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Big Tent Bible study leader says, ‘God loves our differences’

Eric D. Barreto to guide attendees through the diversity found in the book of Acts

by Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service

Eric D. Barreto. (Photo provided)

LOUISVILLE – Eric D. Barreto, associate professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary, says, “God created our differences and God loves our differences.”

The native of Puerto Rico, who moved to the U.S. with his family at age 9, is presenting the Big Tent group Bible study on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis, Friday and Saturday morning, July 7 and 8. Using the event’s theme of “Race, Reconciliation and Reformation” he’ll focus on the New Testament book of Acts and what he sees as the God-given diversity of those called to be the church.

“We’ll look at how the book of Acts helps us think about our differences,” he says. “How do we discern a biblical imagination for our differences, where our differences come from and what does it mean to be a church — not over and against those differences, but in the midst of those differences.”

Barreto believes many churches are “passing over” the blessings of diversity by relying too heavily on texts such as Galatians 3, in which the apostle Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free.”

“We misread that to believe once we become Jesus followers, we become not just unified, but the same — we become homogeneous,” he says. “What I hope the book of Acts is doing is giving us a different set of imaginations for the significance and the future of difference for us and the church.”

Rather than seeing differences as a “problem” or “obstacle” to community, Barreto says they are places where God is most tangibly present and active in the world today.

“There is this pernicious theological and cultural lie that we’ve been taught, that the problems we face are because we’re different,” he asserts. “That if we all became the same and got over race, somehow things would be better.”

He’s also out to counter the narrative that the story of Acts 2, in which believers in the new church understood different languages, is the remedy to the story of multiple languages being introduced as a “curse” in the Genesis 11 story about the Tower of Babel.

“One of my goals in life is for nobody to think this ever again,” he says with a chuckle. “The reading I received from this story is that God punishes the people of Babel by making them speak different languages.

“But it’s not a curse that I grew up speaking Spanish, and that people throughout the church speak all kinds of languages — it’s a gift from God,” he says. “What if Babel is not a curse or punishment, but it’s another step in God creating the kind of world God desired? A world full of difference, teeming with all kinds of languages and people. So it’s not God afflicting us; it’s God blessing us with a multitude of languages.”

Talking about what he hopes Big Tent attendees will gain from his study, Barreto says he wants people to go away with a sense of eagerness to engage people from other races, who speak different languages and who have diverse cultural practices.

“This kind of work requires a lot of courage and a lot of boldness because there’s great risk in it,” he says. “There’s great risk that we’re going to say something wrong, that we’re going to make mistakes. It’s inevitable, because we’re human.

“It’s also risky because in a true encounter with communities that are different from us we run the risk of being transformed in that encounter,” says Barreto. “More than anything, we fear changing what is most familiar to us. It’s hard. It’s risky. But it’s also deeply faithful work.”


Big Tent registration information and program details are available at this link.

For text updates on this year’s event, text BIGTENT to 41411.

Eric D. Barreto is the Weyerhaeuser Associate Professor of New Testament at Princeton Theological Seminary and an ordained Baptist minister. The author of Ethnic Negotiations: The Function of Race and Ethnicity in Acts 16 (Mohr Siebeck, 2010), the co-author of Exploring the Bible (Fortress Press, 2016) and editor of Reading Theologically (Fortress Press, 2014), he is also a regular contributor to, the Huffington Post, and You can follow him on Twitter (@ericbarreto).

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