RICHMOND, Va.—Christians in the developing nations read Scripture differently than their brothers and sister in the affluent West, according to missiologist Caleb Oladipo.
“The way we read the Scriptures in the western world particularly is through empirical knowledge—that is, through our five senses. It’s what we can affirm in a logical way. Africans and people in the nations of Latin America and Asia don’t read the Bible that way. They read the Bible from a devotional point of view. In particular, Africans don’t see the Bible as a book of reference but as a book of remembrance,” said Oladipo, the Duke K. McCall Professor of Christian mission and world Christianity at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. Previously, he taught at Baylor University and Truett Theological Seminary.
All cultures value and are influenced by some aspects of their pre-Christian heritage, and Africans are no exception, said Oladipo, who is originally from Nigeria. They bring those understandings with them when they are converted to Christianity.
“The Bible speaks to them from the wellsprings of their own spiritual life. And they read the Bible in that sense,” he said.
“Africans often say that the West has the Bible, but they have lost the Scriptures. Because we have all the logic, all the ways of reading the Bible, all the Greek and Hebrew, we (in the West) see the Bible as something we can dissect. It’s like looking at a car. You open the bonnet (hood), you see all the parts, and sometimes you see what’s wrong the car. They (Christians in the developing world) don’t see the Bible that way. They see the Bible as devotional. And it is not a weapon but a tool to see God. It’s a tool that opens the biography of God.”
For prosperous Western Christians to read the Bible through the eyes of the poor, they first must realize Christianity no longer is a Western religion, he noted. Christianity is growing and prospering in the developing world, and Christians in the West can learn from believers in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Western Christians also can learn about the powerful sense of community among Christians in developing nations, he added.
“That comes straight from their own understanding of their faith. In the West we are isolated and individualistic, and we think we should to it all alone. That is not helping us. We become so isolated that the sense of interdependence is not strong, and that is weakening our society,” he said.
“In Africa and Latin America and Asia, what is so powerful about Christian commitment is the sense of community, and that is what they can teach us. By looking at that, we can read the Bible differently.”