Discover more from Experimental Theology with Richard Beck
Reading the Bible with the Damned
Part 1, Location, Location, Location
As a prison chaplain, a book that has meant a lot to me over the years is Bob Ekblad's Reading the Bible with the Damned.
In Reading the Bible with the Damned Bob describes how the Bible sounds when we read it on the margins of society. Bob opens the Bible with prisoners, the poor, and undocumented immigrants, asking them to share what they hear as "good news" in the pages of Scripture. Bob is sill reading the Bible with the damned, and you can follow his ministry Tierra Nueva.
What I've learned from Bob's work, and in my own experiences leading Bible studies in a maximum-security prison, is how dramatically location changes how you hear the Bible. When it comes to reading Scripture, it really does come down to that famous line about retail and real estate: Location, location, location.
I actually teach two Bible classes a week, back to back. On Sundays, I regularly teach an adult Bible class at my church. Then, on Monday evening, I teach the class out at the prison. Having these classes side by side each week over the last ten years I've noticed the contrasts, how a message appropriate to one audience is inappropriate for the other. Good News for respectable, educated, middle-class people at a church on a Sunday isn't necessarily Good News for the incarcerated. And messages that would be dismissed or sneered at in seminary classrooms are received as water in a dry and thirsty land out at the unit.
In short, I've learned that the gospel is contextual. And I've come to appreciate the missionary posture of Paul. As Paul once shared,
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. (1 Cor. 9.20-22)
I have learned a lot about Scripture by reading Bible with the damned. In three posts to follow I'll share three of those lessons, how location, location, location can radically change the shape of the gospel proclamation.