A few days back I mentioned that my friend (and now co-worker) Michael and I were beginning to read Then the Whisper Put on Flesh: New Testament Ethics in an African American Context by Brian K Blount. Dr Blount is the new president of Union Theological Seminary after teaching New Testament ethics at Princeton Seminary for 15 years. He was a pastor in Virginia for a few years before moving into the academy, a perspective I find helpful in his writing.
We’ve made it about halfway through the book and on Friday afternoon had our first conversation about some of the themes Blount raises. Here are a few of the things that have stood out thus far:
- In the preface Blount writes that the book “is an attempt to help readers who live outside of an oppressed circumstance read the New Testament through the circumstance of oppressed others.” In other words, the book was written to help people like me begin to understand why people who have lived under forms of oppression interpret the Scriptures differently that I naturally would.
- To oversimplify, the way “oppressed others” read the Bible is tied to themes of liberation. Blount puts it this way,
“This does not mean that liberation is the only ethical orientation of the synoptic texts. I am suggesting that, because of the kingdom’s focus, it is a significant one. Indeed…I want to press the case that it is so significant that it should be the lens through which the other ethical orientations in the synoptics should be viewed.”
- It is tempting for some of us to read Blount’s focus on liberation as “liberation theology”. And perhaps that is OK, but those of us who fall outside of Blount’s “oppressed others” should be careful to clarify what we mean by liberation theology- a phrase that has had all kinds of negative connotations in the white, evangelical church.
- As Michael and I talked about these first few chapters I wondered if, according the Blount, it is those who come from oppressed circumstances who have the best chance of interpreting the Scriptures. If liberation is the lens through which other “ethical orientations” are to be understood, than those of us who have always known power and freedom may not be in the best position to interpret (or even see) the significance of liberation found in the Bible. At the very least, the privileged could probably agree that reading and interpreting the Scriptures alongside of the “oppressed other” will open up significant and troubling themes that we would do well to see.
There is plenty more that I am processing. I’m grateful for my conversations with Michael about the book; he is a wise guide. I’ll post some more as we proceed.
Any thoughts/reactions to the idea that liberation is the lens through which we should interpret the Scriptures?