About Contextualization and the Old Testament
A Conversation with Jerry Hwang
Every Voice: What led you to write this book? What problem or issue(s) are you seeking to address?
Jerry Hwang: Years ago, several friends who are Old Testament professors independently asked me to recommend teaching resources that examine the OT from Asian cultural perspectives. To my surprise, the Asian-themed resources that I found didn’t take the Old Testament seriously enough as God’s authoritative truth, while those that did were thoroughly Western in their cultural orientation. So the challenge was on—I had been telling my students at Singapore Bible College for a decade that the ancient Near Eastern background of the Old Testament was closer to their cultures than to the West. Contextualization and the Old Testament is my long answer to that simple question.
EV: What is the thesis of your book?
JH: The Old Testament itself provides the ultimate model for contextualizing theology in Asia and beyond. While it’s common for missiological studies to ignore the OT in their discussion of contextualization, truly biblical contextualization must include the whole Bible, not simply the New Testament.
EV: Who’s your target audience, and what are you most hoping they hear from it?
JH: I’m hoping to reach both biblical scholars and missiologists since the former tend not to take missiology seriously, while the latter often don’t ground their work adequately on the Bible. Publishers often say that books with more than one target audience end up confused or confusing, but I’ll have to let readers be the judge!
EV: Did you have any “aha” moments while writing the book?
JH: Yes, I frequently realized how culturally hybrid my own experiences as an American-born Chinese have been. Jean Valjean’s song from the Les Misérables musical, “Who am I?,” came to mind more than once.
EV: What was the most challenging part of the book to write?
JH: It was challenging but rewarding to go through all the literature in anthropology, sociology, and missiology on honor and shame, especially in Asian contexts. I had no idea that things could be so complicated (and thus misunderstood).
EV: If your book was made into a movie, what actor/actress would play the lead role?
JH: Either Benedict Cumberbatch or Meryl Streep, since they both have this amazing ability to cross cultures and mimic any English accent perfectly.
EV: What kind of seminary/church classes should assign your book?
JH: Friends in the academy tell me that they have assigned the book for both theology and mission classes, so I guess they have answered the question for me!
About the Author
Jerry Hwang (PhD, Wheaton College) is Associate Professor of Theology at Trinity Christian College and Affiliate Research Professor of Advanced Studies at Singapore Bible College.