Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Multicultural Evangelical Hermeneutics and Ecumenical Dialogue

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Multicultural Evangelical Hermeneutics and Ecumenical Dialogue

Article excerpt


This essay argues that a multicultural approach to biblical hermenentics might be a fruitful way to engage Evangelicals In ecumenical conversations from which they have previously shied away. Evangelicals themselves may have to alter some of their typical practices for this to occur. In particular, evangelical Interpretive individualism will have to give way to a more social reading of the text. Four principles are enunciated that form a minimal framework for carrying on a constructive multicultural hermeneutical discussion. A final section illustrates what might be learned from such a dialogue, focusing on insights drawn from Justo Gonzalez's Manana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective and Andrew Sung Park's The Wounded Heart of God: The Asian Concept of Han and the Christian Doctrine of Sin.

American Evangelicals have tended to shy away from many mainstream ecumenical discussions. Some have stayed away from those discussions because they have not been invited into them; others, simply because they are uncomfortable with the theological pluralism inherent in any and all ecumenical gatherings. Yet other Evangelicals have been kept at a distance from ecumenical dialogue because they have felt out of sync with the typical ways of structuring ecumenical dialogue. According to the relatively standard ecumenical-meeting format, representatives from various distinct church traditions enter into dialogue as spokespersons for their specific ecclesiastical communities. Many Evangelicals, however, do not see themselves as carriers of or spokespersons for any specific "tradition." They see themselves (rightly or wrongly) as trying merely to be faithful to the teachings of the Bible. If these folks are to be included in ecumenical dialogue, a new point of entry will need to be established.

My suggestion is that the concept of multicultural hermeneutics might provide a fruitful point of entry. This is not to say that Evangelicals currently employ multiculturalism in their treatment of scripture, but I believe a multicultural approach could become attractive (and, in fact, currently is becoming attractive) to a wide range of evangelical Christians. This essay very briefly describes the past and present state of evangelical hermeneutics and then explains how and why Evangelicals might be open to a multicultural approach to the Bible. The conclusion spells out some of the ecumenical implications of such a multicultural evangelical hermeneutic.

Evangelical Hermeneutics and Multiculturalism

In this essay I am speaking primarily from an evangelical perspective and writing largely to an evangelical audience, but this is a conversation I would like other Christians to overhear. In one sense, then, this is a plea for "my own people" to adopt a broader understanding of what is involved in reading and interpreting the Bible aright. In another sense, however, this is an appeal to other kinds of Christians to look for new ways of connecting ecumenically with evangelical Christians by means of a multicultural study of the Bible.

One of the ways Evangelicals have tried to distinguish themselves from other kinds of Christians has been to make the study of the Bible their preeminent form of Christian reflection on truth--almost to the point of claiming that the Bible is the only source of theology. Because of that very emphasis, I want to assert that Evangelicals, perhaps more than other kinds of Christians, need to take extra care to understand what they are doing when they read the Bible. Biblical hermeneutics is a special mandate for Evangelicals. They have made some very strong claims about the importance of the biblical text; and there is a need to explore the implications of those claims in light of our increasingly multicultural world.

Biblical hermeneutics can be understood as consisting of three distinct but ultimately connected forms of study: the devotional, the academic, and the social. …

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