Dear New Testament Professor,
I am enjoying your course in the New Testament and learning so much! Thank you.
I understand that you are also influenced by open and relational (process) theology. I am, too.
Like you, I think God hears each person in his or her concrete situation, feeling her feelings and affected by the joys and sufferings, responding with possibilities for creative transformation relative to the situation at hand. And, like you, I think that a person's experience arises out of, and is embedded within, a local context.
I am leading a Bible study at my local church. There are twelve in our group, mostly women; and some are on the margins of society, having suffered from domestic and sexual abuse. Their voices deserve to be heard, and I want to help create a context, in the Bible study itself, where they can share.
I sense that this emphasis on people 'sharing and being heard' is part of what a colleague of yours speaks as Contextual Bible Study or, alternatively, Popular Bible Study.
She thinks that Bible studies grow stale when they focus so exclusively on the Bible that the contexts of people's lives are neglected. She says that people participating in Bible studies, adding their own points of view, is what is most important.
She also says that people can question the Biblical texts. I know that you do as well. I agree. The Bible is a source of tremendous wisdom, but it is not the same thing as God. It is -- or can be -- a friend and companion, not a tyrant who shuts off all debate. I think Contextual Bible Studies say the same thing.
I'm thinking about writing a thesis on Contextual Bible Study and Open and Relational Theology. I'm excited about finding connections and also discerning differences. But my aim is always pastoral. I want to help bring the Bible into the lives of real people in real circumstances.
Which takes me to my questions:
- What does an open and relational Bible study look like? In particular what are the group dynamics?
- How important is listening in such a study? Is it part of the practice?
- Can such a study include questioning the authority of the texts?
- Can such a study include the joy of creating new stories, especially among people who are not often enough heard in the dominant society?
- Do the new stories have to be completely based on the biblicl text, or can the stories go off in new directions based on people's experience?
- If the latter, might the activity of creating new stories be part of what it means to be faithful to God and to the Bible?
- You have explained to me that creativity of this sort is found in the midrash traditions of Judaism. Might we Christians, too, engage in midrash?
Looking forward to your guidance.
"The Contextual Bible Study method is similar to many other forms of Bible study that have their origins in the interface between socially engaged biblical scholars, organic intellectuals, and ordinary Christian ‘readers’ (whether literate or not) of the Bible.
Many will be familiar with the See-Judge-Act method, where the Bible study process begins with analysis of the local context (See), and then re-reads the Bible to allow the biblical text to speak to the context (Judge), and then moves to action as we respond to what God is saying (Act).
Social analysis enables us to understand our reality; re-reading the Bible enables us to judge whether our reality is as God intends it to be; and our plan of action enables us to work with God to change our reality. This process is an ongoing process, it is repeated, as each action leads to further reflection (See), etc. This is the cycle of praxis.
CEBI (a small center for contextual Bible study in Brazil) adds two other elements to this process in order to make the cyclical nature of the process overt. They speak of their process as consisting of See-Judge-Act-Celebrate-Evaluate.
After the group has acted, they then ‘Celebrate’ what they have done, both liturgically and socially; they then, after celebration comes evaluation. The group then ‘Evaluates’ the process to this point and goes on to plan for ongoing work. Contextual Bible Study is a form of the See-Judge-Act method.
First, Contextual Bible Study is always situated within the social analysis and needs of particular communities of the poor, the working-class, and marginalised. It is their perspective on reality that shapes the whole Bible study.
Second, Contextual Bible study provides a way of doing theological analysis, “reading the signs of the times”. The Bible is read carefully and closely in order to hear its distinct voice within its own literary and socio-historical context, thereby providing a theological resource from which to reflect on and engage with our social analysis. And third, Contextual Bible always ends with theological resources provided by the Bible study to plan for social transformation."