First, a question raised by Then the Whisper Put on Flesh: How well can we read the Bible when we’re limited to our own cultural and historical context?
It’s a bit embarassing to see that it’s been over two months since I posted some initial thoughts about Brian K Blount’s Then the Whisper Put on Flesh. It took Michael and me longer than we expected to read and converse our through this book, but I did want to post a few additional observations after finishing the book.
While the Synoptic Gospels share one chapter in Then the Whisper, the Gospel of John gets a chapter of its own. In John, Blount sees a theology of “active resistance” rooted in Jesus’ claims to be the Son of God. This resistance is born out of love for Jesus (as opposed to simple belief in Jesus) which leads to faith in the Son of God which leads to the ethics of Jesus.
In the African American worldview, faith and doing have always been natural allies. What one believed had powerful implications for what one did and how one lived as a social, political, and even enslaved being. (100)
Blount sees John’s gospel describing a community of people sustained by the love of Christ and taking the type of action and resistance this love requires.
As he moves on to Paul’s letters, Blount is careful to show how slaves and descendants of slaves “found themes so supportive of the slave status quo that many vowed never to listen to Paul preached.” While he understands this viewpoint, Blount attempts to show how much of Paul’s letters flesh out the liberated community found in John’s gospel. Once again Christ’s redemptive work is central in this ethic: transformed by Christ’s redemption, humans are “enabled to live a transformed existence.”
The implications are staggering… The shattering of creation’s boundaries that occurs with Jesus’ death and resurrection is the gracious provocation of a new eschatological reality that enables human transgressions of the same kind. All people, regardless of gender, ethnicity, race, status, or stature are equally acceptable in God’s sight and therefore must be equally treated in human living. It is precisely here, through its boundary-breaking intent that Pauline theology enables liberating human ethics.
In a sense, Blount pulls together the previous chapters as he turns his gaze to Revelation. Reading this apocalyptic letter through the lens of slave narratives, Blount sees a vision of God’s future crashing into our present. In this chapter we see the context of John’s captivity when he writes Revelation: he is a prisoner of the mighty Roman empire. His experience seems to prove that Rome’s way of describing reality is correct. And yet, over and over again John shows that God is stronger than Rome and that final victory will belong to the Lamb of God.
But this suggest a kind of active resistance, does not it? To harbor the view that Jesus Christ is king in a world that actively proclaims the lordship of Rome and its Caesar is to act obstinately. It is to resist, to refuse to fit in. Even more, if you add to that declaration of witness the belief that God is coming soon to inaugurate that kingship and make a kingdom of Christ’s followers, it is to invite “tribulation.” (176)
There is much more that should be said about this book. Certainly Dr Blount accomplished his goal of showing the importance of reading the New Testament through the African American context. For those pastoring churches in America today, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. I walk away from my months in this book with an added layer of context as I read the New Testament. This context allows a way of reading that brings the powerful ethics of the Scriptures into stark relief for today.