Theological Interpretation and the Problem of Whiteness

Theological Interpretation and the Problem of Whiteness October 4, 2016

White, western theology has sat at the center of biblical interpretation for so long that all of our debates can only be about what the text “really” says. And when we know that the text doesn’t say what it must we create a theological paradigm (reading in light of the rule of faith) that enables us to say that everyone has to agree with us even when we’re disagreeing with the text because the people who gave us the text used our paradigm to pick which books belong.

The problem of whiteness in theology and theological interpretation is that it has sat at the center for so long, it has been “the right answer” for so long, that it is dispositionally incapable of recognizing that it only says what it says because it is white, western, and hegemonic.

Theological interpretation of scripture should (to survive as an academic discipline it must) model itself after the work of “minority” scholars in its self-awareness and honesty about its revisionist theological readings.

But it can’t. It won’t. Because there’s too much power in saying, “This is the right answer.” It’s powerful from the pulpit, it’s powerful from the lectern.

Toward Theological Humility

I have a dream.

My dream is simply this: that (white, male, mainstream) Christian scholars would be able to say, “I am a Trinitarian. Here is what the text probably says. I’m going to allow that to inform / bolster the theology I came here with in x, y, and z ways; the text is problematic for a fulsome Christian theology in a, b, and c ways, so we must reread the text in light of our commitment to (/the reality of) h, i, and j.”

The reality is that the texts we have do not provide us with the theology or ethics we need or want as a church. Maybe it’s ok that we have 1900 years of subsequent theological reflection to say what we need to say. Maybe it’s ok that everything we want to say isn’t there for us in black and white.

But maybe what this means is that we are simply one voice bringing one stream of contribution to the conversation. Maybe this means that our claims to being “right” and staking out a hegemony for ourselves are over-inflated.

That’s a risk that most of us, it seems, are not yet willing to take.


Photo: Whitness | © /kallu | flickr | CC 2.0

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