Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Through Western Eyes

Several friends have enthusiastically recommended Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible, by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien.

Upon looking at the book, my first thoughts were, “Written by two white guys with western eyes! What are their qualifications to instruct the rest of us in the matter?” I found that Randy Richards was a missionary to Indonesia for about 9 or 10 years, and the other spent some time researching church history in Europe. There is no doubt they have experiences that some other people do not. However…

What I say is not a review of the book – for I have not read it. It is more of a review of the impression some people give when hawking the book.

The theme of the books seems to be that the cultural distance between modern Westerners and the biblical world cause us to misunderstand God’s word. We bring our biases to the text. Richards and O’Brien write, “We can easily forget that Scripture is a foreign land and that reading the Bible is a crosscultural experience” (p. 11)…One of our goals in this book is to remind (or convince!) you of the cross cultural nature of biblical interpretation. We will do that by helping you become more aware of cultural differences that separate us from the foreign land of Scripture” (p. 12).

Really, I think few would question that we bring our biases to the reading of the text of the Bible. No one approaches the Bible as a blank slate. Truth be told, none of the first century readers were blank slates, either – nor are any of the Indonesians. Or anyone else who reads the Bible. It is likely this book offers some thought-provoking ideas that Westerners need to consider. It is likely that this book may drive off in the ditch on the other side of the road. We can be aware of our biases, but we cannot be men and women of the first century. It is likely that the approach is overly dismissive of guidance of the Spirit, and heavy on an academic approach. It is likely that put little stock of the 2000-year church history foundation that many Western Christians have, where the faith once delivered to the saints was committed to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also – a cycle recurring to the present. If they have taken on Western individualism that often disregards the idea of studying (and practicing) the Bible in a faithful community, they probably cannot say that strongly enough!

Ultimately, we all have to read Scripture with the eyes God gave us. That does not mean we cannot recognize that we might vision problems and ask to know what others see. However, we must take into account their vision problems as well. One might be color-blind and the other nearsighted.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon said:
“It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others.”

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