Sunday, February 10, 2013

Book review of "Santa Biblia"

Yung Suk Kim

Book review of SANTA BIBLIA

In his book Santa Biblia, Gonzalez claims that interpretation of the Bible should be balanced in terms of variety of perspectives. Thus the Bible cannot be interpreted unilaterally by the so-called center group (the dominant culture, middle-class, academic circle etc.); Rather, it is to be the source of hope and strength for the powerless and the poor by reading the text interactively (true dialogue between reader and the text). In other words, the Bible should be read with a perspective; the text speaks to the reader but also the reader speaks to the text. The text should address us where we are: our contexts. Thus, reading of the Bible should be contextual (Gonzalez 16, 17).

On this basis of contextualization, the writer affirms that the Hispanic perspective can give the Christian community a new insight to the reading of the Bible. The new insight will be the importance of a variety of views by which the wholeness of the church (universal church) can be seen better than each group of perspective sees. Furthermore, he reclaims the true gospel message's transforming power in a way that marginal paradigms (marginality, poverty, mestizaje, exile and aliens and solidarity) should play a role in the Christian community. In this approach, he eventually tries to solve the problem of marginality by reaffirming the power of marginality which has been embedded in the Bible stories. The writer's wish is that the Bible be the source of hope and strength to all who want to live out the true gospel in solidarity with the marginalized.

Gonzalez supports his claim about the importance of Hispanic paradigms in several ways. First, he believes that there is no such an objective knowledge that can illumine the truth (15). The marginal view is another angle to be reclaimed. In this way, many distortions about biblical interpretations can be corrected, and the overlooked things are reclaimed: for instance, when Jesus' parables and the Sabbath law of the Ten Commandment are viewed from "the perspective of the poor," they have a new meaning: reversal of society's justice like "give and take," thereby reclaiming deeper level of justice by giving due return to all (58). Likewise, he points to the right to work and justice of God: fair distribution to people who need for their lives (61-64).

Second, the author takes examples of marginal stories in the Bible. To take a few of them: Abraham's call, Ruth's choice, Joseph's life in Egypt, and Paul's gentile mission. The history of Israel began with the call of Abraham. He had to leave for an unknown land as an alien but with faith in God and with hope for the unseen future. Since then, God has remembered the aliens and strangers and moved them toward a more inclusive community (89). Gonzalez affirms that the Bible itself is the story of people of the voiceless but with voices. Their voices were calling God's name. In the midst of difficulties and despair, God was with them. Their powerlessness was their opportunity to call God. In return, God gives them hope and energy to overcome hardships.

Finally, Gonzalez leads us to the very history of Christianity and Jesus. He states that the history of Christianity is "the conversion of Christianity" as suggested in the encounter of Peter with Cornelius (51). The center, Peter realized a new meaning of the gospel through his encounter with the marginalized person, Cornelius. In other words, he insists on the so-called "border approach" - the encounter of "two cultures and two worldviews" (86). At this point, the writer even portrays Jesus as mestizo Jesus (90). In a sense, he seems to state that to be a good Christian implies that each has to live out "mestizaje" in one's daily life, in ways that on one hand, each lives in solidarity with the poor, the powerless and the marginalized, on the other hand, each needs to reaffirm one's own "mestizaje" in the very being of Christian (87).

This book gave me new insights to the biblical interpretation that the process of interpretation involves a perspective that can contribute to the larger community of faith. There is the one universal church as one body of Christ, but there are many members in it with many perspectives and many different stories. But diversity is the essential factor in enriching others and the whole church by opening ourselves to listen to other views. In this sense, communication among Christians and ecumenical efforts toward the more inclusive communities is crucial.

Another insight is the need to strike a balance between theology and practice. Being disciples means living out the Christian gospel - good news to everybody - by seeking good news from the Bible and living it out in everyday life.

The last insight is that mission takes place at the borders. Mutual interaction in those places is very important. This border mission implies that we all need to seek out those who occupy a different place on Christian landscape and be ready to change ourselves as the new understanding of our faith challenges us. Gospel or good news is permeated through this border area because God is closer to the people of struggle who desperately need help and hope for the future. New history and new beginning take place at the border. I need to participate in that border in solidarity with the marginalized. I have a strong conviction that my "sitz-im-leben" - the similar experiences as the latinos/latinas - will be used for making my border mission happen.

I have to point out small weaknesses in this book, though. It is the danger of relativism. If all theologies are perspectival and contextual, all are good in their contexts. What is the central place or criteria to affirm a kind of universal truth in the world? Human perspectives are emphasized too much. This being the case, the question is where does God stand? My question is about God's place in our different perspectives. Had Gonzalez developed this point of divine initiative, he would have avoided this problem of his overemphasis on human perspective. That is to say, the Holy Spirit's work through our ministry should have been elaborated in order that each perspective can be valid.

Another problem is that Gonzalez did not explicitly show the importance of community in his development of the perspectival view of the Hispanic paradigms. Though he posed general Hispanic paradigms from the whole Hispanic community, one thing he overlooked is how each perspective can be checked and filtered through the larger communities. In other words, it is about how Hispanic view can be balanced among the universal church. What other perspectives are available to see a complete picture of the landscape, and how can we get closer to them? Even though he suggested the contrasting and dominating views in the discussion of the Hispanic paradigms, if he had elaborated about other views which could show the other part of the landscape the Hispanic lens could easily miss, I would have had the more sense of balance in this book.

*NOTE:  Biblical Interpretation: Theory, Process, and Criteria.

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