Scratchpad: The Limits of Legitimate Interpretation

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More classwork.

The question:

So, as you read chapters three through six in FEPN, what perspectives do you find helpful or perhaps challenging? Why do you think you value or are pushed by their particular reading? What does this tell you about the way you engage the biblical text? Does this make you want to change the way you interpret Scripture in any way?

My what could be a rough draft of a one page, double spaced, paper:

Admittedly, I’m neither African, African-American, or a woman, nor am I recently associated with slavery or the Holocaust, one way or the very specific other. I am a conservative Southron white male who liberally investigates and believes in equality, justice, and most of all, Scripture. I believe that while Scripture may be, timidly, applied subjectively, it shouldn’t be viewed as such, and thus, it is difficult for me to accept as legitimate the interpretative methods offered by Brian Blount (ch1), Clarice Martin (ch4) and Tina Pippin (ch6). While they may be valid applications (and I would strongly rebuke that notion with Dr. Pippin’s view), I cannot find in them merit enough to consider them as anything but a selfish understanding of Scripture. Blount is not seeking to understand the original context of Scripture, but to use it as liberation for a small group, albeit oppressed people (and in that, I find a valid excuse for subjectivity); however, Martin seeks to wholly undermine Scripture seeing it through her lens instead of seeing herself through the lens of Scripture. Gonzalez wrestles with Scripture only in that he sees Scripture wrestling with the powers of the world. Okoye, however, truly wrestles with a Scripture which while he maintains the authority of, is actually counter to how his culture sees the world and further, how they practice their traditions in the world. He is every bit a follower of Christ as the most righteous American pew-sitter, but his cultural world view simply doesn’t align with the author of the Apocalypse, and where it doesn’t he truly struggles with it. Pippin, on the other hand, relies too much on her own modern sensibilities in judging Scripture. In this, it is not wrestling but failing to grasp any of the messages of the Book of Revelation. Admittedly, I am a former fundamentalist, Southron white male with affluence, but with a drive to get past the subjective application of Scripture which leads to exclusion, illegitimacy, and the eventual undermining of Scripture.

As I hinted too previously, I consider the most well rounded view of the Book of Revelation and how it should be interpreted to have been given by Dr. James Okoye. While Maier is sufficient for exploring how the language of Revelation interplays within a dispersed culture and people, I have a difficult time in accepting it as an active interpretative method. After all, it is not long standing for his native German community because within a generation more, they will have been fully assimilated into Canadian culture if not sooner. Yes, while other dispersed peoples who live in diaspora may continue to use the language of the New Jerusalem (p68-69) to describe their promised land, I suspect that with fewer and fewer allowances for multiculturalism left in the increasingly ethnically paranoid West, this too will pass. Yet, Okoye, himself a product of the pan-African diaspora, presents a wildly different picture of personal religion than what Maier states about the North American West (p78). While we in the latter location seek to understand ourselves by Revelation, such as our foreign policy and even weather reports, the African community seeks to understand wherein their cultural context fits into John’s vision where it actually calls the good of the community bad. I can only note a few instances for the sake of brevity.

He notes that the apocalyptic imagery of Babylon (114) which he is able to show that Christian Africans hear and relate to foreign powers as they sought to colonize, then implement neocolonialism, and now, post-neocolonialism with appropriation of peoples, land and now natural resources and economic pressure. Okoye notes that in African culture, leadership is sacred with leaders expected to uphold that public, and in some cases, religious trusts. Yet, Africa, as he notes, has become a prop for European powers, produces despotic tyrants. This sacred trust is also one which is placed upon those European powers in some form. He goes on to note the culture of martyrdom which is portrayed in Revelation as something that is counter to what may be good for Africa today. Indeed, I would go further and suggest that Western Christian has a martyrdom complex which sees persecution everywhere.  Okoye calls attention to the fact that Christianity in Africa would better serve the people as a transformation agent rather than a group of people living as martyrs. He goes on to then stand against what John calls Christians to do – ‘Come out of her, my people (Rev 18.4)’ (p115). He calls for the opposite, nothing that Africa would be better served to disobey the Prophet and actually participate in the governments of the land. In the end, Okoye accepts Scripture and yet, as we are called to do, wrestle with Scripture when we find that our current situation is sometimes unmet or even counter to what Scripture calls us to do.

I return to my statements above: While I am in favor of applying Scripture subjectively and even wrestling with it, there is a point when wrestling becomes a synonym for relying fully upon oneself to correct God and His Holy Writ. I believe that Pippin truly falls into that category, but Okoye stands above such maneuvers with its very appropriate way of examining Scripture and finding his place either in it, or alongside of it.  This is where my method falls, with Okoye.

How many Christians would obey Romans 13 standing at the gates of Auschwitz?

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