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Archives / 1997 / December

 

Book review: Receiving the Word: How New Approaches to the Bible Impact Our Biblical Faith and Lifestyle.

George W. Reid

 

Seldom do reference notes in a book attract as much attention as the text itself. Receiving the Word fits that unique exception. The fact that its author is an articulate scholar from West Africa, in the final stages of a doctoral program in the seminary at Andrews University, both shatters a series of stereotypes and confers credibility. Here is someone from a non- Western culture, who now measures a trademark phenomenon of a sophisticated society. He proves himself a prescient and articulate writer well able to function within Western parameters. Many will take issue with positions he takes, but his work cannot be subjected to the ultimate indignity of being ignored. Although distributed outside routine publication channels, this book already exerts substantial influence in Adventist circles.

Koranteng-Pipim's work is controversial, to say the least. Its announced purpose is to review the scope of choices in methods of biblical interpretation. He pursues that goal, but from a premise which presupposes that serious difficulties are present in what Adventists now are doing. Predictably, it has produced its bevy of critics, some viciously opposed. He is denounced as a "fundamentalist," a "verbal inspirationist," "character assassin," and accuser of innocent people.

Another audience pays homage to him as a courageous scholar willing to speak up. His greatest contribution—for some his "unforgivable sin"—consists in laying boldly on the public table the fact that Adventist theological academics are seriously divided, a situation for years known among all of them and often discussed in private, but not in public. And he attempts to enable the reader to see just which position specific writers defend.

Methodically, Koranteng-Pipim moves with the aid of voluminous footnotes to build a case that something utterly vital is in jeopardy, and provides evidence from primary sources that some in Adventist theological circles plainly are distancing themselves from longstanding Adventist understandings about the nature of the Bible and what has been regarded as sound hermeneutical method. By raising a series of penetrating questions about just what Adventists have said with respect to the Bible and its interpretation, he asks the disturbing question whether change is taking place. If so, is the change in a direction that builds confidence or undermines it?

With a work of this nature, we need to ask two basic questions: Does the author have his facts straight? Does he treat the facts fairly? Footnote citations largely care for the former. As for the latter, does the selection of data represent an honest description of a person's position? And does the discussion descend to ad hominem attack? With great care Koranteng-Pipim tries to avoid mentioning persons by name, leaving such information to be found in citations from published writings. Often his analysis of the issues leaves the reader to determine whether the citation represents a sound position or possibly a deviant one. By this means, although there is no direct naming of names, the reader is not left unaware.

Receiving the Word may not represent perfection in either category, but it is difficult to fault the author's factual base. Some will fault his interpretation.

Does the author of this book take a fundamentalist position? It depends upon how one defines the term fundamentalist. If the term is being used in the sense of the modern media, an epithet to describe extremism, we have arrived at labeling. Quite clearly Receiving the Word shares none of that. If the term is used to define a clear apologetic, that is another matter. Has the author given offense by telling too much? To be sure, that is the case for some. Has he benefitted the cause by setting all this in the open? Those who favor openness in the church should welcome this effort, whether or not they agree with his conclusions.

Receiving the Word is not an unflawed product. In places we have redundancy. His points could have been achieved in a book perhaps a third shorter, with minimal abridgement of discussion. Perhaps a bit less attention could have been paid to the question of women's ordination, although he uses it as a case study to show how new biblical approaches may lead to predictable results unwarranted by the actual teaching of the Scriptures. The book is highly informative and not to be missed. It will introduce the reader to crucial issues at stake in the ongoing discussion of how to treat the Word of God.

 

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