by Luke Timothy Johnson
Wm. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, Mich. 198 pages
reviewed by ANDREW PLOCHER
I have thousands of pages of Acts and Luke commentaries on my shelves. I cherish them, and yet, I would trade most of them for this slim new volume by Luke Timothy Johnson.
“Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church” is premised on the belief that Luke and Acts are an inseparable prophetic narrative. Luke’s Gospel is the story of the prophetic life of Jesus and Acts is the story of Jesus’ prophecy mirrored in the actions of the early church. Rather than viewing Acts as a weaker prophetic text than the Gospel, Johnson believes Acts is even more fiercely prophetic. Consider it an amplification of Jesus’ prophecy made manifest in the church. Therefore, despite the traditional canonical division, Johnson encourages the two books be read in tandem, and, in fact, asks that the reader do so before reading “Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church.”
The beginning of the book reads much like a traditional commentary and provides Johnson’s understanding of Luke-Acts as a single corpus; an understanding grounded in an examination of similarities in content, style, genre, structure and geography. Yet the meat of his text is not the commentary, but Johnson’s exploration of Luke’s writing as a prophetic narrative in the remaining chapters.
Each chapter tackles a different aspect of Jesus’/the Church’s prophetic ministry: the prophetic Spirit, the prophetic word, prophetic embodiment, prophetic enactment and prophetic witness. This allows for nuanced theological insight. Under the section on prayer Johnson beautifully states, “The single greatest countercultural act Christians perform is to worship together and proclaim that Jesus is Lord. To cease from the constant round of commerce and consumption, to resist the manipulation of media that insists that working and possessing defines worth, and to proclaim with the body language of communal gathering that Jesus, not any other power, is Lord is to enact the politics of God’s kingdom and to embody the prayer ‘your kingdom come.’”
Johnson then connects the prophetic elements of Luke and Acts to what he refers to as “Challenges to the Church Today,” offering compelling insights into how the prophetic voice of Luke-Acts is still calling us as a church today — in our theology and in our actions. Johnson names four characteristics of the prophetic church — prayer, itinerancy, servant leadership and voluntary poverty — and expounds upon them. As Johnson says, “It does not matter much what the Church declares to the world concerning the resurrection if its common life does not embody the truth of the resurrection.”
Whether you identify with the “missional” church movement or are struggling to articulate what “church” means in this day and age, you will find in “Prophetic Jesus, Prophetic Church” a scholarly prophetic vision grounded in Scripture. Johnson’s slim volume is a valuable resource for the church: for curious teachers and preachers alike. The stories of Luke and Acts are not just stories of Jesus and the first Christians, but a single narrative that continues to call us today to prophetic action and witness to Christ.
ANDREW PLOCHER is pastor of New Hope Presbyterian Church in Olny, Md.