Comment: CQ 73:2 (2015)

“Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many….The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’…If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:14, 21, 26-27)

If an underlying contention runs through the May 2015 issue of the Covenant Quarterly, it is this: only at great cost does the church say “I don’t need you” to the particular ethnic communities that comprise its very body. The claim of both Max Lee and Bruce Fields is that the North American church desperately needs to see its need for the scriptural interpretations of minority Christian communities and biblical scholars; the two additional articles provide intercultural readings that further support this claim.

  • North Park Theological Seminary professor Max Lee begins the issue – and appropriately so, as it largely emerges from his course, Intercultural Biblical Interpretation. Lee introduces the goal, method, and benefits of reading Scripture interculturally, inviting the church to this practice of listening to one another with open ears and so together reading Scripture with new eyes. (Read Lee’s article here.)
  • Nilwona Nowlin advocates the necessity of reconciliation between African Americans and Africans in the United States prior to the possibility of reconciliation with white or other ethnic Americans. She offers a reading of Joseph’s reconciliation with his brothers as a resource for this “family reunion” so that God might similarly take what was meant for evil and from it bring good (Genesis 45:5, 7; 50:20). (Read Nowlin’s article here.)
  • Erik Borggren explores how reading Scripture from a cultural context that is not one’s own might expand our imagination to open up more fruitful readings. Borggren explores the response of Japanese Americans to internment during World War II as a means of collapsing a false opposition between Paul’s call to “be subject to governing authorities” (Romans 13:1) and his locating the Christian’s citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20). Borggren suggests a third way is opened by Japanese American resistance to the dehumanization of internment camps in the form of the art of gaman, “enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity” (quoted, p. 32). (Read Borggren’s article here.)
  • The issue closes with an article by Bruce Fields, associate professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. A guest lecturer in Lee’s course, Fields delivered the 2015 Eaton-Jones Lecture at North Park, from which this article derives. Fields argues that if the contribution of one ethnic part of the church is not receive by the whole church, the church suffers. Fields offers lessons a black hermeneutic extends to the wider church and secondly calls a black hermeneutic to self-evaluation. (Read Fields’ article here.)

The ultimate concern of all four authors in the biblical readings they offer or advocate is love – love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self. Nowlin makes the case that a healthy self-love is prerequisite to obeying Christ’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves – and that this self-love is impeded by deeply rooted racism and tension between Africans and African Americans symptomatic of it. Borggren calls the church to its fundamental identity is as “a community in which the gospel is proclaimed, the idolatries of fear and power are rejected, and worship is expressed through the love of neighbor as oneself” (p. 38). Lee’s conclusion captures well this common aim:

What better way can we love our neighbor than to take steps to learn about the cultural histories that shaped their identities and somehow, in the process, empathize with their struggles and make them our own? What better way can we love ourselves by letting our neighbors help expose our invisible presuppositions and prejudices? And what better way can we love God than when we, as a united community of diverse believers, learn from one another’s readings of Scripture so that we can obey its teaching with greater faithfulness? (p.14)

After reading the proposals that follow these questions await your consideration.

Content posted here over the next two weeks (M, W, F) will supplement these articles, including a response to Bruce Fields’ article by Dominique Gilliard, pastor at New Hope Covenant Church (Oakland, CA), recommended reading on intercultural biblical interpretation, and more.

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Related posts: “Sneak Peak: CQ 73:2 (2015)“; “Interview with Max Lee”; “1 Question: (Why) Does the Church Need to Read the Bible Interculturally?

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Hauna Ondrey

4 Comments

  1. Dr. Lee’s article reverberates with rich insight. As a project missionary to Micronesia, I was regularly confronted by my own biased ways of reading Scripture, and gained tremendous insight when I read them from an islander’s point of view. Still, without some balance, I might end up paralyzed by Segovia’s conclusion that I must not interpret Scripture for anyone other than those sharing my same cultural background, which leaves me with little to say to a whole segment of my congregation! So, kudos to Dr. Lee for driving us back to a historical-critical hermeneutic, which is our first hard task when it comes to reading the text through other lenses. Then, where I am blinded to other ways of reading (I always will be), I can still feel some level of confidence that at least I’ve presented one legitimate angle on the text at hand. Thus, even if I’ve presented Moses as a lawgiver, and failed to present him as liberator/deliverer, at least I’ve accentuated one of his biblical roles (contra Lee; cf. John 1.17). I would rather conclude that my careful historical-critical hermeneutic will yield some element of truth, rather than completely missing out.

    • Thanks for your comment, Eric! I appreciate your anecdote about how your missionary experience in Micronesia encouraged an appreciation for the islanders’ context when reading Scripture. And yes, Segovia’s comments are intimidating! When our class reads his article, we move from stunned, to becoming reflective, and then trying to articulate what we appreciate about, but also how we want to move beyond, his warnings. I do believe we can all engage in reading the Bible from and for cultural contexts other than our own. The Segovia quote, for me, is simply a reminder that the task is never easy. Certainly, experiences such as being a project missionary living on the islands of Micronesia can only add to our appreciation of the intercultural task (and equip us better for it!). Historical-criticism is a good starting point and helps anchor the enterprise, and I’m glad to hear you find it helpful as well. As for Moses the law-giver, yes, he is! May be I should have articulate this more clearly but Moses exclusively as the law-giver is only half the story. So hearing the other half through Latino/a American and African American eyes has been illuminating! Max

      • Thanks, Max, for your helpful response. I am on the same page with you, and your article continues to spark more thinking and dialog. My son, and colleague, reminded me of the various interpretations that often emerge from generations other than my own, the vantage points of different socio-economic groups, not to mention the interesting insights informed by one’s gender. I’m sure the list goes on. The interpreter’s work is a heavy task, but one that is certain to reap great rewards.

        • Eric, it is very affirming to hear that the article has sparked good conversation between you and your son. That is exactly what I hoped for! The article (and whole issue) is really a place to start dialogue. I am glad that it was received as such and not as a prescriptive piece (which it was not!). When it comes to intercultural interpretation, I’m still learning as well but grateful that I can share this journey with colleagues, friends, students, and fellow co-workers in the church of God. I appreciate the words of encouragement, and blessings in your labor for the Lord!

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