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The Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences

From 1995 to 1997, the CDC conducted the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study investigating the connection between childhood abuse and neglect and later-life health and well-being.

Over 17,000 Health Maintenance Organization members from Southern California receiving physical exams completed confidential surveys regarding their childhood experiences and current health status and behaviors.

There are 10 types of childhood trauma measured in the ACE Study.

Five are personal — physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect.

Five are related to other family members: a parent who’s an alcoholic, a mother who’s a victim of domestic violence, a family member in jail, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, and the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment.

Each type of trauma counts as one. So a person who’s been physically abused, with one alcoholic parent, and a mother who was beaten up has an ACE score of three.


Adverse Childhood Experiences have been linked to
• risky health behaviors,
• chronic health conditions,
• low life potential, and
• early death.

As the number of ACEs increases, so does the risk for these outcomes.

With an ACE score of 4 or more, things start getting serious. The likelihood of chronic pulmonary lung disease increases 390 percent; hepatitis, 240 percent; depression 460 percent; attempted suicide, 1,220 percent.

ACEs are common…nearly two-thirds (64%) of adults have at least one. And the majority of respondents who reported at least one ACE reported more than one.

For the small minority (12%) of people with a score of 4+ the consequences are dire and get worse as that number increases.

What can we do?

For more information:

The complete infographic can be found here at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Adverse Childhood Experiences collection.

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Why Orthodoxy?

[This is a draft]

Christianity congealed over time by collecting and affirming texts, interpreting those texts, establishing its self-government, affirming traditions, and approving creeds.

This process began with the life of Jesus and continued as his apostles spread the gospel. The content of that gospel was wrestled with during the proto-orthodox period culminating in the 4th century at the councils of Nicea and Constantinople and the clarification of the canon of the holy scripture.

This is historic Christianity. It is what Christianity became, and then was passed down from generation to generation in the tradition of the church.

Protestants and evangelicals claim to be the arbiters of true Christian faith by appealing to the sole divinity of the Bible while simultaneously disregarding the tradition that birthed it.

This doesn’t work. It makes the faith susceptible to at least three problems.

The first is historical and scientific accusations that tear down its divinity. Because there is no authority to say what the Bible is, except the Bible itself. Defining the Bible as divine is completely arbitrary. So if it has flaws, how can it be considered divine?

The second is the lack of a hermeneutical rule that provides boundaries to its interpretation. As a consequence, Protestantism is splintered into thousands of pieces, each claiming to be authoritative. Many people’s faith is a fierce individualism: “jesus, the Bible and me.” All the while Christianity becoming increasingly irrelevant as seculars see through the charade.

Third, Christianity can’t be known without practicing it. Western Christianity gave us absolutely no tools for spirituality, and as a consequence devolved into a rationalistic dualism. “Spirit” couldn’t be known, because it wasn’t scientific, therefore it was relegated to a ghetto.

My conclusion, and the trajectory of my religion. We cannot pluck the Bible out of the context of the church that birthed it, manifest in the Orthodox Church.

If we are going to separate the Bible from the tradition that birthed it, as Protestants do, we have no option but to approach them as nothing more than historical documents. Making a deconstructed attempt to seek the seeds of the original Christian movement through historical critical method and textual studies. But when we do so, and I believe it is appropriate, we must apply the same rigor we do to other historical documents. And accept the consequences of those discoveries, even as they tear down its authority as a divine document.

But if we choose to approach the Bible as divine, we have to accept the decisions of the early church fathers as divine. And there is no justification to limit those decisions to the canon. If the canon is divine, so are the decisions of the councils. And their theology. And their practices of worship. The heir to that tradition is the Orthodox Church.

Of course, you are free conclude the Bible, the councils and church fathers aren’t divine. That’s a matter of faith. We have to each decide for ourselves if Christianity is True. Now I’m free to say that.

A huge problem with Protestantism is the inability to say “Here be Christianity,” and choose whether or not to accept it. Because there so many Christianities, each vying for the position of being “True.” In the past, it is choosing one Christianity over another, trying to determine whatever is the truest one.

By acknowledging Orthodoxy as the fullness of Christianity there is freedom to ask honest questions such as“does this line up with reality? Is this providing an adequate reflection and prescription of the human condition? Does this represent the divine? Is there enough history to justify the claims the tradition makes, and potentially mean that there is something there worth throwing my hat in with?”

But I feel you can’t consider the Bible divine, as Protestants and evangelicals do, without taking very serious the early church fathers, the councils, early christian theology, and early church worship practices.

The more I explore that, it doesn’t look anything like western Christianity.

The admission that Christianity was a developing tradition, that continued to evolve through the councils and people. Nothing to deconstruct because there is a patent acknowledgment that it was constructed in the first place.

No matter what we do if we try to find Jesus through history, we are only doing our best. Christianity. The Church. Is Jesus+. Jesusplus. There’s no getting around that. It’s why it can never be authoritative. Is always subjective.

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Biblical Scholarship and its role in interpreting and applying the Bible

So what is biblical scholarship?

The scholastic approach to study of the Bible is called Biblical criticism. The term “criticism” should not be mistaken for criticizing. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language defines literary criticism as: “The practice of analyzing, classifying, interpreting, or evaluating literary or other artistic works.” Biblical criticism, then, studies biblical writings as historical and literary documents rather than as divinely inspired revelations of God. The goal is to make discerning judgments about who wrote them, the times they lived in, and the sources they used in the composition of their writings.

The critical approach to biblical study began when the same tools of investigation applied to the natural sciences were applied to the study of the humanities. A major shift occurred with the development of Renaissance humanism in the fifteenth century, when the humanities began to be regarded as subjects to study, rather than simply read. This included history, literature, and ancient and modern languages.

Scholars attempted to apply scientific inquiry to these fields. Whereas the natural sciences rely on empirical methods, the humanities could only use critical tools. Information about the past had to be systematically collected. The languages of the texts had to be studied.

These new critical approaches to the ancient texts attempted to reconstruct the times in which they were written. The point was to understand ”the world behind the text.”

Biblical criticism arose as these historical critical methods were applied to the Bible. It approached the Bible in the same manner as any other ancient text: as historical and natural documents, rather than divinely inspired revelations of God. By studying them as historical and literary documents  it was hoped to gain a better understanding of 1st Century Christianity. To get as close as possible to the 1st century world out of which these the books and their authors lived.

How is Biblical Criticism helpful?

  • An enormous amount of work has been done in the field of biblical scholarship that brings us closer to the ancient world.

One of the cardinal teachings of the Evangelical Christian community about the Scriptures has maintained that Scripture is our ultimate authority for faith and practice. This authority is based on what the Scriptures **said** as written by writers inspired by the Holy Spirit and not what the scriptures **mean to me** Since what was **said** is determined both by the writer, his readers and the sociohistorical context, and since the contemporary reader is so removed from that context… … [in order to determine what the text said] all who seek a normative witness must use every available literary and historical means to gain a more accurate understanding of what the evangelist **said** – WBC p. xxxv

The three most significant fields of study are textual, historical, and source criticism.

Textual criticism

As more manuscripts were discovered, researchers were able to examine multiple papyri and compare them with each other. New technologies such as ultraviolet and multi-spectral imaging revealed changes made to some manuscripts. It became apparent that over the course of the Bible’s travel from Jerusalem and Rome to today errors had crept into the texts as generations of scribes reproduced each other’s manuscripts.

In most instances, this was little more than the addition, misspelling, or dropping of a word. Scribes may have had trouble seeing the document they were copying, and copied a word incorrectly, or dropped one altogether. Sometimes a scribe reached the end of a line, and accidentally skipped the next one, leaving out an entire sentence.

Other changes were intentional, though not malicious. Some scribes fancied themselves as editors. They corrected events that were historically inaccurate and made sure places were named accurately. They also corrected spelling and grammar as they saw fit.

In some extreme cases scribes made overt attempts to change the text for doctrinal purposes which impacted the meaning of the verses involved for generations after them. A scribe added commentary to 1John 5:7-8 to make the doctrine of the trinity more explicit. And somewhere along the way, an additional ending was added to Mark’s gospel, probably for the purpose of completing what originally seemed an unsatisfactory ending.

Textual criticism developed as a method to trace the history of these errors as they had been introduced into the Bible and attempt to determine the original writing. By meticulous comparison of the manuscripts, researchers could determine words, sentences, and stories that were either redacted or added to what eventually became the official canon.

Textual criticism is also known as lower criticism.

Historical criticism

Historical criticism focuses on finding the place of each book in its original historical context. The historical critic tries to determine who wrote the book, when it was written, and where. This is done by comparing biblical texts with ancient history, contemporary books, and current findings in archaeological studies.

For example, we know the second temple at Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD. Because this was such a cataclysmic event, we can approximate the dates some books were written by whether the book shows evidence the author knew about its destruction. Mark’s gospel and the early letters of Paul do not show evidence of experiencing the destruction, while Matthew and Luke’s gospel do. This, along with other evidence, allows us to date Mark’s gospel at around 65-70AD and Paul’s letters to around 50AD. Matthew and Luke’s gospels were likely written around 80-90AD

Another tool is the context of the language used by the author. Robert Alter, in his book “Strong as death is love,” explained why The Song of Songs, Ruth, Esther, Jonah and Daniel can be placed in the Late Biblical period:

Biblical language, like any language changed through time. The temporal distance between the sunset strands of Genesis or the Book of Samuel and these Late Biblical texts is comparable to the distance between Shakespeare and John Updike. Just as in the four centuries separating Shakespeare from Updike the English language underwent profound changes — terms once in common usage replaced by others, palpable modifications of grammar and syntax — the Hebrew through these centuries exhibits a similar set of changes. P. xiv

The historical critic also tries to flesh out the original meaning of texts in their historical context. To ascertain the text’s primitive or original meaning in its original context. We have learned much more about the Bible and its times as we have discovered more and more documents from the 1st-3rd century, especially those of a similar genre. The gospel of Thomas discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1945 helps us understand the gospel genre. And the study of Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature gives insight to the language and context of the book of Revelation.

Historical criticism is also known as higher criticism.

Source criticism

The final type of scholastic study is Source criticism which tries to determine the original sources of a biblical book.

The similarities between Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels are well known. In the fifth century, St. Augustine claimed the gospels were written chronologically, by order of their listing in the New Testament, Matthew, Mark and Luke, with each author thoughtfully elaborating, or supplementing the work of his predecessors.

This view prevailed until the late eighteenth century, when Johann Jakob Griesbach published a synopsis of the Bible, laying the gospel stories side by side. It was noticed that Matthew and Luke relied heavily on Mark, as opposed to Augustine’s belief that Matthew was the earliest source.

By comparing these gospels with each other, scholars noticed that both Matthew and Luke had access to Mark’s gospel, and used it as a source in their writing. They also contributed their own material: stories and sayings not found in the other gospels. But scholars also found a substantial amount of stories and sayings that Matthew and Luke shared in common, but didn’t get from Mark. Scholars have hypothesized a source document existed which they call the “Q” gospel that both Matthew and Luke drew upon, but was foreign to Mark.

To learn more,

Peter Enns’ interview of Dr. Christopher M. Hays (DPhil, University of Oxford,) author of Evangelical Faith and the Challenge of Historical Criticism

Also, the rather unique Quartz Hill School of Theology has an excellent series of articles.

  1. Bible Study Methods and Textual Criticism
  2. Literary Criticism
  3. Redaction Criticism
  4. Form Criticism
  5. Tradition Criticism
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What is the Bible?

2Thessalonians 3:11-18, and Hebrews 1:1-2 from Codex Vaticanus B

This article focuses on the text of the Bible, its collection and transmission. See future articles about ethics and theology.

The New Testament

The Christian Bible is made up of two volumes, The New Testament and Old Testament. The New Testament is the collection of 1st century books and letters collected about Jesus and the early church. The Christian Old Testament is the Hebrew Bible. Individual books of the Bible are written in either Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek.

The New Testament, considered the first volume of the Christian Bible, is a collection of 1st century books and letters about Jesus and the early church. The individual books of the New Testament were not written by a single author at a specific time. Consequently, it is a tapestry of leaders, writers and editors spanning around 70 years.

Historians consider them the primary source documents for Jesus and the primitive church. They are the story of Jesus and the church, told by the church. While advocates and critics of the Bible’s pedigree will fight over these books’ accuracy, the important point to keep in mind is that no matter what else we can or cannot say about these books, they contain some of the best sources we have for Jesus and the early church.

The New Testament is made up of four genres:

  • Four gospels which outline the life, and teachings of Jesus the Messiah,
  • The Acts of the Apostles, a history of the 1st century church,
  • Twenty-one letters, known as epistles, of the 1st century leaders,
  • Revelation, a 1st century Apocalypse.

Christianity before the Bible

These books are believed to have been written in the 1st century, no later than 150AD. In its infancy, Christianity existed without authoritative texts. The books that arose from that movement and eventually came to be our Bible did not themselves claim to be revelation. Jesus didn’t write anything down. He didn’t dictate his sayings to an author. Following his death and resurrection, sayings of Jesus were passed around. These included sayings, sermons, and stories about his life, death and resurrection. Spirit-filled believers and teachers traveled from place to place sharing the gospel.

Writing of gospels and letters

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you. Luke 1:1-3

Eventually, authors collected these traditions into the four books we know today as gospels. These gospels contain a tapestry of sayings, parables, and narrative from a variety of sources. The titles of these books come from the names of the authors that Christian tradition attributed to them, though the authors wrote anonymously. Three of them, Matthew, Mark and Luke are called synoptic gospels because they are collections of stories and sayings that appear to have relied on common sources.

Each author seems to have had a variety of sources at their disposal. The majority of NT scholars believe Mark was the primary source for Matthew and Luke. Where stories and sayings overlap in Matthew and Luke that have parallels to Mark, it is understood that those gospels used Mark as a source. [See Daniel B. Wallace: The Synoptic Problem.] But Matthew and Luke also overlap in ways that are independent from Mark. Modern scholars believe these sayings existed in a written collection lost to history. They call this collection “Q,” short for “source” in German.

The choices each gospel author made of what to include and exclude, and how to organize their writing allowed each author to tailor his message to the specific needs of their audience.

Letters

Christianity also spread through the exchange of letters attributed to Jesus’ apostles, most notably Paul. These letters were addressed to specific city churches throughout the Roman empire. But they were also circulated amongst other churches.

Other books written at the time of the early church

In the 20th century, we became aware of many other gospels and letters circulating at the time that didn’t make the final cut of our Bible. We have found books attributed to the apostles Thomas, Judas, and Peter, as well as Jesus’ mother Mary. For a variety reasons, these documents are not considered authentic. But they give us a window into the diversity of the early church.

Diversity of first century Christianity

This variety of letters and gospels helps us to see that first century Christianity was a very diverse movement. The books of our Bible are representative of a movement that was being shaped and formed over time, from a variety of influences. Scholars call this time “proto-orthodox” because it is a time when orthodoxy was being worked out. This is a different perspective on early christianity that contradicts the common view that the bible represents a unified message originating from the apostles.

Collecting the gospels and letters into the canon

In the 2nd and 3rd centuries, different Christian groups began to identify specific gospels and letters as legitimate and held them as collections.

The process of collecting these books was motivated by the necessity to nail down the authoritative voice of Christianity. Some groups told fanciful tales about Jesus to lend credence to their philosophy. The early church fathers identified these groups “gnostics,” but we now know that gnosticism, like early Christianity, was not a unified movement either. There were many different groups with different beliefs and ideas.

As the church developed towards orthodoxy, her leaders tried to determine which of these writings to include in the canon, by ascertaining which they believed came from the authentic oral tradition of Jesus’ sayings, and which were legitimate letters of the apostles. They based their decisions on the claim that they had been written by an apostle or close associate of an apostle. On whether the message of the book reflected the character of Jesus, and if it agreed with other writings. And finally, the degree to which the book was being read and practiced by a wide spectrum of churches.

The Old Testament

As a sect of 1st century Judaism, the early church believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Hebrew Bible’s prophecies of a Messiah. Acknowledging Christianity’s Jewish origins, the early church adopted the Septuagint, the latin translation of the Hebrew Bible, known to Christians as the Old Testament. It includes the stories, experiences, myths, history, and prayers of the Jewish people and how they understood and interacted with their god.

“In approximate round dates, the process which produced [the earliest books] Exodus and the Pentateuch probably began around 600 BCE when existing oral and written traditions were brought together to form books recognisable as those we know, reaching their final form as unchangeable sacred texts around 400 BCE.” [9] Around the 3rd century BCE, work began to translate the Hebrew Bible into Greek. This work was completed in 132 BCE, and came to be known as the Septuagint. This was the version of the Old Testament used by the church for centuries. It includes many books not found in the Protestant Bible.

Final setting of the canon

The writings of the early church fathers and historians identified many different lists of what different Christians believed should be included in the Christian Bible. But by the 4th century, there was near unanimous agreement about which gospels and letters should be included in the Bible we have today. In a letter from 367 AD Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria listed the 27 books that we now consider the New Testament canon, using the word “canonized.”

With the setting of the limits of the canon, such reinterpretation and development did not cease. We distinguish the biblical witness from the postcanonical tradition, but it was a historical decision of the church that determined the breakpoint. And the lines are blurred. Common agreement as to the canonical books was not reached until around a.d. 400. The problem of the canon reopened at the time of the Reformation. The Protestant churches excluded the Apocrypha, a whole series of Old Testament writings that had been recognized as canonical for over a thousand years. Luther, in his September Bible of 1552, openly separated Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation from the other New Testament writings, thereby constituting a dual canon. Erasmus questioned the authenticity and authority of Hebrews, James, Jude, and 2 and 3 John. Zwingli thought Revelation should be rejected, and Calvin’s expositions cover every book except Revelation. In the introduction to his commentaries it is clear, according to Barth, that he had doubts not only about the books mentioned by Luther, but also concerning 2 Peter and 2 and 3 John. The Book That Binds Us Richard A. Rhem Page © Grand Valley State University 7

Identifying the books of the Bible as holy scripture

As the New Testament books made their journey from their original author to their inclusion in the canon, a change occurred in how to understand them. These books became more than mere books. Leaders claimed these authors were inspired by God and that their words were His revelations. The label of divine scripture was assigned to them in an effort to discriminate orthodoxy from heresy, though none of the texts themselves claimed to be oracles. The church adopted the word “scripture” to describe them, and elevated these books to the same level the Jews held the Old Testament.

To learn more:

The Formation of the Proto-Orthodox New Testament

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Fires and false prophets

Fire crew member fighting Poomacha wildfire in California

When natural disasters occur, you can count on self-proclaimed prophets to rise up and declare they are caused by their angry god. When the last great wildfire ravaged Eastern Washington, a local man used it as an opportunity to accuse America for its sins. But wildfires are not unique to eastern Washington in the 21st century. They happen all around the world. When is it appropriate to listen to someone claiming a natural disaster is a symptom of god’s wrath?

In the 9th century BC, Israel found itself in a drought that lasted for three years. The drought was pronounced by the prophet Elijah and came as a result of King Ahab and his wife Jezebel doing “evil in the sight of God.” At the end of the three years, Ahab called out Elijah as “the troublemaker of Israel.” Elijah responded by reminding him that the drought was a result of him and Jezebel leading Israel into worship of the false god Baal.

To make the point that Baal was in fact a false god, Elijah proposed a test.

He instructed them to build two altars, one to Baal and the other to Yahweh (Israel’s god,) and to place the slaughtered pieces of two ox on the altars.

The test? All the prophets had to do was call upon Baal’s power to send down fire and light the altar.

So the prophets of Baal prayed, and prayed and prayed, and nothing happened. Elijah mocked them, so they tried harder, this time cutting themselves and adding their own blood to the sacrifice. Still nothing happened.

When Elijah’s turn came, he ordered four large jars of water to be poured onto the altar three times. And then he prayed. And Yahweh sent fire down from the sky, sizzling the water on the altar, and burning down the sacrifice and altar itself. He then ordered the false prophets killed, prayed to Yahweh that the drought would end, and rain came down, ending the 3 year drought.

Here’s the point. God’s seal of prophetic approval on Elijah the prophet came from his predicting the drought would come -before- it did. Likewise, the authority of the false prophets was tested when they were asked to perform a simple task that would prove they were true prophets.

Anyone can take upon himself the mantle of prophet, and claim that an event that has occurred was caused by god’s disapproval. Those types of prophets are a dime-a-dozen, and have been declaring doom ever since… well, ever since there were droughts and wildfires (that’s a long time.) It’s easy. All you need to do is stamp your message on a natural disaster and voila! You’re a prophet.

A true prophet, on the other hand, announces something specific -before- it happens. Deuteronomy 18:22 says “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.”

It is common-place in America for self-proclaimed prophets to pronounce doom on this nation for its departure from what they deem godly. But when you hear them speak, pay attention to whether or not they proclaim something specific that will take place or come true. If not, their message is not from Christianity’s god. They have spoken presumptuously. Don’t be afraid of them.

It has been said that God made man in his image, and we returned the favor. When you listen to what self-proclaimed prophets say, you can see that they have made God in their own image. Their god is vengeful, angry, hateful, spiteful, bigoted, unmerciful, unloving, heartless. That’s the spirit of their words-from-god.

On the other hand, the fruit of the Christian god’s spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (From Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia.)

In short. False prophets not only speak falsely about god. They are prophets of a false god. A god made in their own image, not the other way around. When these prophets speak in the name of god, just insert their personal name and don’t let him discredit the Christian god.

And while you are at it, ask them to make a specific prophecy of something that is -going- to happen, in the name of their god. When it doesn’t happen, you can plainly see that they are prophets of their own false god. Hopefully god will be more sparing of them than they are of others.

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The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text

While attending a pentecostal Bible college, I received a subscription offer for The Reformed Journal, a theological magazine from the Reformed Church of America. Little did I know that this magazine would have such an impact on me. This review for the book “The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text,” found in the September 1989 issue inspired me to purchase the book. Fortunately, the book was published durably as my copy is well worn from use. It exposed me to ideas about the Bible that I would not have found in my faith tradition. It became the bedrock upon which my view of the Bible and preaching were founded and its impact can be felt in every sermon I preach.

September 1989

How not to pervert the pulpit by John Vriend

Sidney Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text; Interpreting and Preaching Biblical Literature. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989,374 pp., $19.95 (paper).

On May 14 of this year, the Sunday on which the celebration of Pentecost and of Mother’s Day coincided, I happened to be attending a church away from home. Since I was not totally unfamiliar with its liturgical tendencies, I dared not expect but could not keep myself from hoping that Pentecost would at least have the edge. To my utter chagrin, it was not even mentioned. Only the bulletin cover carried the emblem of the descending Dove. Instead, the pastor gushingly referred to Mother’s Day as “this day of days” on the church calendar.

The sermon was without theme or structure, introduced with anecdotal material that related to nothing in particular, and vaguely oriented to “family values” -a birds hot spray of advice of the do-the-best-you-can variety. Motherhood was elevated to mythical heights; children were told to be obedient. In a little excursus in defense of infant baptism, the pastor allowed himself the fervent exclamation that “nothing is too good for these innocent babes!” A miscellany of oblique references to Scripture concluded the performance.

Angry words came to my mind as I listened. “This domeheaded man in clerical gown is perverting the pulpit,” I fumed. How can these people stand it month after weary month? In truth, the majority seemed glad to meander with the pastor in this swamp of mindless sentiment. God the Holy Spirit was totally out of the picture.

The next day, still a bit hung over from the Mother’s Day fiasco, I began to read Sidney Greidanus’s The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text, sensing from the outset that I was entering a very different climate of thought. I was not disappointed. Here, on Monday, I found the cure for the malaise engendered by the perversion of preaching I had endured the day before.

Greidanus addresses himself, as his subtitle indicates, to the task of outlining the principles of interpreting and preaching “biblical literature.” The choice of that phrase is no accident. Whereas in earlier ages the Bible was usually mined for theological “truths,” and whereas after the Enlightenment it was primarily researched for the historical “data” it contained, in recent years the focus of studies has been of a more literary nature. Not that Greidanus wants to settle for any atomistic approach. That would isolate the literary and the historical dimensions from the theological; his whole point is that the divine message of the Bible can be clearly apprehended only through a careful study of the literary and historical dimensions of Scripture. “Holistic” is the word he favors as a description of his method.

This brings him to a consideration of the literary genres and conventions present in the Bible. Why is “genre” important? It is important, negatively, because failing to correctly identify the genre of a given segment of Scripture leads to all sorts of misunderstanding. Take apocalyptic literature-parts of Daniel, parts of the Gospels, and Revelation-and consider what restricted lifestyles and skewed political views have come about as a result of taking apocalyptic writings as literal previews of future events! Genre is important, positively, because it legitimates certain expectations from what one is reading and determines the questions one can appropriately ask of the text. For example, one no longer seeks to extract from the Song of Solomon a theology of the church; rather, one looks in it for the music and madness of connubial courtship in a covenant setting.

But if genre is that important, then preachers who ignore it are being less than completely literate. The outcome of this illiteracy is the practice of pouring the diverse contents of the several genres into a single homiletical mold. Clearly, the Holy Spirit fitted the several cartridges of literary form to the bullets of kerygma he wanted to deliver. If the preacher, armed only with archery skills, views each text as only a plain old arrow, the resulting loss of effectiveness is costly to the church. Accordingly, Greidanus’s thesis is that homiletical style ought to conform to the genre of the preaching text.

Curiously, Greidanus identifies seven major genres but treats only four: narrative, prophecy, gospel, and epistle. I could not find any explanation of why the remaining three-wisdom, psalms, and apocalypse-were left untreated. Perhaps the author will before long surprise us with a sequel.

Particularly illuminating is the section on Hebrew narrative. On the one hand, in those narratives in which the intent is to relate historical events, the author stresses the importance of historicity. One cannot speak of God’s covenant faithfulness if God has not been a covenant-maker in actual history. In accordance with the form of ancient Near Eastern treaties, the treaty-making king must preface the covenant proper with a list of his achievements in history for the covenant-receiving vassal to know himself in a position of obligation. On the other hand, history writing in the Bible is a far’ cry from the 19th-century ideal of “objective” history with its refined standards of accuracy. “Ancient standards allowed biblical authors much more freedom and flexibility to mould and shape the material in order to drive home their specific messages” (p. 191). So they freely rearranged the chronological order, highlighted certain facts while ignoring others, and offered highly condensed material in one place while elaborating in much detail elsewhere.

In this connection-that of historicity and the freedom to shape it artistically-the author has interesting things to say, for example, about Genesis 1. The creation account is clearly unique because it cannot possibly be an eyewitness account. Its structure (eight creative acts distributed in parallel fashion over two sets of three days) is highly stylized. Yet for the validity of its message, this narrative too requires its historical referent. In order for the message to be valid “one needs to accept as historical that God created the sun, moon, and stars. When and how God created them is a secondary issue which the author does not intend to answer … ” (p. 196; see also p. 64).

In this context the author emphatically asserts that “no historical narrative is a transparent windowpane for viewing the facts beyond; historical narratives are more like stained-glass windows which artistically reveal the significance of certain facts from a specific faith perspective” (p. 196). One is called to preach texts, not bare facts.

Pastors will find this work a splendid help and possibly a corrective for what has become a monochrome treatment of the colorful preaching contents of Scripture. At times they may find the author a bit too left-brained to lead them into a more imaginative mode of reading Scripture. He correctly deplores “spiritualizing,” for instance, and as an example offers “Jacob’s physical struggle at Peniel becoming our spiritual struggle … ” (p. 161). But this leaves my mind stuck in a spiderweb of sticky questions. Was Jacob’s struggle primarily physical? Is not this a naming, and therefore a transformational, story? Is it not the story of the Tricky Dickie of his generation, assailed by fear from within and an unfamiliar but powerful antagonist from without, being transformed into a prince called Israel and ending up a crippled victor in the bargain? Is not this the story of faithful Israel, past and present, as well as a paradigm in the lives of embattled saints? Sometimes I felt overdosed on criticism and left groping for alternatives.

Whatever my strictures, however, the book continues to evoke in me the feelings of profound gratitude I mentioned in the beginning. It is a great cure for the unbearable mindlessness that still afflicts too many pulpits in the land and restores to biblical exegesis and preaching the joy of significant discovery.

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A safe place

In the book “Changes that heal,” author Henry Cloud compares the culture of many churches with that of a good 12 step group.

“In many churches it is culturally unacceptable to have problems. That is called being sinful. In a 12 step group it is culturally unacceptable to be perfect; that is called denial. In the former setting, people may look better, but they get worse. In the latter setting, people look worse, but they get better.”

When introducing yourself in an A.A. meeting you usually begin with “Hello, my name is Joe. And I’m an alcoholic,” to which the group replies in chorus, “Hi Joe!” Our churches should imitate these groups. We should sit in a circle and say “Hi, my name is Jeff. And I’m a sinner” to which fellow members reply “Hi Jeff.” Instead, most churches are sanitized from the appearance of sin. Inevitably a member’s problems will creep out from behind the veil of secrecy and into the public eye. Often these people feel uncomfortable in their church and stop attending. But sometimes, while seeking help, many find a 12 step group which functions more like what their church should have; because in a 12 step group there is love, acceptance and forgiveness that may have been missing from their church.

This is not a new problem. In the first century, hurting people with problems and sins were often rejected by religious people. In this story, a sinful woman, probably a prostitute, was rejected by a group of religious people, but accepted by Jesus.

Now one of the spiritual leaders asked Jesus to have dinner with him. When Jesus entered this man’s house, he reclined at the table. There was a woman in the city who was a sinner. When she learned that Jesus was having dinner at the spiritual leader’s house, she brought a vial of perfume. Weeping at Jesus’ feet, she began to wash his feet with her tears. She wiped his feet with the hair of her head, and kissed them, anointing them with the perfume.

When the spiritual leader saw this, he said to himself, “If this man was a prophet, he would know what kind of woman she is–that she is a sinner.”

Jesus then used a parable to explain to these religious people why he accepted this sinful woman.

He said to his host, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house and you did not give me any water for my feet. But she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Let me tell you, her many sins have been forgiven–for she loved much. But the person who has been forgiven little loves little.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

This sinful woman took the risk of coming out of hiding to experience the grace she knew Jesus had for sinners.

In 12 step groups there is no need to fear coming out of hiding and admitting you have a problem. Because long before you came, everyone else in the room admitted their problems. And they still do.

In 2011 I experienced the safety of a 12 step group; safety to admit I have problems; that I am a sinner. Speaking up was scary, because it meant admitting to others that I have a problem. But the reality is, we all have problems. We just aren’t in the habit of admitting them to someone else. As a result, those problems stay hidden. They are often kept hidden in our churches, which should be the ultimate hospital and recovery room for problems big and small. And as a result, we don’t find the help that we need.

If you are someone who struggles with a problem, who feels like a sinner, I want you to know that safe places like this exist; places where you can admit your struggles and eavesdrop on what change looks like. Contact me and I can help you find a place of hope.

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