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How have we been taught to read the Bible....and where do we need humbling?

A tree with deep roots sinking into the ground, each one representing scripture and how it has rooted my faith. Some of the roots are short, some long, some strong and thick, others fragile and thin. As I look above the soil a large trunk stands tall, unbreakable in the wind and firm on the ground. Its branches are long and sturdy, capable of holding the canopy of leaves displaying the fruit of the deep roots that have been planted for so many years (Psalm 1). Yet, as I gaze at the tree and the glorious array of colour in its leaves, some are falling to the floor, their time of fruitfulness over, and when I take a closer look at the roots that have produced the fruit, they are not so healthy either. What biblical interpretation do I have that’s not been a healthy root? Not every leaf is falling and not every root is dying, but the ones that are perpetuating an unhealthy walk with God and his people are falling away.


How have we been taught to read the Bible, and where do we need humbling?


Most of my teachers in the Church have been white, male and western, so how do I read the Bible? With a white, male, western perspective –the ‘victors’ perspective, the colonialist perspective and the gendered perspective from those who have taught me and those who wrote the Bible in the first place. Please don’t get me wrong, many of the men who have taught me are humble and kind, but they have still brought their lens to the reading of scripture. Jo Saxton was the first black woman I had ever heard preach, and I had to go to a Christian summer camp to hear her. I’m white and have been raised in the west, but I am also a woman who has travelled much and has just spent three years reading global theologies at the Church Mission Society (CMS), and a prior three learning under some great women at theology college. It’s no surprise that God has been unpacking the way I read the Bible and subsequently my understanding of who Jesus is and the people we are called to love and walk with. There’s an insidious pride killing the Church at the moment, stating that ‘my way of reading the Bible is the right way, everyone else is unbiblical’ and sadly I have been part of it. I’m sorry. As I both meet with and read with those who have a different perspective from my own, I don’t find myself among the unbiblical, I find myself among those who deeply love Jesus, who value the Bible and all that is in it, and who simply read it with a different perspective. Why is my own perspective of any more value than any others? What fruit has come from bad roots that needs to die off?


How have we been taught to read the Bible, and where do we need humbling?

Let’s turn to an example from a Black theologian. McCaulley writes about Black theology and our colour-blindness in our interpretation of Scripture. He states that the key biblical verse which seems to undergird colour-blindness is Galatians 3:28.[1] It is argued that this verse does away with differing identities and there is only one identity in Christ, and therefore as Christians we shouldn’t recognise each other's race.[2] Taken out of context the argument appears valid; our identity should not be entwinned with our bodies, it can only be found in Christ. However, this argument demotes the value of God’s creation and has unfortunately led to some black Christians devaluing their blackness and believing that they are worth less than their white brothers and sisters. McCaulley argues that when the Galatians passage is placed within Paul’s wider teaching and John’s eschatology in Revelation 7, it cannot mean that we ignore our diversity.[3] The overall theme in Galatians is that all are called to be part of God’s kingdom, including each race. Galatians 3:28 is not denying different racial identities but pointing to the inclusion of all races under God’s redeeming plan. The lack of understanding of racial identities has deeply scarred the church. This affects the life of the church: homogeneity replaces diversity; white scriptural hermeneutics reign supreme; and the lack of a deep culture change maintains the status quo. In their video, the Church of England Evangelical Council call the church to recognise its blindness, lament its part to play and encourage a prophetic responsibility to speak up for injustice. Through the homogeneity of our churches and the ongoing white hermeneutics taught in our colleges and from our preachers and teachers, the church is perpetuating the ignorance of racial identities and therefore causing the life of the church to suffer. Both the cause and effect of ignoring racial identities needs to be challenged so that the church can shatter its homogeneity and flourish within its diversity. Our role, as Christ’s body, is to advocate against racial oppression. If the church keeps ignoring racial identities, it will be powerless to stand up for black justice. The church’s current colour-blindness, and the lens it therefore brings to the reading of scripture, significantly affects how we join in with God’s mission.


How have we been taught to read the Bible, and where do we need humbling?


The black lens is one of the many lenses that we need to put in our glasses, the female, the child, the LGBTQI+, the marginalised, the sick are just a few others that come to mind. Being white, or western or male or heterosexual, has been the dominating influence for so long, and has sadly given many of us power. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Being the ones with power gives us the opportunity to walk in Jesus’ footsteps and empty ourselves for our brothers and sisters (Philippians 2:7) - to break down barriers and raise others above ourselves, to give away the power. This is humility. Jonny Baker is one such example. He wrote a beautiful sermon from the Samaritan woman’s perspective on his blog . He is someone with power choosing to raise others up. His recent article ‘Reading the Bible form the edges’ gives some great suggestions on books to help us widen our perspective.


There are also so many books, blogs and podcasts to help us develop our perspective on the Bible. I’ve signed up to Harvey Kwiyani’s blog, and listen to Babel undone to keep challenging my missiology. I hugely enjoy Amos Yong’s theology and I’m looking forward to digging into the #Shetoo podcast by the Bible Society. I won’t always agree with everything, but it helps me to walk in someone else’s shoes, regularly challenging my own perspective and inviting me to turn to Jesus. If you can, meet people from different cultures and backgrounds, be curious - listen and have an open heart. Bring what you discover to God through discussion, prayer and your reading of the Bible. Let it impact how you lead, how you follow, and let it unpick how you read the Bible.


How have we been taught to read the Bible, and can we empty ourselves and give away our power?

Jo Allen

Director: South West

[2] McCaulley, Esau, p.113-116

[3] McCaulley, Esau, Reading While Black, p.113-116 

First published in MOSAIC Issue 13, May - August 2024


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