Does the Bible Support or Dismantle Racism?

My friend and colleague at Northeastern Seminary, Esau McCaulley, recently (Wednesday, October 11, 2017) gave a talk for the Nickel City Forum, a monthly meeting of Anglicans, held in Buffalo, NY, to discuss complex issues of faith and life in today’s world.

I myself will be giving a talk for this same group on Thursday, February 8, 2018. My topic will be how best to read the Genesis 1 creation account in our current polarized religious culture.

Esau’s talk was entitled: “Does the Bible Support or Dismantle Racism?

He began his talk with a quotation from Fredrick Douglass (1818-1895), “an African-American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman” (Wikipedia), who lived for a time in Rochester, NY.

Due to Douglass’s significance for Rochester, the University of Rochester hosts The Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African-American Studies.

Here is the quote, taken from Douglass’s 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.

“I have, in several instances, spoken in such a tone and manner, respecting religion, as may possibly lead those unacquainted with my religious views to suppose me an opponent of all religion. . . . What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference — so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land.”

You can read Esau’s timely analysis of how the Bible counters racism here.

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Psalm 51 as a Critique of David—An Intertextual Reading with 2 Samuel 12

Three weeks ago I posted about some of my essays that had just been published. One of these was an essay entitled: “A Psalm against David? A Canonical Reading of Psalm 51 as a Critique of David’s Inadequate Repentance in 2 Samuel 12.”

It is published as chapter 2 in Explorations in Interdisciplinary Reading: Theological, Exegetical, and Reception-Historical Perspectives, ed. by Robbie F. Castleman, Darian R. Lockett, and Stephen O. Presley (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2017), 26–45.

At the time I didn’t have a copy of the published essay to post.

The essay is now ready, and may be downloaded here, for those who are interested.

Below is an explanation of what I was trying to accomplish in the essay, adapted from my previous posts on the subject (including one I wrote when I was about to present it at a conference).

The Argument of the Essay

I’ve always prized Psalm 51 as an amazing articulation of the meaning of repentance; and it is a favorite and valued psalm for many Christians.

Although the superscription links it to David’s confrontation by the prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 12 over his adultery with Bathsheba, I had the sense that the traditional reading of this psalm as David’s prayer of confession did not fit the actual story in 2 Samuel. This came from teaching both the psalm and the Samuel narrative over many years (in different courses).

I therefore decided to read Psalm 51 carefully in light of the narrative of David’s sin and confession to see what I could come up with.

Since psalms superscriptions are not original to the psalms, but inserted by later editors (I give evidence for this in the essay), I propose that we take the superscription to Psalm 51 as a (divinely inspired) lectionary suggestion for reading the psalm together with the 2 Samuel narrative.

The result of doing this, I argue, is that the psalm ends up functioning as a critique of David’s superficial “repentance” in 2 Samuel 12.

My essay, therefore, challenges the naive, idealistic reading of the figure of David often found in the evangelical church (but then anyone who reads 1-2 Samuel with their eyes open would be disabused of this ideal picture anyway).

The essay is, most fundamentally, my attempt to take the authority of Scripture seriously (regarding both Psalm 51 and 2 Samuel 12 as divinely inspired), with eyes wide open to the complexity of this divinely inspired Scripture, asking what the implications might be for Christians reading these texts.

Happy reading!

 

On Genesis, Job, and Psalms—Five Recent Essays Published

Five essays I’ve been working on for a while have recently been (or are about to be) published.

I wrote this essay last year for oral presentation at the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies and then again at the Society of Biblical Literature. I conceived it as an introductory exploration of the phenomenon of vigorous prayer in the Bible, which grounds research I am currently doing for a book on lament vis-à-vis Abraham and Job. You can download the essay by clicking on its title (or here).

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  • “Reading Genesis 3 Attentive to Human Evolution: Beyond Concordism and Non-Overlapping Magisteria.” Chap. 4 in Evolution and the Fall, ed. by William T. Cavanaugh and James K. A. Smith (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017), 67–97.

This essay was written specifically for this collection, at the invitation of the editors. It was the first piece I ever wrote trying to relate the Bible to human evolution. I presented it at a conference in Spring 2015, which led to my becoming a Theological Fellow with BioLogos, writing blog posts for them, and giving a number of related presentations on the Bible and evolution. My approach both in this essay and in the subsequent blogs and presentations on the subject has been to listen to the Bible first, then explore how this might help us understand what scientists are telling us about human evolution.

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For a long time I had been mulling over my sense that most interpreters were misreading God’s response to Job’s complaints; instead of reprimanding Job for daring to question him, I understood God second speech as encouraging him (while his first speech functioned to critique his assumptions and enlarge his vision). So, some years ago I worked up my ideas into a paper that I presented at the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies; this led to my being asked to give this paper as the Peter C. Craigie memorial lecture at the University of Calgary. Then I put it away for a while, but reworked it for presentation last year in a Biblical Studies Seminar at St. Mark’s National Theological Centre in Canberra, Australia. It is now published in their journal with the other papers from the Seminar.  You can download the essay by clicking on its title (or here).

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I’ve always prized Psalm 51 as an amazing articulation of the meaning of repentance. But like the Job paper (above), I had the sense that the traditional reading of this psalm as David’s prayer of confession did not fit the actual story in 2 Samuel 11–12. So I tried out my ideas on the topic a few years back at the Eastern Great Lakes Biblical Society and then at the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies. I revised the paper for presentation in 2015 in the “Biblical Theology, Hermeneutics, and the Theological Disciplines” Research Group of the Institute for Biblical Research. It is published in a volume of collected papers that have been presented in this research group over the last few years.

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This essay is an exposition of the story of the Garden of Eden, to show how it grounds the dignity of work and the equality of men and women in God’s original intentions for human life. Yet God’s intentions in both cases have been distorted by human sin (and our sinful perspective often leads to our misreading of this story). The essay was commissioned for the 150th anniversary of the founding of Roberts Wesleyan College and the title of the volume comes from the name of the newspaper (The Earnest Christian) published by B. T. Roberts, the founder of the College and of the Free Methodist Church. The essays also function as an earnest of the heritage of the College and of B. T. Roberts’s vision of socially embodied Christianity (he was an evangelical egalitarian back in the nineteenth century and wrote a booklet in 1891 advocating the ordination of women). Although the anniversary of the College was last year, the volume of essays is being published this summer.