On my list of books I hope to read in 2013, the first one mentioned is entitled Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, co-authored by Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien. I’m actually currently reading this work right now. In all, the book gives a good introduction to the discipline of hermeneutics, or helping us better grasp how to interpret, understand and apply Scripture.
Both authors are solid, evangelical thinkers. In particular, Richards is dean of the School of Ministry and professor of biblical studies at Palm Beach Atlantic University. O’Brien is a part-time instructor of religion at the College of DuPage and editor-at-large for Leadership journal with Christianity Today.
Within evangelicalism, we have a history of strongly holding the Bible, or Holy Scripture, as God’s great revelation of himself. There are many words used to describe the nature of the text – inspired, God-breathed, infallible, inerrant, authoritative, etc. I am not here to argue which terms best describe the Bible. But we can all recognise how very important the Scripture text stands, and not just amongst evangelicals, but the church historic and worldwide today.
While Scripture stands as the great revelatory text of who God is and his plan for humanity and all creation, summed up in the life and work of Jesus Christ, it hasn’t always been easy to confirm the playing ‘rules’ of how to interpret, understand and apply this all-important text. All one needs to remember is the thousands of denominations that now span the church.
And, even more, while the Bible can seem quite clear (or perspicuous, to use a theological term) for many Christians, it’s actually not always so clear – starting in Genesis and moving through to Revelation. And this is what Richards and O’Brien take up, specifically challenging the approach of westerners due to our ‘cultural blinders’. Actually, this is true of any and every Christian and group throughout church history. Therefore, to the disappointment of many, understanding Scripture is not an easy, inerrant and objective act.
Somehow, we can easily forget this. Therefore, in all of our Bible reading, study and teaching, we must stay humble.
With regards to the cultural blinders that we hold (and remember the authors are mainly addressing those blinders of the west, or in particular, western America), Richards and O’Brien liken it to an iceberg. With an iceberg, one can see a bit of this ice-formed mountain poking out of the ocean. However, below the surface lies a massive structure, most of it unseen by the human eye. Such is true when it comes to the cultural blinders we have as we read and study the Bible. The authors split the blinders into 3 sections: above the surface, just below the surface, and deep below the surface.
Under the 3 major sections, we then find 3 sub-sections:
1) Above the surface (the ones that can be easily detected):
- Mores (pronounced mawr-eyz, which are the fundamental moral values of a group that go without saying)
- Race & ethnicity
2) Just below the surface (the ones that aren’t as obvious, but can still be identified without too much difficulty)
- Individualism & collectivism
- Honour/shame and right/wrong
3) Deep below the surface (the ones that are very difficult to identify)
- Rules & relationships
- Virtue & vise
- Finding the centre of God’s will
As I’ve said, the book is a good introduction for those wanting to better understand the Scripture and the art of interpretation. Remember, Scripture is really not as clear as we think at times – church history and church denominations remind us of this. It doesn’t mean that we can’t come to some solid and reasonable conclusions about both essential and peripheral things. But it does mean that we, even westerners, don’t have the corner market on Bible interpretation. We could learn a lot from our Asian, African, Indian, Latin-American and European brothers and sisters, as well as those who have gone before us for centuries upon centuries.
And, so, over the coming weeks, I want to explore each of these 9 sub-points, taking one point per post. I’ll post some summary points, but also put up some direct quotes. In all, I hope it provides for good and fruitful dialogue.