Book Review: Reading While Black

I have come into the Anglican tradition late. I grew up in a Pentecostal church and was a minister in a Pentecostal tradition for 30 years. In the past two years I have transitioned to the Anglican Church and am now seeking transfer of ordination so I may be a vocational deacon on the Anglican Church in North America.

In this transition I have become aware of Esau McCaulley who is an Anglican priest and professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. His newest work is Reading While Black, set to be released September 1 by Intervarsity Press. I am fortunate to get an advanced copy to review.

When I taught as an adjunct in a college one of my favorite classes to teach was Bible Study Methods. In the last couple of years teaching that class I had utilized Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien. It is a good work to get students to realize the biases we have in coming to Scripture.

I then had a day when I brought in a colleague to talk about “Reading the Bible as a Black Man.” That single day became worth the work of the entire class to me. The last couple of times my friend came to talk about the Bible and finding the threads of being black in the Bible helped the students of color I had in the classroom. For me, as a white professor, to say, “Quit reading the Bible like it was written by white men” was one thing. To have a black man stand up and trace the roots of African humanity through the Scripture was another story altogether.

To that end, I wish I still taught that class because THIS is the book I would add to the syllabus. I want to lead folks through another lens of reading Scripture is McCaulley does that work. He is making the case for Black Ecclesial Interpretation, which is largely orthodox in theology. Yet… no one pays attention.

We all need to pay attention now.

Our problem in biblical education is we get narrow in our fights. We think it’s been about white progressive theology and white fundamentalist theology and white evangelical/reformed theology.

How narrow.

McCaulley brings to the table the best of the Black church in America. There is a public advocacy for justice. There is the affirmation of the worth of Black bodies and souls. There is the vision of multi-ethnic faith communities.

In all our white infighting what has been lost has been orthodox belief and practice. Black orthodoxy has kept that tradition and faith. We’ve chosen to look over it and past it.

Black orthodoxy is not white progressive theology. White progressive theology yanked away the authority of Scripture. This is something McCaulley contends Black orthodoxy wouldn’t do.

Progressives were reconstructing the Gospel and the Black church wasn’t going down that path.

White fundamentalism enabled slave owners to keep slaves.

White evangelicalism looked promising… on the surface. Then… along came social issues. Real life issues. Community issues. The Black church could speak prophetically to the community. Evangelical theology was exposed as too individualistic. The problem was with what was left out!

McCaulley goes at the question of how do you combine the authority of the Word with the social climate of the day? This is the basis for his work in this book.

McCaulley wants us to wrestle with Scripture. We are not only to “examine” the text, but the text is to “examine” us!

“I propose… that we adopt the posture of Jacob and refuse to let go of the text until it blesses us.”

We are to be patient with the text. Then, when we interpret we wrestle to find blessing… not a curse. This is the way to find the beauty of the authority of the Scriptures that will speak powerfully to our current human condition.

McCaulley then chooses current conditions and traditional American problems to tackle while wrestling with very familiar texts so we can learn to re-read the Scriptures.

He will tackle policing and use Romans 13:1-4.

He will tackle the political witness of the Church. He will painfully point out the times we, as whites, like to step forward (like abortion) and times we are woefully silent (like racism) and we, as whites, try to justify both by Scriptures.

He will tackle the pursuit of justice and how we truly need to see it from a Black Christian perspective. We are woefully inadequate to speak to the issues of our day and the Black Church can help us and we, as whites, should let them lead the way. There is a biblical view of a just society and we need to be about that work.

He will make the case for seeing Black in Scriptures. It’s simple, folks. We, as whites, are not there. AND we need to begin to see the color in Scripture. There are different communities and it is CHRIST (not being colorblind) that unites us.

He will address Black rage and protest. It will be the way of the Cross that will lead us all home on this one!

He will tackle slavery in the Bible with honesty and some depth. The key point here is the Bible will not address this subject in the way WE want, BUT the Bible WILL address what are are meant to be as the people of God.

McCaulley humbly asks to keep a conversation going.

“I wanted to continue a conversation, not conclude it.”

He gives us plenty to think on and talk over. Let the conversation move along!

Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as ...

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