Sunday, September 13, 2009

is God holding a white-y Bible? (chapter three)

This continues a review of Mark Brett’s Decolonizing God: The Bible in the Tides of Empire and the question of whether God’s book, the Bible, really is an instrument that increases the power of white-y/Western cultures. For me, such conversations are essential to whether an emerging church can get beyond a stylistic makeover, and actually be part of a post- world in which the Bible can have a liberating, rather than enslaving, place in the task of being Christian and being church.

Chapter three Ancestors and their gifts. How should Christians relate to indigenous spirituality? How does the Bible shape our understandings of redemption?

Brett suggests Genesis 14:18-22 is a guide: an example in which an indigenous priest names the Creator as God most high (El Elyon), which Abraham assimilates with his reply, honouring Yahweh El Elyon. Brett finds more examples in Deuteronomic theology, an overall strategy “not so much to revoke the previous traditions as to assert a new interpretation of older Israelite identity and law, claiming continuity within change.” (Brett, 50)

Exodus 20.24 encourages worship in every place, 1 Samuel 20:6 indicates worship in various places, yet Deuteronomy 12:5-6 encourages worship at a single site. Since “Deut. 13.2-10 subversively ‘mimics’ Assyrian treaty material” (Brett, 48) then was the book of Deuteronomy written at a much later date, after the Assyrian invasion, as a theology of centralisation within Israel?

“Several studies have pointed out that Exodus 23 envisages the destruction of Indigenous cults only, not the ‘holy war’ on Indigenous peoples that we find in Deut, 20.16-18 …. In other words, there was more that one denomination of Yahwism.” (Brett, 54). What we see is, in the words of Chris Wright a “taking over [of] established culture patterns and then transforming them into vehicles of its own distinctive theology and ethics.” (Brett, 57, citing Wright, God’s land, 156).

Ah. So is colonisation now justified Biblically? Dueteronomy did it, so we can do it: sanctioned by God no less?

Not quite, for the Old Testament mounts sustained resistance against the abuse of centralised power: Naboth in 1 Kings 21:3, the year of liberty in Leviticus 25), which enshrined land in families and Dueteronomy 26:14 separates veneration of ancestors from worship of familial gods, affirming the first, rejecting the second.

In summary, “Genesis, Leviticus and Deuteronomy all pay respect to the ancestors, even though the monotheizing tendency of these books has absorbed the diversity of ancestral religion in very different ways… In short, the biblical ideas of redemption cluster around the restoration of ‘kin and country’, and to suggest as colonizers sometimes did that Indigenous people need to forsake their kin and country in order to be ‘redeemed’, turns this biblical language into nonsense.” (Brett, 59)

For discussion: How important was family and land in your redemption? Have you ever considered worshipping Jesus as your great ancestor?

For all the posts relating to this book/blog review go here.

Posted by steve at 06:18 PM

1 Comment

  1. My journey had a time of setting me against by family’s service orientated presbyterian background but has now enabled me to embrace it more fully. Redemption a work in progress … Not looked at Jesus as such as ancestor but certainly my heritage of faith is helping me understand who I am and where Jesus has been beside my family tree.

    Comment by Jo Wall — September 14, 2009 @ 9:40 am

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