Book Review: Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes

Who you are effects what you see when you read.
Who you are effects what you mean when you write.
These effects often operate beneath the surface.

In Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, Randolph Richards and Brandon O'Brien bring these effects to the surface. They show how a Western worldview can differ from the worldview of biblical writers and readers from other places around the world. Their hope, according to the subtitle of the book, is to be about "removing cultural blinders to better understand the Bible."

Here's one example of their work in action. A Western individualistic perspective assumes that Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem alone, gave birth to Jesus alone and marveled alone as shepherds and wise men came to pay homage. But the Bible doesn't say that they were alone. That's an assumption. What if they travelled with family, the way they travelled to the Temple later in the same chapter of the Bible? It doesn't dramatically change our theology, but it shifts our reading of the passage.

A deeper example has to do with our thinking about rules. Richards and O'Brien point out that the Western understanding of fairness means that rules apply to everyone or else they're unjust. But that pattern doesn't seem to hold in Scripture. Over and over again, God seems to make exceptions. We may, at times, call this "grace," but sometimes it's pretty confusing to us. In other parts of the world, this dynamic isn't super-confusing, since relationships trump rules all the time. And why shouldn't they?

As with all books of this type, Richards and O'Brien paint with a broad brush. They know they're playing in stereotypes and running the risk of talking down about Western culture. For the most part, they do this well. That said, there were several points at which their description of Western worldview felt exaggerated for effect. And I did find myself wondering if it isn't some for of cultural snobbery/romanticism to equate a modern non-Western worldview with the worldview(s) of the biblical authors.

Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes is definitely worth checking out.

1 comment:

  1. I read this post yesterday, but I've been thinking about it since then. Last night, my husband and I had a conversation about the idea of the Christmas story not being so lonely.

    I am so interested in cultures and in the recognition that the same event can be interpreted in different, cultural ways. This book sounds fascinating and I'm so interested in checking it out. Thanks for sharing!

    By the way, Yo Soy Kristy introduced me to your blog and I'm glad she did!