Beyond Eurocentrism—A Future for Canadian Biblical Studies

On May 31, 2021 I had the privilege of giving my presidential address to the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies (CSBS). This is something every outgoing president does at the end of their term.

A Delayed Presidential Address

I was in the unusual situation of being president of CSBS for two consecutive years (2019–21), something unprecedented in the eighty-eight year history of the Society (which was formed in 1933). In every previous case, a person is elected to become vice-president for a year, then serves as president for the following year, then gives their presidential address.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the cancelation of the 2020 annual meeting, at which we would have had the election of new officers (those whose terms were up) and at which I would have given my presidential address. Without a formal election of new officers, all the elected officers whose term was up continued pro tem until the next annual meeting.

The executive decided that despite the ongoing pandemic we couldn’t go another year without an annual meeting. But because of the pandemic, they decided that the 2021 annual meeting would be purely virtual.

Since I hadn’t been able to give my presidential address in 2020, I gave it (virtually) in 2021.

A Different Presidential Address

However, it was on a different topic from what I had originally planned.

In 2020 I had planned to focus my presidential address on the Aqedah (Genesis 22), in anticipation of the book I was writing, entitled Abraham’s Silence: The Binding of Isaac, the Suffering of Job, and How to Talk Back to God (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2021).

However, new issues arose in the CSBS, along with some external prods, which resulted in me giving a presentation on the past and future of biblical studies in Canada.

In “Beyond Eurocentrism: A Future for Canadian Biblical Studies,” I traced the history of biblical studies in Canada and challenged biblical scholars in Canada to explicitly bring their social and religious context to bear on their academic work, while allowing the Bible to speak to their context.

Here is the abstract of my paper:

The history of Canadian biblical studies, like biblical studies south of the border, has been defined by the attempt to protect academic study of the Bible from religious and ecclesiastical control. Although legitimate in its time, this has resulted in the fictitious ideal of an academic discipline uncontaminated by the contemporary contexts of the interpreter. Not only is such an ideal unattainable (since everyone brings their contexts, explicitly or implicitly, to their academic work), it is ethically problematic, since it has legitimated the Eurocentric orientation of the field as normative, resulting in the marginalization of alternative voices and perspectives.

Thankfully, biblical scholars have begun to take cognizance of how we read the Bible in terms of existential questions arising from our social and ecclesial locations. Besides many publications on the subject of contextual biblical studies over the past thirty years (perhaps beginning with Stony the Road We Trod), the Society of Biblical Literature sponsored two seminars in 2020 called “#Black Scholars Matter.”

Canadian biblical scholars, however, have been slower than our American counterparts to recognize the importance of the interpreter’s context for our field. The question this essay raises is whether we can envision a future for Canadian biblical studies beyond Eurocentrism.

Although I was addressing the Canadian context, I drew significantly on my Jamaican background (including Jamaican traditions of resistance to power) in order to make a particular proposal for the practice of biblical studies in Canada.

You can watch the video of my presidential address here.

The text of the address is being published in the Canadian-American Theological Review. I will post a link here when it is available.

Podcast Interview on the Image of God and the “Cultural Mandate”—Everyday Christianity

I was recently interviewed by Jason Estopinal, who runs a website called “The Laymen’s Lounge.” The website hosts podcasts and other resources dedicated to addressing issues of faith, theology, and biblical interpretation that have a direct bearing on the everyday lives of Christians. This is theology for ordinary laypeople, not for pastors, professional theologians, or scholars (but that doesn’t mean anything is dumbed down).

Here is Jason’s description of what the website is all about:

The Laymen’s Lounge is a resource for everyday Christians (those who make up the majority of the Church) to learn how to do everyday life with other everyday theologians. Theology is for laymen too: all people of faith need to seek understanding of how work and play, at home, the office, the garden, or anywhere else, relates to the God of the gospel and the gospel of God.

Theology is about paying attention to God’s presence and activity in all areas of life. Here in the Lounge you will find help in answering key questions, such as “What is the gospel?” and “what is God like?” We will bring scholars, professors, pastors, and missionaries into the lounge to help us wrestle with questions and issues that are part and parcel of daily living.

This site is for anyone who wants to think harder about the Christian faith and how to live as Christians.

Please feel free to stay as long as you like, and encourage others – friends, family, and even grandma (if she knows how to log on to the internet) – to visit. If they do, they’ll find everyday theology for everyday Christians living everyday life.

Jason had been trying to get me to do an interview from before the pandemic, but lots of things got in the way. I was finally interviewed for the Laymen’s Lounge on the topic of being made in the image of God (with a focus on the “cultural mandate” or how our faith affects everyday life).

Here is Jason’s introduction to the interview (taken from the website):

Listen in as we sit down with Dr. J. Richard Middleton to discuss the forest and the trees of being image-bearers, God’s purpose for the world, God’s generosity, the great change that took place the moment God resolved to create humanity and good Jamaican and world reggae for your listening pleasure.

Jason lives in Hawaii, so it was great having him welcome me at the start of the podcast with Aloha!

He is also a music fan and knows quite a bit about reggae. He posted links to three reggae songs (two from Jamaica, one from South Africa) on his website right below the interview.

An Amazing First Novel: “Though I Walk” by Dale Harris

A past student of mine, Canadian Dale Harris, has published his first, absolutely stunning, novel, called Though I Walk (Word Alive Press, 2021).

I was privileged to have Dale as a DMin student at Northeastern Seminary a few years ago. He wrote a wonderful paper for my course, which has subsequently been published in the Canadian-American Theological Review (2019).

Dale won the 2020 Braun Book Award for Fiction for his novel and received a publishing contract with Word Alive Press.

I was delighted to be asked to write an endorsement for the novel. This is what I said:

An exquisite tale of love, longing, and loss, set against the coastlines of Nova Scotia and the Aegean. Harris deftly intermingles Greek myth with the concreteness of love and the horrors of war. A stunning first novel.

Book Summary

The truths of the past are often the hardest to face.

When Grace Stewart’s fiancé Stephen leaves Halifax in 1937 to pursue his dream of becoming an archaeologist in Greece, neither of them expect that war will soon engulf the world, keeping them apart for nearly ten years. As Stephen gets caught up in the resistance movement on the island of Crete, Grace immerses herself in the war effort at home, held up by her faith and praying for his safe return.

Though her prayers are eventually answered and she and Stephen are finally reunited, he is never able to speak of the things he saw in Greece. After his sudden death in 1967, however, Grace discovers among his effects the journal he kept during that dark time… a journal which allows her to, at long last, piece together the unimaginable story of the man she thought she knew.

Amazon Review

Here is what a review on Amazon said about the novel:

5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding novel! Reviewed in Canada on April 13, 2021

I rarely read novels. But this one drew me in immediately and kept me coming back for more, in spite of my extremely short attention span.

It is a great story of love, loss, loyalty and longing. The characters feel very much like real people.

The author “shows” you the story. He doesn’t just tell you what happens. You feel as if you are there with the characters. The author’s attention to detail is magnificent! Halifax in the 30s and 40s and Greece during WWII come to life vividly in their parts of the story. The war scenes strike me as realistic, but they are not overdone in a sensationalized way.

Faith or spirituality of various sorts shows up at different points in the tale, but there is nothing preachy!
The book is so full of sensitivity to loss and grief, to unfulfilled longing and hope that many good things end up “sticking” to you while you journey with the winsome characters.

We have already given a copy to friends.

Get one and enjoy it.

The book is available in paperback or ebook format on Amazon.

Dale Harris Biography

Dale Harris is an author, songwriter, blogger, and pastor, though not necessarily in that order. He taught high school English in St. Paul, Alberta before being called into fulltime ministry, and has served as a Free Methodist pastor in the city of Oshawa, Ontario since 2009. He holds a Bachelor of Education from the University of Alberta (Edmonton, AB), a Master of Divinity from Briercrest Seminary (Caronport, SK), and a Doctor of Ministry from Northeastern Seminary (Rochester, NY).

Dale writes regularly about life, faith, and spirituality on his blog terra incognita, and he produces Three Minute Theology, a YouTube channel dedicated to communicating the deep truths of Christian theology through short, creative whiteboard videos. He is a prolific songwriter and publishes his music on Spotify and iTunes under the artist name D. Michael Harris. Through his writing Dale loves to explore the mysterious ways God is present to us in all aspects and every season of our lives.

Here is an article about the writing of the book on the Free Methodist Church website.