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Reading the Bible in the Majority World
By Craig Keener, M. Daniel Carroll R.
Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLCCopyright © 2013 Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC
All rights reserved.
Reading the Bible through Other Lenses: New Vistas from a Hispanic Diaspora Perspective
M. Daniel Carroll R.
I appreciate very much the opportunity to address my colleagues in biblical studies at this annual meeting of the Institute for Biblical Studies. The topic I was asked to address is an area dear to my person and my vocation as an OT scholar—that is, multiethnic readings of the OT. As some of you know, I am half-Guatemalan. I was raised bilingual and bicultural and spent time in Guatemala growing up. Before assuming my post at Denver Seminary I taught for thirteen years in Guatemala City, and I return there every summer as an adjunct professor. We have established a Spanish-speaking Hispanic program at Denver, and I attend a Hispanic church. Thus, my gratitude for this invitation.
I divide my presentation into three parts. The first offers a picture of current world realities that indicate that the time to listen to and engage multiethnic readings of the Scripture in the West, and specifically the United States, has come. The second suggests a methodological framework from which these kinds of approaches might be done. The third section presents readings of a series of texts that demonstrate their potential to open up new perspectives on the Old Testament. Because of my background and involvements, these examples reflect a Hispanic, or Latino/a, point of view.
The Need to Consider Multiethnic Readings of the Bible
In the last few years there has been a growing interest in multiethnic and global readings. It is not that there has been no interest in the past. For example, African-American biblical and theological studies have appeared in journals, graced book catalogues, and occupied sessions at academic conferences for some time. On the world stage, there was for many years a fascination by some (and opposition by others) with liberation theologies, especially the movement birthed in Latin America and championed by the Peruvian Gustavo Gutiérrez, the Uruguayan Juan Luis Segundo, the Brazilian Leonardo Boff, and others. In the 1990s the Association of Theological Schools organized a globalization initiative to expand the horizons of North American seminary faculty and administration and incorporated this theme into its accreditation standards.
Nevertheless, it is clear that the scope and rationale of this broader awareness recently has changed. A few recent high-profile volumes are indicative of this increased consideration of academic contributions from different parts of the planet. In 2004 Abingdon produced The Global Bible Commentary; in 2006 Zondervan made available the Africa Bible Commentary; and in 2009 Fortress published The Africana Bible. This marks a major advance: these perspectives are appearing in complete Bible commentaries in the U.S. market, and evangelical publishing houses are taking part in this altered profile as well. The same also can be said of multiethnic frameworks from within this country. The appreciation of multiethnic approaches is extending beyond African-American contributions to include new populations. What has happened and why?
One key factor that has forced this reorientation is the dramatic change in the demographics of the Christian church over the last few decades. The inexorable shift of the center of Christianity from what is labeled the Global North to the Global South (by which is meant Latin America, Africa, and Asia, and diaspora communities worldwide) is well known. I will not rehearse the statistics here. Philip Jenkins brought this reality to the attention of a broad audience in The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity. Missiologists had been aware of this transformation, but now all were being informed. The Next Christendom is in its third edition. In this book Jenkins chronicles the numerical growth of the Christian faith outside the West, as well as the migration of believers from those areas to the West. It is the latter that are the focus of this essay. These immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers leave their homelands looking for safety, jobs, and a fresh start for their families; some come with the express purpose to do mission in the West (part of the demographic shift is the rise of mission agencies in the Global South), or they get involved in ministry once they arrive. Expressions and the ethos of Christianity are being reshaped in other latitudes; that different look is coming to these shores, too, and will affect churches and Christian discourse here.
Another of Jenkins's books, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South, is particularly pertinent to our topic. A comment he makes in the opening pages is telling: "The more exposure we North Americans and Europeans have to such readings, the harder it might be for us to approach that scripture in the same way again." He characterizes the biblical perspective from those parts of the world as defending a high view of scriptural authority, championing literal interpretations, espousing a conservative morality, embracing the Bible's supernatural depictions of miracles and visions, and identifying closely with the sociopolitical and economic realities of the OT. His point is not simply that the numbers of Majority World Christians and their new-look church cannot be ignored (a thesis of his previous book, which is reinforced in this more recent publication); it is that their take on the Bible cannot either. Its influence on millions of believers and thousands of churches overseas and in our midst is palpable. As an OT scholar, I would add that these perspectives bring different and valid insights into the biblical text that deserve to be heard. The global conversation about the Christian faith has begun in earnest in evangelical missiological and theological circles; it is just beginning in biblical studies, especially among evangelicals.
A second (and related) factor is the impact of economic globalization. The numerical growth described in the previous paragraphs has to be correlated with world market forces. It is not uncommon to hear glowing reports of the achievements of the global economy, such as the exploding networks of information, the wonders of communication tools not bound by geography, the value of multinational trade agreements, the reform of outdated business practices and structures, and the opportunities for entrepreneurs anywhere to participate in this latest iteration of capitalism (the world is flat, Thomas Friedman tells us). Others speak of the negative costs of this global economy. They warn of the ubiquitous penetration of destructive elements of Western pop culture that undermine local values and religious beliefs, the unfairness of the markets and flow of capital, the loss of the virtue of compassion coupled with cuts in social spending, the pauperization of the masses outside the technological and educational reach of these advances, and the dire ecological effects in nations that put profit before creation care.
I am not the one to evaluate these macroeconomic debates, nor is this essay the venue for such an exercise. There is a by-product of globalization, however, that is undeniable and important for us. Economic globalization has generated the movement of millions within nations and to other countries. For a host of reasons, the transfer of goods and ideas has been accompanied by a flow of labor. The International Organization for Migration estimates that today there are more than 200 million migrants worldwide. This population transfer has led to the creation of economically needy, marginalized diaspora communities across the globe. Their experiences of migration from their homelands and their settling into new lands have spawned research in diverse fields in sociology and anthropology, such as diaspora theory, immigration history and legislation, ethnicity and hybridity, assimilation studies, and transnationalism.
One of these diaspora groups includes the millions of Latin Americans who have migrated the last few decades to this country, whether legally or without documentation. "Diaspora" is a better label than "immigrant," as the term encompasses both first-generation immigrants and their communities and their descendants. Millions of Hispanics of this diaspora claim the Christian faith. Their presence has revitalized the Roman Catholic Church, and many Protestant denominations have begun to plant churches, start Hispanic ministries, and establish educational initiatives to meet the needs and tap the potential of this diaspora population. The ethnic makeup of this country—and of the Christian faith—is changing rapidly. The face of the United States will be very different in twenty to thirty years.
One challenge from the biblical studies side of things is to try to read the Bible with an eye to its appropriation by these communities. Another is to ask if this diaspora community has its own contribution to make to biblical studies. To maintain business as usual in our research and in our biblical studies departments (recruitment, course offerings, library acquisition budgets, and faculty hirings) is to march into irrelevance. It is not that everything becomes ethnic studies, but it is that multiethnic perspectives do become a factor in ministerial training, preparation of students for cultural engagement, and topics for study. Neither is it to say all minorities can and must do only multiethnic work; I certainly do not want to be put into that box as an OT scholar. It is to say, however, that the context for biblical studies soon will not be the same.
To summarize this first section, multiethnic approaches are needful for at least two reasons. First, worldwide demographic changes demand that other ethnic perspectives, both abroad and at home, be given an attentive hearing. The theology and biblical work of this growing global presence cannot be ignored. The numbers will not allow it. Second, the presence of diaspora communities in this country is part of larger world realities that are having and will continue to have a major effect on national and church life. How might biblical scholarship move forward to engage these new realities?
Methodological Suggestions for a Hispanic Diaspora Reading
The introductory nature of this presentation allows me only to highlight a few items within a larger and more complex hermeneutical and methodological discussion.
To begin with, as I commend a Hispanic diaspora approach for certain readings of the OT, it is important for me to say what I am not endorsing. I am well aware that a diaspora approach can be a subset of postcolonial studies. Some of these may have philosophical underpinnings that may be problematic; some turn their critical gaze at the Bible itself, censuring what is felt to be the inherent ideological shortcomings of its production and questioning its unique hegemonic status for Christians. I am not advocating these sorts of approaches, although they do raise challenging questions.
What I find helpful and necessary is the insistence of self-consciously reading the text from a particular place. The rejection of the notion of an objective observer, one detached from and unaffected by social standing, economic status, ethnicity, culture, and gender, is now common, even among evangelicals. A diaspora approach is a specific application of this hermeneutical fact. This perspectival commitment is evident in global evangelical circles, for instance, in a series of consultations on diaspora missions by the Lausanne Movement and the inclusion of diaspora concerns in the Cape Town Commitment document (Section IIC.5) in October 2010. Significant work is being done on the Korean and African diaspora here and in different parts of the world, and there will be more in the future. I will focus on the Hispanic community.
Several features characterize diaspora Hispanic interpretation of the Bible. A helpful introduction to these matters is offered by Cuban-American scholar Justo González. In Santa Biblia he lists five characteristics of reading the Bible with "Hispanic eyes." Although he acknowledges that one should not generalize too easily about how Hispanics read, González suggests that those who interact with the text with their identity and heritage in mind do so from these perspectives, or paradigms:
Marginality. This refers to identifying with characters who are on the margins of biblical narratives, or reading passages from personal experiences of social marginalization and exclusion.
Poverty. Many who come to this country do so to escape poverty, but they continue to be poor after their arrival. The imperative in the reading of Scripture is to be aware of poverty issues in the text and sensitive to those of the community.
Mestizaje. The term mestizaje refers to the descendants of the mixed ethnicity of the Spanish with the indigenous and that of Latin Americans with North Americans. This lens alerts the reader to ethnic complexities within the biblical accounts, which also might speak to the contemporary context.
As exiles and aliens. The Bible describes lives of the people of God far from home. These portrayals find an echo among Hispanics and can point to lessons for faith and survival.
Solidarity. Hispanic valorization of family and community engenders a special appreciation for the communal exhortations and shared life in both Testaments. These affect the perception of the role of the local church as extended family.
Luis Rivera Rodríguez, a Puerto Rican scholar, has a more elaborate presentation of diaspora hermeneutics. For one, he grounds his work in a thorough interaction with social science research on diasporic communities. From this framework Rivera Rodríguez describes in some detail the multidirectional dynamics operative in these communities (translocality, communality, transnationality, interculturality, marginality, and diaspolitics) and applies them to biblical studies. In a complex, though comprehensive, summary he depicts diaspora hermeneutics as
one in which the diasporic situation and location, the diasporic human condition, and a diasporic sociopolitical project (represented historically or symbolically in texts and experienced by the readers) become key interpretive concerns and entries for the exploration and interpretation of the meaning and function of the text done by diasporic people in their quest to produce meaning, reproduce their social locations and identities, and determine ways to act politically and religiously as members of diasporic communities and congregations.
The interpreter, then, looks for diaspora material in the Bible in order to discover insights about God and about diasporic individual, family, communal, and religious life. There the interpreter finds experiences that parallel in some degree those of Hispanics—their marginalization, their fears, challenges, and tensions vis-à-vis the majority culture, and their longings for their homeland—as well as lessons about how not to treat the "other." The biblical and contemporary contexts and experiences of diaspora are analogous, not identical. This orientation can lead to fresh understandings and appropriations of the text.
Permit me two brief observations about the role and vocation of Hispanic scholars who are committed to reading latinamente from and for our communities, even as we are involved with them in lo cotidiano (the stuff of everyday life). First, in spite of the diverse national heritages that make up Latin America and from which Hispanic scholars trace their roots, there is a strong value placed on doing scholarship en conjunto—that is, together in collaboration with other Hispanic scholars across discipline, denominational, and ecclesial boundaries in the effort to work for the common good. Second, OT scholar Jean-Pierre Ruiz rightly has sounded the call to do responsible academic work that is both self-critical and accountable to the wider scholarly guild and that is in constructive conversation even with those who might hold contrary positions to matters related to the Hispanic community.
Excerpted from Global Voices by Craig Keener, M. Daniel Carroll R.. Copyright © 2013 Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC. Excerpted by permission of Hendrickson Publishers Marketing, LLC.
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