Garrett-Evangelical News

Dr. Anderson Urges Embrace of Biblical Interpretations Beyond Traditional Ones

EVANSTON, Ill., November 2009 - In her new book, "Ancient Laws & Contemporary Controversies: The Need for Inclusive Biblical Interpretation," Dr. Cheryl Anderson argues that traditional biblical interpretations reflect the perspectives of privileged white males and exclude the perspectives of the "Other," that is, those who are not privileged, not white, not male, and not heterosexual.

cheryl-andersonShe urges Christians to affirm more inclusive biblical interpretations that are more consistent with the realities and perspectives of these other groups who are part of the rich diversity of God's people.

"A privileged, male perspective that got encoded in the Bible has translated very easily into a white, Western, heterosexual male perspective today," says Anderson, associate professor of Old Testament at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, during a recent interview. "What's really important is that this perspective, which excludes other voices, has become equated with Christianity today. ... This is why the treatment of gays and lesbians and the ordination of women are such hot button issues in the church now."

The book compares the Bible to the U.S. Constitution, pointing out that when the privileged, white Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, not only were there no women or minorities at the table, but also only

6 percent of the population at that time was eligible to vote. The Constitution has proven to be a living document and, through amendments reflecting new perspectives and new realities, is much more inclusive today.

"We can't amend the Bible, but we can read the Bible differently and be aware of the different traditions within the Bible itself," she says. "Being persons of faith means we must engage the Bible. It is not enough to use just the perspective of the privileged male.  We need to hear these other voices and consider the harm caused by traditional interpretations. We need to understand that there isn't only one way of reading the Bible so that one way is scriptural and the other one isn't. They are both scriptural."

Anderson wrote the book for a general audience, organizing the material in seven chapters that would work well with adult Bible studies and other church groups. She hopes progressive churches that are open and inclusive about homosexuality and about hearing diverse perspectives will find the book useful.  Unfortunately, she says, such congregations are often told, as a result of their openness, that they are not true Christians.  Anderson says they will find support in one of the book's major themes: inclusion is Christian.

Traditionally narrow biblical interpretations "hurt so many people," she says. "The Bible says many different things. We pick and choose what we're going to follow. ... My goal for this book is to help people see ways to interpret the Bible in healthier and more loving ways."

Following is one of many examples of exclusive interpretation she examines in the book. "In the spring of 2007, a female faculty member at a Southern Baptist seminary in Texas was fired as part of a denominational 'redirection' and closer adherence to 1 Timothy 2:12: 'But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.'

"Of course, the fact that the faculty member, who was herself a graduate of the seminary, as well as the students who had given her excellent teaching evaluations, might have a different perspective is simply not considered.  ... For traditional (conservative) Christianity, different perspectives are not acknowledged, and the consequences for targeted groups cannot be considered."

"Ancient Laws & Contemporary Controversies" has earned praise from widely respected theologians.

"Cheryl Anderson's book opens up biblical law from the perspective of women, gays, the poor, indigenous, and colonized people and wrestles with issues of biblical authority in that context, says Rosemary Radford

Ruether. "This is a key work for those concerned with the role of the Bible in promoting inclusive justice."

Adds Walter Brueggemann: "In her discussion of biblical texts, she shows how much interpretation has been the self-interested, even if self-deceiving, domain of Western affluent, white, heterosexual males. ... Going beyond criticism of earlier interpretive practices, the book is a testimony to the faithfulness and urgency of 'other-regarding' interpretation."

"Ancient Laws & Contemporary Controversies" is available through the publisher, Oxford University Press at, and

Anderson earned a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University, a Master of Divinity from Wesley Theological Seminary and a J.D. from Wayne State University Law School. She practiced law in Washington for nearly 10 years before beginning her theological education. An ordained elder in The United Methodist Church, she frequently conducts Bible studies in churches. She is also the author of "Women, Ideology, and Violence: Critical Theory and the Construction of Gender in the Book of the Covenant and the Deuteronomic Law."

More information about Dr. Anderson, her work, and her new book can be found on her website:

Garrett-Evangelical is a graduate school of theology of The United Methodist Church founded in 1853. Located on the campus of Northwestern University, the seminary serves more than 500 students from many denominations and various cultural backgrounds, fostering an atmosphere of ecumenical interaction. Garrett-Evangelical creates bold leaders through master of divinity, master of arts, master of theological studies, doctor of philosophy and doctor of ministry degrees. Its 4,500 living alumni serve church and society around the world.

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