The Bible is large and contains multitudes: why reading diverse voices is good

Dr. Jarvis J. Williams wrote:

Privileged majority readers often attempt to make their culturally informed readings normative for every community.

However, when privileged people read and listen to racially marginalized voices and (more importantly) study the bible in the same sacred church spaces as racially marginalized voices, then those whose privilege shapes their biblical reading will be more likely to see their privileged blind spots when they humbly submit to and listen to those who don’t share their racially and socially privileged status.

Black and brown bible readers may think that certain biblical and theological truths will be worked out exactly the same way in black, brown, or multi-ethnic contexts as in majority white cultural contexts. Or they might be tempted to think that every white reading of a text is a right reading of a text and non-white readings of texts are wrong or suspicious readings of texts, until receiving a stamp of approval from someone from the white majority interpretive community. Reading black and brown authors who love the bible and labor rigorously to understand it in its original context will help white and black and brown Christians to be sensitive to, and aware of, their blind spots. Every bible interpreter has them and brings them to the text.

HUMAN 1:
Let’s stop speculating about the possible liberalism that [the Southern Baptist Convention’s] Russell Moore might want to usher in. This is ACTUAL liberalism, and it’s already here.

Additionally, this is breathtakingly stupid. Most of the church fathers weren’t white. Syrians, Turks, and North Africans have considerably more pigment than [Calvinist Baptist pastor] John Piper.

This isn’t an earnest attempt to expose and correct blind spots. It’s a naked power grab.

If you’re trying to line people up into Caucasoid/Negroid/Mongoloid, that’s basically pseudoscience. ‘White’ is more usefully understood in purely social terms, and it’s a permeable membrane that lets people in based on class.

So Mediterraneans, Slavs, and Jews might not be considered white at various points in the past but now are; or those groups might have been thought of differently in the Northern U.S. where they were the poorest immigrants versus the South where they’d essentially benefit from being defined as ‘not black’.

The early writers and commentators, from Paul of Tarsus to Augustine to Origen, don’t meaningfully fall into any racial categories because our ideas and definitions—based on that scientifically bogus but, for the social present, real distinctions—wouldn’t have been recognizable to them. But power dynamics would have been, and that’s why reading about Christians as an oppressed minority or Jews as a subjugated people can still resonate thousands of years later.

You can easily get an education reading commentaries from lots of people who owned slaves or benefitted from empire, and they’re going to read the Epistle to Philemon differently or have a different perspective on the prosperity gospel than someone whose people were enslaved and forcibly impoverish. As the article’s author said, imperialists or people of groups in power aren’t useless to read but they include blind spots. Because the Hebrews and early Christians are the stories’ protagonists, you want to identify with them. When you benefit from power structures, it’s hard to recognize yourself as the Egyptians or Assyrians or the Romans in a story and apply those lessons from the other side. It’s hard to ever notice when you’re being the bad guy.

The Bible is large and contains multitudes, which is why a diversity of status is useful and necessary to getting the most out of it.

HUMAN 2:

Christians obsessed with the color of their skin and the skin of others are the most immature of immature Christians. Grow up and read the Bible, there is neither new not Greek, etc. Figure it out and quit coveting your neighbors life or perceived advantages.

Believe it or not, I have never even one time wondered about the complexion of the person writing a theology book. I have never checked, I don’t know anyone that does check what color a person is before reading a theology book.

Like I said the kind of Christian that is obsessed about the color of his skin is the most immature of the immature Christians. It’s pathetic to think this is an actual legitimate complaint.

I know you haven’t ever wondered, and that’s exactly my point.

If the only people you read to understand the Bible more fully are very wealthy, you’re probably going to get a view emphasizing the Sermon on the Mount more than Sermon on the Plain. (‘Blessed are the poor IN SPIRIT’). So too someone who is wealthy in ethnic status.

When you have someone who benefits from empire commenting on the context of a Jewish rebellion, that’s obviously going to be different than someone who suffers from empire reacting to it as well, yet you’re going to read many more white British authors than Jamaican or Bengali ones in a standard education. Everyone reads about what it’s like to be a Christian minority in a pagan world, but what about being a racial minority in a Christian world? How is that the same? How is it different?

‘We’re all one Christian brotherhood’ sounds nice and good, but if that were true, people would have no problem reading nothing but black and brown authors in their biblical studies. Instead it just seems used as a deflection to keep things the opposite.

If you’re quite wealthy, and all you ever read are people who are wealthy and never talk about disparity between rich and poor, it’s quite convenient to say, ‘We’re all brothers and sisters in Christ. Why be divisive by talking about money?’ But the poor people have noticed how these authors talk about investments and managing rental properties, rather than paying rent. A wealthy person says, ‘Remember when your child is at the doctor that it’s all in God’s hands, so don’t neglect to pray.’ A poor person notices that such an author has never had to pray that the child will just get better because they can’t afford to take time off of work, much less pay for the clinic.

If you spent a year reading nothing but people who have a different complexion than you do and experienced the world & related to their faith differently than you did, you’d notice quite a lot. Black churches are not immature for being concerned with social change; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not immature for noticing how white Southerners treated their fellow Christians who were black.

If it really doesn’t matter to you what experiences the author has had, go out of your way to read something different than usual intentionally. See if you don’t start to notice all of those little things you say you’re too mature ever to notice.

HUMAN 2:

What I look for in a theology book is ( this is crazy I know you never saw this coming), GOOD THEOLOGY.

You do understand, what theology is right? Theo as in God, ology as in study. In theology we are not studying ourselves and our experiences, we are studying God and His revelation.

By the way, just how many wealthy theologians do you think there are running around out there? Last time I checked unless you consider the prosperity gospel crown as theologians, there are probably very, very few “wealthy”, theologians. This right here is liberals should never be listened to about any subject, they have countless hangups, white guilt, etc., that they bring to every discussion and it absolutely blinds them to the most obvious of things.

So, when the Southern Baptists split from the Northern Baptists in the lead up to the American Civil War, do you think it was because all of the Baptists in the South were worse at theology in their enthusiastic endorsement of slavery? Or do you think each of their cultural assumptions and place in society informed their interpretation of somewhat contradictory passages?

You may not be considering Joel Osteen or Oral Roberts to be theologians, but many people will read them and use them to ignore Jesus talking about how much easier it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, or how the last will be first in heaven. There certainly are passages that talk about the overflowing blessings God will pour on the faithful, making their cup runneth over; this isn’t invented out of nothing. But the motivation to scour the Bible to find such passages will tend to be born from a desire to feel no guilt when listening to Jesus talk about the rich person and poor person.

HUMAN 2:

I will explain it to you again, theology = study of God, not study of ourselves.

Apparently liberalism is so entrenched in your mind that study of God for you, starts with YOU. One of many issues that cause liberals to go astray from God, his Law, and His Gospel.

Is it any wonder that liberal churches promote gay marriage, gay pastors, and other utterly non Scriptural practices?

I agree, it seems terribly prideful and self-focused to believe that the study of God starts with you; that you are solely capable of understanding God, His Law, and His Gospel. That you, in a way no one else can or has, might read and interpret the Bible free of the biases everyone has, including those so ingrained that you’re ignorant of them. That you can look in the Bible and see God, not yourself and desires in a mirror.

That’s why it’s not enough to just go out into the wilderness, read the Bible, and pray. When you’re cut off from the rest of humanity and the Christian community, it’s quite easy to come to conclusions you’re already seeking. The Bible is a magic 8-ball or a horoscope. You want God to be on your side rather than being on God’s side. So too homogeneous influences that are really extensions of yourself. You all share the same blindspots, and in those blindspots, who can say whether it’s God or Satan inciting you to take a census?

The Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa was no less pious and no less interested in studying God than any other church. They were devoted Calvinists. Yet somehow those people, and no other church, believed that apartheid was divinely ordained.

The Eastern Orthodox church uses the Septuagint version of Esther, including its additions. Do they do so because they are inappropriately focused on God? Do they do so because they are more appropriately focused on God while the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches use a version where He’s completely absent, even in passing mention? Or do the cultural assumptions of both groups factor in to what people read and study?

God won’t reveal His will through solipsism disguised as piety, and in the gospels, Jesus went out of his way to interact with Samaritans and Romans as well as Jews of many different backgrounds and classes.

If your theology tends to be comfortable and self-serving, especially to your elevated position in society, it’s obvious who you’re worshiping when you call a theology good.

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