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Seattle Pacific University
Autumn 2007 | Volume 30, Number 2 | Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

Thanks for the excellent ResponseAre We Biblically Illiterate?” [Spring 2007]. 


I was particularly taken with Kathy Henning’s first-person account of being “Undone by the Word.” I resonated with her comment upon reading the Bible through for the first time: “I wasn’t done; I was undone. And I couldn’t wait to start reading through the Bible again.”


I referenced Kathy's piece in a post-Easter sermon on Luke 24. One of the Emmaus Road travelers said to the other, "Were not our hearts burning within us while He (the incognito Jesus) was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the Scriptures to us?" "I began to truly understand who Jesus was ..." wrote Kathy about her life-changing encounter with the living Word through reading the written Word.


An essential key to living out the risen life of Jesus in daily life is the opening up or illumining of the Scripture. Jesus is not bodily present with us today "to open our minds to understand the Scriptures" as He did long ago. But the Spirit of Jesus is with us. The Spirit of Jesus wants to illumine Scripture so we may understand and believe.

My recommendation to the people of our church is to read the Bible, yes, but even more, to read the Bible to see Jesus. Seekers after Jesus read the Bible for more than information; they read it as a doorway through which to see and to know Jesus. Henri Nouwen, one of my author-mentors, has observed: “The purpose of spiritual reading … is not to master knowledge or information, but to let God’s Spirit master us.”


This fall, at First Free Methodist Church, I have set myself the task of teaching a several-month-long, weekly seminar on what I am calling “Bird’s Eye Bible.” I hope to take interested people through the entire Bible’s sweeping story, not just for information’s sake, as valuable as that is, but even more to see Jesus.

H. Mark Abbott
Pastor, First Free Methodist Church
Seattle, Washington

I read your Spring 2007 edition of Response from cover to cover. As a Christian school principal and Bible department chair, I found the theme of biblical literacy struck a chord deep in my own heart. Thank you for this timely emphasis.

Dave Jennings
Northwest Christian Schools
Spokane, Washington

We attend a small Village Missions church of about 45 to 50 people in a rural area with an agriculture- and logging-based economy. Along with our four kids, we operate a farm with wheat, bluegrass, and cattle.


Discussion in our high school Sunday school class was quite lively as we read and discussed “The Multifaceted Bible.” As teachers, my husband, Paul, and I used the article as a change from our routine curriculum. The challenge in our setting was to expand our use of the Bible in quiet time, worship, and study. 


It was exciting to see the kids think about the Bible in a new light.  Many of these kids are growing up in Christian homes, attending church regularly, and have a solid knowledge of the Bible. They had never consciously studied the Bible’s literary form, did not understand the idea of reading the Bible as Sacrament, had not seriously considered why some ancient texts are not included in the Bible, or considered enveloping themselves in God while reading the Bible as Scripture.  


One of the greatest challenges to our sense of Bible happened when Dr. [Susan VanZanten] Gallagher used the term “folk tales” when describing genre. This collided with our vision of the Bible as Truth. Dr. Gallagher replied to our concerns, helping us to understand that her use of the term “folk tale” referred to a narrative pattern with no necessary discrimination between those based on historical fact or fiction. We appreciated her reply. 


All of us in the class developed a deeper understanding and love for the Word of God and its many gifts for us. Thank you for the article that provoked thought in both teacher and student.

Leann Thompson Daman ’88
Tensed, Idaho

Today was, among other things, the time for me to lounge on my warm deck and read carefully the latest issue of Response. The time was well spent.


You and your staff are to be commended for handling such a basic (foundational) topic so well. The articulation of the centrality of the Scriptures to our total Christian experience and communities speaks well for a major evangelical university contextualized in our cultural maelstrom.


If it is possible, I would like permission to reprint and distribute several of the articles to my graduate-level homiletics class I’ll be teaching this fall. My main desire is to instill in each student that they must always be expositors of the Word of God applicationally to their parishioners. While there are several kinds of sermons, the lasting effect needed comes from the diligent and regular presentation of specific expositional slices of the Scriptures.

John F. Sills CC ’62
Salem, Oregon

Thank you for emphasizing the importance of reading/studying the word of God in your last issue. Jeffrey Overstreet’s introductory article and that of President Eaton’s, on through the four faculty overviews, explained beautifully the wisdom and understanding reaped in Scripture. 


I love that the Bible tells us that God’s Word is “forever settled in Heaven” (Psalm 119:89), and that “God’s Word endures forever” (1 Peter 1:25). Just like the Father Himself, His word is not going to change or go away. This is unspeakably comforting! Since the Word reveals God’s eternal attributes, and His plan and purposes for this life and for the life to come, it’s no wonder that we are admonished in its pages to meditate on it day and night.  


Thank you again for pointing out so many ways our life is enhanced through this discipline of reading the Bible. It would be tragic to let this life pass away without craving the Truth between its covers.

Larie Wall
Seattle, Washington

In the last issue of SPU’s Response, the most inspiring article for me was Kathy Henning’s “Undone by the Word.” I have read and reread it several times. She has caught a vision and understanding of the importance of Holy Scripture that few Christians have learned.


I was raised in a home where Bible reading was a part of our daily routine, usually at bedtime. A chapter here and a chapter there, but no concerted study or programmed approach. About two years ago, I set about to read the Bible through cover to cover. That effort brought about a new perspective. Next I read about how Scripture was canonized. I am taking the reading journey again, and I am as far as Hosea. I share her enthusiasm.


To put things into perspective, I am an old geezer (83 years old); my children attended SPU, also two of my grandchildren. … My daughter, Trina, who graduated with a B.S. in nursing, died at 34 of a brain tumor. Similar things have happened to my family as have happened to Kathy’s. It is wonderful that God is in charge and only lets come what is best for us. We’ll understand it better in the “by-and-by.”


I hope I might have the joy of meeting you, Kathy, someday. ... May God richly bless you.

Carl “Don” Deffenbaugh
Port Orchard, Washington

I have spent the last 10 years or so as a Bible translator in South Asia. Although our work here is primarily in a pre-Christian context compared to what might be called a post-Christian context in the U.S., I was struck by the similarity of our concerns as discussed in the recent issue of Response relating to biblical illiteracy. Our shared passion and concern is for the Scriptures to impact people’s lives. A quality translation is essential; beyond that, it is the responsibility of the Church — churches, Christian institutions like SPU, and each of us as Christ’s disciples — to engage the world with the grand epic of the Scripture. ...

My concern with the issue of biblical illiteracy is not that people can name the 12 disciples, or the 10 commandments, or know the name of Noah’s wife. Indeed, that does reflect the degree to which we have a shared culture today, but I think the more important concern is for us all to be transfixed by the Story. Richard Hays, in “Reading the Bible With Eyes of Faith,” used the imagery of Jesus healing a blind man: At first the man saw people “like trees walking.” Too often, the study, teaching, and preaching of Scripture is like that — we miss the grandeur of the forest for the trees.  The trees are the grand epic of Scripture, the Life that God designed us to live, the Story. We don’t watch the Story as spectators in a movie; we live it. The greatest story ever told, and we have a part in it! That’s incredible! Without knowing the Story, much of life doesn’t make sense, and without it making sense, we make some pretty stupid choices that sadden the heart of the Author of the Story. 


Interestingly, there has been a major movement in the last 10 years or so in ministry among more traditional and oral cultures to deliver the Scripture through oral stories. It recognizes that many cultures teach and learn orally, often through story. And sharing Scripture through stories, actually one Story made up of many separate stories, is having a profound effect around the globe. Perhaps we all need to rediscover the grand epic of Scripture.

Jeff Webster ’85
Wycliffe Bible Translators
South Asia

I shook my head in sadness as I read the articles related to biblical illiteracy. Forty years ago, I did an informal, unscientific survey of five of the major publishers of Sunday school material and found that none of the curricula covered more than 25 percent of the Bible over a five-year period. It is my guess that percentage has changed very little in 40 years. Yet, Sunday school is where most children (and adults) receive their lifetime biblical education. 


In response to my discovery, I spent a year developing a curriculum for all ages that covered the entire Bible twice in five years.  I never could find a publisher interested in producing it. Until the major publishers spend the time and effort to develop com-prehensive curricula, the biblical illiteracy will continue.

Marilyn L. Donnellan
Clermont, Florida

Oh, the Irony

I love Response. It is always both informative and interesting, and helps us keep in touch with our alma mater.


However, I had to chuckle at some irony in the recent issue. In the midst of an article on biblical illiteracy, a sidebar referring to Eugene Peterson’s recent (and very excellent) book titled Eat This Book refers to an encounter between an angel and Saint Paul in which the latter was instructed to “eat this book.” Actually, that encounter was with Saint John, as recorded in Revelation 10:8–10. It parallels a similar experience of the Prophet Ezekiel, recorded in Ezekiel 3:1–3.


If Response is available in the library of heaven, I can easily imagine Saint Paul and Saint John sitting around a table with [the late Seattle Pacific Professor of Religion] Joe Davis and having a good laugh together about that.

Gary Higbee ’55
Kirkland, Washington

Editor's Note: As Gary Higbee — and several other letter-writers — have pointed out, commenting about a topic such as biblical literacy has its pitfalls. Yes, we mistakenly identified the apostle who heard the call to "eat this book" as Paul, even though we knew perfectly well it was John. Many proofreaders missed the error, and we apologize — especially to the great writer Eugene Peterson '54, whose volume Eat This Book, we were reviewing. If nothing else, it underscores the point that biblical literacy requires our careful attention.


What do you think? Don't be shy! We'd like to hear your opinion about  Response or any articles printed in the magazine. To tell us what you think, email You may also write Editor, Response, Seattle Pacific University, 3307 Third Avenue West, Suite 116, Seattle, Washington 98119–1922. Letters must be signed and will be printed as space permits.

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