We've read, "God said it. I believe it. That settles it." Then, someone quotes a Bible verse as THE answer to a complex question or problem. Appeals to the Bible often discourage us from disagreement and dialogue. Should the Bible serve as a conversation-starter or a conversation-ender?
Let's ask the Rev. Dr. Kabamba Kiboko how United Methodists read the Bible.
Guest: Rev. Dr. Kabamba Kiboko
- Ph.D. Biblical Interpretation with emphasis in the Hebrew Bible (Denver University, Iliff School of Theology), M. Div. (Iliff), M.Th. (Perkins); B.A. (Drake), Graduée en Théologie (Mulungwishi, CongoDR).
- Author of Divining the Woman of Endor: The Politics of Biblical Translation, published by Bloomsbury T & T Clark [February 2017] and multiple other written works.
- Ordained Elder serving Forest Chapel UMC in the West Ohio Conference (2013 – Present).
- Multicultural and Multiracial
- Community Partnerships
- Congregation’s Recent Intercontinental Membership Growth
- Born in the CongoDR
- First clergywoman ordained in the Southern Congo Conference (1983).
- Mission Interpreter and Liaison for the Southern Congo/Zambia Episcopal area (1986-2016).
- Delegate to the 1984 General Conference
- Judicial Council
- Member 2012 – Present
- Secretary 2019 – Present
- President of the African Clergywomen Association (2012-Present)
- Translator at General Conferences (1992-2012).
- Recipient of the Harry Denman Award for Evangelism, West Ohio Conference 2015.
- Married to Rev. Kalamba Kilumba, also an Ordained Elder serving in the West Ohio Conference. We enjoy spending time with our adult children DK and Tasha as well as our extensive extended family across the globe.
Host: Rev. Dr. Jacob Dharmaraj
Rev. Dr. Jacob Dharmaraj is a retired clergy member of the New York Annual Conference. He has also served in Bombay and Illinois Great Rivers Conferences.
Dharmaraj has lived in various cultural settings, has been involved in interfaith relations and is actively engaged in global mission. He has written over a dozen books and numerous articles in the areas of Christian mission and interfaith relations. He writes regularly commentary in The Vision, New York Annual Conference’s monthly news magazine. Dharmaraj has served the church-at-large in various capacities including teaching, lecturing, conducting workshops and has served as a consultant both in academic and church settings. He has traveled extensively and worked with both United Methodist Church and ecumenical partners from around the world. He is passionate about world Christianity at work through mutuality in mission engagement.
Dharmaraj holds a Ph.D. in Theology of Mission, an M.A. in Political Science and Public Administration. He has also earned an M.Div, S.T.M and Th.M. degrees in Biblical Languages and Mission Theology.
Dr. Jacob Dharmaraj: Welcome to Tuesdays at the Table conversation. My name is Jacob Dharmaraj. I’m member of Connectional Table. The topic for today’s discussion is, “What is the role of the Bible in our lives?” We are delighted to have Dr Kabamba Kiboko, a Biblical scholar and a member of the Judicial Council, as our guest. As we begin this conversation, I’m going to ask Dr. Kiboko to say a few words about herself. Dr. Kiboko, would you please tell us a little bit about yourself, the context in which you do your ministry, and what brings you to this conversation?
Dr. Kabamba Kiboko: Thank you, very much, Dr. Dharmaraj, I’m blessed to be in your presence. I am, as you said, Kabama Kiboko, and originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC. I’m married and a mother. I am Musanga, meaning that I was born into the Basanga people and our language is Kisanga. I studied at the Institute Superior of the Theology in South Congo, at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, Perkins School of Theology and Iliff/DU joint PhD. The context in which I do ministry is really interesting. I am in my ninth year at Forest Chapel United Methodist Church, a congregation that has moved from a mono-cultural to a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-ethnic congregation, with two services. One in English and the other in Nepali with some English. The one in English – one hour only! The other one is two hours and thirty minutes. So I was invited – I’m here in this conversation because I was invited by the General Secretary of the Board of Higher Education, the Reverend Greg Bergquist.
All things necessary unto salvation
Dr. Dharmaraj: Thank you, that is extremely helpful. We are here to talk about how United Methodists understand Scripture. The Bible is our primary source for theological inquiry. The Articles of Religion of the United Methodist Church state that the Holy Scripture contains “all things necessary” and “sufficient” unto salvation. John Wesley called the early Methodists to “search the Scriptures.” I would like to begin with the question: What is the Bible? How do we understand the essential teachings of the Bible?
Dr. Kiboko: We all know about the Bible. We all know that it is a library – it has 66 books, is that why we’re asking this question. Before I even knew to ask the question of what the Bible is, what it was, I experienced what grace…the grace of God…in a form of deliverance. The bible then to me became, had meaning because, I tell you Dr. Dharmaraj, I went to disturb those who were praying. I was not what I call myself as a Christian. So this is still about what is the Bible and the role of the Bible in our lives. I went to disturb, but something happened to me. God disturbed me. I experienced deliverance. It was then that I started reading this Bible. And when I read it, I saw these narratives about deliverance, demons being cast out, as really my experience. I understood it now in light of the Bible. So for me the Bible is living word. The Bible is the foundation of who I am. Foundation of everything. So that is what the Bible is – how do we understand essential truth of the Bible? With just our minds? I started seeking, digging, trying to understand what the Bible is, what this thing, trying to understand what happened to me. That’s why I went degrees, degrees, degrees, piling them up high – PhD! (laughs) The Holy Spirit helps us understand the essential truth of the Bible. So what is the Bible? The Bible is my GPS, if I may use that. Shows me direction, even as complicated as it may be. That is what the Bible is to me. Maybe we want to say what the Bible is according to…I mean, what is the Bible to United Methodists? Well it is answered that the Bible has everything that we need, all the essentials are in the Bible. So it is our foundation.
Languages: A complicated letter
Dr. Dharmaraj: Thank you. We know that the Bible was not written in languages we speak today. The Old Testament was written in Hebrew and the New Testament in an earlier form of Greek. How does vernacular translation affect how we read and understand the Bible? And how did the Bible translation help to bring about a historic shift in Christianity’s theological center of gravity from the Global North to Global South by forging a strategic alliance with local conceptions of religion and culture?
Dr. Kiboko: Thank you for that long, beautiful, very loaded question. Yes, there are, we know the Bible was written in languages, was not written in languages we speak today. We don’t speak Hebrew, we don’t Aramaic, we don’t speak Greek. We speak Kisanga – so we have Bible translated in Kisanga. And the title of the Bible in my language back then was “Mukanda Wa Lwafyo”, which means, “a complicated letter”, all right? How do we even read this? How does vernacular translation affect how we read and understand the Bible? Well, let me say this. There are certain places where translations are less clear than others. Those are few. For the majority of scripture, we have enough textual criticism, enough resource in the tradition of the church and Jewish tradition to understand pretty clearly, what the Bible is saying. Vernacular translation really helps because it helped me when I didn’t’ even know the Hebrew or Greek, or be able to read these languages, I was able to understand because I surrendered. When you surrender, you’ll be able to understand. How did the Bible translation help to bring about a historic shift in Christianity’s theology, theological center of gravity from the Global North to the Global South by pioneering a strategic alliance with local conceptions of religion and culture? Ooh, that is the question! Part b of the question. Here’s how I’m going to answer this question – I’m just going to use, say what Philip Jenkins says in his article, “Believing in the Global South”. He writes this, “Christianity, a religion that was born in Africa and Asia, has in our lifetimes decided to go home. Our traditional concept of the Christian world as a predominantly white and Euro-American world—of western Christianity, in fact—is no longer the norm.” So it’s just coming back home. I hope this is helpful.
Dr. Dharmaraj: Thank you. We know, “Religion doesn’t inherently speak for itself” because “no scripture, no book, no piece of writing has its own voice.” As a Biblical scholar, you know that human interpretation is everything. Therefore, we need to take every effort to clarify the meaning we intend to give to certain thoughts and actions. When we read and interpret scripture, how do we remain faithful to the text itself and apply it appropriately to our time and cultures, which is so different from the time and place in which the Bible was written?
Dr. Kiboko: As a Biblical scholar, as you say, human interpretation is everything. Gosh – yes, yes, yes. It’s a language that you learn and then you are learning this language, academic language in order to even understand you see, understand what happened to me when I went to disturb those who were praying, what happened to me? And I find myself in an academic circle where I’m trying to understand the language that is not used in the academic circle! It’s like, there’s a dissonance but there is not a dissonance. Human interpretation is not everything. But that is what I learned in the academic circle – human interpretation is everything. But the school where I went to - what it that school that I am talking about? Where I went to disturb those who were praying. What happened to me when I was hit so hard, and was able…I said to my heart, “God, if this is you, open my mouth and I will confess.” And my mouth, Dr. Dharmaraj, my mouth was opened! I experienced as if it were a boulder that fell off my chest! And I was able to breathe! So when I found myself, even as a Bible, as complicated as it is, and this is my book, based on the thesis of my dissertation, “Divining the Woman of Endor: African Culture, Postcolonial Hermeneutics, and the Politics of Biblical Translation”. It is for real, it is for real. But human interpretation is not everything. You interpret these sacred texts; interpret this with an openness to the Holy Spirit. And as I’m speaking, I even pray, “Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.” As I am in this conversation about the role of the scripture, the Bible, in our lives. So therefore, we need to take every effort to clarify the meaning we intend to give to certain thought and actions. That is gutsy. We think we assign meaning, just ourselves. I know how to do it, just read this book, I know how to do it because you will see what I learned and how to dissect, deconstruct and all of that. But you have to write some stuff because that is how it is in that area, that language, and you get your PhD and you come back to who you are. And the purpose – your purpose – why God blessed you enough. Why that experience – What is God telling you? So, when we read and interpret scripture how do we remain faithful to the text itself and apply it appropriately to our time, culture which is different from the time and place in which the Bible was written – whew! Remember, Dr. Dharmaraj, what I just said, what happened to me? I didn’t know anything about somebody by the name of John Wesley. A white male – it’s later on as I’m reading – a white male had an experience similar to what I had! Different culture – different time. 18th century guy, and this woman, a Musanga, had an experience in the Word. I’m telling you – when we experience the Holy Spirit, it transcends our cultural boundaries.
Dr. Dharmaraj: Thank you. There is a respectable opinion among many that scriptures, religious traditions and beliefs are no longer relevant. Is there room for disagreement in faithfully trying to understand the Bible today?
Dr. Kiboko: Oh wow. The respectable opinion among many that scriptures and religious traditions and beliefs are no longer relevant, that is a revelation. That is where we get to the point where we surrender. That the Bible is no longer the foundation. That is where we re-admit that we have lost our identity as Christ followers, because the Bible is irrelevant and religious traditions are irrelevant. So why do we even have to take time to disagree on what we don’t believe in? So if we just say, this doesn’t count anymore, it is no longer relevant, we don’t need room, we don’t need room for disagreement in faithful, trying to understand the Bible. How can we understand the Bible that we think is irrelevant? So we cannot even try to understand it because it is irrelevant. It is in the context where I am serving, my God, this book continues to help us. We are a global, local, global church! We have people all around the globe communicating with us and upholding this book with its complications, but it contains the word of God! It has power to transform our lives! And we’re seeing it.
Dr. Dharmaraj: Are there differences in how we understand the Bible, based on our cultural context because there is so much emphasis that context, as you said, because there is so much emphasis today that context, inter-context and multi-context matter?
Dr. Kiboko: Again, as I said, this white male in England and during the 18th century, something happened to him. And this woman, a Musanga, something happened to her that is so similar to this guy who’s white and I’m black. I’m telling you, differences, our differences, when we surrender to God, when the Holy Spirit is in our midst to lead us…Peter, we’re the Peters, we’ll be able to see that sheet coming from above, with all these different animals, and we say, ‘I can’t eat that!’, and God says, “what I call clean, you cannot call unclean.”
Dr. Dharmaraj: In the United Methodist Book of Discipline, “Our Theological Task” states that “United Methodists share with other Christians the conviction Christian Scripture is the primary source and criterion for Christian doctrine.” (p. 83) It also states, “While we acknowledge the primacy of Scripture in theological reflection, our attempts to grasp its meaning always involve tradition, experience, and reason” (84). Can you speak to how you understand these two statements together and how they influence how we read the Scripture as United Methodists?
Dr. Kiboko: If we are still going to read the scripture as United Methodists, if we are going to see that the scripture, the Bible, is relevant, not no longer relevant, if we see that it is relevant to us now, we will see scriptures at sufficient. We will see that it is the primary source and criterion for Christian doctrine. We will see it. And we will see tradition as serving us to understand the bible, serving the Bible, the scripture, we will see experience not as trumping the scripture, but as helping us understand scripture. I had that experience when I started reading the Bible, it was in alignment with the teaching of Jesus Christ. And reason also helps us, serving us to understand what holds us together. The foundation. The Bible. So, that’s what I say. They are in service to the Bible, to the scripture.
Dr. Dharmaraj: You said that, in closing, I have a simple question. We are a global church; we are a connectional church. If you are a member of the local United Methodist Church, your feet are in the local church and your wings are in the global church. We are looking forward to our upcoming General Conference and as a denomination we are facing a lot of challenges. In closing, would you please give your take on, do we stay or do we go?
Dr. Kiboko: Wow, that is a good question. Do we stay or do we go? The spirit of God will lead us. I invite us, beloved in Jesus Christ, the people called Methodists, do not be a sect without power. But listen to the Holy Spirit, who is living with us, daily with us. The Holy Spirit provides guidance. Let us surrender. That is the word – surrender. Let go and let God. Amen.
Dr. Dharmaraj: Thank you Dr. Kiboko, appreciate your time.
Dr. Kiboko: Thank you so much!