John Gallegos is not an African — he’s an Hispanic who has never been to Africa. He took Clarke’s PhD seminar on African Pentecostal Theology and it resonated with his experience of pastoring ‘a Spanish-speaking congregation of mostly first-generation Mexican immigrants [many of whom] do not have formal schooling beyond primary school and some are non-literate, yet they all eagerly engage the Bible in order to understand what it has to say to their lives.’
Indeed, Gallegos identifies this as key to an African Pentecostal view of Scripture:
The Bible’s unique function is to help the people discover what God is calling them to do in the context of their daily living.
Thus the Bible is not seen as a ‘historical’ document but a ‘contemporary’ document that narrates God’s commitment to African Pentecostals in the present.
Gallegos points out that this is an appropriation of ‘the Reformation doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture… the Bible as the Word of God is intelligible to all Africans and is a guide for everyday living.’ However,
it is the immediacy of this appropriation that defines their hermeneutic.
The distance of time is collapsed in the mind of the interpreter and what God is seen/heard doing in the biblical text illustrates God’s intention to do the same in his/her life.
The Bible is understood as a record of covenants, promises, pledges and commitments of God to his chosen people.
To people like me, with our strong emphasis on biblical theology and reading in context, this appears dangerous, and open to all kinds of poor readings and misappropriations of Scripture. However:
The normal [African] reader of Scripture has not been trained in critical biblical hermeneutical categories and approaches the Bible using a hermeneutic of trust. This trust is also rooted in the reluctance of African Pentecostals to divest the Bible of its supernatural character.
This raises the issue of what Justin Ukpong calls a ‘trained reader’ someone ‘whose job it is to serve as a facilitator leading the interaction process [of communal interpretation of Scripture] and resulting in the production of a critical meaning of the text.’ In other words, a teacher; perhaps to western evangelical minds, someone who can place a text in its biblical theological or historico-grammatical context. However, Gallegos asks a very searching question of this approach: ‘is the interpretive acts of the normal African Pentecostal illegitimate if it does not include a trainer reader?’
Nevertheless, there may be other avenues by which to appropriate the skills of the trained reader, including
the importance of the proclamation of the Word of God by an ‘anointed person of God.’ Thus the ‘Word of the Lord’ is not encountered in the written, static word, but in the spoken ‘Word of the Lord’ delivered by the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
This echoes what Simon Chan said of the importance of priesthood. Speakers and others may not show their working for how they get to a particular conclusion, but they can nevertheless use skills such as biblical theology or historico-grammatical context in preaching. The importance of these characters is paramount for they ‘mitigate the inability of many to read the biblical text.’
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.