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Ian Galloway talks about his new book 'Called to be Friends'

Ian Galloway talks about his new book 'Called to be Friends'

Twenty years ago, I was asked to teach John’s gospel for a week as part of a training course for church leaders. It was the beginning of an epic journey of discovery.

During my preparation I read Carson’s commentary on John. In it he suggests progress in our understanding will come from narrative or literary analysis, taking the text as it is. I felt a very strong prompting in this direction, but I was very uncertain as to how to go about it.

As I read and re-read the gospel, a little detail caught my attention. The wedding at Cana story is called the first sign. The healing of the royal official’s son is called the second sign. That phrase never comes up again. No third or fourth or seventh sign. A suggestion landed with a loud clunk in my mind – maybe this is a literary device whereby the author is indicating that these two stories belong together.

So, I studied them side by side. I was totally shocked. They do belong together. They share the same narrative shape. In both stories a significant person comes to Jesus requesting His help for someone else. Jesus’ response is almost rude. It is certainly a strong pushback. But the effect of this is to cause the person asking for help to step further forward in faith. Jesus then changes tack. He gives instructions, and it is in the hands and feet of others that the miracle occurs. Jesus does the sign, but He also doesn’t do the sign. Most people don’t know that He had anything to do with it. But those that do, believe.

Another question came to me: are there any other stories with this shape? I found two more – the feeding of the 5,000 and the raising of Lazarus. There are developments and subtle changes. Jesus is a person, not a machine. By looking through these stories side by side we don’t just see what happened. We get to see the person behind the story, which is what we do with each other. How do we make friends? We tell each other our stories. It is through hearing the stories that we begin to see the consistency of the person. We begin to know each other and we become friends.

I looked at these four stories for a very long time. They are such an odd set. Reality is changed by pouring in and out of jars. A healing happens by walking away. Bread is multiplied through thanksgiving and breaking, and the son of a family that Jesus loves is brought back to life. A final question landed powerfully in my head: where had I seen these stories before? It took a long time, but I found them eventually. They are one after another in 2 Kings: 4-5. Jesus is re-enacting the stories of Elisha.

Had I found John’s methodology, I wondered? Are there sets of stories that belong together that share the same narrative shape? And underneath do we find part of the Old Testament?

It has taken me ages, mostly because I had a demanding job to do as well. I led City Church Newcastle for over thirty years. It’s a busy church, full of life and with a big vision. What really helped me was that I kept being asked to teach John, to churches and to church leaders. It gave me the time and the motivation to do a bit more work on what had become something of an obsession. Every time I taught my research material, people wanted to know where I had read it all.

Called to be Friends follows the journey that I went on, but hopefully won’t take people twenty years to read. I help people dive deeply into the gospel. We look at how groups of stories share the same storyboard. There are five sets of narrative panels, as I call them, and underneath we find the whole of the Old Testament.

I have discovered that what John has done is create a temple space in words. In first-century Judaism, when you went to the Temple you weren’t just going to hear about God, you were going to meet with God. It was His home on earth. John has applied that idea to his writing. As we go into the gospel, we don’t just hear the stories of Jesus. We meet with Jesus. And discover that He is calling us to be His friends. 


* Ian Galloway is Director of the Free Church Track at Cranmer Hall, Durham University, where he trains and mentors existing and emerging church leaders. A church leader himself for over thirty years, with a team of six friends he planted and led what has become City Church Newcastle, now a diverse community of hundreds that serves the North East and beyond.


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