Quote Unquote: Green Lecture

Dialogue was both the format and the theme of this year’s Green Lecture on Faith, Race and Community, “An Exercise in Hope: A Conversation with Esau McCaulley and President Scogin,” held on Wednesday, Nov. 10, in Dimnent Memorial Chapel.

McCaulley is an assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College whose publications include the award-winning book Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope, published by IVP Academic in September 2020. Among other topics, the evening explored the idea that cultural experience not only influences understanding of Scripture, but in conversation with other traditions enhances it for all. McCaulley noted that he has hoped through his book to highlight the distinctive perspective of Blacks in the U.S. and what that perspective can contribute.

The excerpt that follows from the event’s question-and-answer segment illuminates a related point: that conversation is not only helpful, but essential.

Matt Scogin ’02: “I want to ask this question, which is also a great question. It’s from a student. It says, ‘How do we determine if our motivational mindset is helping or hindering our interpretation of Scripture? How do we avoid cherry picking to justify our thoughts or actions?’

McCaulley: “We can’t. That’s why we need the whole communion of faith across time and culture. And the problem is, when you have one voice that does it, then there’s inevitably cherry picking and it’s not challenged.

“So, the African American biblical tradition is not infallible. We’re just better in certain places. So, these are historical facts. So you go back to the abolitionist debate and you, say, listen to what the Black Christians said and what the white Christians said, the Black Christians win: We all agree that the abolitionists are correct. But it doesn’t mean that every single thing that the Black person said is going to be true.

“One of the reasons that I’m assuming that your professors tell you to read old books is because [the authors] live in a world that allows them to see things that we might not see.

“Let me make sure I clarify this point. It doesn’t mean that we can’t understand to trust Jesus. I think that anybody who reads the Bible can see that you ought to put your faith in Jesus; the Resurrection is important. I’m not saying that particular cultures can’t say anything true about the Bible. I’m saying that no culture can say everything that is true about the Bible by itself. And the historical record has shown that.

“And right now, we’re all limited in a certain way that is not clear to us. It will be clear 100 years from now when people look back on Christianity in our day. And they’ll say, ‘How did these Christians (if the Lord should tarry) in the 2020s not see this key thing?’ in the same way we look back on the 1920s with a certain clarity and objectivity.

“So I don’t think that we can. I think that we need each other across time and culture to together discern the mind of Christ.”

Scogin: “What you’re saying is that we’re all motivated readers of it and we have to acknowledge that. And then we come together, different people with different motivations, the whole body of Christ coming together…”

McCaulley: “…and acknowledging that we’re trying to do the same thing. Right. I think that what keeps it from being chaotic is that at bottom we’re saying, ‘I’m still trying to interpret this book and live by its precepts.’

“When [instead] my culture determines truth fully, then my cultural experiences become the dominant experience. And it does make dialogue very difficult. And what you’re left with is actually the will to power.”