Analysis of the reception and appropriation of the Bible by Manobo Christians in Central Mindanao, Philippines
McMahon, David Wilson
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This thesis is an attempt to make visible how Christians within a minority people in the southern Philippines view the Bible conceptually as a source of spiritual authority and also how they read and interpret the Bible, both privately and within the context of community worship. Reading and studying the Bible is now universally practised by people from multitudes of cultures, a reality that has naturally engendered a great deal of interest on the part of scholars. The resultant scholarship however, has been preoccupied with the findings of the professional researcher, and little has been published which reveals how “ordinary indigenous readers” view the Bible and/or how they interpret it. Using qualitative data gathered by this author among Manobo Christians living in the hills of central Mindanao, this thesis will endeavour to redress this imbalance and provide access to the voices of ordinary Manobo readers. The thesis also makes an important contribution to the Bible’s place within Philippine Christianity. Despite the expanding readership of the Bible within the Philippines almost no research has focused on how the Bible is actually interpreted by ordinary readers. The thesis will major on the appropriation of the Bible by Christians from within the Manobo Bible Church Association of Mindanao, an association of churches born out of the church planting efforts of missionaries belonging to the Overseas Missionary Fellowship. At the centre of the thesis is an encounter between conservative evangelical missionaries and the unique culture and cosmology of the Manobo. The central argument is that the missionaries’ prototypically, evangelical doctrine of Scripture was appropriated and reconfigured by Manobo Christians in ways that reveal the persistent ability of elements of their own cosmology, and customary law, to exert influence upon their localisation of Christianity. In particular, the thesis focuses on how the localisation process has led to innovations by the Manobo on what is meant by the Bible as “spiritual authority” and to reinterpretations of significant theological themes within the evangelical gospel message. At the same time the thesis also outlines how adoption of the Christian Scriptures has redefined the position that indigenous sources of authority, such as spirit priest and village chief, now occupy within Manobo Christian communities.