus decided not to perform the miracle but to do a mass sit-in by the Sea of Galilee and fast to protest the government’s building of more dams.”
Fortunately for the disciples, Jesus comes through and delivers: “When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’ So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten” (Jn 6:12-13). Twelve baskets. Twelve tribes. Twelve disciples. Fullness and fulfillment. Sound intriguing? The biblical backdrop is God’s provision of manna at the pleading of Moses’ people for food (Ex 16). Jesus is that same God, and he is greater than Moses.
I like the way Fred Sanders sums it up:
Here is a lively, modern mind colliding with a divine, ancient text. We know what a commentary is, and this book is not one (though it does explain and expound the text of John like conventional commentaries). We know what a sermon is, and this book is not one (though it does apply the word of God to our lives and our culture like good sermons do). Nor is it a commentary with sermons spliced in: give up trying to fit it into existing categories. Metzger’s take on John, as the initial offering in the Resonate series, is a genre-defying performance that provokes, interrogates and ponders, and invites the reader to join in the process.
Genre-defying. That’s iPad stuff!
Posted by Dan Reid
at November 11, 2010 8:11 AM