Back Under Authority Towards An Evangelical Postcolonial Hermeneutic -- By: Peter Lau

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 63:1 (NA 2012)
Article: Back Under Authority Towards An Evangelical Postcolonial Hermeneutic
Author: Peter Lau


Back Under Authority
Towards An Evangelical Postcolonial Hermeneutic1

Peter Lau

Summary

A postcolonial approach is gaining acceptance by many scholars as a fruitful way of interpreting the Bible. Yet a postcolonial approach raises issues for those who hold a ‘high’ view of Scripture. Five issues will be demonstrated through an analysis of Mary Donaldson’s reading of the book of Ruth, with the outcome being that the authority of Scripture is decentred. Nonetheless, a postcolonial approach can still be usefully adapted by those with a ‘high’ view of Scripture. This article will present an alternative postcolonial reading of the book of Ruth that uses biblical theology to help maintain the central authority of the biblical text.

1. Introduction

Essentially ‘a style of inquiry’ or perspective,2 postcolonialism is gaining acceptance by many scholars as a fruitful way of interpreting the Bible. Although it received its initial impetus from those in the Two-Thirds World and minorities in the West, it is now practised by others without minority backgrounds.3 Postcolonialism takes as its

starting point the reality of empire, of imperialism and colonialism, as an ever-present, inescapable and overwhelming reality in the world. At its core, a postcolonial hermeneutic is one of resistance, used to rail against all forms of hegemonic power, but especially political, cultural, economic, and ideological.

Yet a postcolonial approach raises problems for those who hold a ‘high view’ of Scripture. The problems derive from the role of the biblical text in postcolonial interpretation, and include: other texts and historical contexts are used to reinterpret the biblical text; readers are viewed on an equal footing with the text; and it tends to read against the grain of the text. In short, the biblical text is marginalised and the authority of Scripture undermined.

Nonetheless, I will maintain that evangelicals can benefit from engaging with, and adopting a postcolonial approach, but only with significant modification. I will present my case in three parts. First, I will use Mary Donaldson’s postcolonial reading of the book of Ruth as a test case both to highlight the benefits of and problems with the approach. Second, I will make some suggestions for adapting the postcolonial approach. Finally, I will present an alternative postcolonial reading of the book of Ruth, sensitive to evangelical concerns, and based on biblical theological underpinnings.

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