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Loren Johns: discern and follow


July 15, 2011
-Deborah Froese

Waterloo, ONT. — Loren Johns has produced a wide range of scholarship studies, from diversity and unity in the church to pastoral ministry and studies of Revelation. In an email interview, the Professor of New Testament at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, IN and one of three keynote speakers at Assembly 2011, wrote that the breadth of his research interests reflects his interest in the life of the church.

“As I see it, since life is not one-sided, my intellectual interests are multidimensional…too.”

His interest in unity and diversity stems from his belief that the ability to negotiate in the midst of differences is one of the most important challenges facing the church. “My work on the  Damascus Road Anti-Racism Team at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary is one expression of this interest,” he wrote.

The theological questions he hears raised at AMBS are often directly related to the challenges of pastoral ministry, and what a particular issue will look like in terms of the challenges and opportunities pastors are facing in the church.

 “It seems to me that whatever I can learn in this regard should inform my teaching and research on every other issue. Even with the book of Revelation, the issues that fascinate me the most are those that deal with how the book’s Christology or eschatology touch on the life of the church today. For instance, why is Christ portrayed consistently as a Lamb in this book? What message was this supposed to communicate to the churches for whom the book was written? And what is it about the New Jerusalem, or the new heaven and new earth that John’s readers were meant to understand? How and why did John see this vision as relevant for them? How did it affect their daily lives ... and by extension, ours?”

Johns explained that a clearer understanding of the situation facing the first-century churches of Asia helps us to see our own circumstances more clearly. Just as today, the most important challenge before those churches was the need to discern the difference between inconsequential pressures of society and those with deeply spiritual consequences. He referred to the book of Revelation as “resistance literature”.

There is a consensus among scholars, he wrote, that pressure to worship the emperor came from leading, influential families in Ephesus, or in the Roman province of Asia, not from Rome itself. He pointed to evidence gathered by his fellow Assembly 2011 keynote speaker, Nelson Kraybill, that being involved in trade guilds in the first century came with pressure to offer small sacrifices to the emperor to begin meetings.

“…So what if the emperor were praised as saviour of the world? It’s no big deal. [But] Apparently [Revelation writer] John disagreed: it is a big deal. Those who worship the God of Israel must say no to such compromises of allegiance and worship.”

Johns presented a series of Bible studies on Revelation during Assembly 2011. He noted that the most important concepts for people to absorb from those studies is the book’s call to ethical discernment in the present - let anyone who has an ear hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches (Rev. 3:22) – and its Lamb Christology. Jesus, the One we follow, maintained his faithful witness to the point of death, as we are called to do as well.

“[These] are far more central to the book than is speculation about the future.”

Follow audio recordings of Loren Johns’ Bible studies on the Mennonite Church Canada  Assembly 2011 webpage at