Book Reviews

Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes

Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible

E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien Downers Grove, IL 2012-11-04

Richards is dean and professor of biblical studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University, and O’Brien is a part-time instructor of religion at College of DuPage and editor-at-large for Leadership journal. O’Brien was a student of Richards. Foundational is their conviction that “all Bible reading is necessarily contextual. There is no purely objective biblical interpretation. This is not postmodern relativism. We believe truth is truth. But there’s no way around the fact that our cultural and historical contexts supply us with habits of mind that lead us to read the Bible differently than Christians in other cultural and historical contexts” (p. 12). “The core conviction that drives this book is that some of the habits that we readers from the West (the United States, Canada, and Western Europe) bring to the Bible can blind us to interpretations that the original audience and readers in other cultures see quite naturally” (p. 15). They identify nine differences between Western and non-Western cultures in order to meet the primary goal of the book, “to help us learn to read ourselves. . . . Before we can be confident we are reading the Bible accurately, we need to understand what assumptions and values we project onto the Bible: those things that go without being said and that make us assume that some interpretations are self-evident and others are impossible” (p. 16).

Each chapter addresses an issue; social mores, race and ethnicity, theories of language, individualism and collectivism, honor and shame, theories of time, human relationships, virtue and vice, and finding God’s will. Illustrations from Scripture, ministry experiences in the Western world, and Richards’s life in Indonesia help the reader see the practical implications of the themes in the book. Each chapter concludes with several “questions to ponder.”

A final chapter provides a negative answer to the question, “Three Easy Steps for Removing Our Cultural Blinders?” Instead of “three easy steps,” they provide some excellent advice: Biblical interpretation is complex and requires hard work. Avoid overcorrection and overgeneralization. Remain teachable; hold assumptions loosely. Do not fear being wrong; “Fear only failing to learn from your mistakes” (p. 216). Then the book concludes with this admonition: “If we want to know when we’re reading ourselves into the Bible, rather than allowing the Bible to speak in its own terms, we need to commit ourselves to reading together. The worldwide church needs to learn to study Scripture together as a global community. Paying attention to our brothers and sisters abroad can open the echo chamber and allow new voices in. . . . May we seek to read Scripture with ‘persons from every tribe and language and people and nation’ (Rev. 5:9)” (pp. 216–17). In short, if the goal of “the study of Scriptures, to paraphrase Paul, [is] so that the ‘word of Christ may dwell in us richly as we teach and admonish one another with all wisdom’ (Col 3:11,16),” that cannot happen, given a solitary Bible reader (p. 217). In short, one cannot “admonish one another” alone.

This is an outstanding treatment of a complex and important topic. Humans are cultural beings, deeply immersed in the world in which they live. It could hardly be otherwise. One of the consequences of cultural immersion is that understanding the impact of environment and culture on the readers of Scripture does not come easily. One can easily forget that the biblical texts were not written directly to this culture, but were written to other people in other cultures. Yet since the Bible is the Word of God and it is true and inerrant, it needs to be read and applied in every culture. This book is an aid to those who want to learn to do that well.

No reader will agree with everything in the book. Every reader will disagree with the authors’ use of some illustrative texts and the implications they draw. But every reader will learn something from this book that will make him or her a better Bible reader. This would make a good textbook for courses in hermeneutics or biblical interpretation, cultural studies, prolegomena, or theological method, as well as small-group studies in a local church. The book is written at a level that educated laypeople as well as pastors, teachers, and scholars will find helpful.

Book reviews are published online and in print every quarter in Bibliotheca Sacra. Subcribe Today

Glenn R. Kreider
Dr. Kreider is professor of theological studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He identifies his motivations as his passion for the triune God and his desire to help others respond to divine revelation in spirit and truth. Prior to coming to DTS he served as director of Christian education and pastored a church in Cedar Hill, Texas. Dr. Kreider’s research interests include Jonathan Edwards, theological method, and our eschatological hope. He is married to his best friend, Janice, and they have two grown children, a son-in-law, and one granddaughter, Marlo Grace. He and Janice enjoy live music, good stories, bold coffee, and their four rescue dogs—two pugs, a chihuahua, and an adorable black lab named Chloe.
Sep 20, 2017
Rodney H. OrrRodney H. Orr
A Wind in the House of Islam: How God Is Drawing Muslims around the World to Faith in Jesus Christ In this day, every pastor and Christian worker should have knowledge of the religion of Islam. This will help them minister to people from this background, including...
Sep 20, 2017
Glenn R. KreiderGlenn R. Kreider
American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea Wilsey is assistant professor of history and Christian apologetics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to teaching graduate students at the J. Dalton Havard...