Reading the Bible After Christendom

Lloyd Pietersen, Herald press, 2012, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Pietersen sketches the historical and hermeneutical perspectives of the bible and its interpretation: the early church (first three centuries), Christendom (Constantinian political emphasis), post-Christendom, the Anabaptist option.

        A major part of the book does a book-by-book comment of major content and perspectives of biblical writings. Two chapters focus on reading the bible for spirituality (discipleship) and mission. He strongly emphasizes the need for bible reading to be a communal venture, recognizing its prophetic (eschatological version of G-d’s shalom, as subversive (proclaiming the kingdom of G-d as against the kingdom of the Caesar), and as sustaining (providing and equipping us for the journey).

        Christendom is the concept of western civilization as having a religious arm (the church) and a secular arm (civil government), united in their adherence to Christian faith. This meant the church moved from the margins of society to the centre, and the bible was read in ways alien to its interpretation by the early church.

        Another major shift was to post-Christendom when the church moved from the centre to the margins; Christians were now in the minority and (as did the early church) lived in a pluralistic society. Post-Christendom calls for a critical scrutiny of long established readings of scripture, develop fresh angles with which to approach biblical texts, and read them in ways that speak to changing contents (p 26).

        An example of this is his exegesis of Luke 19:11-27, the Zacchaeus account (p 54ff), that demonstrates that readings from the margins completely subvert the natural Christendom reading (p 56); Christendom became increasingly hierarchical and patriarchal. Thus there is a need to open the discussion on the creeds themselves, because of the coercive elements involved in their origin (p 58).

        Personal note: Rather than develop a six-fold hermeneutical paradigm (p 67), why not use a simpler two-fold hermeneutical perspective (eg exile and empire) for biblical exegesis.

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