Regular readers will no doubt be relieved to hear that I think my 'project' of reading the Fourth Gospel in isolation, on the basis that it is most important book of the Bible, seems now to have reached its natural end-point.
I regard the Fourth Gospel as chronologically the first, and qualitatively the most authoritative, source on the life and teachings of Jesus. As I read and re-read, I found that the discipline created a situation as if the Fourth Gospel was the only scripture.
And indeed, whenever I turned to other Gospels, or to the Epistles and Revelation, they looked very much inferior; very much like rag-bag collections of theology, memoirs, theories and folk tales about Jesus; and of very mixed validity - since many things in them contradict the Fourth Gospel.
I don't know that I can ever again regard the bulk of the New Testament as any more intrinsically authoritative than I already regarded the Old Testament - which I see as a collection of many types of writing (including myth, fiction, poems, rulebooks, histories and prophecies), made over many years and with no single purpose in mind - a collection of potentially valuable resources.
At any rate, I feel a sense of completion - and I no longer feel internally-driven to continue. My initial assumptions about the special and unique validity of the Fourth Gospel remains and has been greatly strengthened; and I can understand why it has been systematically downgraded by the historical churches throughout history.
(By 'sytematic', I mean that the method and assumptions by which the historical churches created and have interpreted The Bible, and especially the New Testament, have downgraded the Fourth Gospel in multiple ways. By choosing Not to accord it primacy, the unique and challenging qualities of the Fourth Gospel have been negated, simply by its being 'outvoted'.)
This downgrading seems inevitable, given that the Fourth Gospel provides no authority for churches, nor for a priesthood, nor for celibacy, nor for the ritual communal life that has often dominated Christian practice; the Gospel's vision of the Christian life is highly individual, personal, un-institutional.
In the Fourth Gospel; Christians are seen to more like a new kind of family, than a new version of ancient religions.
And the historical church has mostly portrayed Jesus as a rescuer of an otherwise-doomed Mankind - a double-negative description, with Jesus negating the negative state of a 'fallen' world. Whereas the Fourth Gospel shows a Jesus dealing with individual persons to enhance their existence - a positive addition to human possibility, with Jesus making possible a qualitative transformation of mortal to divine Life.
The Fourth Gospel sees 'Christianity' as a one-at-a-time opt-in life, likely to be chosen by a minority of people; not a thing of masses, not a matter for politics or organisation.
So, on the one hand, a Fourth Gospel-centred understanding tends to undermine the validity and relevance of a great deal of historical Christianity - including undermining things that have been, and are, seen as the very essence of the religion.
On the other hand, Fourth Gospel-centred Christianity may be exactly what is most needed in a world where, already, most of historical Christianity (in the West) has-been not just undermined, but subverted and inverted into purposive anti-Christian evil...
The Fourth Gospel is a message of hope directly and immediately applicable to every person in every situation - no matter how isolated. Across the centuries, leaping the millennia; the Fourth is precisely the Gospel for here and now.
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