Liberating Bible Study

Laurel Dykstra and Ched Myers, eds., Wipf and Stock, 2011, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Here is an excellent compilation of 25 essays dealing with social justice issues as they are dealt with by biblical writers and by current activists. ‘The bible is a record of displaced and dispossessed people who have found a communal identity…. It provides an important perspective for reflecting on responsibilities toward refugees…. The bible is a book by and for refugees…. First century Christianity in Asia Minor, as reflected in 1 Peter, faced the same issues as did the church in Central America in recent years’ (p 198,199).

        The book has well defined subject matter: chs 1-10, the Hebrew bible; 11-19, Jesus and the gospels; 20-25, the Epistles. I found the last section the most moving as the writers dealt with issues of sanctuary: the church as counter-cultural, the biblical emphasis on hospitality, and a powerful poem reflecting on Vancouver’s east side street life of the homeless.

        The fiery trial (1 Peter 4:12) is not so much a case of persecution by outsiders but of collusion with the enemy, capitulation to consumerism, the profit motive, conformity to values diametrically opposed to a gospel celebrating G-d’s favour toward the poor. The ‘Christian nations make and sell the bombs, train the torturers, create and refuse the refugees’ (p 210). A powerful section deals with 17 political dimensions that appeared in the Galilee of Jesus’ day and contemporary forms (‘top down social organizations and control’, p 149-151).

        A powerful look at the bible’s treatment of social dynamics.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.