Book Review: Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes
The purpose of this essay is to review Richards and O’Brien’s book entitled Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes. This essay will first objectively summarize the book to provide background information. Next, the essay will provide the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments presented in this book. Before concluding, this essay will offer a recommendation of the book and whether or not someone should read it.
This publication is a well-reasoned exploration into faith and interpretation. The authors used personal and real world examples to assist in delivering their message that modern day, Western, Christians, have a different approach towards the Bible and therefore a different approach towards the Christian faith. The purpose of this book was to make Western readers aware of their biases towards the Bible and that their belief system is quite different than those of other Christians throughout the world. These cultural “blinders are explored in 9 different segments that provide the readers with a new interpretation of the Bible that may have been overlooked or simply ignored before.
To help guide this argument, the following themes were discussed that the authors felt most blinded Western Christians:
– Race and Ethnicity
– Individualism and Collectivism
– Honor vs Shame
– Rules and Relationships
– Virtue and Vice
– Finding the Center of God’s Will
These themes were concluded with a process that helps people remove these biases and misunderstandings as well. A chapter was dedicated to each one of these themes in attempt to cover most of the major characteristics of the Christian faith.
The authors used their own personal experiences as missionaries to help provide detail and context towards their arguments. They documented with accuracy their adventures and lessons they learned from traveling overseas and preaching the Word of God to others. While it would be easy for these author to take a significantly authoritarian tone due to this experience, they don´t. Rather, a caring and meditative tone is taken throughout this book which places the reader at ease and more willing to contemplate these ideas presented by the author.
The authors do challenge the accepted, Western version of Christian thought however and provide useful examples of how these misunderstandings may have occurred throughout the course of history. The chapter on language explained this concept in detail. I do feel however that not enough was said about the Hebrew and Greek languages which were the original languages of the Old and New Testament respectively. The authors omitted a detailed discussion regarding the lack of a constant translation throughout history which may explain the many linguistic differences in these texts and how they are understood with today´s language.
In some ways, the Old Testament is more of the focus of this book rather than the Gospels or other books from the New Testament. The time gap in between the writing of these two books could explain many of the interpretive differences expressed in this book, but the authors tended to treat these books with the same approach. Jesus messages was quite different than those found in the Book of Leviticus or Numbers, and this book did not really address this as a source of bias or cultural confusion. The culture of Jesus was indeed different than that of David or Abraham and it would have been helpful to explore these ideas within this book to make a good example of how history and time can evolve a religious philosophy.
In some ways the authors were somewhat critical of the Western civilization effort and suggested that Westerners are ignorant towards suffering and pain. By suggesting that Westerners are ¨famine forgetters¨ is slightly challenging as it assumes that my own suffering and trials and tribulations are not as important as people from Asia or Africa just because of my geographical location. The authors tend to be overzealous when it comes to these points as they attempt to project their own guilt on all people from America, Canada or Western Europe. This is the biggest problem with the book, despite it containing many fresh perspectives on the language of religion and how best to attain redemption in modern times.
The three conclusions that the authors presented in this book is good advice despite that fact they often tend to ignore this advice in this book. The suggested that Westerners need to embrace complexity, be cautious of over-correction and to keep an open mind to be teachable. These are good ideas but God´s word is not complex and he is infallible in all of His ways. This testament of faith tends to limit the value of this book to some degree and place these arguments as not quite convincing in some ways.
Strengths and Weaknesses
One strength of this book is that it is a good topic to discuss for modern Christians. Christianity has evolved, just like everything else, in its history and there is a need to constantly refresh the role of Jesus Christ in our everyday lives. Bias and cultural blinders can be one way the Devil enters into our lives and it is important to have a strong understanding of what is actually understandable and what is not. God did not make man omnipotent for a reason and his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ was sent to demonstrate how to live as a human being under the grace of God.
Another strength of this book is the clarity in which it was written with by these two authors. The book takes confusing and complicated ideas and breaks them down into understandable arguments that can be contemplated. The book was well organized as well which also allowed the messages of this book to stand out in a clear and concise way.
The subject mater was a little shallow at time, especially dealing with the Old Testament and the ambiguity of Hebrew as a language. For me this is the greatest challenge in accepting my own bias towards Christianity. I feel that the differences between the Old and New Testaments are quite stark and very opposed in messages sometimes as well. This book did nothing to help clear up this problem.
I feel that all Western Christians can learn from this book and it is valuable in many ways. I certainly don´t agree with all the arguments, but the topic itself is very important for followers to better understand their own road towards redemption and salvation. The book will make the reader confront their own cultural biases and expose how these influences do impact on their faith and relationship with God. For this reason alone, the book is valuable and recommended to assist in this learning process.
Richards, E. Randolph, and Brandon J. O’Brien. Misreading scripture with Western eyes: Removing cultural blinders to better understand the Bible. InterVarsity Press, 2012.