John Legend, Jollof and Jesus- On Decolonizing Our Approach To Bible Study
How can you know if you have a colonized interpretation of the Bible?
You use the Bible to undergird Eurocentric notions/standards of etiquette and manners.
You render non-Western culture as irrelevant and irredeemable and thus unable to communicate Christian truth and reality without your missional influence.
You find that the people of color in your sphere have become increasingly socialized (whether physically or mentally) out of their cultural context.
You find yourself spiritualizing history and, more particularly, the outcomes of war/genocide/oppression. God is on "our" side, which implies those who are against or resist "us" are against and resisting God.
You elevate written record, intellect, and academia over oral tradition, narrative, and reflection.
If you checked one or more, it's okay--so did I; it just means we’ve got work to do and here's why:
Eurocentric methods, modes, and interpretation in biblical and theological studies lead to Eurocentric frameworks. Eurocentric frameworks are impotent when it comes to the core concerns of a subdominant group. We need to reject the negative aspects of Eurocentricity in our theological quest, not because these aspects are anti-black but because they are anti-Christ.
Some of the most significant presumptions of whiteness are universality, superiority, and objectivity. In my opinion, that presumption robs us of the mystery and the goodness of the Gospel. When we decolonize our interpretation, it frees us to believe by faith and embrace God's mystery. It gives us the joy of revering and respecting the Bible without feeling pressure or obligation to defend its inerrancy. After all, basing the authority of scripture along with our trust and our obedience to it on inerrancy is evidence of Eurocentrism, not faith.
Decolonizing our approach to biblical study and theology replaces a narrow hermeneutic of supremacy with a more refreshing hermeneutic of suspicion. Now before you get all, "She's gone liberal," on me, see John 2:24 for an example of what I mean.
The more I think about this, the more I am convinced that it is a very important reality to grasp because it reveals so much. Like the fact, for instance, that sometimes calling out heretics has more to do with homogeneity than hermeneutics. When biblical scholarship is dominated by Western voices, perspectives, and interpretation, to act as if "soundness" is not often influenced by social location, is daft.
Glad Tidings From John Legend
Do you remember John Legend's first hit single circa 2005?
"We're just ordinary people, we don't know which way to go,
because we're ordinary people, maybe we should take it slow."
That song still slaps, but I digress.
John Legend's song can help us to remember what type of posture to take in our study. We need to do biblical studies as ordinary people with ordinary people, and we should take it slow.
Glory and Goodness From Africa and It Might Be Better Than Jollof
I said, might.
David Adamo, an African theologian and scholar talks about this in an essay he wrote about the Psalms and how they are read in indigenous African communities.* He says that the term ordinary refers to the poor, the oppressed, the underprivileged, and the untrained. And actually, did you know that this John Legend posture is an actual thing? It's called - "inculturation hermeneutics"* or "contextual bible reading."* It's a really dope process. It makes the socio-cultural context of the readers the subject of their biblical interpretation.
Nobody instructs the reading, they only facilitate it – leaving the values, concerns, symbols, colloquialisms, and interests unscathed and unfiltered – and it creates an authentic learning community.
The Bible thus becomes a sacred document that speaks powerfully to the community right where they are as opposed to an instrument that is manipulated to take the community where the leader wants it to go. Now, remember I'm an exile, and I have piles and piles of evangelical receipts. I know what they would be thinking right now (other than "Shut up, and give me the practical takeaways.").
They are thinking, "Meh, that is just the OIA method – we are already doing that." The problem with the way white evangelical ministries do inductive bible study or OIA, in my experience, is that they do already have an outcome in mind. They plan the passage and the process around that outcome. I know because I did it. I always knew where I wanted the conversation to go, and it wasn't left.
(Have you ever seen a bible study go left? Especially on an HBCU campus? Whoooooooh chile. Come, Lord Jesus, like right now 🙃.)
If we are being honest, the goal of Bible study in evangelicalism is bigger bible studies, duh. Because bigger bible studies mean more people in photos, and more people in photos means more money in pockets. We all know it, we all do it.
We just have to remind ourselves that that's not Christianity, that is Colonialism.
Let It Go Left Sometimes, It'll Be All Right.
What if there was a better way? I am just wondering what we could all learn if we learned how to really and truly be and create a community that learns together. I think what we would get is what many young people are looking for, and since I am focused on black student contexts, a little alliteration ain't never hurt nobody.
THE WORD IS POWER: It is living.
When we decolonize our processes, students inductively come to learn that the word of God is really and truly living and active. So alive, in fact, that we can speak it over our lives for health and wholeness. We can speak it against our enemies – natural and spiritual. We can speak it over our circumstances from the classroom to the courtroom.
THE WORD IS PROPHECY: It is written.
When we decolonize our process, we begin to reckon with the salience of Africa and Africans in the biblical text. Adamo explains that there are 867 passages about Africa in the Old and New Testament and that the mention of Africa is second only to the mention of Israel.
But I used my trusty hermeneutic of suspicion, and he is right!
Africa and Africans are there in the beginning and the end. Eden was in Africa (Gen. 2:10), there's a remnant in Cush (Is 11:11), Simon of Cyrene carried the cross (Luke 23:26), the Ethiopian eunuch gets baptized (Acts 8:38) and at the end of the age, a smooth and dark-skinned people bring God gifts from the bush (Zeph. 3:10; Is. 18:7)
I love to remind black folk, especially when it gets too real in the streets, that our story is in the text, and that means Kendrick is right, “We gon' be aight.”
THE WORD IS A PERSON. The word became flesh and dwelt among us.
That means that God is Jesus.
Yeah, I said it: GOD IS JESUS
If we have seen him, we've seen God, and that means that we don't have to walk in darkness any longer. It means that the power and the mystery and the connection and the embodiment so many black young people are looking and longing for is a Palestinian Jew.
He has fingernails and eyelashes. He has toes and armpits.
The desire of all the ethnē (groups of people linked by kinship, land, culture)* is a human, and that makes God very approachable.
Think about this: God grew up poor. God lived as a minority. God grew up with a single mother. God has younger siblings. God has been a zygote, an embryo, a fetus, an infant. God has been a toddler, a child, and a teenager. God has had God’s diaper changed. God has gone through puberty. God has a past. God has a future. God has been rejected. God has been lied to. God has been lied about. God has taken a beating. God has had his clothes ripped off without regard for his consent. God has had objects forced into His body against His will. God has been misperceived as hostile and threatening. God has been unjustly criminalized by the state. God has been misunderstood by His family. God has been abandoned by His friends. God has been kissed and then betrayed. God has been punched in the face. God has experienced heartbreak. God has had things taken away. God has been laughed at, spit on, exploited, and publicly shamed. God has been brutally murdered. God was there before there was there. God made everything. God is holding it all together right now. God is holding you together right now. God made things we can't even see. God is the happiest Man that has ever lived. God is the funniest Man that has ever lived. God is the most humble Man that has ever lived. God is the most powerful Man that has ever lived. God is the richest Man that has ever lived. God is the safest Man that has ever lived. God is the smartest Man that has ever lived. God is the strongest Man that has ever lived.
The reason we know all of this is because God is Jesus.
And if that doesn't destroy our colonized cerebrums, Molly you in danger, girl.
Durst, D. L. (2016). Nations, the. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.) i
Adamo, David. (2007). Decolonizing the Psalter in Africa. Black Theology: An International Journal. 5. 20-38. 10.1558/blth.2007.5.1.20.
J.S. Ukpong,“Inculturation in Hermeneutics: An African Approach to Biblical Interpretation” in Walter Dietrich and Ulrich Luz. 2002. The Bible In A World Context. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans. 17-32
Gerald, West. The Contextual Bible Study (Pietermaritzburg: Cluster Publications,1993).