Kendra Haloviak Valentine Demonstrates Postmodern Ways of Interpreting Scripture (Part 1)

Kendra Haloviak Valentine, New Testament scholar and Dean of General Education at La Sierra University, simultaneously accomplished two things in a remarkable series of presentations earlier this school year at the Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School (RBLSS) in Loma Linda, California. On the one hand, she illuminated several passages in the New Testament’s Gospel of Mark. On the other, she also demonstrated five contemporary methods of interpreting Scripture.

In Part 1 of this report, I present brief summaries of how she demonstrated the use of each method. In Part 2, I offer some comments of my own which focus on the differences between modern and postmodern interpretation.

The title of her series was “The Kaleidoscopic Worlds of Mark’s Gospel—a multi-hued hermeneutical perspective.” Watch the videos of all five sessions in the article below.

These videos are worth watching for how she teaches as much as for what she taught. The video of the first session was swiftly prepared so that Professor Gail Rice, who is Director of Faculty Development at Loma Linda University and a member of the faculty of the Harvard Macy Program for Health Professional Educators, could use it just a few days later at a major conference as an example of effective teaching. Videos of the other four sessions would have served this purpose just as well.

Session One:

In the first session, Kendra Haloviak Valentine used the first fifteen verses of Mark’s Gospel to highlight the importance of distinguishing the worlds “behind,” “within” and “in front” of the text. The “world behind the text” is the text’s historical context. For example, those who are drawn to this world will put much emphasis upon what “gospel,” “baptism,” “Nazareth,” and many other things meant in the time of Jesus or in the time of Mark’s writing.

The world “within” the text is the text’s literary context. This is the relationship between its words and sentences and other ones in the same biblical book and in the Bible as a whole.

It is telling, for instance, that Mark’s Gospel uses the same Greek word which we often translate as “torn apart” only twice (1:10; 15:38). The first is at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus when the heavens were “ripped open” at His baptism and God declared him to be His “beloved son.” The second is at the end of his ministry when Jesus died on the cross, the curtain in the temple was “split” from top to bottom and a Roman centurion declared that He must have been “God’s son.”

The world “in front of” the text is our own context. This is the sphere of our issues, questions and concerns. This includes the community of faith with which we read the text. It also reaches beyond our own group to those who are different from us in many ways. These three worlds do not necessarily only collide, she contended. They can also collaborate. Yet they will do this only if we consciously recognize them and intentionally enable them to overlap.

WATCH Kendra Haloviak Valentine on Various Worlds: Intertextuality (Mark 1):

Session Two:

In her second session, Haloviak Valentine described “redaction criticism” and demonstrated its use by summarizing two theories about the context in which Mark’s Gospel was written. They both differ from the frequent view that it is Peter’s account of the story of Jesus which was written down by John Mark when they were both in Rome. In this case, the word “criticism” simply means “analysis” with no necessary negative connotations.

We can easily understand redaction criticism if we introduce a German expression which many use in these discussions. It is Sitz im Leben and it means something like “situation-in-life” or, more concisely, “historical context.” The distinctive feature of this approach is that it is interested in two contexts and sometimes more so in the second. The first context consists of the circumstances in which Jesus lived. The second context is comprised of the situations in which groups of the very first Christians found themselves and from which the texts as we now have them emerged.

According to one of these theories, the Sitz im Leben of Mark’s Gospel is the dilemma faced by some early Christians who lived in Syria after the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. They needed to find a third way which sided with neither the rebellious Jews, who often acted like bandits, nor the severe Roman occupiers. Mark’s Gospel, which encouraged them to admit Gentiles, was written to help them accomplish this.

According to the other theory, the Sitz im Leben of Mark’s Gospel is the challenge faced by the first Christians who lived in Rome after Nero’s persecution of them ended. Their difficulty was welcoming back to full participation those who had yielded to the Emperor’s pressure and denied or renounced their Christian allegiance or perhaps even turned in fellow Christians. Mark’s Gospel, which traces how Jesus dealt with Peter and others who betrayed him, helped them understand how they were to treat those who had betrayed them.

WATCH Kendra Haloviak Valentine on Redaction Perspectives (Mark 13, 16):

Session Three:

In her third session, Haloviak Valentine turned to “literary perspectives” in interpreting Mark’s Gospel. This approach does not concentrate on a passage’s two historical contexts as redaction criticism does. Presupposing that the one who wrote Mark’s Gospel was a theologian and artist in his own right and not merely a scribe, it studies the structure of a particular passage in its relation to other parts of the gospel. Among other things, it explores how its various parts are put together, what conceptual themes thread their way through the whole of the material and where significant patterns occur and reoccur.

She used the word “sandwich” to explain what interpreters mean by “intercalation.” Just as the item we eat inserts something else between two pieces of bread, the interpreter recognizes that the author embedded one story between the two sides of another larger one. The interpreter seeks to understand why the author inserted that story between this larger one rather than some other. She or he studies the literary devices the author used to keep the story there and why the author found this arrangement so important.

Sometimes the intercalation of the smaller story is manifest and the correlation between the portions of the larger story on either side of it obviously belong together. The stories we read in Mark 5:21–43 are examples. The larger story is about Jairus’ request that Jesus heal his daughter, which Jesus eventually answered with a “yes” by raising her back to full health even though in the interlude she had died. Although it is quite long, the smaller story is about how the woman who had hemorrhaged for a dozen years was healed by touching the hem of the garment Jesus was wearing.

Many people read the arrangement of these two stories as the sequence in which they took place. Without necessarily casting a vote either way on this, literary analysts wonder why the story of the resurrected girl occurs in two parts around the story of a healed woman. What are possible relationships between the two stories? Why does Mark want his readers to consider them together?

In other places, the arrangement of the stories is more “back-to-back” as Mark places one story after another. This is what we see in the accounts of how Jesus restored the sight of a blind man in two steps (Mark 8:22–26) immediately followed by a Peter who is slow-to-see Jesus clearly (Mark 8:27–38) and then the dramatic answer to this question in the Transfiguration of Jesus as Peter, James, and John “saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus” (Mark 9:2–8).

We see the “in between” pattern in the stories of the Rich Man who turned away from Jesus (Mark 10:17–34), the contests between James and John and the other disciples about who would have the places of greatest honor in the Kingdom (Mark 10:35–45) and the man who gave up his cloak—which amounted to his pillow, blanket, tent and luggage, and everything else he had—to travel “along the way” with Jesus (Mark 10:46–52).

We see the “in between” pattern most dramatically in the stories about the poor woman who gave all she could at the temple (Mark 12:42–44), the prophecies of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem (Mark 13:1–37), and the rich woman who gave her dowry to Jesus by lavishing with her hair on His feet the ointment which was her only insurance and security should she be left alone (Mark 14:1–9). Many who use literary analysis see in this sequence an anticipation of the shift Christians would eventually make from the temple to the person of Jesus as the religious center of their lives.

WATCH Kendra Haloviak Valentine on Literary Perspectives (Mark 8 - 11):

Session Four:

In her fourth session, Haloviak Valentine used the famous story of the encounter of Jesus with a Syrophoenician woman whom He initially rebuffs to demonstrate both feminist and postcolonial ways of interpreting Scripture. We are now exploring the world “in front of the text” rather than the ones “within” and “behind” it.

One goal in these methods is to become increasingly aware of how our reading of the text is informed by who, what, and where we are. Another goal is to expand our ability to have what we see in the text reformed by what those with other preconditions see in it.

Haloviak Valentine reported on research she and her husband did in a recent sabbatical. They surveyed 120 people in three groups in Australia and five groups in Thailand after which they discussed things with each of their interviewees. It turned out that some in both Australia and Thailand were disturbed by how Jesus treated the Syrophoenician woman but others weren’t. Far from being offended, quite a few of the Asians found it profitable to explore the nuances of their relationship. In Australia, about half of the white, middle-aged respondents thought that the idea of demon possession makes sense today, about half didn’t, and their debates became quite heated. In Papua New Guinea more than one hundred SDA pastors whom the Valentines met on another occasion found in the story the promise of delivery from demon possession and they pled to be taught how to exercise this power among their members. Nothing else in the story interested them as much.

Her postcolonial interpretation of the story emphasized how many “border crossings” it includes. These boundaries are matters of geography, gender, religion, ethnicity, and social class. The last of these is especially interesting because the report that the Syrophoenician woman and her family ate at a table and that her daughter had a bed suggests to some that she was more prosperous than Jesus. Then and now, putting pressure upon people at these boundaries is one of the things occupying forces do to maintain their power over the masses.

Some see in this story a growing awareness on the part of Jesus that His movement was to include Gentiles as well as Jews. The point is that he probably matured in His understanding of his identity and mission over time just as He did in other aspects of his life.

WATCH Kendra Haloviak Valentine on Feminist and Postcolonial Perspectives (Mark 7):

Session Five:

In her fifth session, Kendra Haloviak Valentine focused on the story of the demon-possessed man in Gentile territory whom Jesus healed (Mark 5:1–20). She did this in a way that demonstrated the overlap between postcolonial perspectives, which are especially alert to political oppression, and eco-critical ones, which are especially aware of ecological destruction.

Although she did not emphasize it, her remarks directly pertain to the tensions which have frequently erupted in our time between those who care most about the economy and those who care most about our ecology.

What she said about the 2,000 pigs that plunged to their deaths in the sea after Jesus banished the man’s demons into them was particularly illuminating. On the one hand, these animals were degrading land that could produce food much more efficiently with much less ecological degradation. On the other hand, they produced the pork which the Roman soldiers who were guarding the eastern edge of the empire relished. The oppressors were forcing the oppressed to exhaust the region’s ecological resources for their own economic benefit. Jesus’ liberation of the man, therefore, included the liberation of the land.

WATCH Kendra Haloviak Valentine on "Eco-critical Perspectives (Mark 5) Legion's Land:

In Part 1 of this report, I have offered summaries of Haloviak Valentine’s presentations and discussions. In Part 2, I will present some thoughts of my own with an emphasis upon the difference between modern and postmodern methods of interpreting Scripture.

Dr. David Larson is Professor of Religion at Loma Linda University.

Image Credit: Video Still

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/8636
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Much of the Gospel portion of the Lectionary this year has been taken from Mark.
He gets right to the point much of the time. In Chapter 1 he introduces John the
Baptist, the baptism of Jesus, Jesus in the wilderness, calling the first disciples,
driving out an evil spirit during church, healing many, curing leprosy,
All in 45 verses.
He skips everything else about the early days of Jesus one finds in Matthew
and Luke.
Mark is a good read. But one has to be VERY careful. One can skip over important
things he says, and the things that HE sees are important with just a superficial read.

One Sabbath Betty and I. Invited a traveling evangelist to dinner…Following dinner the evangelist and I took a walk around my 3 acre farm. I asked several questions regarding his views offered in the morning session.His respond was—It is possible to think too much. I see nothing postmodern about this view of Mark. In question the woman, Christ knew her response before she responded. He wanted to show her faith to a Jewish bias.

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We seriously underestimate how helpful this scholarly, in-depth analysis of the biblical text would be to our Sabbath School members who now struggle through quarterlies that are in too many cases soporific at best. Granted, Professor Haloviak is a trained NT scholar and extraordinary teacher. Still, the material itself with some helpful hints (or videos!!) would stimulate a large share of our membership. Most Adventists don’t know what going “deep” into the text would mean. She has shown us how to do that in a faith-building series that should be exciting to anyone open to “new wine” in “new wineskins.”

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SDA SS were not meant to be graduate seminars. They serve rather to encourage ordinary members to be better Christians through a broad and devotional study of the word of God. It is encouraging and truly wonderful to see ordinary elders facilitate ordinary discourse among ordinary folk, to hear them pontificate on matters too high for them before humbly admitting their ignorance.

Having said that, there is an SDA market for conferences that cater to the scholarly mind. It’s just a matter of personnel, money, time, place and logistics.

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Your post is very significant because it brings up the theme of what the purpose of Sabbath school is.

I have taught SS since 1975 and kinda cringe at how I led out back then. While in the Southern Calif conference I would attend “SEEK” meetings every quarter to learn better how to teach. Now in the Southeastern Calif conference, the SS continuing education seminar meetings are held just once a year and at the last one the presenter mentioned that pastors do not support the Sabbath school.
Your post about “better Christians” made me think of the trend of self serving nurturing classes.
What came to mind is this SOP quote…"The Sabbath-school should be one of the greatest instrumentalities, and the most effectual, in bringing souls to Christ."

Are Sabbath schools just a weekly superficial 25-50 minute session to counter the worldly, secular, carnal onslaughts on SDA members?

A seminary teacher taught me 2 points of what theological sessions should inspire…

  1. Positively impact our moral decision making
  2. Promote our showing up in people’s lives.

Notice in Eph 4:12 that the purpose of teachers is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry and then next Paul mentions edify the body of Christ.

SDA usually just hear the trite outreach words of share 3 angels messages & gospel and are not taught on how to do even that.

The Sabbath schools are in trouble and there are very few who know how to conduct them in a significant way. A local SDA pastor mentioned to me that Sabbath school is generally innocuous.

So churches can be “safe places” , 2 elements of 2 Tim 3:16 have been gutted…“reproof” & “correction”

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…just got done with a marathon of Kendra Haloviak on Mark, (taking time out for dinner). Can I get credit for this so I can add it to my resume?

That was really good.

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Highly intellectual people like you and me and obviously @Sirje often feel trapped and despondent when a carpenter elder stands up to facilitate SS. But we miss the purpose of the sabbath by indulging such feelings. The sabbath was designed to allow everyone, irrespective of class, profession or talent, to feel at home in the larger family of believers, to forget (just for one day) about the cares of life and enjoy each other’s company in the presence of God. Why overwhelm a farmer with the significance of anthropomorphism, the use of analogy, the methods of apocalyptic discourse … (and that is just 3 A’s) in the scriptures?

Rather, address the common experience.

And should you care, the afternoons are free for you to hold any number of interesting esoteric theological studies. What you will find however, is that a very small subset of the church membership and a few visitors will attend. That is as it should be. Theology is just ONE branch of the magnificent Tree of Life God has planted for our delectation and delight, for our good and growth. Eventually, the entire church over decades, and imperceptibly so, will become enlightened because of your constancy and wise dealing.

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Unfortunately, you read into my brief comment far more than it intended. “Graduate seminar?” Of course not. On the other hand, in my experience with Maine farmers who never went to college, they hungered for more than the same old material they had learned 20 years earlier. Dr. Haloviak -Valentine demonstrates that the more we know about the text, its cultural moorings, and what other serious students have to say about it (who have been born since Ellen White), we can better understand and find spiritual help in the text. You cannot even read the parable of the prodigal son and get the full “wallop” of its surprise without knowing more than a mere reading might give you. You might be surprised how delighted a carpenter “from anywhere” (who taught the lesson week by week) might be to gain a fresh understanding of some very familiar passages.

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Sure!

It is the reason I suggested the following:

One of the blessed experiences I have had is this.
A sunday school class [open to anyone] sit in a circle. We read the Lectionary readings
[Old Testament, Psalm, New Testament, Gospel] one at a time. Give 15 minutes of open
discussion time to each reading from all members of the group. [there is NO Leader, just a time keeper].
It is an enjoyable learning process as each person is free to share what they see in the
readings, and its impact on them.
WHAT would happen in Sabbath School classes if they sat in the round, read Scripture
ONLY and allowed time for participants to comment on what it says to them???
NO TEACHER, just a timekeeper???

Of course, during the week they would have had opportunity to read the Scriptures
ahead of time;

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JXLB, aren’t the “soporific at best” S.S. lesson quarterlies written by respected SCHOLARS?
(Or perhaps they’re being heavily redacted by editors and committees?)
The Adult Teachers S.S. Bible Study Guide team should be given some credit for providing suggestions for reading, exploring and understanding Scripture (see the Natural Learning Cycle); also for being aware of individuals’ different learning styles.
A suggestion: Principal contributors and various other contributors, while planning material for the adult S.S. lesson pamphlet, should keep in mind relevant principles of andragogy vis a vis pedagogy.

James,

Thanks for the reply. I notice what you think the majority want in the SS class. Do you have poll/survey results to support that assumption?

In this age where so many reviews are requested on services & products, the SDA church is pathetically lacking in this respect.

I still work in a manufacturing industry that is loaded with quality control measures/programs. I attend 3 non denom churches which query the people as to satisfaction and teaching feedback.

It is obvious that at the local level there is so much apathy and incompetence as far as religious education.

I know that several SS members at the class I attend are hungry for more in depth analysis & insights because they tell me so by their appreciation for what I mention in the SS class.

The GC, union, conference SS secretaries need to get a clue!

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Have you prepared a feedback questionnaire? Have you approached your pastor about it? Have you thought of creating a small Bible study group with those who share your thirst for more in-depth knowledge?

As adults, we are quite capable of acting independently of, hopefully not against, church governance. In fact, do you know why the “Roy Branson Legacy Sabbath School” is so called? Here is what they say, “Our goal is to share with like-minded people around the world some of the good things which we enjoy …” and again, “This Sabbath School continues the Legacy of Roy Branson who began it in Loma Linda …” and still further, “He was one of the chief founders of the Adventist Forum and its quarterly journal [our own Spectrum] …” Finally, “His contributions continue in the significant contributions of his graduate students in several different specialties.— Joshua 1:1-11


In answer, I recommend the post just above by @ECCLESIASTES. She asked rhetorically, and I quote: “aren’t the, soporific at best, S.S. lesson quarterlies written by respected SCHOLARS? … The Adult Teachers S.S. Bible Study Guide team should be given some credit for providing suggestions for reading, exploring and understanding Scripture (see the Natural Learning Cycle); also for being aware of individuals’ different learning styles.

But again I ask you to understand, the church is NOT a school. The only admission requirement it has is a confession of faith in things that cannot be practically proven, and no one graduates, ever! Therefore, the way you approach the SS class is different, TOTALLY DIFFERENT, from the way you approach any class in academia.

The student in any SS class is not there to fulfill the requirements of a degree major, having completed certain credits and therefore in possession of some necessary previous knowledge and coming with the expectation of building on that knowledge. NO. The SS class is an incongruous amalgamation of special interests more or less focused on the Cross of Christ and His redeeming love. Learn to listen, to wait for the little ones, to suggest further study for the more eager, to meet with the scholars afterwards – and you will make a very good SS teacher.

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Thank-you for this scholarly article…it does interest some of us.

I took a sampling of the coming week’s SS lesson for a readability score and the following are the results:

Your text: Habit: Use Time Wisely �For we were born yester …(show all text)
Flesch Reading Ease score: 82.9 (text scale)
Flesch Reading Ease scored your text: easy to read.

Gunning Fog: 7.4 (text scale)
Gunning Fog scored your text: fairly easy to read.

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 4.9
Grade level: Fifth Grade.

The Coleman-Liau Index: 5
Grade level: Fifth Grade

The SMOG Index: 5.3
Grade level: Fifth Grade

Automated Readability Index: 3.1
Grade level: 8-9 yrs. old (Third and Fourth graders)

Linsear Write Formula : 6.1
Grade level: Sixth Grade.

So…it appears that the current Adult SS lesson is written upon the same level as “Reader’s Digest”. If one has the knowledge and educational level of a 5-6 grader then they should be able to read and grasp the concepts in the lessons. The problem that so of us have had is the lessons have never been challenging enough and…well, boring as a result. Fortunately, there have been sites like Spectrum and AT which have articles that are a bit more intellectually challenging.

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Your use of “esoteric” indicates an opinion formed before you really had a chance to experience what I am describing. If one reads the Bible assuming that every word or thought descended from the Holy Spirit through feelings and ideas, you cannot understand what the Bible is truly about. It is far more complex, as the work of Ellen White herself demonstrated. If one believes/assumes/ has evidence for the gospels being written decades after Jesus in order to ensure that the record and meaning of his life was preserved in writing after the original eyewitnesses were gone; or, that crises and challenges facing specific Christian communities required Mark and Luke, e.g., to write the counsel of Jesus that would most help them at that time; or that the apostle Paul wrote his letters in the same milieu, how one reads and understands that counsel (admittedly under the movement of the Spirit) changes–even dramatically–in some cases. Why the fear of delving into all that?

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es·o·ter·ic (ˌesəˈterik/)
adjective: intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest. This is what I said, “should you care, the [sabbath] afternoons are free for you to hold any number of interesting esoteric theological studies.”

I point you to what I said before, “there is an SDA market for conferences that cater to the scholarly mind [like ours, obviously]. It’s just a matter of personnel, money, time, place and logistics.”

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Well done.

It is very important to grasp the fundamental concept of sociology (or is it psychology or more properly, pedagogy? I am ignorant of all the -ologies. There are so many and scholars – who have nothing better to do than to pile on the knowledge – are making up even more as I speak) … that people have different interests.

  1. It just so happens that ours is theology and there is no end to the depth to which we are eager to go.
  2. For others, theology is a matter of curiosity and wonder but require a more gentle approach to the subject matter.
  3. Still others are delighted and (mind-bogglingly for us) satisfied that all the theology known to man can be hung on two simple laws: “Love for God; and love for one’s neighbour.”

Believe it or not, all those types stare at you as you stand before the SS class. It defies the rules of education spectacularly. But the church is NOT a school. It is a family.

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“But the church is NOT a school. It is a family.”

Respectfully, I disagree. For the majority of SDA’s sitting in the pews with no higher education…it is both. Always has…always will be.

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I get the drift of what you are saying.

Now this:

  1. What are the admission requirements?
  2. Are there curricula for grade levels?
  3. Who sets the tests and determines success or failure?
  4. At what age does one graduate?

The church may be like a school in some of its programs, but the very first prayer we pray as a body of believers begins this way, “Our Father in heaven …” And in any family, the focus is not the accumulation of esoteric knowledge but the common good, experienced in the happiness of just being together, talking and laughing and reminiscing and discussing and learning and NEVER forgetting that some like it hot and some like it cold and some like it in the pot nine days old. Some are old, some are young, some are like the sun and some are like the moon. Some know a lot, some don’t know a lot.

For that reason, every sabbath day in the family of God you will hear the same fundamental theme over and over and over again - these words: God loves you. Do you get bored hearing that?

However, outside of church hours you are free to pursue your interests to your hearts content and share it with whoever cares during church hours; but please, please, please be patient with those whose little feet can barely stretch to walk in your big boots. I beg you!

Mark 10:13-16 NLT. There are many who come to church who are like those little children. And then, there are many like us whose eyes turn bright at the thought of hearing another parable and cracking it open with a satisfying crunch.

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