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Reading the Bible like an Anthropologist

Tonight I’ll be concluding my study of Ephesians at the First Baptist Church of Christ. I’ll be talking about the “principalities and powers” and how educated Westerners might make sense of what Ephesians says about unseen forces of evil arrayed against Christ and his followers.

A while back, I wrote a post that some may find helpful background information: “How to Read the Bible like a Pagan.” The post interacted with a book by Osadolor Imasogie called Guidelines for Christian Theology in Africa (University Press, 1986). In that previous post, I concluded:

There is no point in me, a non-African, trying to embrace an African-style theology as if I have never been touched by the Enlightenment. I have been; I am comfortable with critical methodologies and, at least part of the time, seek to approach the Scripture as objectively as possible. I try to acknowledge my presuppositions and bracket them in order to do “serious” biblical research.

At the same time, I dare not fall into the trap of the Judaizers. In his foreword to Guidelines for Christian Theology in Africa, Charles H. Kraft observes that the Judaizers who proved to be such a thorn in Paul’s side were not wrong to apply the Gospel in their particular cultural context. They were only wrong for insisting that theirs was the only valid cultural expression of the Christian faith (8). Likewise, it is not wrong for Westerners to read the Bible through Western lenses, but it is profoundly wrong to assume that those are the only lenses available.

I’m convinced there is much wisdom to be found in reading the Bible—as much as possible—through non-Western, pre-industrial eyes. At the very least, one won’t get far in understanding the values and motivations of the people who populate the biblical narrative without it. As surely as I am not an African, none of the heroes of the Bible were Americans!

In a follow up post, I interacted with a commenter on the specific issue of demons, spirits, and the like.

All in all, tonight should be an interesting discussion.



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