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Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope

4.53  ·  Rating details ·  1,931 ratings  ·  430 reviews
Growing up in the American South, Esau McCaulley knew firsthand the ongoing struggle between despair and hope that marks the lives of some in the African American context. A key element in the fight for hope, he discovered, has long been the practice of Bible reading and interpretation that comes out of traditional Black churches. This ecclesial tradition is often disregar ...more
Kindle Edition, 200 pages
Published September 1st 2020 by IVP Academic
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Nov 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I didn't know what to expect going into this book. Was I part of the intended audience? Would it be more about political ideology than biblical reflection? Well, as evidenced by my five stars, I was thoroughly impressed. One need not agree with McCaulley’s every statement (I didn’t) to acknowledge and appreciate what he’s accomplished in this work. With biblical-theological skill he brings textual insights to bear that are often illuminating and moving.

Social location is not everything in readi
Aug 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How does the Black American experience fit into the Bible? At first glance it may not seem like it does. American history has shown that the Bible has been used to promote slavery, segregation, and Black inferiority. To some Black Americans, reading the Bible may seem like an exercise in despair and subjugation. Dr. Esau McCaulley says a resounding NO, reading the Bible can be an exercise in hope, we just need to know how to read and interpret it correctly. McCaulley’s new book Reading While Bla ...more
Carmen Imes
Jun 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Esau McCaulley is professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, an ordained Anglican priest, and a fellow board member of the Institute for Biblical Research. I'm guessing that he wrote Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope (IVP, 2020) with Black readers in mind. But this white girl found it both helpful and inspiring.

I used to think that making space at the table for people of color was a matter of equality or justice, and that's part of it. Peopl
Jared Wilson
Nov 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
Excellent. The chapter surveying the biblical teaching on slavery is especially worth the read.
Matthew Colvin
Oct 16, 2020 rated it did not like it
Hermeneutically dangerous. McCaulley may protest that he is not pushing Critical Race Theory, but this book gives the lie to that claim. His postmodern epistemology is evident throughout, and it will undermine orthodoxy. He rightly critiques racist theologians of the past, but fails to state clearly that their error was that they were objectively wrong about the Bible, not that they failed to include enough black voices – as though truth were a matter of combining all our biases and stirring the ...more
Andrew K
Jul 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: top-shelf
My goodness. Where do I begin? Reading While Black has given me the much-needed reminder of the necessity of listening to, learning from, and amplifying diverse voices in theological method. This is not a book that I will read once only to discard it to my bookshelf. No – this is a book that I will be reading and re-reading in the coming years.

Esau McCaulley is an ordained Anglican priest and a professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. In Reading While Black he explores the message of hope
4.75 Stars — Wow. A riveting, gut-punch of a read, I just could NOT put this down, such was the ferocity & starkness of the content and especially the prose.

Best not to giveaway too much, but for me this is a life-awakening piece of literature that paints a vaguely familiar picture but does so with a completely customised and unique set of brushes. A topic so relevant yet so bereft of genuine published content, despite the recent vein of excellently written, poignant literature on race & the tru
Sunni C. | vanreads
Reading While Black takes a look at African American interpretations of the bible and how they differ from conventional interpretations from white churches in America. I would clarify that these interpretations are not so different that they diverge from biblical canon. Instead, it focuses on the idea that Christianity is about freeing the oppressed and unity for all races and ethnic backgrounds. There are many examples of this in the bible (ie. Moses leading the slaves to freedom, and the unifi ...more
Aug 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Full review:

To appreciate what Reading While Black offers, one needs to catch the basic contours of this ongoing conversation about God’s eternal Word and black people’s earthly concerns. McCaulley satisfyingly situates the discourse both for those who’ve been, and also for those who’ve just started, listening.

Broadly speaking, when it comes to this conversation some progressives, black and otherwise, have offered a hermeneutic of revision, believing the
Oct 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely brilliant.

McCaulley presents here the hope and history of “black ecclesial interpretation.” This is the tradition of reading and preaching found in the black churches since the earliest days of America. One of the challenges McCaulley puts forth in the beginning is the pull from one side to leave the Bible and Christianity behind, seeing the whole religion as white European and not good at all for Black people. McCaulley argues in one chapter that there have been Africans in the peopl
Feb 08, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Summary: A study of biblical interpretation in the traditional Black church that emphasizes the conversation between the biblical text and the Black experience and how this sustains hope in the face of despair.

Esau McCaulley describes his journey from southern roots to white evangelicalism and progressive scholarship and back to the Black church tradition. He recognized that both evangelical and progressive traditions didn’t offer the wherewithal to deal with the Black experience of slavery and
Nov 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
We all read the Bible from our own viewpoint, from within our own culture and background. Our circumstances make us ask certain questions we wouldn’t ask otherwise. We could consider this a disadvantage. How could we know what the Bible really said when we are inevitably limited? But what if this were a blessing? What if this drawback allowed God to speak with truth and power to our particular situations?

Consider Martin Luther. His context of an often legalistic and corrupt church made him ask c
Samuel Kassing
Sep 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I didn't know what to expect when I picked up this book. I was pleasantly surprised. McCaulley does an excellent job of showing a way forward for African-American theologians. I hope that many young black scholars pick up his charge and start writing the works that he encourages. Perhaps this book will spawn more books in this vein.

My favorite chapters were 1, 2, and 6. Chapter one was so helpful in that it framed why the black voice is so often misunderstood in evangelical circles. The chapter
Rachel Welcher
Oct 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is about hope. It is deeply theological, but also full of practical compassion and wisdom, made all the more compelling by the author’s inclusion of bits and pieces of his own story. The way McCaulley flips abused biblical passages around, showing God's heart for liberation, is both academic and beautiful.

I believe this book will continue needed conversations within the Church. McCaulley says that he has "succeeded if [his book] has reminded others of home." Reading While Black truly p
Ryan Linkous
Sep 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fantastic book. I think this book helped me think about what it looks like to read and interpret the Bible with a prophetic imagination. McCaulley is great at this because he still constrains himself to the text. However, with a combination of reception history, examining white interpretations and black interpretations, he reveals how our social location often determines our conclusions, whether naively or nefariously. And Bible interpreters and pastors need seriously listen to the black voice i ...more
Adam Shields
Sep 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing

About a year ago, I first heard of Esau McCaulley. I do not remember if I heard of his new appointment to Wheaton College New Testament faculty (my alma mater) or if I saw him at the Jude 3 Conference first. Regardless, I have paid close attention to him since. He has written many articles this past year for Christianity Today (including this month's cover article on policing adapted from this book), the New York Times (where is he is contributing opinion writer), Washington Post, and others. An

Feb 20, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion
This was fantastic. McCaulley really carves out a place for himself, humbly refusing to say things for conservatives to use to push back against progressives, while also refusing to say things that would earn him the praise of the progressives who only seek to lift up black voices that agree with their own. One can only read and learn.

His presentation of black ecclesial tradition was succinct and provoked all the thoughts, especially his exegesis of Romans 13. It has traditionally been read as a
Logan Price
Feb 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: theology
I've failed to read much from Black theologians and pastors. That's something I'm ashamed of and am trying to correct. Thankfully, this was a great starting place.

McCaulley asks hard questions and in looking for answers in Scripture he was both patient and faithful. As a result, I learned a lot. Not because he conjured up new theories out of midair, but because I (in my cultural and experiential background) never asked the questions our African American brothers and sisters have been forced to
Jackson Ford
Sep 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Esau does a phenomenal job of exploring the intersection of the black experience and Christianity/Holy Scripture. As someone who is committed to the Church and the stewardship of God’s word, he draws his readers into the complexity of a conversation that is centuries long without losing them in any high-academic tone. This book is extremely grounded and timely for our cultural moment. Could not recommend it more. Absolutely phenomenal.
Hunter Quinn
Jan 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read this book. Read it and be challenged, read it and be blessed. I loved it.

McCaulley argues that the Black tradition has brought its own interpretive and exegetical questions to Scripture. This tradition asks unique questions of the Bible based on the experiences of the oppressed minority, while simultaneously allows Scripture to "redirect Black issues and concerns" (pg. 21). Thus, a Black reading of the Bible is not innovative; it is "unapologetically canonical and theological" (pg. 21).

Chris Baker
Sep 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Reading While Black" is a great primer on African American Biblical Interpretation. If you are looking to expand the voices that are speaking into your life through Scripture, Esau McCaulley is a must-read. Reading this makes me want to dive into Scripture with a renewed spiritual understanding, reading it in new ways. ...more
Sep 22, 2020 rated it it was ok
McCaulley's book, which is largely a discourse focused on biblical interpretation as it relates to the specific experience of African Americans under slavery, and its ongoing effects, suffers tremendously because McCaulley's attempt to provide the parameters for a "located" hermeneutic avoids actually discerning present black experience on the topics discussed (the most specific chapter focuses on policing of black people; the others are much more general in scope, including black political witn ...more
Justin Lonas
Oct 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What a gift this book is, this year or any year. If Scripture isn't the source of hope and justice for the marginalized and oppressed, then it can't provide that hope to anyone. McCauley digs into the theological resources of the black church tradition to recover an appreciation of the depth and breadth of God's Word that every Christian needs to hear.

Traci Rhoades
Aug 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I kept wanting to meet the author and thank him. What a great thinker. The exegetical work he does here, partnered with his shared experience as an African American, point to a well-earned faith. He looks at those experiences chapter by chapter and shows that God has always been and still is the answer. Behold, he makes all things new!
Josh Olds
Jan 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Reading While Black had been on my radar for quite some time and it’s to my regret that I didn’t pick this one up earlier. While the book is hardly the first to mix exegetical, historical, and personal reflection of a Black author amidst the backdrop of a racialized culture, McCaulley’s might be the first to come from within the evangelical subculture that has a primary focus on theology. I can look to Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise or How to Fight Racism as examples from the historical/s ...more
Panda Incognito
In this compelling, engagingly written book, Esau McCaulley encourages his readers to consider the ways that the Bible is a book of hope for Black people, regardless of its historical misuse to support slavery. At the beginning, he writes about his experiences feeling confused and challenged in his faith as he tried to reconcile his Black church upbringing with the ways that white evangelical circles tend to erase the Black experience and the ways that progressive white circles advocate for soci ...more
Nathan Albright
May 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: challenge-2021
This book is not written for a reader like me. Sometimes this can be a bad thing, but in this case the fact that the book is not written for a reader like me is a very good thing. What this author did that is rare in books I have read that deal with matters of racial politics and identity is avoid a false dilemma between the desire for justice and a belief in the truth of the Bible. The author comments that this false dilemma often comes from the cultural politics of the Bible in the white churc ...more
Feb 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hermeneutics
Wow. Dr. Esau McCaulley writes a powerful book on how African Americans read Scripture. Primarily written for Black Christians, it was eye-opening to myself see how much your culture can shape how you read Scripture. Dr. McCaulley is theologically conservative and holds to all of the same guiding principles in how to interpret the Bible, and yet his emphases and insights in familiar passages highlighted how huge our cultural backgrounds can be in interpretation. By interpretation, mind you, I do ...more
Josh Sieders
Jan 15, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021
I both looked forward to this read, and was also apprehensive. Race is such a charged issue these days and it's hard to read or watch anything without being pulled into some partisan, all-or-nothing, tribal position. I wanted to learn, and discern, be challenged but also affirmed. This book did all those things and I am grateful for its insight, wisdom, balance and truth-telling.

McCaulley indeed traverses difficult terrain, tackling tough issues like police reform, black anger, protest, ethnic
Whew. I almost quit this book a few times because I didn’t think I was smart enough to understand ‘Black Ecclesial Interpretation,’ as McCaulley puts it, and its context in the conversation of Biblical interpretation in America (and the world). I’m so grateful I stuck with it.

McCaulley’s writing style, vocabulary, and ideas all stretched me as a learner and a reader/listener. About halfway through the book, I noticed a recent Bible Project podcast episode on my phone with McCaulley as a guest. T
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Esau McCaulley (PhD, St. Andrews) is assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, a priest in the Anglican Church in North America, and a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times. He is also the host of The Disrupters podcast. His publications include Sharing in the Son's Inheritance and numerous articles in outlets such as Christianity Today, The Witness, and The Washington ...more

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“The question isn’t always which account of Christianity uses the Bible. The question is which does justice to as much of the biblical witness as possible. There are uses of Scripture that utter a false testimony about God. This is what we see in Satan’s use of Scripture in the wilderness. The problem isn’t that the Scriptures that Satan quoted were untrue, but when made to do the work that he wanted them to do, they distorted the biblical witness. This is my claim about the slave master exegesis of the antebellum South. The slave master arrangement of biblical material bore false witness about God. This remains true of quotations of the Bible in our own day that challenge our commitment to the refugee, the poor, and the disinherited.” 5 likes
“Euro-American scholars, ministers, and lay folk . . . have, over the centuries, used their economic, academic, religious, and political dominance to create the illusion that the Bible, read through their experience, is the Bible read correctly.”12 Stated differently, everybody has been reading the Bible from their locations, but we are honest about it.” 3 likes
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