Summary of thesis:
The purpose of this thesis is to examine 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 a universal phenomenon, resulting from the expansion of Christianity through the efforts of the Christian missionary movement. This in turn has made it an attractive topic for study by academics. 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 make available to readers how ordinary Manobo Christians are interacting with the Bible and how they are interpreting it. 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 the results of ordinary Christians’ engagement with the Bible.
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 this encounter issued in a number of changes. The missionaries’ evangelical doctrine of Scripture was received and then reconfigured by Manobo Christians. The nature of the changes reveal that, despite conversion to Christianity, deeply rooted elements of Manobo culture and cosmology are alive and well in the Manobo religious consciousness and these have shaped, and continue to shape, Manobo Christians relationship with the Bible. In particular, the thesis focuses on how the process has led to a Manobo concept of the Bible as “spiritual authority” that does not correspond with how pioneering missionaries would have understood that term. The same can be said for significant theological themes within the missionaries’ gospel message; these have also undergone change and been reinterpreted by Manobo Christians. 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.