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  1. Charlie
    4 Stars Out Of 5
    A Worthwhile Read
    March 11, 2021
    Charlie
    Quality: 5
    Value: 5
    I decided to purchase this book for several reasons, the chief one being the racial (or, as I prefer to call them, ethnic) tensions in the US. Others included that both the Rev Dr McCaulley and I are presbyters in the Anglican Church in North America, a newly-organized (2008) Anglican body in the US and Canada, and that I wanted to understand something of how the experience of being Black affects how one reads the Bible.

    It is a good book, written by a scholar using scholarly methods of research, but written for a much larger audience than other biblical scholars. Dr McCaulley is professor of NT at Wheaton College. There are real footnotes (not endnotes) with references or helpful explanations. He weaves his experiences and those of many Black people into the interpretation in a way that is helpful, and demonstrates that while these insights are a product of experiences, they are not reading something into the text (eisegesis rather than exegesis). However, I did have to question his conclusion that Simon of Cyrene was a Black man because he had come from Cyrene, a city in what is now Libya on the north coast of Africa. There had long been a large Jewish colony in that city, which is separated from sub-Saharan Africa by close to a thousand miles.

    The most helpful chapter to me was Chapter 6, "What Shall We Do With This Rage?" I have known several Black people with a moderate degree of closeness over the course of my life, but this chapter gave me insights into the Black experience I had not seem before. This chapter alone was worth the price of the book.

    His final chapter was the best one, on the hopes of racial reconciliation. It shows a reason to be optimistic, without being a Pollyanna about the future. There is no doubt that racial/ethnic tensions in our culture will not easily be overcome.

    Some of my colleagues have said that Dr McCaulley promotes Critical Race Theory in this book. I did not see that, and the book that I read just before this was "Cynical Theories" by James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose. "Cynical Theories" explores Critical Theory in its various forms, including CRT. It is my conviction (and that of Lindsay and Pluckrose) that Critical Theory is a deadly poison to intellectual and societal life. Therefore, I was looking for CRT in this book, but did not see it. I did note, however, that several of the scholarly works he consulted were, at least by the titles of the writings cited, based on CRT.

    Overall, I would recommend "Reading While Black" to anyone who would like to understand something of the Black experience and who would like to see how the Christian faith offers hope racial/ethnic harmony among all Christians, at least, and hopefully for the rest of society as well.
  2. Andy Le Peau
    5 Stars Out Of 5
    Powerful, Creative, Hopeful
    November 17, 2020
    Andy Le Peau
    Quality: 5
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 5
    We all read the Bible from our own viewpoint, from within our own culture and background. Our circumstances make us ask certain questions we would not ask otherwise. We could consider this a disadvantage. Maybe we cannot know what the Bible really said when we are inevitably limited. But perhaps this is a blessing. Maybe it is not a drawback but can allow God to speak with truth and power to our particular situations.

    Consider Martin Luther. His context of an often legalistic and corrupt church made him ask certain questions of the Bible about salvation. Or Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His experiences with the black church in Harlem and Hitler in Germany drove him to ask certain questions about how Christians and the church should relate to the government. Their answers did not encompass all the Bible said, but they were true.

    This is what Esau McCaulley offers in Reading While Black. He found himself both feeling at home and not feeling at home with black and white progressives as well as with black and white evangelicals. His aim, then, was to forge a new path that was unapologetically black and unapologetically orthodox. With pain and hope he points the way to true answers.

    Several years ago, when I heard Esau McCaulley offer initial thoughts on a theology of policing, I thought, What an amazing, creative question to ask, and what an intriguing, substantive proposal he makes! In this book McCaulley also points the way toward how the church should offer a political witness. what a fullorbed view of justice is, how Blacks can gain identity from Scripture, what Blacks should do with the rage they feel from the injustices they have experienced, and whether the Bible justifies slavery as some contended for centuries.

    The insights he offers to these are many and stirring. For example, he reminds us that Romans 13 is not the only passage about attitudes toward government in the Bible. In Luke 13:32 & 33 Jesus shows no deference toward a particular ruler. In Luke 1:51-53 Mary looks forward to governments which are not run by prideful men but which help the poor (echoing Isaiah).

    He also highlights the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise of God that all nations would be blessed through Abraham when Jacob adopts the two sons of Joseph (his two biracial, half African sons!) as his own in Genesis 48:3-5. Those of African descent can indeed find their special place in the promises of God.

    Then there is the question of black rage. I found his thoughts on the psalms of lament and imprecatory psalms to be some of the most powerful reflections he has to offer in the book.

    The answers that Luther and Bonhoeffer found in the Bible are true--but they are not exactly the same. McCaulley simply asks for the same privilege that was accorded these gentlemen to struggle with difficult texts and difficult contexts.

    Yet if everyone comes to the Bible from a different place, we have a challenge knowing what it really says. Rather than not asking what the central message of the Bible is, McCaulley says we should instead ask (as he does) which understanding *does justice to as much of the biblical witness as possible. There are uses of Scripture that utter a false testimony about God.* (p. 91).

    Esau McCaulley wrote this important book for himself. As a result he has also written a necessary book for all of us.

    ---

    I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My opinions are my own.
  3. Chip
    4 Stars Out Of 5
    A Worthwhile Read That Is Both Convicting and Challenging
    September 8, 2020
    Chip
    Quality: 4
    Value: 4
    Meets Expectations: 4
    In Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope, the Rev. Dr. Esau McCaulley, assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College and an ordained clergyperson in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), examines black (primarily, if not totally, African-American) ecclesial interpretation and how it can provide hope to African-Americans and, by extension, Christians as a whole. McCaulley contends that such interpretation is theologically orthodox but mostly misunderstood and/or disparaged by both other orthodox Christians (particularly white evangelicals) and progressive ones (of both white and black ethnicities, for different reasons). The author writes for a variety of readers -- fellow academics, interested Christians of all backgrounds, and perhaps most of all a general African-American audience -- to discuss how the black understanding of biblical texts applies to major issues of concern impacting African-Americans today.

    The book's primary strengths lie in three areas: as a detailed, although not all-encompassing, look at black ecclesial interpretation; as a commentary on what it means to appropriate the Christian faith as an African-American; and as a challenge to readers. McCaulley sees black biblical interpretation essentially as a dialogue between the African-American community and the biblical text that draws upon their experiences. The author addresses common African-American concerns about scriptural texts and shows how a variety of New Testament figures, particularly Jesus and Paul, can provide blacks -- and all Christians -- with hope and how they in turn fulfill the concerns of Old Testament writers (particularly the prophets). In part, then, Reading While Black serves as a convincing apologetic work for the trustworthiness of the Scriptures given the realities of African-American suffering over the centuries. But MacCaulley does not stop there. He interweaves personal stories and frank discussions of difficulties in their dialogues with the Scriptures, and he challenges readers on issues related to racial reconciliation and other issues on which he sees Scripture calling its readers to take action.

    The book's weaknesses are relatively few and perhaps can be improved in a second edition. The structure of the book seems a little off, with one early chapter on a contemporary concern (i.e., policing) inexplicably coming before a succession of chapters more central to the book's theme, and an overview of the history of African-American biblical interpretation unhelpfully moved to the end as a "bonus track" (i.e., appendix). Some of McCaulley's arguments also aren't always as clear as they could be and could have used more detail.

    Overall, Reading While Black is a challenging, convicting work that Christians of a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities should read. Its ideas and importance in today's American scene make it a read that is more than worthy of a person's time. It is ultimately, in the end, a testimony to the hope offered by God through Jesus Christ -- a hope that impacts the whole world not only in the importance it places upon individuals, but upon communities and their structures. Four-and-a-quarter stars.
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