Book Review:The Joy of Fellowship

Pentecost, J. Dwight. The Joy of Fellowship: A Study of First John. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007. Paperback, 144 pages. $10.99

(Review copy courtesy of Kregel Publications.)

Purchase: Kregel | CBD | Amazon

ISBN: 0825434688 / 9780825434686

Comments are based on the text of the King James Version of the Bible.

Subjects: 1 John, Biblical Commentary

J. Dwight Pentecost is Distinguished Professor of Bible Exposition, Emeritus, at Dallas Theological Seminary, where he has served since 1955. He holds a B.A. from Hampden-Sydney College and Th.M. and Th.D. degrees from Dallas Theological Seminary. His nearly twenty books include Things to Come (1965), The Words and Works of Jesus Christ (1981), and Design for Discipleship (1996).

In The Joy of Fellowship, J. Dwight Pentecost presents a commentary on the book of 1 John through the lens of 1:3—“and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” He applies verse 4 as the theme of the book. First John was written so believers would enjoy the full benefits of fellowship with God that John enjoys. This approach differs from other commentators who say the book’s theme is found in 5:13: “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.”

Throughout the book, Pentecost remains fairly consistent in handling each section through this lens, giving the reader an opportunity to see 1 John, not as a message of assurance of salvation, but of the joy that comes from having fellowship with God. He diverges from this theme once he begins discussions on the last half of chapter 5. He defines “fellowship” as being the “idea of having something in common” (p. 18). He then reminds the reader that the only way to have fellowship with God is through Jesus Christ’s coming into the world to make man a “new creation” (p. 19). He proceeds through a systematic study of the entire epistle, going verse by verse and handling most of the sentences and phrases in the brief epistle. Each brief chapter concludes with a series of study questions.

Analysis

In Chapter 3, Pentecost describes the characteristics of light and compares it to the holiness of God. He challenges the premise that salvation does not guarantee a relationship with the Father if sin is present. It is only as we walk in the light that we have fellowship with God. He interprets verse 7—“we have fellowship with one another”—as referring to the relationship between God and man and not the relationship between fellow believers. In 1 John 2:1, Pentecost interprets the phrase “if any man sins” as “while any man is still in the act of sinning” (p. 34). He defines this verse as a reminder that when a believer is in any act of sin, Christ has already risen to his defense. He interprets the “if” as a time of eventual occurrence rather than as a time of possibility. Thus, “every time we sin, Christ must appear before God as our defense attorney to plead our cause” (p. 36). Pentecost continues in the same passage to maintain that this repetitious pleading is necessary to maintain us as sons of God. The sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ is found in that it is possible for the propitiation not to be exhausted by the sins of the whole world.

Chapter 10 deals with the subject of the Antichrist. Having identified the world in verse 15, he identifies three reasons believers ought not to love the world without any explanation as to how believers should accomplish this action practically. He moves into the description of the Antichrist and his manifestation in the religious, political, social, and moral realm. God commands the believer to separate from all forms of the Antichrist spirit.

In the next chapter, he covers 2:24b-29 with the exception of verse 25 (with its promise of eternal life) and verse 26. In identifying the spirit of Antichrist, he fails to capitalize on the assurance of salvation. He identifies “the anointing” (v. 27) with “an unction” from verse 20 and emphasizes the importance of the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit. “It is impossible to fellowship with someone you don’t know” (p. 71).

While the first two chapters deal with the holiness of God, chapter 3 moves into a discussion of the love of God. He then deals with sin by defining what it is, not by explaining the passage (vv. 4-6). He interprets verse 9 as teaching that the nature of God, which is in the child of God, cannot sin. God’s children do sin and therefore need an advocate, but the divine nature imparted unto them at salvation does not sin (pp. 82, 83).

He presents the believer with the seriousness of love in verses 13-15 as being a test of fellowship with God. Appealing to God as an example, he instructs the believer to demonstrate such love to others. Thus, verse 17 serves as an interpretation of verse 16 (p. 92). Again, he reminds the believer that love should be accompanied not by words alone but also by deeds.

In chapter 18, Pentecost deals with 3:19-24 and the emphasis on theology over experience. Experience tells the believer that he cannot measure up to the love of God, but his confidence is founded not on his experience but on the promise of God. The parallel commands to believe and love are the foundation of our fellowship with the Father (pp. 97,98).

While explaining 4:7-11, he emphasizes the believer’s responsibility to love one another because of the example of the love of God. The giving of the Lord Jesus Christ demonstrated this love. However, Pentecost completely overlooks the clear explanation of verse 8, declaring that God is love. He concludes his discussion on the rest of chapter 4 by reminding the believer that Jesus Christ is the Savior and that the believer can have confidence in approaching God because of the love of Christ.

He shows that 1 John 5:1-5 contains three evidences of a new birth. These evidences are (1) love for the brethren, (2) obedience to the Word of God, and (3) overcoming the world (pp. 121-124). The final expression is defined as the believer manifesting the love of God rather than hatred of the world.

In chapter 25, Pentecost identifies John’s reasons for writing this epistle: for salvation, for assurance, and for confidence (pp. 131, 132). On page 132, he explains why John wrote to believers to evangelize them. He writes, “There are multitudes today who have accepted Christ as personal Savior but who would have difficulty answering the questions, ‘Are you saved?’ … Failure to realize this has nothing to do with our eternal destiny, but it certainly affects our stay here on earth.”

Chapter 26 deals with the “sin unto death.” He quickly identifies it as not being the unpardonable sin of Matthew. He explains this expression by first defining the term “death.” Some sins result in physical death. He then identifies a difference between punishment and chastisement. Punishment for believers’ sins has been covered by the death of Christ. Chastisement, on the other hand, is for the purpose of bringing an individual to a desired end—which is righteousness. At times, this chastisement might be unto death. The book closes with a reminder that the believer is to keep himself pure.

Conclusion

This book is profitable for a quick reading and a little explanation of the epistle of John. The study questions at the end of each chapter might make it effective for a teen or adult Sunday school class. These questions, often answered within the text itself, produce a good launching pad for other questions and discussions.

One disappointment with the commentary is that, though professing to be a verse-by-verse commentary, it fails to deal with the entire book. Some examples would include Pentecost’s dishonest dealing with certain verses. For example, in the chapter about 1 John 2:20-24, he completely omits the end of verse 23 (p. 65). In a discussion of chapter 5, he completely omits verse 7 from the discussion. He doesn’t mention why this omission took place and leaves the reader to draw his own conclusions about these passages. A more honest approach would have been to admit some disagreement about these passages, thus providing a reason for their omission.

Overall the commentary provides a resource on 1 John through a lens that differs from others. Each chapter works off the preceding chapter and maintains a consistency throughout. The book neither deals with Greek vocabulary nor divulges into any great depth of exposition. However, Pentecost explains certain key theological terms as they arise and posits definitions of “sin,” “the world,” and “righteousness” throughout the book.

Finally, the commentary fails to give much practical explanation or application of the various commands in the epistle. He may define a passage but give little or no application to the believer. Thus, the book remains fairly theoretical and theological in nature.

Rev. Stephen J. Racite received a B.A. in Bible from Pensacola Christian College (Pensacola, FL) and is working on his M.A. degree in Bible Exposition. He is the pastor of the Cornwall Baptist Church (Cornwall, NY) and serves as the Financial Secretary for the Fellowship of Fundamental Bible Churches. He is married to Sarah, and they have four children.


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