That’s how I felt recently after attending a meeting for the Society of Asian Biblical Studies (SABS). Sadly, I’m reminded that much of what passes for scholarship is sheer speculation (if not pleas for attention).
The presentations came from people who actually lead seminaries, universities and churches! As I listened horrified by these presentations, I was struck by these two thoughts:
If we don’t do theological education, this is what we’ll get.
If we don’t learn biblical contextualization, this is what we’ll get.
What We’ll Get
I’ll give an example of what I mean by quoting a paper from an emeritus professor who teaches Old Testament at an Asian school. She takes a feminist perspective and advocates for “contextual interpretation” (as understood by many non-evangelical scholars). I’ll interject my 2-cents as we go.
Throughout her comments, she affirms a “reader-oriented” approach to interpreting the Bible. Thus, “we must choose the appropriate methodologies and strategies which will advance the cause of [those on] the margins.” After all, she adds, “there is no ‘absolute truth’ established by any theory or methodology.”
JW: I’m sorry but we don’t choose interpretive methodologies simply to suit our social-political agenda. The cultural and canonical context of the Bible must drive interpretation method. The imperfection of interpreters and their methods doesn’t undermine the ability to access what is genuinely true (even if our perspective has limits).
She claims, “Advocating the rights of victims and the margins is the central message of the Bible, on which we should build our Biblical Studies.” [emphasis added]
JW: Really? The central message? What about the gospel? Jesus? God’s glory? ….
This professor then appeals to Buddhism, Shamanism and Confucianism to interpret Isaiah 53, claiming our interconnectedness as human beings enables mutual suffering with others. She suggests “that Asian Biblical Studies could interpret human beings and nature and understand God in the frame of one universe, if we are in cooperation with thoughts of Buddhism and Confucianism.”
JW: Huh? I don’t think we in fact are in the same biblical universe.
And Here I Wanted to Rage
The climax of her talk recalled how certain Japanese groups extended love to Korean “comfort women” (who were treated as slaves by Japanese soldiers during WWII). She states,
God is no longer to be understood as a transcendental being, but rather as being bound up in the web of life. It is impossible for God to be no less dependent than all of us, if not His love. Thus, in our interpretation of God’s image through the idea of vicarious suffering, the God-above-us has come down to become the God-within-us by overcoming the hierarchical concept of his transcendence. [emphasis added]
JW: Wisdom tells me to shut my mouth on this one. Feel free to add your commentary in the comment sections below. Before you do….
In the conclusion, this professor gives this:
The second aim is to be [sic] move towards interrelatedness and interdependence between God, us and the world, which is consistent with traditional Asian views of gods. As much as we need God, God needs us. It is not helpful any more to emphasize God the Almighty who patronize [sic] people with His omnipotent force.…There is no God without me. Now, we Asian theologians should enter the world God created and is continuing to create, and as His hands and feet, do what He wishes to do. [emphasis added]
The theme of the SABS meeting was “Moving Margins.” After this woman’s presentation, numerous people lauded her with gratitude. Repeatedly, scholars lamented the influence of “colonialism”, patriarchy and other “systematic modes of domination.”The room was full of majority world scholars who actually teach students all across the world and especially Asia (including India, China, Myanmar, Korea, Australia among others). Their expressed ambition is in fact to move evangelical, historically rooted, grammatical based interpretations to the margins!
In view of this reality, I shake my head with grief that so many evangelical missionaries think that theological education is a secondary concern.
I’m perplexed that so many missionaries are practically apathetic when it comes to contextualization. I know this because I interact with them on a regular basis.
With the above comments in mind, let me repeat myself once more:
If we don’t do theological education, this is what we get.
If we don’t learn biblical contextualization, this is what we get.