Author: Dr Brian D. Russell, Acting Dean, School of Urban Ministries and Professor of Biblical Studies, Asbury Theological Seminary, Orlando, Florida (United States)
I fully resonated with the ideas and spirit of “Reading the Bible with the Global Church.” For the last three years, I’ve taught a doctoral seminar “Biblical Interpretation for the Church and the World” in a class setting made up almost exclusively of non-Western church leaders. This course has been fruitful in my own thinking and reflecting on the practices of reading the Bible in and for our world today. As typically the lone North American, the key learning for me in the seminar was that I have much to learn from my fellow Christians around the globe, and I have consistently walked away from the seminar with a sense that I gained more than I gave.
Over the last few decades, the discipline of Biblical studies has seen the rise of more reader- centered methods of interpretation. A hallmark of these is an emphasis on the social location of readers. For evangelicals, this has sometimes been unsettling. We’ve always emphasized the biblical context as the most key determinant for meaning. The biblical context will always be primary, but as Arthur shows from his opening illustration of contrasting reading of the Joseph stories, the context of the reader plays a bigger role that perhaps we have acknowledged. Thinking critically about the social location of the reader however is increasingly helping Western evangelicals to see blind spots in our own reading due to our cultural biases.
Arthur has helped us to see that the “plain sense” of Scripture is more complicated and expansive than we sometimes acknowledge. Our interpretive strategies in the Western church have often focused on achieving a sort of “critically assured minimum” of what a text meant and thus means. I think that reading the Bible in the context of the global church helps us to recognize that our exegetical methods are limited by our cultural lenses. The danger for us is that we are tempted to naively ignore readings from global contexts where readers have not been trained in our Western critical methods.
The good news is that the Western church is beginning to awaken to the rich interpretive heritage of the Christ following movement from its inception. Western scholarship continues to reflect critically on the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament. Such study demonstrates the role that 1st Century reading strategies served in influencing the hermeneutical approaches of Jesus and the Apostles. Moreover, we are witnessing the publication of new editions of classic commentaries from the Christ following movement’s seminal first four hundred years. Arthur’s paper shows the fecundity of the interpretive work from the global church that is now joining the interpretive conversation.
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