Social context shapes how we read the Bible, and the 16th chp in J. Holcomb’s Christian Theologies of Scripture is written by L.B. Baldwin and S.W. Murphy on how Scripture works in the African American tradition. I’ve posted on this topic before; you may recall that I’m a huge fan of Brian Blount’s Then the Whisper Became Flesh.
How much experience do you have with African-American readings of the Bible? Have you ever spent time pondering why it is that American churches are so segregated and have you ever pondered the social context of white readings of the Bible and that whites end up with a gospel tailored to whites and that African-Americans have a gospel tailored to African-Americans? And have you ever really explored how social context shapes what we look for (and therefore find) in the Bible?
If you are in a predominantly white church and you want to expand your borders and include ethnic minorities, have you discussed that such an expansion can only occur if the gospel is expanded? (Some of my ideas on this can be found in Embracing Grace.)
The authors: “In the experience of the African-American Christian community, the images, places, and characters of scripture literally come alive” (284). In particular, because the Afr-Am community reads the Bible from the context of oppression — which unites a great diversity of Afr-Am readings of the Bible — it has developed two strategies: a double-voiced approach. It sees life now as a time of suffering that will give way to eternal life and reward; and it sees life now as a time of suffering but working for the justice God can bring in this world.
A foundational element is the identification of the Afr-Am community with the oppressed of the Bible and that means it identifies with Israel under Pharaoh in Egypt, and it leads to the conviction that God can once again lead “Israel” from the land of slavery into the land of freedom.
In American history, white slaveholders drew attention to the call to submission, but the slaves, learning to read, found another theme in the Bible: God’s identification with the oppressed and the act of God to bring justice and liberation.
Scripture reading implicates our social location. Keep it in mind — always.