Winner Announced: October book review & giveaway

13799973 Book Review – Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O'Brien. Downer's Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2012. 217 pp. (Paperback) 

I first want to thank Dr. Randy Richards (E. Randolph Richards), my former college professor, for sending me two free copies of his book, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, coauthored with Brandon J. O’Brien, for this review and giveaway. This book blessed me and challenged me in my reading of Scripture. Therefore, I am excited to let you know about this book and to give one of you lucky readers your own copy. So let’s begin…

Summary:

In this 217-page book, coauthors Richards and O’Brien seek to have a conversation with their Western readers, you and me, about what presuppositions they might bring to the Bible that would inform their interpretation. They call these presuppositions, “cultural blinders,” and use the metaphor of an iceberg to describe how some of these blinders are obvious, others not as obvious, and then those that are deep under the surface.

The purpose of this book, then, is to address nine common Western presuppositions “by which Western readers read – and even misread – Scripture,” so that as the readers become aware of their own presuppositions it will help them toward a more “faithful reading and application of the Bible.” Their primary goal, they write, “is to help us learn to read ourselves.” (See page 16.)

Richards and O’Brien also outline a couple of caveats in their Introduction that are important to keep in mind while reading this book. For one, they admit they are writing as “insiders,” as white, male, Americans. This is important to remember because some of these presuppositions might not apply to everyone who lives in the West (i.e. Canada or Western Europe) or everyone who lives in the United States (i.e. Latinos, Asians, or Blacks). They also admit to using generalizations and oversimplifications in this book due to lack of space and language. This is important to keep in mind while reading this book so that when you encounter it you will “give them the benefit of the doubt.”

The nine “cultural blinders” addressed in this book are: mores (or moral views of a particular group); race and ethnicity; language; individualism vs. collectivism; right/wrong vs. honor/shame; time; rules vs. relationships; virtue and vice; and self-centeredness. In these chapters, the authors not only demonstrate how these presuppositions are manifested in the Western culture but also how they might be antithetical to the worldview of the Bible. With the exception of perhaps a couple of examples, you will not find interpretations of certain passages of Scripture nor interpretive steps to use while reading the Bible. Rather the authors provide modern-day and historical examples to demonstrate how “biblical interpretation is a cross-cultural experience” (p. 22), and at the end of each chapter they provide questions to ponder and discuss. Richards and O’Brien conclude that they are “trying to help you become a certain kind of reader: the kind of reader who is increasingly aware of his or her cultural assumptions” (p. 212).

My thoughts:

This book has the tendency to make you feel uncomfortable, and I believe the authors hope for this outcome. Consider the following quote on page 17, “To begin with, we can no longer pretend that a Western interpretation of the Bible is normative for all Christians everywhere.” Even though none of us might admit it, we like to think our interpretation of Scripture is the correct one, the best one or the only one. But what Richards and O’Brien do in this book is show that our interpretation/application isn’t necessarily the only biblical one and in fact many times it may be incorrect! They challenge the most personal things about us – things that make us particularly American or Western – and it is frankly uncomfortable. You might even feel somewhat defensive while reading, but if you put this aside you might be able to consider what they are saying is of value.

For me, the chapters on honor/shame vs. right/wrong and rules vs. relationships were the most meaningful and challenging. I appreciate that Richards and O’Brien are not afraid to talk about the “elephants in the room,” and I believe their frankness to talk about hard, difficult and sensitive interpretative issues is one aspect that makes this book a good one. One example of this is found at the bottom of page 33 in the chapter on mores. “[Western] Christians are tempted to believe that our mores originate from the Bible,” they write. They then give an example about drinking alcohol. Whether or not you change your interpretation regarding an issue such as alcohol, the authors give you good reasons to think more critically about whether your interpretation is universal or cultural.

One possible negative effect this book may have on a reader is that it might leave him/her discouraged, believing that one cannot interpret Scripture with Western eyes or that those in the East are necessarily better biblical interpreters. If you read the book carefully, especially the Introduction and Conclusion chapters, you will find this is not the belief of the authors. In fact they even suggest someone writing a book called, Misreading Scripture with Eastern Eyes! Keep in mind they are being somewhat provocative and critical to make a point within a short amount of space.

Quickly, I must mention a couple other things about this book. One, the authors had me laughing out loud. I am so glad they shared so many personal stories about cross-cultural (mis)communication. At times I felt like they were in the room with me sharing funny stories over coffee. Secondly, I finished the book in a week and half simply because it is compelling and easy to read. The authors have a gift of taking difficult issues and discussing them in a way that is easy to understand without dumbing down the material. It was very enjoyable.

Lastly, I recommend this book to be used in Bible studies, church small groups, introduction to biblical interpretation classes, and book clubs. The material alone would foster great discussion, but as an additional discussion aid the authors provide questions at the end of each chapter. I also recommend that pastors, church ministers, and Bible teachers read this book to help them with their preaching, teaching and interpreting of Scripture. I think one of the values of this book is to make us more humble interpreters, which would be an invaluable posture for all Bible teachers and leaders. Lastly I recommend this book for every American (and other Westerners) Christian who wants to become a better student of Scripture. For interpretation happens when the author (such as Luke or Moses) and the reader (you) meet in the text of the Bible. Therefore, as interpreters we need to be aware of what we bring with us to the text, and I think this book is a helpful tool to get us there.

Thank you all who entered in this giveaway. I enjoyed this book so much I wish I had more copies to give away! I also loved reading your comments, and I hope that you will put this book on your reading list. 

So now to the winner. Congratulations Erin, #7, you are the winner!

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Erin, please e-mail me at kristenrpadilla@gmail.com with you mailing address and I will put your book in the mail for you! Congratulations, and thanks again for entering. 

To win:

Thanks to Dr. Richards, I’m doing a fun GIVEAWAY! Simply comment below to enter… and here’s what you need to know:

What do I win? One person will win one free copy of Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes.

What are the rules? You need to live in the United States in order to enter this giveaway.

How long does the giveaway go for? The giveaway begins today, Oct. 7, and ends at 12 a.m. on Oct. 21.

How do I enter? The only mandatory option to officially enter this giveaway is to leave a comment (see below). Once you have done this, you can enter as often as you like, using as many of the options below as you’d like. Be sure to leave a comment EACH time you do one of the following:

MANDATORY ENTRY: Leave a comment telling me why you want to win this book! You will find the link to leave a comment up at the top of the post by the blog title. [For 1 entry.]

OPTION 1: Share this facebook status about the giveaway: ”@Kristen Padilla is giving away one free copy of Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes. Enter to win at www.kristenrpadilla.com" Please comment below with a link to the shared status. [For 1 extra entry each time.]

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The Pendulum Swing: Legalism to Liberalism and Back

Image Legalism and liberalism are both roads that lead to hell. And I truly believe it.

This may be a pretty bold statement but let me tell you why I feel compelled to make it. At the root of both legalism and liberalism is the belief that Scripture alone is not enough; it lacks the authority as the Word of God. Legalism says Scripture is not enough, so it seeks to add to the Word. It imposes on Scripture additional rules and limitations because salvation through faith in Jesus Christ is not enough; there needs to be more. Liberalism, on the other hand, says Scripture is too much, so it seeks to detract or take away from the Word. It softens the commands of Scripture and refuses to accept all of Scripture because salvation through faith in Jesus Christ seems too harsh, too limited.

What is interesting is that these two extremes feed off of one another, almost in a parasitic-type of way. Or, like I put it often to my husband, they hit against each other like a pendulum swing. Legalism reacts to liberalism and liberalism reacts to legalism. And the more they hit at each other the further away they go from each other and from the authority of Scripture.

As Christians I think it is our goal to stay in, what a seminary professor of mine used to call it, the center of truth. The center of truth affirms that Scripture is the Word of God and submits to the authority of Scripture. I think this is where most of us Christians reside. We want to be good exegetes of Scripture (drawing ones ideas from the text) instead of eisegetes of Scripture (reading ones ideas into the text).

Hermeneutic of reaction

Now going back to legalism and liberalism, these two camps have been around for a looooong time – centuries in fact. But I have been observing for some time that young “evangelicals” are being pulled into either of these two currents as if it is some new thing. What I want to caution evangelicals my age and younger, then, is not to get persuaded into a hermeneutic of reaction, interpreting Scripture through a reactionary lens of the tradition you grew up in or the one you dislike.

One popular example of this is Rachel Held Evans. In her book, One Year of Biblical Womanhood, she talks about the legalist tradition she grew up in, noting primarily the limitations it placed on women. The rest of her book is dedicated to reacting against legalism. But in her reacting she leaves behind core Scriptural, gospel truths, such as salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ alone. She writes, “I … am no longer convinced that everyone different from me goes to hell.” What happened to John 14:6 here? This is just one example of many in her book where she reacts so hard against legalism that she engages in a pendulum swing and goes to the other extreme. She trades one hermeneutic for another. She grew up in a tradition that added to Scripture; now she takes away or softens Scripture. In both cases the authority of Scripture is on trial.

Another example is that of a preacher I heard one time in church. He had witnessed many families destroyed by the abuse of alcohol, so he preached a sermon that forbade any drinking of alcohol and made it as primary an issue as salvation. He made a rule out of his reacting against those who abuse alcohol and imposed it on Scripture. Now salvation in Jesus was no longer enough, you also had to maintain an alcohol-free life to be truly saved.

I have heard some say, “Well I would rather err on the side of legalism than liberalism.” But my answer is, “I would rather not err on either side!” If you don’t think legalism is such a bad thing, then just read about all the encounters Jesus had with Pharisees and what he had to say about them adding to the Law. That might change your mind.

Remember my bold statement at the beginning? Look at Revelation 22:18-19. It says, “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” Basically both who add and who take away from Scripture will be left out of the new kingdom, also called the new Jerusalem.

My proposition is this: Let’s make it our aim to be in the center of tension of truth and to come under the submission of Scripture even if there is tension, even if we aren’t sure of a proper interpretation, even if it makes us feel uncomfortable. Sure, we will react to legalism and liberalism. (I’m doing it even now!) The difference is whether we are reacting out of a belief that Scripture is the Word of God and I am going to submit to it, or out of a belief that Scripture is too soft or too harsh and I, because I live in the 21st century, know better.

This is the first post of what I hope several that will take us even deeper. I would like to talk about: what are signs or red flags of legalism and liberalism; how do we stay in the center of truth; what are some interpretive guidelines to use when reading Scripture; how reactionary language can or cannot be helpful; etc.

So what are your thoughts or questions? Have you encountered either of these two currents?

Let me just say that it is natural for us to veer a little to the left or right of the center of truth in our interpretations of Scripture. There are primary issues and then there are secondary issues found in Scripture to which we can disagree but still be gospel-centered believers. But our belief of Scripture will determine whether we are pointed to the gospel which says salvation is in Jesus Christ alone or whether we are pointed away from this gospel and, sadly, to hell.