Wrap up & look ahead


This concludes our inaugural round of Forum posts. Many thanks to readers, contributors, and commenters for an engaging dialogue on intercultural biblical interpretation. Pointed questions have been raised and good dialogue modeled: a sign of good things to come. We encourage you to continue exploring, considering, questioning, practicing, and learning about intercultural biblical interpretation.

  • How does the pastor or chaplain exercise the incarnational ministry of presence? How can pastors and congregations best minister to families experiencing mental illness?
  • What is the dividing line between delusions with religious content and authentic religious experiences? The neurology of experiencing Christ and believing oneself to be Christ?
  • How and under what circumstances did the ministry of chaplaincy begin in the Covenant?

Our authors tackle these questions and more in the next Covenant Quarterly issue (73:3-4, Aug/Nov 2015), scheduled for November publication. Be in touch to recommend Forum contributors on the themes of chaplaincy & mental health – or to contribute yourself. And don’t forget to subscribe to Forum to receive notification when corresponding posts begin.

See you back here in October.

Essential Reading: Intercultural Biblical Interpretation

Want to read more on intercultural biblical interpretation? Get started with these resources – and let us know what we’ve missed.

  • Allen Dwight Callahan, The Talking Book: African Americans and the Bible (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006).
  • Brian K. Blount, Cain Hope Felder, Clarice J. Martin, and Emerson B. Powery, eds., True to our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007).
  • Cain Hope Felder, ed., Stony the Road We Trod: African American Biblical Interpretation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991).
  • Charles Crosgrove, Herold Weiss, and K.K. Yeo, eds. The Cross-Cultural Paul: Journey to Others, Journey to Ourselves (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005). An experimental volume of essays in which authors of different ethnicities interpret Scripture from their own cultural location and those of others.
  • Eunjoo Mary Kim, Preaching the Presence of God: A Homiletic from an Asian American Perspective (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1999).
  • Francisco Lozada, Jr., and Fernando Segovia, eds., Latino/a Biblical Hermeneutics: Problematics, Objectives, Strategies (SBL Semeia Studies 68; Atlanta: SBL Press, 2014).
  • Mary F. Foskett and Jeffrey Kah-Jin Kuan, eds., Ways of Being, Ways of Reading: Asian American Biblical Interpretation (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2006).
  • Randall Bailey, et al., eds., They Were All Together in One Place? Toward Minority Biblical Criticism (SBL Semeia Studies 57; Atlanta: SBL Press, 2009).
  • Tat-Siong Benny Liew, What Is Asian American Biblical Hermeneutics?: Reading the New Testament (Intersections: Asian and Pacific American Transcultural Studies; Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2008).

Do you have feedback on any of these books? Additional resources to share? Let us know in comments (link under title above).

A Part Yet Apart: Moses as a Model for Second-Generation Chinese American Christians

In this post Melissa L. Emerson offers an intercultural reading of Moses for her own cultural context as a second-generation Chinese American. What texts speak to your social location, and how do you read them for this particular location? What insight into the biblical text does your cultural perspective offer the church at large? We invite you to share these insights in comments. 

A Curious Combination?

Melissa Lee Emerson

Melissa Lee Emerson

At first glance, Moses and second-generation Chinese American Christians (2CC) may seem to share little. Yet I believe attention to the intersection of Moses’s cultural identity and his vocation, calls 2CCs to steward their complex cultural identity in a way that embraces solidarity with, and fosters liberation for, all ethnicities.

Moses’s yearning for justice (Exodus 2:11-17) paired with his tri-cultural identity as Hebrew, Egyptian, and Midianite allowed God to use him to fulfill God’s mission of liberating the Israelites. Moses’s exile in Midian allowed God to forge his Hebrew blood, royal Egyptian socialization, eagerness to pursue justice, and semi-nomadic lifestyle for greater purposes than Moses could see. Just as the land of Midian bore witness to Moses’s development, can America be a place where God forms 2CCs into a willing instrument for his liberating, transforming work?

A History of Exclusion

By restricting U.S. citzenship to “white” immigrants, the Naturalization Law of 1790 relegated Asian immigrants to the status of “aliens” and “foreigners.” The impact of this distinction endures far beyond the time it was in force (modified in 1952). Chinese immigrants and their Chinese American children continue to struggle with self-perceptions of being foreign and excluded. At the same time, efforts to prove worthiness of inclusion – competitive work ethic, over-achievement in education, and strict frugality in pursuit of wealth – have earned Asian Americans the backhanded compliment of being the “model minority.”

Caught in this impossible dance between “foreigner” and “model-minority,” 2CCs have become a part of American life but remain apart. This uncertain position complicates the 2CC’s relationship to other immigrant and minority groups. The seemingly positive stereotype of “model-minority” can tempt 2CCs to turn a blind eye to the reality of its implications and revel in a status earned by their parents. This may be evident in the large number of 2CCs that live in affluent suburbs, attempting to forget their history of segregation or to distinguish themselves from those for whom it remains a reality. In this way the image of “model-minority” inadvertantly condemns other minorities, silences their call for justice, and provokes competition between minority groups.

Moses’s Call to Chinese American Christians

The cultural confusion and unequal privilege of 2CCs resemble Moses’s position as a Hebrew raised by the Pharaoh’s daughter. But do 2CCs also mirror Moses’s stewardship of his cultural identity? 2CCs can serve as advocates for immigrants and other minority groups that continue to face alienation. Rather than being content with our inherited privilege, we can pick up our cross and join efforts to dismantle the legacy of racism, civic exclusion, legal segregation, generational immobility, and immigration reform.

Moses’ anticipatory acts of justice (Exodus 2:11-17) were by themselves inadequate to save the Hebrews, for they needed to be empowered by God’s command and presence (3:12). Likewise, 2CCs must be dependent on God’s power and call, and commit to a sojourn of faith amid unknowns. For the template of Exodus offers not a freedom from all control but humble posture that asks, “Whom will we now serve?” exchanging bondage under Pharaoh to the freedom found in service to the true Lord.

“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, unafraid of the king’s anger; for he persevered as though he saw him who is invisible.” (Hebrews 11:24-27)

We invite you to share your own intercultural readings in the comments section, using the link under the title above. What texts speak to your social location, and what fresh reading might your perspective offer the wider church as we read Scripture together?

Melissa Lee Emerson (melissa.lee.emerson@gmail.com) (MDiv, NPTS) lives in Kansas City, Missouri, with her husband Anthony. Having wrestled with her second-generation Chinese-American identity in her young adult years, she set to learn how Scriptures could speak into her ethnic and Christian identity. This article is a short summarization of this work. When she’s not working with Made to Flourish: A Pastor’s Network for the Common Good, she is learning how to play the cello, cook Indian food, or reading a good book.

A Response to Bruce Fields

In this post Dominique Gilliard responds to Bruce Fields’s article on black hermeneutics, published in the most recent issue of the Covenant Quarterly. Do you agree or disagree? Add your own response, to Fields and/or Gilliard, within the comments section (see link above, under title).

Dominique Gilliard

Dominique Gilliard

In his article “The One and the Many: What Can Be Learned from a Black Hermeneutic,” Bruce Fields correctly articulates that a Black hermeneutic is “not only a way of reading and communicating the messages of the Bible; it is also a way of interpreting the complexities of life” (p. 44). This definition crystallizes why Fields believes the church must expand its biblical and cultural hermeneutic. Fields provides revelatory insight into the interplay between Scripture and culture, saying faithful hermeneutics require “serious study of the biblical text” and “careful communication of the message to an audience in its situatedness” (p. 52). Moreover, he appropriately concludes that “the hermeneutical task is impeded” if either element is deficient.

Fields also fittingly cautions against dismissing our Christian fore-parents. However, he may read Augustine too sympathetically. While Augustine does correctly acknowledge that slavery is a manifestation of humanity’s sinful condition and does not racialize it, does a black hermeneutic not challenge his claim that slavery “can only happen by the judgement of God…who knows how to assign different punishments according to the merits of the offenders” (City of God 19.15)? Moreover, Augustine’s claim that “clearly it is a happier lot to be enslaved to a man than to be enslaved to lust” is a statement that one who has never been enslaved has no grounds to make. It is a statement of privilege that elevates the spiritual over the material and fails to adequately address the concrete realities of oppression, exploitation, and death slavery breeds. Nevertheless, Fields is correct that attention to our Christian fore-parents helps ground hermeneutics in a tradition that transcends us and provides wisdom that guide us, even in our modern context.

I was surprised Fields used the phrase “black on black crime” since statistics reveal that all races are overwhelmingly more prone to commit intraracial crimes. The fact that we routinely say “black on black crime” and not “white on white crime” or “Asian on Asian crime” reflects the correlation between blackness and criminality embedded deep within our nation’s psyche. Employing this phrase only serves to reify and legitimate this correlation. When ghettoized, “black on black crime” is propaganda, a political talking point. For this reason I believe it is imperative to instead name “black on black crime” – when used as a special category – an illegitimate figment of our nation’s imagination.

It would have been helpful if Fields’ description of a black hermeneutic addressed whiteness’s claim to universality (as Lee discusses in his article, pp. 12-13). A black hermeneutic helps reveal how white theology clandestinely became universal – and, in the process, disembodied – theology. Camouflaged in universals, Eurocentric theology was set apart, against, and above contextualized theologies that acknowledge the embodied social locations from which they derive. Consequently, the scholarship of women and people of color became hyphenated, stigmatized theology. A black hermeneutic elucidates and names as white theology what otherwise operates unrecognized under the pretext of universality.

In this way, a black hermeneutic is innovative, embodied, and resilient – a corrective to Western Christianity’s disembodied, ahistorical tendency. Against the universal claims of dominant theology, a black hermeneutic insists that all theology emerges from lived experience – that all theology is contextual theology.

Finally, Fields rightly insists that all members of Christ’s body must be present and given a voice at the table for the fullness of the church to be realized. It bears stating that that merely having black faces present does not fulfill this call. Not all black theological reflections are grounded in a black hermeneutic. Consequently, the table must be radically reevaluated; we must not settle for reconsidering who is seated around it, but must insist on interrogating the operative power dynamics of the table itself.

What do you think of the points Gilliard identifies as strengths in Fields’ argument and those he problematizes? Join the dialogue by clicking on the comments link, located under the title above.

DominiqueDominique DuBois Gilliard is a graduate of North Park Theological Seminary and an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Covenant Church. Dominique serves on the pastoral staff at New Hope Covenant Church, in Oakland California. Dominique also serves on the board of directors for the Christian Community Development Association. Dominique blogs at http://ctobt.com/. You can also follow him on Twitter @WEB_Ture.

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.

Be sure to subscribe to our RSS feed in order not to miss content and conversation.  

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

1 Question: (Why) Does the Church Need to Read the Bible Interculturally?

In his interview and article (“Reading the Bible Interculturally: An Invitation to the Evangelical Covenant Church and Evangelical Christianity”), New Testament professor Max Lee advocates the value of intercultural biblical interpretation for the evangelical church. To stimulate consideration of Max’s proposal – and the topic of our upcoming Quarterly issue – we asked Covenant pastors and leaders the following question: (Why) does the church need to read the Bible interculturally?

What do you think? Is an intercultural reading of Scripture desirable? beneficial? possible? How does or might this practice impact your reading, teaching, and preaching of Scripture? Join the conversation below.

Martinez“When the church of Christ reads the Bible interculturally, it acknowledges not only that Scripture was written for all people of the world but also that other cultures read it differently. In our exegetical ambition, we cannot claim a ‘one application fits all’ mentality. God is the creator of all races, ethnicities, and cultures; therefore, we should care about how others receive Scripture.” Danny Martinez, senior pastor of Grace Covenant Church, Spring Valley, California

Bros“Everyone brings presuppositions to their interpretation of the scriptural text. To approach the Bible with an intercultural perspective not only helps us to confront those particular ways of thinking that limit our understanding of Scripture; it can also help open us to knowing the great salvation story of God in new ways through the acknowledgement that we are not independent but interconnected in Christ.” Janice E. Bros, lead pastor, Abbey Way Covenant Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota

d.edwards“We receive everything that we hear or read – even the Bible – through filters. Our filters are formed by our language, gender, culture, station in life, and other factors. In order to understand the Bible better, we need to interpret it within a broad community that encompasses people from a wide range of backgrounds – which is, after all, what the Body of Christ is.” Dennis Edwards, senior pastor, Sanctuary Covenant Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota (blog)

gary-walter2“If disciples make disciples to the ends of the earth, it only makes sense that from the ends of the earth there are reciprocal discipleship lessons. From everywhere to everywhere and from everyone to everyone is the global interchange implicit in the Great Commission.” Gary Walter, president, Evangelical Covenant Church

Yumi“Intercultural reading reveals the multiple layers of the text. In my own experience it has been tremendously beneficial to read the Bible from various cultural/socio-economic standpoints. When I worked among the trafficked children at the brothel town of PoiPet in Cambodia, John 3:16 promised the love of God for the young prostitutes being raped every night. The same passage declared the truth when I was speaking to the friends and families in Japan about God. Intercultural readings also highlight the indisputable universality of our God. Full appreciation for the transcultural nature of Scripture begins with the intercultural readings.” Yumiko Nakagawa, pastor, Highrock Covenant Church of Brookline, Brookline, Massachusetts

J.Rasheed1“When Scripture is read interculturally, the church understands God’s equality, justice, and abundant love for all humankind. We, the church, are empowered to appreciate the uniqueness of each cultural expression and eliminate racism and divisions from within the Body of Christ. God has designed all humanity to worship him, and Scripture manifests the splendor and glory he receives through the magnificence of diversity.

“The familiar parable of the good Samaritan highlights a point underlying this question: ‘How do you read it?‘ (Luke 10:26) Jesus answers the question, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ with the illustration of the needs of a ‘certain man’ (10:29-30). This is all very particular. Jesus’ call to ‘Go and do likewise…’ (Luke 10:37) is a call to not only read the text but to live it. And the church needs to live it.” Josef Rasheed, senior pastor, CrossRoads Covenant Church, DeSoto, Texas

LCarnes“Every person reads the Bible from their cultural perspective. Our churches are becoming increasingly diverse with people moving from one part of the country to another and people moving to America from every part of the world. For this reason we need to consider how other people read and understand the Bible.” Linnea Carnes,  retired, former pastor of Immanuel Covenant Church, Chicago, Illinois

What do you think? Add your response in comments, using the link below the post title.

An Interview with Max Lee

MaxLeeTallMax Lee is associate professor of New Testament at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago. Our upcoming issue of the Quarterly took early shape in Max’s course, Reading the Bible Interculturally. We talked with Max to explore further his academic and personal commitment to intercultural readings of Scripture.

Max, outside of being a professor and scholar, tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do in your free time?

What I want to do is reach the gym and make a heroic attempt to keep myself in shape, but alas, much of my day, evenings, and late nights are spent managing the tension between my vocation as a professor and my investment in my two teenage sons. I hope and pray that they will grow up to be godly men.

When I’m on top of my game, my sons and I all make it to gym and run the treadmill, pump iron, and cool down at Starbucks after we are done.

What do you love most about teaching?

There is a genuine joy in gleaning insight from Scripture and sharing this with others. I love sharing what I learn, and I love learning from those with whom I share. If the Lord uses what I teach to inspire, encourage, challenge, and transform my students, and they, in turn, share what they learn with others through their preaching and ministry, my joy, in the words of Apostle Paul, becomes complete.

When did you first come across the subject of intercultural biblical interpretation? What drew you to studying it further?

My first formal exposure was in 2002, through my participation in the Korean Biblical Colloquium which meets concurrently with the Society of Biblical Literature each year. At KBC, I engaged with scholars who shared different hermeneutical commitments than my own, but nevertheless challenged me to think about how the social and cultural location of the reader affected biblical interpretation. Continue Reading

Sneak Peek: CQ 73:2 | Reading the Bible Interculturally

When we read Scripture, we necessarily do so from a particular socio-cultural location. What difference would it make if we were to examine this location and its impact on how we read? What would it look like to attempt to read the text from outside one’s own cultural context? Is such a practice possible? Desirable?

The next issue of the Covenant Quarterly, due for publication Monday, August 24, explores the practice and possibilities of intercultural biblical interpretation. This inaugural online issue includes contributions from Max Lee, Nilwona Nowlin, Erik Borggren, and Bruce L. Fields. Here’s a sneak peek.

Max Lee

Max Lee

Max Lee is associate professor of New Testament at North Park Theological Seminary. He blogs at Paul Redux.

“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?”

From “Reading the Bible Interculturally: An Invitation to the Evangelical Covenant Church and Evangelical Christianity

Nilwona Nowlin

Nilwona Nowlin

Nilwona Nowlin is the administrative specialist for governance for the Evangelical Covenant Church. A graduate of North Park Theological Seminary (MA, MNA), Nilwona is an active member of the Christian Community Development Association and serves on the launch team of Kingdom Covenant Church, Chicago.

“The story of Joseph offers resources for African and African American reconciliation. Joseph’s being sold into slavery by his brothers finds a parallel in the history of African Americans. Despite the years of pain, shame, and marginalization his brothers caused, Joseph was able to forgive them and be reconciled to them. Is a similar reconciliation possible between African Americans and Africans today? My paper pursues this question, drawing from the Joseph narrative…so that, as with Joseph, God may continue to take what was meant for evil and turn it into something good.”

From “To Save Many Lives: Exploring Reconciliation between Africans and African Americans through the Selling of Joseph

Erik Borggren

Erik Borggren

Erik Borggren is assistant pastor of Lincoln Square Presbyterian Church, Chicago, and spiritual formation coordinator for North Park University’s University Ministries. The focus of his work in discipleship and spiritual formation is the intersection of imagery, art, literature, liturgy, and social justice.

“This call to faithful submission and hope-filled resistance, especially in light of unjust powers, can be communicated in a way that is oppressive, even destructive. However, acknowledging that Christ is the true King…enables the church to reimagine submission, resistance, and the church’s cruciform identity through the lens of Japanese gaman, ‘to endure the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity.’ Far from passive silence, a call to Christian gaman is a call for the church through worship to ‘discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect’ (Romans 12:2).”

From “Romans 13:1-7 and Philippians 3:17-21: Paul’s Call to True Citizenship and to Gaman

Bruce L. Fields

Bruce L. Fields

Bruce L. Fields is associate professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he chairs the biblical and systematic theology department. Dr. Fields’ Eaton-Jones lecture, delivered February 16, 2015 at North Park University, appears in this issue, revised for publication.

“The fulfillment of the hermeneutical task requires serious study of the biblical text to determine its message. The task, however, is not complete until there is the careful communication of the message to an audience in its situatedness. If the analysis of one or the other is awry, the hermeneutical task is impeded. The fulfillment of both requires multiple participants. If the Black church and its hermeneutic are not given voice in the analysis of both the biblical text and the sociocultural environment, the hermeneutical task is dramatically hindered. It is hindered not only for the Black church but for the entire church.”

From “The One and the Many: What Can Be Learned from a Black Hermeneutic