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

ISBN: 9780830854875

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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 disregarded or viewed with suspicion by much of the wider Church and academy, but it has something vital to say.

Reading While Black is a personal and scholarly testament to the power and hope of Black biblical interpretation. At a time in which some within the African American community are questioning the place of the Christian faith in the struggle for justice, New Testament scholar McCaulley argues that reading Scripture from the perspective of Black church tradition is invaluable for connecting with a rich faith history and addressing the urgent issues of our times. He advocates for a model of interpretation that involves an ongoing conversation between the collective Black experience and the Bible, in which the particular questions coming out of Black communities are given pride of place and the Bible is given space to respond by affirming, challenging, and, at times, reshaping Black concerns. McCaulley demonstrates this model with studies on how Scripture speaks to topics often overlooked by white interpreters, such as ethnicity, political protest, policing, and slavery.

Ultimately McCaulley calls the church to a dynamic theological engagement with Scripture, in which Christians of diverse backgrounds dialogue with their own social location as well as the cultures of others. Reading While Black moves the conversation forward.

Resource Experts
  • Explores a model of interpretation that involves an ongoing conversation between the collective Black experience and the Bible
  • Presents a model for dynamic theological engagement with Scripture
  • Encourges a cross-cultural dialogue
  • The South Got Somethin' to Say: Making Space for Black Ecclesial Interpretation
  • Freedom Is No Fear: The New Testament and a Theology of Policing
  • Tired Feet, Rested Souls: The New Testament and the Political Witness of the Church
  • Reading While Black: The Bible and the Pursuit of Justice
  • Black and Proud: The Bible and Black Identity
  • What Shall We Do With This Rage? The Bible and Black Anger
  • The Freedom of The Slaves: Pennington's Triumph
  • Conclusion: An Exercise in Hope
  • Bonus Track: Further Notes on the Development of Black Ecclesial Interpretation
  • Discussion Guide

Top Highlights

“I suggest that Paul’s words about submission to governing authorities must be read in light of four realities: (1) Paul’s use of Pharaoh in Romans as an example of God removing authorities through human agents shows that his prohibition against resistance is not absolute; (2) the wider Old Testament testifies to God’s use of human agents to take down corrupt governments; (3) in light of the first two propositions, we can affirm that God is active through human beings even when we can’t discern the exact role we play; (4) therefore, Paul’s words should be seen as more of a limit on our discernment than on God’s activities.” (Page 31)

“Jesus’ argument here suggests that the norms for Christian ethics are not the passages that are allowances for human sin, such as Moses’ divorce laws. What matters is what we were made to be. Jesus shows that not every passage of the Torah presents the ideal for human interactions. Instead some passages accept the world as broken and attempt to limit the damage that we do to one another. This means that when we look at the passages in the Old Testament we have to ask ourselves about their purpose. Do they present a picture of what God wanted us to be or do they seek to limit the damage arising from a broken world?” (Page 141)

“Black traditional voices are often weaponized in evangelical spaces against Black progressive voices. Some Black progressives have theological ideas that trouble evangelicals. Rather than dismiss Black progressives directly and be accused of racism, evangelicals sometimes bring Black (theological) conservatives in to do that work.” (Page 15)

Although the African American Christian experience is not monolithic, we have generally sought to understand the Bible and live according to its teachings. Along the way, many of us have rejected white supremacist readings of the Bible while clinging to the God of the Bible. In Reading While Black, McCaulley does careful exegetical and historical analysis, explaining and illustrating how interpretations of Scripture by black people can bolster faith in a liberating God. McCaulley gives us more than a theoretical methodology; he demonstrates how we can approach and apply texts—even ones that were previously used against us—without jettisoning our faith or succumbing to oppressive readings. Reading While Black is a welcome addition to the study of African American hermeneutics

—Dennis R. Edwards, associate professor of New Testament at North Park University

I’m extremely grateful to have a voice in my time to speak with nuance, grace, and cultural awareness. Esau has given us a healthy marriage for understanding theology and blackness. This is a must-read!

—Lecrae, hip hop recording artist

  • Title: Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope
  • Author: Esau D. McCaulley
  • Publisher: IVP Academic
  • Print Publication Date: 2020
  • Logos Release Date: 2020
  • Pages: 198
  • Era: era:contemporary
  • Language: English
  • Resources: 1
  • Format: Digital › Logos Research Edition
  • Subjects: Bible › Black interpretations; African Americans › Religion
  • ISBNs: 9780830854875, 9780830854868, 0830854878, 083085486X
  • Resource Type: Monograph
  • Metadata Last Updated: 2022-09-30T02:38:47Z

Esau McCaulley is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College


8 ratings

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  1. Hikmat Hanna

    Hikmat Hanna


    There's no such thing as a black hermeneutic.
  2. acmiksovsky



    A fine introduction to African American biblical interpretation especially for those not in African American churches. A good addition to and keeper for my commentary library.
  3. Reginald Northern
  4. Jeremy



  5. John Paul Davis Jr.
  6. Branson Sanders
  7. Matthew



  8. Donald E. Coleman
    This a a timely message of hope for the church. I think GOD, Esau had the courage and faith to follow his heart, and write this book. No matter how people try to use GOD’s word as a weapon, or to promote their agenda, We must remember and trust that He is our Liberator. Don’t loose hope, or put your trust in things that are seen, but trust in GOD who is eternal. This is bigger we we think.


Print list price: $22.00
Save $9.01 (41%)