Contextual Theology made easy
Updated: Jul 21, 2022
In an interview via Zoom, Dr Will Brooks explains why he makes his book easy reading for even the lay leader who is involved in some form of cross cultural work…
By Stephen Ng
In a multicultural society like Malaysia, it is easy to overlook the cultural barriers that exist, especially when they appear invisible.
Bible interpretation becomes difficult when it has to be done cross-culturally. This is what Dr Will Brooks hopes to enlighten his readers through his newly-published title, `Interpreting Scripture across Cultures.’
During an interview with Christianity Malaysia from his home in the United States of America, Dr Brooks whipped up a simple illustration to explain why he decided to write the book.
Illustrations Good Yet Simple
Two young men meet up for a Bible study. One a Chinese, let’s call him Kay Chong; the other an Indian brother, Jayaseelan, whom Kay Chong has just brought to Christ.
Their first Bible study session is on a well-known Bible verse, John 3:16. Among others, they are to discuss the concept of eternal life over lunch break.
Both Kay Chong and Jayaseelan have grown up together in the same school, and now, both are graduates from the same university. They happen to work in the same company. There was free flow communication between the two buddies, as both speak fluent English.
However, there are still the invisible barriers that Kay Chong need to be fully aware of and overcome, before he can explain effectively the concept of `eternal life’ to Jayaseelan. Why?
Dr Brooks explains, “Both Kay Chong and Jayaseelan may be culturally Malaysian, with a Western education, and both may be wearing pants and t-shirts, but what is often overlooked is that both of them have two totally distinct worldviews and value systems.”
“Therefore, in order for Jayaseelan to fully understand the concept of eternal life the way it was intended by the apostle John, who wrote the gospel of John, Kay Chong has to first understand the Hindu worldview about reincarnation. ‘Eternal life’ may mean life spent with Jesus in Heaven for Kay Chong, but Jayaseelan, with his presuppositions in reincarnation, may still be struggling with the concept of eternal life. This is why Bible interpretation needs to be handled carefully especially when it involves a second or third culture.”
This is among the few reasons why Dr Brooks decided to write this book. “Everywhere, not only in Malaysia but in other parts of the region, Christian leaders need to understand how to carry out Bible interpretation cross culturally,” he says. “If we ignore the existence of a different culture at play on the other person, interpretation of the Bible does get tricky.”
Throughout his 200-page book, Dr Brooks uses popular writing style to explain the concept of cross-cultural hermeneutics which, for the sake of lay leaders, he uses the term, ‘Bible interpretation.’ This makes an academic book like his so much easier to read. If not because he is professor of Contextual Theology at a seminary in Asia, he could easily pass as a novelist.
For example, in the Introduction, he writes: “On a dirt road somewhere in the Middle East, a missionary walks alone. As he walks, he wonders what work God might be leading him to do that day, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, a man appears on the horizon.”
In another section, he writes, “I love to run. In fact, my students often joke with me that my commitment to running, especially running long distances in difficult terrain, is something of an obsession.”
His concept of culture is reduced to a simple diagram, where beliefs and ideas form the basis for our value system, which ultimately leads to a certain set of behaviours.
Naturally, this then leads to reason why church leaders and pastors have to understand how to better do Bible interpretation cross-culturally, especially in a country like Malaysia, where the subtleties of cultural differences between different ethnic groups are often at play.
The book was published by WIPF & Stock, Oregon, USA recently, and it will be available in Malaysia.
A pre-order of the book can be made via Canaanland in Petaling Jaya (Whatsapp: Canaanland HQ +60 11-6562 8648, or mailto: email@example.com) or Precious Resources at 04-2297678, https://preciouspages.com.my/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The books are also available for seminary purchases from email@example.com and digital copies from Amazon.com.
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