Discovering the Bible in the Non-Biblical World

By Netland, Harold | Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, September 1998 | Go to article overview

Discovering the Bible in the Non-Biblical World


Netland, Harold, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society


Discovering the Bible in the Non-Biblical World. By Kwok Pui-lan. Maryknoll: Orbis, 1995,136 pp., n.p.

One of the more urgent sets of issues confronting the global Church today concerns the question of gospel and culture. Responsible theology in the decades ahead cannot afford to ignore the complex and highly controversial debates over contextualization and religious pluralism. Furthermore, given the global nature of the Church, serious discussion of these issues must include Biblical scholars and theologians from Africa, Latin America and Asia as well as western scholars.

It was thus with considerable interest that I picked up this recent volume written by a leading feminist Chinese theologian who currently teaches at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The book is divided into seven chapters, with a prologue and epilogue that are taken from a Bible study and sermon preached by the author. Kwok's concern is for a fresh perspective on the Bible that will enable it to be more relevant and acceptable to Asians in general and to Chinese women in particular. The focus of the work is not so much upon the content of the Bible itself as it is upon certain methodological issues concerning our views on the nature of Scripture and its interpretation. What we are given are the reflections of a leading Asian feminist theologian who has drunk deeply from the wells of postmodernist radical hermeneutics and religious pluralism.

Chapter 1 sets the stage for the rest of the book by calling into question the traditional perspectives on Biblical authority and canonicity. Taking her cue from Foucault, Kwok asserts: "Biblical interpretation is never simply a religious matter, for the processes of formation, canonization, and transmission of the Bible have always been imbued with issues of authority and power" (p. 9). The formation of the Biblical canon is dismissed as a political power ploy; insistence upon the unique authority of Scripture as the Word of God is rejected as spiritual colonialism.

Chapter 2 insists that the Bible be understood within the pluralistic context of Asia, with its many sacred texts and traditions. "Since the Bible exists as one of many scriptures, it is important to develop a multifaith hermeneutics in Asia" (p. 23); "Asian Christians must debunk western claims that the Bible is the sole revelation of God because such claims reinforce the ethnocentrism and cultural hegemony of the West" (p. 30). Subsequent chapters introduce Kwok's alternative proposal, the "dialogical model of interpretation"; look at the role of oral transmission in Asian culture and its potential for Biblical interpretation; consider the significance of women in the Biblical narrative and some implications of this for today; and suggest how Biblical interpretation can be enriched by drawing upon the sacred scriptures and traditions of other Asian religions. …

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