The African American Interpreter and Paul


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New Testament scholar Dr. Lisa Bowens takes aim at this question in her new book, African American Readings of Paul: Reception, Resistance, and Transformation. In this interview, Sushama Austin-Connor talks with Dr. Bowens about the inspiration behind this work, the “hidden figures” of African American hermeneutics, interpretations of Paul that resist white supremacy and racism, and more.

Lisa Bowens, associate professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, earned a BS (cum laude), MSBE, and MLIS from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and an MTS and ThM from Duke Divinity School. She received her Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary. Her recently published book, African American Readings of Paul: Reception, Resistance, and Transformation (Eerdmans) is the first book devoted solely to investigating a historical trajectory of how African Americans have understood Paul and utilized his work to resist and protest injustice and racism in their own writings from the 1700s to the mid-twentieth century. Her previous book, An Apostle in Battle: Paul and Spiritual Warfare in 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 (Mohr Siebeck), is a revision of her dissertation and examines Paul’s ascent to the third heaven through a cosmic/apocalyptic lens. It traces martial imagery in the letter and explores how this imagery facilitates understanding Paul’s journey as an example of spiritual warfare.

Dayle Rounds (00:00):

What is an African-American interpretation of Paul? Dr. Lisa Bowens is associate professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary and author of the book *African-American Readings of Paul: Reception, Resistance, and Transformation. In this episode, Sushama Austin-Connor talks with Dr. Bowens about this groundbreaking work in New Testament studies. Dr. Bowens begins with a story of Howard Thurman's grandmother and her discomfort with certain readings of Paul, particularly the preaching of Paul that states that slaves must obey their masters. The story led to Bowen's interest in researching the complex history between Paul's teachings and Christianity's relationship and complicity in racism and slavery. In this conversation Dr. Bowens highlights how, despite this complex history, African Americans have still interpreted Paul's letters to protest and resist oppression. She speaks at length about several of the African American interpreters surveyed in her book, including Harriet Jacobs, the first African American to write her autobiography, and Lemuel Haynes, the first ordained African American in the United States. [percussive music begins] [water droplet sound] You are listening to The Distillery at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Sushama Austin-Connor (01:18):

Alright, Dr. Bowens. I'm so excited to be with you this afternoon for our interview, for The Distillery, on your newest book. I wanted to start with just a general idea of this topic. Like, why this topic, what was so important about it for you?

Lisa Bowens (01:38):

Yeah, so, a couple of things were happening simultaneously that brought about this project. So when I was working on my dissertation -- my dissertation was on Second Corinthians, chapter 12, Paul's Ascent to the Third Heaven. And when I was working on that, I wanted to include in that project a chapter on how African Americans have interpreted that particular passage in Paul. And so within a conversation with my Doctor Father at the time, and he suggested that I do that as a separate project. And so while we were having those types of conversations, I was also attending different conferences. And at these conferences, people were lifting up the story of Howard Thurman's grandmother as the way African Americans interpreted Paul. And so I kept hearing that over and over, and I thought, is that really true? Is that really the case? So to make a long story short, the conversation I had with my Doctor Father and my attending these conferences and hearing a story of Howard Thurman's grandmother as the way African Americans interpreted all kind of converged for me. And so I said, well, let me not just concentrate on Second Corinthians 12. Let's just do an investigation and just see -- how have African Americans interpreted Paul overall. So those kinds of those two topics just kind of merged. And I just expanded my focus on Paul and African Americans' interpretation of Paul. So that's how this project came about. And it's been an interesting and formative journey for me.

Sushama Austin-Connor (03:24):

And I want to get to the journey and I want to get to Howard Thurman's -- the story of Howard Thurman's grandmother and how that relates to how African Americans look at Paul. So you have an idea like this, how do you get to start researching? Where do you start? What are, what are kind of the key milestones to even get started? Where do you know to look?

Lisa Bowens (03:48):

Yes. So one of the things that happened, I was in conversations with different scholars about my project at the time when I was just focusing on Second Corinthians 12, and different people started recommending, "Oh, you should read this person. You should look here." And so one of the things that's interesting about research is once you look at a source or two, those sources will lead you to other sources. And so one of the first sources I looked at was *God Struck Me Dead*, a very important volume in which the readers are presented with conversion stories of enslaved Africans. And so reading those stories really got me to thinking about just how powerful these narratives were. These African American people were just talking about these amazing divine encounters with God. And so, you know, reading that volume, looking through those narratives, led me to this anthology of narratives edited by Yuval Taylor. *I Was Born a Slave*. It's a couple of volumes, huge volumes, where the editor has compiled autobiographies of enslaved persons. And so looking and reading through those narratives, which were powerful, but also very difficult to read, they're very candid about what they experienced in slavery, but also very candid about their own divine encounters with God and what was preached to them by white enslavers and how these African Americans interpreted scripture for themselves. So, reading those narratives kind of led me to other sources as well. *This is in the Spirit*, edited by William Andrews, the autobiographies of Jarena Lee and Julia Foote and Zilpha Elaw. So, it's kind of like once you start that path, different other sources come up. And so I was very fortunate to be in conversation with great scholars who recommended readings, but also just once you start reading again, you just, it leads you to other sources as well.

Sushama Austin-Connor (06:16):

And for something of this magnitude, are you traveling a lot? Is it, I'm assuming it's a post-, I mean a pre-COVID research.

Lisa Bowens (06:26):

Yeah. Yeah. So I've been working on this for quite some time. So I started working on that chapter, like for my dissertation, like back in 2014 and finished the manuscript, I think I finished it in '16, '17 around that time. And then, you know, did some editing afterward, but yeah, so it took me a while to kind of go through the material, read the narratives. And one of the things that was really interesting about this whole process is that once I started, it became clear to me that there was no way I was going to be able to include all of what I wanted to include because originally the project was -- I wanted to focus on how have African Americans interpreted Paul from the 1700s all the way to the present. And that just -- it just became clear that this is not, I would not be able to do that.

Sushama Austin-Connor (07:24):

Right. I bet.

Lisa Bowens (07:26):

Yeah. So I ended up stopping mid-20th century, with the civil rights movement, and even, you know, stopping there, I ended up not including all of the interpreters that could have been included. It was just too many, but I think that's a great problem to have. And so, you know, one of the things I hope that this work does is spur interest in this topic and that other researchers, writers, scholars will be interested in doing more research in this area because I think it's a fruitful area that needs to be explored not only because it helps us to understand, you know, Christianity's relationship with racism and slavery, but also the legacy, the great legacy of these African interpreters who have gone before us and how they have utilized scripture to protest and resist racism, white supremacy. And there's such a rich legacy and a rich heritage that I think needs to continually be uncovered and revealed. I like to call these figures 'hidden figures,' because I think, you know, some of them are well-known, but many of them are not well-known. And so I think their voices are so important and they need to be heard.

Sushama Austin-Connor (08:48):

And actually one of my questions for you is about some of the individual interpreters that you talk about. And we can talk about that in a sec, but give us the context: talk to us about Howard Thurman's grandmother and that important story. And then about generally, how do African American congregants and people and religious scholars look at Paul?

Lisa Bowens (09:14):

Yeah. So the story of Howard Thurman's grandmother is really a powerful story. So Howard Thurman was a prominent civil rights leader, activist, theologian of the 20th century, just a really profound scholar in his own right. And in his book, *Jesus and the Disinherited*, he tells the story of his grandmother, Nancy Ambrose, who was born a slave. And, you know, once she was emancipated, Howard Thurman, her grandson, would often read to her because she never learned to read or write. And the way he tells the story is just so powerful. He talks about how she was always very particular about which scriptures she wanted him to read. And he noticed that, you know, she would have particular portions of scripture for him to read to her, but nothing from Paul, except from -- except for First Corinthians 13. And so he says, one day he gets up the courage to ask her why.

Lisa Bowens (10:20):

And she tells him that, when she was an enslaved person, the white minister would always preach from Paul, "Slaves, obey your master." And she said, she told him that she promised herself that if she ever became free, she would never read that part of scripture ever again. And so it's a really powerful story in so many ways because first of all, it tells us how scripture was used and preached to enslaved persons to try to justify their enslavement. But it also shows, gives a glimpse into this complicated relationship that African Americans have had with the Apostle Paul because of how he was used and how he was preached to them. And so, this story becomes an important part of illuminating that relationship. And what I try to do in my book is to show that, yes, that is an important part of the relationship between African Americans and Paul, but there are also other voices too, and embarked on this research journey.

Lisa Bowens (11:37):

I wasn't quite sure what I would find -- if I would find that there were many African Americans who follow Nancy Ambrose in really kind of rejecting Paul in some sense. But one of the things that was really surprising to me was that for the most part, African Americans really gravitated towards Paul in their writings and their autobiographies, in their sermons and their speeches. And they actually utilized him to argue for their freedom, to argue for justice, to argue for their own humanity. And I think that's one of the surprising -- and I think one of the gifts that these interpreters leave us, I think, seeing how scripture can be used and really does provide resources for the struggle for justice. [water droplet sound]

Sushama Austin-Connor (12:36):

Talk to me and talk to our listeners about just calling them interpreters and what that means. So all of the interpreters that you talk about in your book, who are interpreters? Why are we calling them interpreters?

Lisa Bowens (12:54):

That's a really good question. I guess I'm calling them interpreters because it's [inaudible]. So I call them interpreters and I also call them hermeneuts in the book. So I call them that because they are reading scripture, but they are analyzing it in a way that speaks to their own context, to their own situation. And they are using their agency to go against what the other interpretations of Paul they're hearing. Right? So, their hermeneutics, their interpretation, their interpretive posture, the way they're reading, analyzing scripture, all of that is so important because it shows that these African Americans do not rely upon white interpretations of scripture. They are utilizing their own agency. I like to use the phrase that Brad Brexton uses. They are seizing hermeneutical control of scripture, and they are saying we are not objects at which scripture is directed toward us, but we are subjects in which we have agency by the spirit of God to interpret scripture for ourselves. So yeah, that's why I call them interpreters. [water droplet sound]

Sushama Austin-Connor (14:39):

Dr. Bowens, can you talk some more about African Americans' connection to Paul and to the scripture?

Lisa Bowens (14:48):

Yeah, so I think, one of the things you see in the book is that African Americans connected to Paul in so many different ways. Some of them connected to him through the idea of shared suffering. Paul often talks in his letters about the things he endures for the sake of the gospel. In Second Corinthians 11, he gives this litany of sufferings where he's shipwrecked, he's stoned. He just suffered so many things because of the gospel that he proclaimed. And so you have, some African American interpreters gravitate toward him because they see in him a companion, a shared co-sufferer, someone who shares their suffering. And so you will often see in some of their writings, how they talk about their sufferings and they see Paul as a kinship -- they have a kinship relationship with him. Others share experiences with Paul in terms of his mystical encounters.

Lisa Bowens (15:58):

Earlier we talked about his travel to the third heaven, that ascent episode in Second Corinthians 12. And so a number of these interpreters in their stories talk about these profound encounters they have with God and the language they use to describe them is often the language Paul uses to describe his own experience, going into the third heaven, having an angel appear to them. And so they gravitate to Paul in that sense that their divine encounters with God in many ways mirror or reflect Paul's own encounter with God. The other thing I would say in terms of how they relate to Paul, they pick up on his, what I call apocalyptic or cosmic sensibilities. This idea that sin is not just something that's personal, but sin is something that's causing it. That it's a power and it affects structures and systems. And so you'll often see in these interpreters, some of them gravitate towards this sensibility in Paul. They talk about sin as not just something personal, but as something that affects societies, that affects systems and structures. And that salvation then is not just about the individual, but salvation is also cosmic. And so I think, for some of these interpreters, they pick up on these apocalyptic elements of Paul and use them to talk about their own experiences with God and what they see happening in their own context, in terms of racial injustice and how evil is not just about being inside the body, but it's about the outside oppressive forces that affect the body. So yeah, there are a number of ways that these African American interpreters gravitate toward Paul and find his voice to be important for their own voices.

Sushama Austin-Connor (18:14):

Yeah. And it feels and sounds like that suffering and trying to make some meaning-making out of suffering is a big, big part of it. Would that be something that you think interpreters through the ages, this meaning-making was about making-meaning of their own suffering and looking at Paul's suffering in order to do that?

Lisa Bowens (18:38):

Yeah, I think so. I think it's a sense of -- so I think one of the things I try to do in the book is to show the importance of the context to these interpreter's interpretation. So their contexts oftentimes are really horrendous contexts in which they are suffering mentally. They are suffering in their bodies, and they're also being tormented spiritually in the sense that they are being told consistently that they have no God, that God did not create them. And they're consistently being told that they're not human. And so their suffering is taking place on multiple levels. And so one of the reasons I think these divine encounters that they have are so important is because these divine encounters counter what they're hearing, what they're being preached to, how they're being preached to, it's countering all of this dehumanization that they're facing on so many levels.

Lisa Bowens (19:53):

And so these divine encounters they have with God and the Holy Spirit affirm their humanity, affirm that they are important. They have value, they are significant, and so many of them talk about being called to preach the gospel. And so when they're called to preach the gospel, they're able to understand their own suffering in the sense of how Paul suffered for sharing the gospel. So they're able to make this link between their suffering and Paul's suffering. And in a sense, understand that it's -- I think for us in modernity it may be kind of hard for us to get that part, but you're able to make sense of it in a sense that -- I'm suffering, but even at the same time I'm suffering, my body has value. I am significant to God, God loves me. I am human. You know? And so I think for them, Paul becomes this kinship figure who kind of understands them and they understand him. Yeah, it's an interesting dynamic.

Sushama Austin-Connor (21:15):

The link is interesting, because you could go completely the opposite way. I mean, I think is that part of what Howard Thurman's grandmother is saying -- that, is there possibly not a connection that she wants to make because of the link to how, you know, slave masters used Paul. Is that part of it?

Lisa Bowens (21:41):

Yeah. And so I think for Howard Thurman's grandmother, you see this horrendous use of Paul to justify what's happening to her, and then you have other African American interpreters who actually in their own way, push against that use of Paul, and say, like -- I'm thinking of, for example, Lemuel Haynes, who says Paul doesn't justify slavery. Actually, when you read First Corinthians 7:21, Paul is saying, if you can get your freedom, attain it. And he also talks about how, just because slavery existed in Paul's day, it doesn't mean that it's right. In every generation, you have people who go against what God has called for and ordained. So you have these interpreters who gravitate toward Paul and hold on to him, but then you have others, like Howard Thurman's grandmother who rejects Paul. So it's a very interesting relationship that you see that these interpreters develop with him on different levels.

Sushama Austin-Connor (22:50):

On different levels. Yeah. Yeah. As we're on the topic, I'm wondering about some of the women, the black women interpreters that talked and shared their voices through your work here. Can you talk about some that really -- and there's so many -- that really made an impact on your work. Some that just stand out, and I know there's so many.

Lisa Bowens (23:16):

Yeah. I mean, yeah, I think that was one of the treasures for me in doing this research, uncovering or recovering some of the voices of these women who were so powerful in their own right. Because many of them, you know, they not only faced discrimination because of their race, but also because of their gender. And they were called to preach and proclaim the gospel. And they faced a lot of pushback from society at-large, but also from the church. And so when you read their autobiographies, you just get just a glimpse of how powerful they were and how they refuse to be stopped; no matter what, they would not be stopped. And so people like Jarena Lee, Julia Foote, Harriet Jacobs, Maria Stewart, Zilpha Elaw, all of them, I think, made an impact on me as I was reading these stories.

Lisa Bowens (24:15):

And the fact that many of them used or employed Paul's letters to argue for their right to preach when the church and other people were using Paul's words to silence women, they would come back and say, wait a minute. I'm thinking of Zilpha Elaw in particular, but all of them do this in some sense, but Zilpha talks about, if you look at this historical context in which Paul is writing, you see that there are women, he says, who are laboring with him in the gospel. And so if you look at the historical context, women are preaching, they are prophesying, they are in ministry. And so you can't take what Paul says in one particular place. And she talks about in that particular place in Corinthians, he's addressing a particular congregation. You can't take that passage and use it to justify silencing women for all time in all places. So these women were really remarkable in the way they understood scripture and the way they understood the historical context of scripture and how they were able to marshal scripture to support their own call to ministry, even in the face of ex-communication from their church. Just, just really remarkable women.

Sushama Austin-Connor (25:38):

It is. Let's focus then on -- Harriet Jacobs was one of the stories that stood out for me. And you talked about her -- really, some of these stories are beyond what is possible to imagine, but... and her story and her use of the one blood doctrine. Can you just talk about Jacobs and how she uses this doctrine? And you know, I'm encouraging people to, if they haven't already read the book, to read the book, just to get into the -- sort of the granular detail. But could you give us some idea of Harriet Jacobs' story?

Lisa Bowens (26:17):

Yeah. So Harriet Jacobs is a phenomenal woman on several levels. First, she is the first African American woman to write her autobiography. You have other women before her who dictate their autobiographies, but she's the first one to write her autobiography. And her story is published on the eve of the Civil War. And one of the reasons why she writes her story is so that people can see and understand what is happening to African American women in slavery, that they are being sexually abused, they are being raped, and she wants her story to be known so that -- she says in the opening part of the book -- so that the women of the north, the people in the north can understand the great evils that are happening in the south. And so her story is phenomenal because, first of all, she is very candid and she's very forthright on what's happening to her in her life.

Lisa Bowens (27:32):

And what's happening in other African American women's lives during this time. And she opens herself up to -- opens her story up, which is a very painful story. But one of the things she does in her narrative, which is so powerful, I mean, there's so many powerful elements, but one of the things she does is she shines a bright light on African American women being raped by their enslavers. , so one of the passages that she uses to critique what's happening to her and other black women is Acts 17:26. And this is where Paul says, in Acts -- God has made of one blood all the nations of the earth. So that passage is being used by other African Americans and, you know, before her, and even after her in a positive way to talk about the unity of humanity and because humanity is one, they do not, there's no race superior to the other. Well, Jacobs, in her ingenious move, she cites this passage, but she cites it to critique what's happening to African American women.

Lisa Bowens (28:57):

And she calls it a libel upon the Heavenly Father what's happening. So God has already made humanity of one blood, but what is happening to African American women is that when white men are raping black women, they are, in a sense, perverting this passage, they are making one blood of humanity, but in a way that goes against what God has called for. God is not called for the raping of black women. So she uses that scripture to critique what's happening to African American women. And it's a really ingenious move, because she says, this is a libel upon the Heavenly Father. What's happening is not right. And she's making a call for people to recognize what's happening and put a stop to it and put and end to it. [water droplet sound]

Sushama Austin-Connor (30:05):

I'm going to change gears and get you to give us the definition of African American hermeneutics. And if you can define it in relationship to Black theology, like how are they different? How do they build on one another? Do they build on one another? And in what ways?

Lisa Bowens (30:24):

Yeah, that's a really interesting question. I would say -- so one of the things I'm trying to do in this book is to lift up African American hermeneutics. But African-American hermeneutics as it relates to Paul. And so what I'm trying to do is give a glimpse, if you will, of how African Americans from the 1700s to the mid-20th century, how have they interpreted Paul and his letters? And I think one of the things that comes about from this research is that they're often interpreting Paul in a way that counters the way many white interpreters of their time were interpreting him. So they're offering different understandings of Paul and his letters, different understandings of really what the gospel is. And -- but one of the things that you see, I think, coming back again and again is this theme of God as a liberator in Christ, God as a liberator of the oppressed.

Lisa Bowens (31:34):

And in that way, I think it very much converges with what Black theology is about -- God as a liberator of the oppressed, right? And so you see that theme, I think, repeatedly in these interpreters, but in different ways. And for them, the gospel that Paul proclaims is a gospel of liberation, which is one of the reasons they gravitate toward his writings, because they see him as a figure of liberation. So I think that emphasis on God as a liberator in Christ is one of the ways that these interpreters, how their writings really merge with Black theology, that we tend to think of, getting into the sixties and seventies. But I think these interpreters foreshadow, anticipate the later Black theology movement in the sense that they were doing and writing about Black theology. Early on, one of the interpreters, Lemuel Haynes -- we talked a little bit about that. One historian calls him a founding father of Black theology. And so, yeah, so I think, I think you'll see, see a number of similarities between Black theology of the sixties and seventies and now, and what happened early that's... Yeah.

Sushama Austin-Connor (33:01):

Yeah. And that overlap that happens. Dr. Bowens, one of the things that you ask in the book is a body hermeneutic. You ask about a body hermeneutic and you ask, can my Black body interpret Paul, and can Paul interpret my Black body? And I think, again, these are large questions, right? [inaudible] Yeah. I know. I know. And it's fascinating. I mean, this book is fascinating, but did you find or find the answers or the beginning of some answers to that really large question?

Lisa Bowens (33:36):

Yeah, I would say beginning of answers. Yeah. These interpreters kind of offer, they kind of offer a multitude of answers. So, yeah. So, and that's one of the reasons why I try to lay out in each chapter, like the historical context so that readers could see what's happening as these interpreters are interpreting scripture, like what's happening in the larger society, what's happening in the nation. And what gives rise in a sense to this body hermeneutic? Like, why is it that that question has to be asked? It has to be asked because Black bodies are being devalued and dehumanized. And so this question of -- can Paul interpret my body and can my body interpret Paul -- becomes a really important question in light of the context because Black bodies are constantly being assaulted. And so I think when you read these interpreters, you see that their answers that they give in these writings, for the most part, their answer is yes.

Lisa Bowens (34:51):

I mean, you do have -- I do talk in the book about a couple of interpreters who say, Paul can't understand my body. You know, [inaudible] and Thurman, but for the most part, these interpreters say, yes, he can, and they answered that question in a variety of ways. Some of them use the language of Paul's language of the spirit of adoption. Their bodies have been adopted by God. They are now children of God. You also have this understanding of the body as sacred, which comes out of this baptismal language that Paul uses. You also have this sense of agency, bodily agency, that they use Paul's letters to talk about being able to use their body, not only just to protest and resist, but also in the spiritual transformation of their bodies as well.

Lisa Bowens (35:57):

So this body hermeneutic question, I think these interpreters answer in a variety of ways. Another way you see it talked about is that the body is being oppressed from the outside, and this understanding of the body being oppressed by a system, by structures that are outside of itself. And that's important in light of the, you know, the prevalent understanding of that time in which the Black body itself was seen as evil. And you have these interpreters saying, "Nope, it's not our bodies that are evil. It is the system, it is the structure that is oppressing and afflicting us. So they answer this question, I think in a variety of ways.

Sushama Austin-Connor (36:47):

And for you personally, any definitive understanding or relationship to Paul once now that the book is complete, like any gleanings from your own life and work?

Lisa Bowens (37:01):

That is a huge question. [laughter]

Sushama Austin-Connor (37:03):

I know, we can talk about any of these questions for an hour.

Lisa Bowens (37:08):

I mean, it is, it is. I think, I mean, I definitely want to do more work in this area, but I think one of the things that struck me, I keep going back to these mystical experiences because I think one can get caught up in reading these experiences and saying, oh yeah, this, these were nice experiences that happen. But I think when you see the context in which they happen, and you think about these bodies that were so dehumanized and tortured, and when they talk about how these experiences affected their body, like they say, I look at my hands and my hands look new. I looked at my feet and my feet look new, I look at my body. I mean, I think when you hear, when you see them talking about how their bodies are changed and transformed because of these experiences, I think it gives at least it gives me a deeper appreciation for what these divine encounters meant for them. Like, it wasn't just a feel good type of moment. It was a real transformation of how they saw themselves, like my body matters. And I can say my body matters because it matters to God -- look at how God has touched my body and I can see myself as new. I can say, I'm a chosen vessel by God. I can go forth and proclaim what God has called me to proclaim. And I think when you read their experiences, it just gives at least for me, a deeper appreciation to the power of God and how God was at work in their lives, even in the midst of really horrific circumstances.

Sushama Austin-Connor (39:22):

Yeah. It -- well, it gives me goosebumps because the language of our bodies mattering and our lives mattering feels like we could be talking about 2021, and we are, and it translates to 2021. And it also gets me to a question that I was going to ask you, Dr. Bowens, about modern interpreters. I know you had to end the book at some place. And so it's sort of -- we started thinking about Dr. King and we, you know, start thinking about the mid-20th century. And I wonder for like, even in the last decade or two, modern interpreters that you're thinking about are reading and then the context of this moment. The moment that we are currently in, you know, Paul and some of these interpreters, and I'm sure new interpreters have something to say. And so who are those new ones that you're following or are modern interpreters that you're following or thinking about?

Lisa Bowens (40:22):

Yeah, that's a great question. So, one of the interpreters I'm really excited about, and I actually had him as a guest in one of my classes this term, is Esau McCaulley and his book *Reading While Black* and the way he talks about Romans 13, as it relates to a New Testament theology of policing, I think is so amazing. And I think he's doing now what these interpreters were doing in their own context. Like they were showing how Paul was relevant for their contexts. And speaking out against racism and white supremacy. And the thing about these interpreters too, is that many times they were relating the historical context of scripture to their context. And that's what I think Esau does in the way he's talking about Romans 13 and policing and how soldiers during that time often perform the duties of policing, of police that we see today. And so I think he is, I think he's one of the interpreters who've kind of picked up the mantle, if you will, in talking about how Pauline scripture relates to what is happening in our own context in time. So yeah, I'm very excited about his work and yeah, actually we use it in my classes because I see that trajectory continuing in what he's doing.

Sushama Austin-Connor (41:57):

Yeah. That's exciting.

Lisa Bowens (41:58):

Another interpreter is Dennis Edwards. His book is called *Might from the Margins.* In *Might from the Margins*, the gospel's power to turn the tables on injustice. And he has several chapters in there where he talks about, I mean, he's looking at scripture overall, so not just Paul, but there's a couple of places that, where he does talk about Paul and one particular passage, he talks about the power of anger and how anger can be used positively for justice. And he gives this episode from Paul's life in which Paul is angry and cries out against the injustice that he endures. So I think he's also another interpreter who's kind of picking up where these interpreters have left off in talking about and using Paul and scripture to relate to what is happening in our own context in terms of injustice to African Americans. So yeah, I think those two, I would lift up as people who are caring for him.

Sushama Austin-Connor (43:12):

That's wonderful. Also curious what you want readers to glean from this work. And I think, you know, us in The Distillery in this art department, so, well, it will be lots of different types of people that listen to this -- clergy, mid-career, early seminarians, students, people who are interested in Bible and religion. And what do you hope people get from this book?

Lisa Bowens (43:39):

Yeah. So, my hope is a couple of things. Well, a few things, actually. One of the things I hope is that this book opens a conversation or continues the conversation about the relationship between Christianity, racism, scripture, and white supremacy, because I think the church, and I mean the church more broadly, there's a history that we have to reckon with. And my hope is that this book will allow a deeper understanding of how deep the wounds are and how deep the church has been involved in facilitating racism. So that's one of my hopes. I hope it will help us to have an honest conversation about this and not just try to pretend like, oh, it really wasn't all that bad, but I hope it allows us to have a real honest, deep conversation about our history. And then I also hope that part of it too, would be, it would help us in having that honest, hard conversation, because it is a hard conversation to have, that we will, in some ways, be able to see how to move forward. Like how do we, now that we know this history and we're having these hard conversations, how do we move forward? How do we go forward? The other thing I hope that readers will get is I hope they will get inspired because even though these stories are, you know, they are painful to read and they are hard, but they're also inspiring because you see how these interpreters, in the midst of such odds, hold to their faith in God. They refuse to give up, they refuse to be deterred. They are so strong and so courageous in the midst of everything they face. And so I hope that people will be inspired by that. Like even in this moment in which we live, it seems like there are so many obstacles. There are so many challenges. How in the world would we get through this? I'm hoping that we can hear these interpreters' voices and saying -- and I think, you know, I think about Hebrews 11, these crowd cloud of witnesses, right? They are, they are in our corner. Like they are pulling for us. We did it in our generation. We struggled, we protested, we resist it and now we're pulling for you. And so I hope that people will get inspired by their stories and, and hear it as, hear their voices as cheerleaders, as people who have left us a very rich legacy that we have to continue. We have to, need to, we must continue their, yeah, their struggle, their fight. I was inspired doing the research myself. And so I hope that people will be inspired as well in reading their stories and their journey, because their journey -- they're part of us. We're a part of them, we are part of the same people of God. And so I hope that readers will take that away. Yeah.

Sushama Austin-Connor (47:36):

They're pulling for us. Just -- I feel that so deeply. It's so true. It's so true. It's so true. And I know, you know, working with students and young people and, you know, the gift of knowing that they're pulling for us is just, so... I feel that so deeply. Thank you. Oh my goodness. Yeah. [water droplet sound]

Lisa Bowens (48:03):

Well, I'm working on a few projects. One, I'm actually a co-editor of an upcoming volume with Dennis Edwards called *Do Black Lives Matter: How Christian Scriptures Speak to Black Empowerment. And so it's a collection of essays from African American scholars in different areas. So, prayerfully, hopefully, that will be out within the next year or so. [percussive music begins] Working on another book with Scott McKnight and Joseph Modica on *Preaching Romans from Here* in which we are having different groups talk about how to preach Romans from their context. So, Native American, Asian American, African American, different contexts. How do you preach Romans? So we have essays and we'll have sermons in that volume. And then I'm working on a couple of commentaries, one on First and Second Thessalonians and the other on Second Corinthians.

Sushama Austin-Connor (49:08):

I'm so grateful. Thank you for this conversation. And just for just really this, this tremendous work, this is a beautiful book. Thank you very much. You're a gift, and this is such a pleasure and we're so lucky to have you at Princeton Seminary.

Lisa Bowens (49:24):

Yeah. Thank you. Thank you.

Dayle Rounds (49:26):

You've been listening to The Distillery. Interviews are conducted by me, Dayle Rounds.

Sushama Austin-Connor (49:31):

And me, Sushama Austin-Connor.

Shari Oosting (49:33):

And I'm Shari Oosting.

Amar Peterman (49:36):

I'm Amar Peterman, and I am in charge of production.

New Speaker (49:38):

Like what you're hearing? Subscribe at Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast app. The Distillery is a production of Princeton Theological Seminary's Office of Continuing Education. You can find out more at Thanks for listening. [water droplet sound]