The Bible in Africa: Transactions, Trajectories, and Trends

By Gerald O. West; Musa W. Dube | Go to book overview

CONTEXTUAL BIBLE STUDY IN SOUTH AFRICA:
A RESOURCE FOR RECLAIMING AND REGAINING
LAND, DIGNITY AND IDENTITY1
Gerald O. West

Of course, all Bible study is contextual. Even the most committed modernist now finds it difficult to maintain that interpretation can be neutral and objective. So why do I elevate the phrase “contextual Bible study” to the title of this essay? The phrase is formed by both historical and methodological impulses.

Methodologically, “contextual Bible study” begins with, but admits to more than, the contextual nature of all interpretation. The many disruptions of modernity's masterly march have taken their toll. We have lost our interpretative innocence; as David Tracy aptly shows, “There is no innocent interpretation, no innocent interpreter, no innocent text” (Tracy 1987: 79). But contextual Bible study is not content with an admission of contextuality. Contextual Bible study embraces and advocates context. Commitment to rather than cognizance of context is the real concern. Because “Intellectual neutrality is not possible in a historical world of exploitation and oppression, ” biblical scholars and theologians are called to an intellectual conversion that enables them to become committed to the context of the poor and marginalized (Schüssler Fiorenza 1983: xxi). So implicit in the notion of “contextual” as it is used in the phrase “contextual Bible study” is commitment to a particular context, the context of the poor and marginalized.

It is here that the methodological impulse merges with the historical. Many, reading the above paragraph, would be quick to make the point that this all sounds very much like liberation theology. And they would be right. In his eloquent and incisive analysis of liberation theology, Per Frostin identifies the fulcrum of liberation theology as a commitment to the experience of the poor and marginalized as “a necessary condition for theological reflection” (Frostin 1988: 6). So why all this talk of “contextual Bible study” when what is really

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1
An earlier form of this essay is published in Grace and Truth (West 1999).

-595-

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