Growing in Global Perspectives: A Book Conversation of Reading the Bible Around the World

April 6, 2023
Author: Federico Alfredo Roth, Justin Marc Smith, Kirsten Sonkyo Oh, Alice Yafeh-Deigh, Kay Higuera Smith
Publisher: IVP Academic; Student edition
Publishing Date: September 27, 2022
Pages: 168 (Paperback)
ISBN: 978-1514001868

This book review arose from the collaborative efforts of multiple Dordt University students, modeling the goal of this book and engaging in conversation around their learning. In part 1, students offered brief summaries and connections to specific global approaches. In part 2, they dialogue about their growing perspectives (A) and how a global awareness can enrich the North American Christian church (B). 

Part 2 B

A book conversation between Hannah Landman (HL), Jaelyn Dragt (JD), Eoghan Holdahl (EH), Joya Schreurs (JS), Susan Wang (SW). This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity and concision. 


We’ve each talked about the different interpretations we read in action with a particular text, the parable of the loving neighbor. And so, reflecting maybe more broadly on what we read in our chapters: were there any challenges that you faced? Are there things that were really difficult for us to wrap our minds around, maybe something that rubbed us the wrong way, or something that really opened up our eyes? Maybe something that came from outside of our perspective, or that pointed out something interesting within our own?


Realizing the unique experiences Roth is bringing to the interpretation weren’t adding something to Scripture; they were already there. He wasn’t changing the meaning of the passage to fit into a narrative. Instead, it was using that chapter to understand the narrative of the South American people groups. At the beginning of Roth’s chapter, he talks about how he’s trying to disrupt and destabilize the idea that with biblical interpretation there’s a “one size fits all” quality. It was really good for me to read. Before reading the interpretation, I definitely was operating from this idea of objectivity within Scripture and the idea that you really need to have a universal meaning, and that if we try to add subjectivity into it we are adulterating it. But in fact, subjectivity is part of good interpretation. I think a lot of what is good about this book is the fact that it brings subjectivity into the conversation, not as a threat to accuracy, but as something that can aid interpretation of Scripture. I appreciated that at one point he said accurate battle interpretation is kind of like being a jazz musician, where you have to improvise, and be organic and intuitive. Most of all, you have to be collaborative with other people with not only different instruments, but also different perspectives. I like that he used that analogy to help us understand the place of subjectivity and interpretation.


I also greatly appreciated the subjectivity that you brought out Eoghan, as the chapter I read emphasized this as well. And I think for me, it challenged me to see how I can miss a lot of what is in the text if I’m only reading it through my own cultural lens. I don’t think this means that I’m not still gleaning truth from Scripture, and that it is shaping me, but there’s just so much more to it in engaging with another culture’s interpretation. There is so much value in recognizing and seeking to learn about how others’ cultural identity and social location, whether that’s gender or socioeconomic status or their experience of marginalization contributes to their understanding of Scripture.


The concept that objectivity has less of a place than we think it does was definitely brought out to me in my chapter as well. My chapter on European approaches talked about the story of David and Bathsheba. It mentioned how when Western readers look at this story, we either view it as David was tempted by Bathsheba or David and Bathsheba were on equal ground and committed equal sin, but it’s really not a balanced teeter totter, so to speak, in that relationship. Bathsheba was in a much lower position of power than David in that situation. And so as Western readers, we might look at it in a really uneducated way, thinking that they’re coming from the same spot in that power balance. There’s a significant disparity between the power that David had and the power Bathsheba had, and we learn to read that these heroes that we’ve clung to might not have the same place of honor as we thought because of things like sexual violence, which we don’t necessarily see in the text, but we learn to read into the text.


In the chapter I read, Sonkyo Oh emphasized caring about the community’s unique needs and issues are helpful for the audience to understand God’s word better. The people and their social locations play significant roles in how churches should teach the Bible in a relevant way to their life. Specifically, in the story of Ruth, the Moabite woman migrating to Bethlehem, represents foreigners who seek to belong in opposition to ethnic oppression. Apart from this, the way Ruth, the foreigner, showed her love to her mother-in-law is astonishing, which the author made the point how today foreigners around the world are stuck with the label as the needy minority rather than the ones who can contribute. Through this reading, I was reminded that the scriptures have the power to speak to all people at all times. It allows me to see I am just a small part of the global church and God is working in different ways throughout the rest of the world. 


My chapter also addressed the story of Esther, looking specifically at it from the author’s African Cameroonian feminist perspective. She sees in this story a lot of hope for women that are in situations of oppressive or patriarchal gender roles. This is something that I never read into this story because that has not been my own personal experience in life thus far, but for many Cameroonian women seeing how God worked through Esther and Queen Vashti can offer encouragement and hope in how they can survive in their male dominated world but also how there is opportunity to subvert those power structures. This is an insight that from my own cultural life experience I never would have seen before so I was challenged in that sense. Also, I was just greatly encouraged through reading the book that there is so much opportunity to have new eyes in how we are reading scripture and that grows my understanding of the global church and the worldwide body of believers and what I get to learn from others.


I would definitely echo what everyone else has said that each interpretation kind of comes at it from a different perspective. So each point of view offers something that the other can’t see. I think one of the ways I was challenged with this section was just the sheer scope of people who’ve been displaced globally, that while this book does a really good job of starting to look at approaches I think this section breaks from kind of the norm of interpreting the loving neighbor and then another passage of scripture, and instead looks at examples of Christians who have been displaced from their historical cultural communities, or who faced some major upheaval in their understanding of the world. There’s an example in there of Elie Wiesel and his understanding of just sin and asking how do you rationalize something like the Holocaust? 

I was challenged that there are so many people who’ve been displaced all over the world, and it happens far too frequently. So looking at how the people on the margins have so many really rich cultural opportunities, that was really confronting for me to see. As a lot of what this section talks about, it is how those of us in a position of privilege—with which I would identify—have to take a step towards the margins in order to begin identifying the needs. In order to engage this conversation, I need to be aware of my own position of privilege. But listening with open ears and humility to those who have had these experiences and to encourage them to speak about these things because their position and perspective is very valuable.


Hannah opened up a lot of really great “what now” perspectives. Does anyone else have anything to share on how going forward this is either going to impact the way that you look at the Bible or theology more broadly, or even just the world culturally, or socially? 


Similar to Hannah, learning the scriptures within other’s experiences and cultures can be formative to my own life, I was challenged to see the various ways the Bible can be applicable to people in different social locations that the manifold perspectives and the unheard voices ought to be included when reading the Bible. Several things I was unsure about this reading: How are Christians to know we are reading the Bible according to God’s will, or should there be a framework in how believers seek to connect scriptures to their lives? With some guidance I received, I understand all scriptures point us back to who Christ is and call us to take up the cross and follow Him. Following, Scripture is reaches all individuals and the varied situations they are in; this unravels the infinite applications the Word may contain. It is helpful to know that God sees people’s suffering and can always comfort us through His words. At the same time, we ought to be cautious to avoid interpreting the Bible for the sake of the mainstream culture confirmation. From my understanding, the order of how we interpret the Bible is vital that the basic interpretation principles still need to focus on the original setting and how it is contextual in the whole Bible overall, and then how it is connecting to us today in our setting rather than the other way around.


Thanks, Susan. Reading this book increased my desire for humility as I approach Scripture because I recognize that even as I feel inadequate to speak from the African perspective that I read one chapter on, I also want people to get to hear about it because I see so much value in that. And I think that growing in this attitude of how I am reading scripture personally, or even in churches, I can see how I’m a part of reading scripture in a specific way but I also want to be open to the subjectivity that we talked about, and the nuances that other people’s experiences bring to the text itself. Plus, how I can further recognize my own biases that I read Scripture with and seek to engage in listening to other people from all around the world. For me this comes with seeking to build cross-cultural relationships because that is going to be a more tangible way to continue to grow in this process, rather than only reading more books.


The book ends with a quote that’s interesting to me.

We talked a little bit about opening up conversations and deepening relationships that lead us into other perspectives especially biblically but then at the end it says this book is an open invitation for Bible readers, particularly those at home in places of power and privilege to engage in a kind of “theological tourism” as it were. Then it says, “learning how to traverse the biblical canon in such a way that will cultivate open handed curiosity and a certain appreciation for eclecticism.” I would push back on the phrase “theological tourism” because to me that has a “grab and go” approach. As if you go to these different places and you see the things you like, but then you return home comfortably. I don’t think they’re trying to give that connotation but I am really encouraged by the idea that you don’t have to be an expert. And it’s really overwhelming to approach the world and the Bible, and especially those two things together and see what they all contain, but we don’t have to know it all. But, we should continue to be curious, and we should continue to admit that we don’t know everything but there are people that know and feel and have experienced much different things and there’s a reason we’re all in this world together and that we all have the same Bible to study.

About the Authors
  • Hannah Landman is a student at Dordt University studying Biology, Chemistry, and Environmental Science. She is learning to delight in living gently and loving well as she dabbles in a bit of everything from poetry to hiking to good conversation.

  • "Eoghan Holdahl is studying Agriculture and Community Development and minoring in Theology at Dordt University. He is an active member of the Kuyper Honors Program, through which he participates in multidisciplinary learning and scholarly activities. His passion is for international development and the interactions between environmental and agricultural needs."

  • Joya Schreurs is a pre-seminary student at Dordt University where she studies theology and English literature.

  • “Jaelyn Dragt is a student at Dordt University studying Community Development, Social Work and Theology. She cares deeply about engaging the gifts of these fields personally, communally, and in cross cultural and international contexts.”

  • "Susan Wang studies Elementary Education at Dordt University and enjoys learning and good conversations in theology classes she is taking for her Theological Studies minor."

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