A Book Review
Although I now live in a town that’s 64% Black or African American and only 30% White, it still feels strange that our local churches don’t even remotely reflect these demographics. Not even close. I admit I gave little thought to skin color and Scripture until recently. First, my wife and I listened to an interview Esau McCaulley did with OnScript. His descriptions of “social location” and “Black ecclesial interpretation” framed the issue of race within Christianity in terms I had never considered before. So, from there, we were both eager to read McCaulley’s book: Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope.
There is much to learn from this valuable book. I recommend it without reservation. For the purposes of this short review, I’ll comment on three points I found most helpful. If you need additional encouragement to read this book, in addition to the podcast I referenced above, this interview piece from Bible Study Magazine by Mark Ward is also excellent.
McCaulley’s comparison between the function of Roman soldiers to modern police is convincing. NT passages that speak to government and soldiering are usefully applied to show that police attitudes are a reflection of their government’s attitudes. God did not intend for governments to instill fear in those doing good (Rom. 13:3–4). And, by way of Luke 3:14, an appropriate application is that police should not prey on the weak nor impose unreasonable fines on the poor.
Blank anger is a response to centuries of injustice and mistreatment. This explains why Israel’s OT experience of justice and mistreatment provides such an analog for Black Christians. The seemingly trite solution for Black anger is hope in Christ. But the message of the gospel is not trite. We are all sinners. All need the forgiveness found only in Christ. “We forgive because we have been forgiven” (131).
The Bible contains a mass of slavery material. Old Testament law regulates it. New Testament passages do not seem to overtly condemn it. What is God’s position on this practice? McCaulley skillfully shows from Scripture that God is totally at odds with slavery. Slavery is a result of the fall. Israel’s slavery system of manumission, freedom after escape, and slave protections made it completely unique among the nations of the ancient Near East. In the NT, Paul taught that our shared relationship in Christ makes us family, which precludes any slave relationship.
This book will give you much to consider. Maybe that’s why it took me a month to read. McCaulley shares from his own experience and that of others, applies Scripture with sanctified creativity, and bolsters his arguments with an array of scholarly sources.
As I write this short review, Owen Strachan is criticizing Esau McCaulley (along with Jarvis Williams) for statements in this book that Strachan seems to misunderstand. I detect no claim from McCaulley that Black interpretation matters regardless of its veracity. His point is that Black interpretation that’s faithful to the biblical text is valuable. The diversity of the church is a blessing because it offers a diversity of applications. Every faithful interpreter has something to offer, not regardless of their social location, but because of it.
This is a heart-searching book that causes the reader to evaluate their thinking on race issues we’ll be dealing with until Christ’s return.