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Review of Becoming the Beloved Disciple: Coming Unto Christ Through the Gospel of John by Eric D. Hunstman

By Melonie Cannon

I immediately admire anyone who writes a book attempting to bring others to Christ. By the world’s standards, it’s not the most popular topic nor will it be a best seller. Becoming the Beloved Disciple, Coming unto Christ through the Gospel of John, by Eric D. Huntsman, PhD., can be added to the long and esteemed list of commentaries (found as early as 218 A.D.) on the book of John. This book is specifically written for an LDS audience. It’s a thoughtful discourse on reading the Gospel of John from a literary and spiritual perspective, not a historical or factual one. By seeing the characters in John as diverse types (dare I say, spiritual archetypes?) rather than actual individuals, we can apply their lessons to ourselves.

Why do people take such a keen interest in the Book of John?  First, it sets itself apart from the other three gospels because it has unique stories such as the raising of Lazarus from the dead, the Samaritan woman at the well, seven new miracles, and additional visits to Jerusalem. In addition, the first three gospels (called the synoptic gospels because they have so many parallels and are like a set) begin with the Nativity story. John goes back even further, to the creation of the earth, when the author uses the phrase “In the beginning was the word…” and saying that the Word was made flesh in Jesus Christ. John portrays Jesus as the Son of God. The “I AM” phrase that is spoken to Moses is echoed throughout John as Jesus Christ describes Himself:

  • “I am the bread of life” (6:35, 41, 48, 51)
  • “I am from [God], and He sent Me” (7:29)
  • “I am the Light of the world” (8:12, 9:5)
  • “I am [God]” (8:58)
  • “I am the door” (10:7, 9)
  • “I am the good shepherd” (10:11, 14)
  • “I am the Son of God” (10:36)
  • “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25)
  • “I am the way and the truth and the life” (14:6)
  • “I am the vine” (15:1, 5)

There is no question as to Christ’s identity in the Book of John.  The book is written so the readers might “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” (John 20) and have everlasting life.

Mr. Huntsman, a Greek scholar, begins his book identifying his love of the Book of John because it teaches discipleship. The Greek word for discipleship “suggested not only a student or pupil who learned from a teacher but also an apprentice who strove to become like a master. In other words, being a disciple was not only about knowing, it was also about doing and being.” (Huntsman, 5) Mr. Huntsman wants the readers to see how their “doing and being” is mirrored in the characters of the book.

Each character has their own chapter dedicated to his/her discipleship and the author clearly explains how each of them come to Christ (or do not come, as in the case of the crowd eating loaves and fishes).  Disciples came to Jesus through the witness of others, independently, or through immediate recognition. Some came to Jesus with perplexing questions and sought understanding before they moved forward in faith. The Samaritan woman is presented as a type of outsider who finds salvation and brings others to Christ in great joy. And for those close friends of Jesus such as Mary Magdelene, Martha, or Peter, discipleship meant being a witness of love stronger than any sin, death, shame or grief. Like the spokes coming into the center of a wheel, Mr. Huntsman’s book echoes the call of the Book of John that there should be unity in the body of Christ. We might all start at different places, but if our focus is on the Savior, then we will become one in abiding with Him.

One of the most compelling ideas in the book is the unnamed “beloved disciple” or the one that Christ loved. Because he is unnamed, Huntsman sees this as a key for us as Christians to identify with him in our own discipleship. The beloved disciple rested against Christ’s bosom at the last supper, stood at the foot of the cross as a witness, ran to the empty tomb when he heard the news of the resurrection, and then followed the Risen Lord. So should we all ask about our own personal relationship with Christ.  Do we abide in Him? Are we a witness to His death and resurrection?  Are we exuberant in sharing our testimony? Do we follow Him?

One of Huntsman’s best gifts is making connections between the scriptures and their application. His Greek translations add depth to these connections. For example, the author acknowledges that Mary’s and Martha’s outward demonstrations of love and faith are deeply symbolic and acceptable. But, he also concludes that Lazarus, a character acted upon and silent, represents “how all of us are recipients of grace and saving power if we obey his call…to a new spiritual life.” (101) Huntsman creates a series of connections between the healing and raising of the man at the Pool of Bethesda where the Lord teaches “the graves shall hear his voice, And all shall come forth…(John 5) to Lazarus’ resurrection which anticipates the Lord’s own resurrection. But, Huntsman takes us into the tiny details. He notes that Lazarus needed the voice of the Lord to come forth and others to help him take off his grave wrappings when he left the tomb. Jesus, however, arose on His own and left His folded facecloth and napkins behind – symbolic of never having to enter into death again. Huntsman’s book is replete with connections like this and for me, some of the best parts of the book.

One connection I did not agree with was Huntsman’s discussion of “hard sayings.” He tells the story of Christ speaking to the crowd and calling Himself the “bread of life” and how as followers, we will need to eat His flesh and drink His blood to dwell with Him. Many in the crowd responded, “This is a hard saying, who can hear it?” (John 6:60) Remember the sacrament had not been introduced yet. It was a “hard saying” for the Jews because the eating of bread was equal to reading and understanding the covenant of God described in the Torah. Jesus is actually telling the crowd that coming to Him is more important than the Mosaic Law. We know this because when he spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well, Christ told her that she would not thirst or hunger any more if she drank the “living water” and meat that he brought. He was offering an alternative to the words in Sirach 24:20-22 from the Mosaic law where it states, “He who eats of me will hunger still, he who drinks of me will thirst for more…” Christ is superior to the Law. He is providing the way of Salvation and it was “hard” for the Jews to accept this.

In contrast, Huntsman compares these hard sayings of Christ’s to the LDS Church’s historical questions and “former racial attitudes, the behavior of past and even current leaders, difficult doctrines, the roles of women, the sometimes unkind treatment of LGBTQ individuals, and policies…such as…the status of children of same-sex couples…”. (82) He then says these hard sayings “require additional faith to understand.” There is no comparison, in my opinion. Christ gives us the words of eternal life, the church’s history, handbook, and policies do not. Historical and present-day wrongs are not “hard sayings” that we need to have more faith to understand. They are just plain erroneous. In this case, Huntsman focuses on the branches instead of the Vine.

Despite this one objection, I found Huntsman’s book to be valuable reading that gave me new insights into the book of John. It is not a handbook of how to be a disciple like the title suggests. It is asking us to hold a mirror to ourselves and see which character in John we are most like in our personal discipleship. It is a call to introspection, but not a guide to get there. For readers of Huntsman’s book and for readers of John’s gospel, the most important question is “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Lord God?” Huntsman does and so does our beloved disciple. “This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.”  (John 21:24).

About Melonie Cannon

Melonie has surrounded herself with beautiful words for as long as she can remember. This led her to find a home with Segullah after writing an essay published in the May 2006 Segullah issue. She was invited to join the staff and has been a part of Segullah in various capacities since, including being the creator of the “Words Fall In” podcast.  She received her M.Ed from the University of Utah and was a certified Secondary English teacher before becoming a Mom of four. Over the years, her focus has been on natural healing modalities and becoming a sacred sound healing practitioner with a focus on the drum, rhythm, voice, and vibration. She is finishing her PH.D. in theology and metaphysics to further these studies and help women to connect to the divine within themselves.

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