From biblical deconstruction to the responsibility of Jesus followers in government and social justice, we’re looking at what the Bible has to say about some of society’s biggest questions today. Join Tim and Jon as they interview New Testament scholar Esau McCaulley, author of Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope.
In general, the progressive tradition in white church bases is known for strong advocacy for justice but is often revisionist on key elements of Christian teaching. And in general, evangelical churches tend to be theologically traditional but very hesitant in issues of justice. And so, the African American who comes out of the Black church, who maintains the sense that the Bible is God’s word to us for our good, who’s also concerned for justice, finds himself or herself often out of vogue in a variety of communities.
In part one (0:00-13:00), Tim and Jon interview Esau McCaulley about his latest book, Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope.
In his seminary studies, most of Esau’s professors were white progressives who claimed that in order to fully liberate Black Americans, the Bible needed to be “deconstructed.” Esau recalls his confusion upon hearing this perspective, as the Bible had been his greatest resource for hope and freedom growing up in an African American community in the Southern United States. In fact, he realized that if the Bible is unreadable apart from a German reconstruction, then it truly becomes the literature of a white man’s religion.
Esau’s book doesn’t dodge difficult passages of Scripture. It instead seeks to engage those questions with a “hermeneutic of trust” in the consistent character of God throughout the unified story of the Bible.
In part two (13:00-26:30), Esau discusses three prevalent theological traditions within African American Christianity and the way our communities influence our hermeneutics.
While progressive Black theologians and conservative Black theologians are the most prominent voices academically, Esau is interested in the typically less vocal center population of Black theologians. The group, he states, “believes what the church has always believed” and advocates for justice, a perspective he calls the Black ecclesial tradition.
Esau explains that, like his seminary professors, progressive theology tends to be strong on issues of justice but revisionist in its acceptance of history and hermeneutics. On the other hand, conservative communities are theologically traditional and hesitant around issues of justice. Esau believes that the rallying point for Christians navigating social justice issues is the Black ecclesial tradition, which holds in tension conservative theology with a passion for justice.
Our communities influence the way we interpret Scripture and which portions of Scripture we invest in most heavily. We need people who pay attention to different elements of Scripture to all have a voice in interpretation, so that we get the most accurate, well-rounded reading.
In part three (26:30-33:30), Esau discusses the significance of growing up in an African American community and reading about prominent biblical characters from Africa.
From Esau’s perspective, one of the greatest criticisms among African Americans against Christianity is that it’s a “white man’s religion” forced upon Black slaves. For this reason, Esau finds great value in the people of African descent in the Bible, like Ephraim and Mannasseh and the Ethiopian eunuch.
God’s family was never meant to be monoethnic. Abraham’s family integrates people from other nations throughout the story of Scripture.
In part four (33:30-42:30), the team discusses a chapter of Esau’s book on the theology of policing.
For followers of Jesus to understand how to engage government on any level requires looking at the entire story of the Bible. When we do that, we end up with a more robust model than just praying for our leaders. For instance, the prophets of the Hebrew Bible always criticized both Jewish and non-Israelite kings. God expects all governments to treat people justly, and if they don’t, he will bring judgment.
Then, in Romans 13, Paul says it is beyond the ability of a Christian to discern what role to take in a revolution, so we should submit to the state, but the state is not without judgment. Paul is not equating submission and acquiescence. Rather, the Bible gives us a precedent for followers of Jesus to protest and critique injustice.
Romans 13:3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same.
Esau explains that government is a created good and ought not be abolished, but he also says that African Americans want to not live in fear of police when they are innocent. So if there is a system that lends itself unduly to fear, it is within biblical precedent to criticize that system. In fact, this is a responsibility for followers of Jesus.
In part five (42:30-end), the team concludes by touching on the last chapter in Esau’s book, which deals with the topic of slavery in the Bible.
Esau acknowledges that modern readers have complex questions about the Bible for good reason. In his book, he takes time to give “complex answers” to those questions. For Esau, we have to give ourselves time for the questions we ask of Scripture and not discount them. But we also have to always end with hope as we trust in the God who has been good throughout time and is coming again to make all things right.
Show produced by Dan Gummel. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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