Signs to Life: Reading and Responding to John’s Gospel, Kendra Haloviak Valentine, Signs Publishing Company, Victoria, Australia, 2013, 151 pages, US$14.99. Reviewed by Stephen Chavez, coordinating editor, Adventist Review.
Rare is the theologian who can effectively communicate the rich treasures of the Bible in language simple enough for everyone to understand. Never mind that the New Testament was originally written in common Greek—too many scholars seem so determined to demonstrate their “scholarliness” that readers are often left to muddle hip-deep in language and concepts they can barely understand.
Such is not the case with Kendra Haloviak Valentine’s book Signs to Life: Reading and Responding to John’s Gospel. Valentine, an associate professor and chair of the H.M.S. Richards Divinity School at La Sierra University, is a theologian, a preacher, and, it turns out, a perceptive author.
Signs to Life consists of Valentine’s exploration of seven “signs,” or stories, recorded in the first half of John’s Gospel, and sprang initially from a series of sermons preached at the world headquarters of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 2004.
The seven “signs” are familiar to everyone: the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well, the healing of the official’s son, the healing at the Pool of Bethesda, the feeding of the multitude, the healing of the man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus from the dead.
But Valentine’s treatment of these stories isn’t just a retelling; don’t be surprised as you read them that it seems as though you’re reading them for the first time. Subconsciously we know how the stories end, but the author skillfully ties these stories to the past, and links them to future events in Christ’s ministry, such as His passion and His promise to return. Like me, you’ll often find yourself thinking, Why haven’t I seen this before?
A real bonus of Signs to Life is in part two of the book, in which four authors—Carolyn Rickett, Daniel Reynaud, Jane Fernandez, and Nathan Brown—respond to Valentine’s chapters in a section entitled “Abundant Life: Readers Respond.” Each author is associated with Avondale College of Higher Education in Cooranbong, New South Wales, Australia; and they use Valentine’s chapters as a jumping-off place to share their own reflections about the effect of John’s Gospel on their lives.
The purpose, according to Valentine, is to inspire “listening with the heart”; recognizing that whenever we read the Bible, we come at it with our own culture, background, and prejudice. It’s as important to listen to what others have learned as it is to share our own insights.
A final bonus in Signs to Life is an interactive section entitled “Continuing on the Journey to Life.” It includes thought questions for each chapter, and an invitation to use the book’s chapters and the readers’ responses to investigate the Gospel of John with friends, fellow believers, and those with whom we study the Bible.
Included with this volume is a compact disc of Valentine reading each of the seven “sermons.” They’re not real sermons; it’s like listening to an audiobook. The message is good, but the dynamic of public speaking is absent.
Ever the professor, Valentine encourages readers to explore the stories, examine the great themes, and make the stories their own. “Our journey is never done,” she writes. “Instead, it continues, inviting ever-deepening understandings of Jesus, the focus of this gospel.”