Using Scripture in a Global Age: Framing Biblical Issues
C. Norman Kraus. Telford, PA: Cascadia, 2006. 198 pages.
Using Scripture in a Global Age is a collection of essays by C. Norman Kraus, retired missionary to Japan and former professor at Goshen College (Ind.). The loosely-connected essays are woven together around Kraus’s exploration of the process of contextualizing the biblical message in today’s world.
In the first three essays Kraus reflects on the significance of an Anabaptist hermeneutic, which offers “a way of reading and contextualizing Scripture” that recognizes the locus of the Spirit’s guidance in the local congregation’s particular cultural setting. It is in this process of contextualization—“the interpretation and application of the text in different and changing cultural contexts”—that Kraus calls for “constructive, critical theological discernment and cultural adaptation” of the biblical text.
In the following six essays, Kraus attempts to demonstrate his hermeneutical methodology in relation to the issues of peace and violence, same-sex behavior, spirituality, and technology. Each of these essays reflects his call for a paradigm shift that is intended to adapt the biblical message to the structures and presuppositions of the North American context in which the church finds itself.
Finally, in the last three essays, Kraus describes the development of an intentional church community (the Assembly Congregation) and reflects autobiographically on his own theological journey, which serves as an example of his own effort to express an “authentic” Anabaptist theology.
I particularly enjoyed the first three chapters, as Kraus seeks to clarify what an Anabaptist hermeneutic looks like in contrast to the literalistic hermeneutic of American fundamentalism. This tension is illustrated well in Kraus’s later account of how he has moved beyond the fundamentalist influences of his early years. At the heart of Kraus’s own approach is his identification of an authentic Anabaptist hermeneutic with the constructive contextualization of the biblical text. But what is missing is a clear explanation of what contextualization entails. Kraus’s goal to reconstruct the ancient meaning of the biblical text and to construct an authentic contextual embodiment of its meaning for the contemporary context is commendable.
However, in the endeavor to contextualize the import of Scripture—not the original literal wording—Kraus’s approach faces the very real possibility of losing sight of the biblical text. Furthermore, the book does not explore how different cultural contexts or pervasive contemporary values can unconsciously shape the construction of general principles, which are then purported to be derived from the Bible. These methodological hazards are discernible in Kraus’s own attempt to contextualize the Levitical purity codes pertaining to same-sex behavior.
Perhaps the value of Kraus’ work emerges most profoundly in the hermeneutical questions he asks throughout the book. I kept hoping he would answer more of these questions than he does. Nevertheless, it is when the church attempts to respond to good questions that it is challenged to become involved in the contextualization process Kraus is calling for.