Continuing discussion of Philip Jenkins’ wonderful book, The New Faces of Christianity: believing the Bible in the Global South.
Chapter 2 is ‘Power in the Book’ and explores the direct startling relevance of the Bible to much of life in the Global South.
Some main points and quotes:
The Bible is still a relatively new book in most of Africa and Asia … Christianity in its present forms represents a new force
Today, Latin American nations – above all, Brazil – are among the world’s greatest producers and consumers of Bibles.
Jenkins traces reasons for the extraordinary powerful influence of the Bible. One is that sacred writings were already familiar and respected. Another is the phenomenal growth in translations.
As Kwame Bediako observes, the history of African missionary Christianity is the history of Bible translation … Once the Bible in in the vernacular, it becomes the property of that people. it becomes a Yoruba Bible, a Zulu Bible …
Christians … with the Bible in their own tongue, can claim not only just the biblical story, but their own culture and lore in addition … for Christians in contemporary Africa and Asia, it is this newly discovered Bible that fascinates, and that burns within. Reading this book opens the door to real inner power.
The Bible tends to be read orally and communally – as in NT times. Great story of a Bible reading in northern Kenya concluding Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church ‘My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus’ and the whole community responding together ‘Thank You Paul.’
In oral cultures where literacy may be rare, storytelling takes on huge potency. Drama, plays, plays and dance all teach the story in memorable ways. The Bible’s many stories speak right into oral societies – telling stories of salvation. These stories are told in music and rhyme, adapted to local cultures and easily memorised and transmitted. In this way the Bible is seen as speaking powerfully and directly into everyday life – the power of the Bible is revered and believed. It is held literally in high esteem
As a Zulu song teaches, Aka na mandla uSathane / S’omshaya nge vhesi: “Satan has no power / we will clobber him with a [biblical] verse
All this raises fascinating questions when compared to how we Western Christians read the Bible. As Scot McKnight has pointed out in The Blue Parakeet, we have our own selective ways of reading the Bible [the ‘Blue Parakeet’ passages are ones we tend not to see].
One example, Mark 16:14-20 has been the defining passage of African missionary practice which assumes that God will grant power to his people to heal the sick and triumph over powers of evil. Yet in the West the passage does not even have a proper place in the Bible at all due to its textual lateness. In the Global South the Bible tends to be taken as dependable, authoritative, powerful and truthful. God is taken ‘at his word.’
No wonder there is shocked disbelief at liberal reinterpretations of the text over issues like homosexuality – such as the US Episcopal Church ordaining its second practicing homosexual bishop last week.