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Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible Paperback – December 4, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


"Whether rules over relationships or correctness over community, respective Western and non-Western worldviews may differ on appropriate conduct, discretion, and exceptions. Randolph and O'Brien write with grace and clarity. Though evangelical, they steer clear of moral or political agendas and give no hint of anti-Western sentiments; they even suggest someone write a complementary sequel: Misreading Scripture with Eastern Eyes. Their extensive range of biblical and contemporary samples makes this an excellent resource for confessional Bible study contexts or an entry-level textbook in undergraduate courses on biblical interpretation." (Martin W. Mittelstadt, Religious Studies Review 39, no. 2, June 2013)

"Written in engaging prose, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes is a must-have for students of the Bible, and especially students of biblical apologetics. Any seasoned traveler knows that when someone visits a foreign country for the first time, he or she will be well served by a competent guide. When it comes to the social world of the Bible, Richards and O'Brien serve as tour guides par excellence." (James Patrick Holding, Christian Research Journal 36, no. 5)

"For many, [this] book will offer a dose of humility with hope. One is encouraged to admit, 'I don't know' while at the same time is spurred on to study the Bible more. Missionaries will be challenged to think more theologically and to listen respectfully to nationals who live around them. Theologians will be forced to consider how the adage 'context is king' applies to their own worldview. This is a perfect book to discuss within small groups at church or as teams on the mission field." (Jackson Wu, Evangelical Missions Quarterly, July 2013)

"This is an outstanding treatment of a complex and important topic. . . . 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." (Glenn Rl. Kreider, Bibliotheca Sacra, October–December 2013)

"A politely confrontational book that bids you trade in your cultural spectacles and rethink how your worldview distorts your scriptural conclusions. Sex, money, food, self-focus, prejudices, and much more: developed with apt storytelling and enlightening examples." (Worship Leader Magazine, May 2013)

"A fascinating guide for any serious Bible reader! Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes reveals the 'habits of the mind' that might blind us to the Bible's intended message. Richards and O'Brien unpack the intricacies and nuances of cultural communication to help people better understand the Bible. To help you know--and live--the Christian life more faithfully." (Nikki Toyama-Szeto, Urbana program director, coauthor of Partnering with the Global Church)

"Richards and O'Brien open our eyes to the crosscultural nature of the Bible. Their book is a helpful resource in understanding Scripture on its own terms, without imposing our assumptions on the biblical authors and their first readers." (Lindsay Olesberg, author, The Bible Study Handbook, and senior associate for Scripture engagement, Lausanne Movement)

"The authors of Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes make a convincing case that those who trust in the Bible should (for biblical reasons) be more self-conscious about themselves. Their demonstration of how unself-conscious mores influence the understanding of Scripture is as helpful as the many insights they draw from Scripture itself. This is a good book for better understanding ourselves, the Christian world as it now exists and the Bible." (Mark A. Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History, University of Notre Dame, coauthor, Clouds of Witnesses: Christian Voices from Africa and Asia)

"Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes is an important book that comes along at a critical moment in global evangelical history. Helpful examples reveal our cultural tendencies and biases that could hinder a deeper reading of Scripture. The authors help us to recognize our blind spots and offer insight that honors the intention of Scripture to be read in the context of community. I am grateful to the authors for their effort to be self-reflective and engage in a critical examination of our engagement with Scripture from within Western culture." (Soong-Chan Rah, Milton B. Engebretson Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary, author of The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity)

"This is a revolutionary book for evangelical Bible-believers. If its readers end the book motivated to ask the questions it invites and even inspired to identify other possible misreadings because of Western cultural blinders that have not been discussed, they will be more ready to live out the kind of biblically faithful, Christ-honoring and God-fearing lives that they desire to and that the world needs." (Amos Yong, J. Rodman Williams Professor of Theology, Regent University School of Divinity, Virginia)

"Randy Richards and Brandon O'Brien have written a useful and enjoyable book, which makes excellent use of good stories to illustrate the points they make. The reader will leave the book with plenty of challenging questions to ask about approaches to Scripture. Interesting, thoughtful, and user-friendly." (Philip Jenkins, distinguished professor of history, co-director for the program on historical studies of religion, Institute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University, author of The Next Christendom)

About the Author

E. Randolph Richards (PhD, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is dean and professor of biblical studies in the School of Ministry at Palm Beach Atlantic University. He is a popular speaker and has authored and coauthored dozens of books and articles including Rediscovering Jesus, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, Rediscovering Paul, The Story of Israel and Paul and First-Century Letter Writing. Early on in their ministry he and his wife Stacia were appointed as missionaries to east Indonesia, where he taught for eight years at an Indonesian seminary. Missions remain on the hearts of Randy and Stacia. Randy leads mission trips and conducts missionary training workshops and regularly leads tours of the Holy Land, Turkey, Greece and Italy. He has served as interim pastor of numerous churches and is currently a teaching pastor. He and Stacia reside in Palm Beach, Florida.

Brandon J. O'Brien (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is Assistant Professor of Christian Theology at Ouachita Baptist University and Director of OBU at New Life Church. O'Brien is a senior editor for Leadership Journal and is coauthor of Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes with Randy Richards.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Books (December 4, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0830837825
  • ISBN-13: 978-0830837823
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (229 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #15,565 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By George P. Wood TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 8, 2013
Format: Paperback
Who we are affects how we read the Bible, and culture shapes who we are to a significant degree. For example, a married, middle-aged man from Springfield, Missouri, interprets the Bible differently than an unmarried, teenage girl from Banda Aceh, Indonesia. This doesn't mean that Scripture has no correct interpretation. It does mean, however, that we shouldn't assume ours is it.

Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by Randy Richards and Brandon O'Brien identifies nine key areas where Western cultural assumptions differ from biblical cultural assumptions. These areas have to do with mores, ethnicity, language, individualism and collectivism, honor/shame and right/wrong, time, rules and relationships, virtue and vice, and the identity of the center of God's will. The authors devote a chapter to each area, mixing cross-cultural anecdotes (often drawn from the mission field) and examples from Scripture to show how Western ways of reading can misinterpret biblical teaching.

Chapter 3, for example, shows how, among other assumptions about language, Westerners prefer propositions to metaphors. "Because we are somewhat uncomfortable with the ambiguity of metaphors," the authors write, "we tend to distill propositions out of them." The biblical authors didn't share our discomfort with metaphors, however. They "recorded the profoundest truth in similes, metaphors, parables and other colorful and expressive (and potentially ambiguous) forms of language." The Western tendency to distill propositions out of metaphors "actually diminishes the breadth and application of the text." What proposition better expresses, theologically and emotionally, God's providential care of us than "The LORD is my shepherd" (Psalm 23:1)?
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Everywhere you go, people are the same. Right? Oh there are some basic differences of course, but if you cut any of us, we bleed. Mankind really hasn't changed that much in all the years we've been around. When we read Aristotle or Cicero or Moses, we are reading someone was pretty similar to us and had the exact same struggles we do. We can regularly see it in their own writings can't we?

Or, maybe we don't. We just think we do.

Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes (MSWWE from now on) is a book that helps to expose us to the fact that people are not like us. The authors, E. Randolph Richards and Brandon O'Brien, show numerous examples of the way our culture misreads the Bible based on our Western presuppositions and that people in other cultures are quite different. This can be shown to be the case in Biblical times, but also in modern times as Richards has several examples in his book from his missionary service in Indonesia.

For instance, if you had an affair, would you feel guilty? Here in the West, you would. In Indonesia, there would be no guilt until everyone else said you did something wrong. What time does that church event start? Here, you could say "Mid-day" and most people would be there at Noon. There, you'd say "Mid-day" and most people would show up when it started to get hot. If you say "All people serving in the church must be eighteen", here it'd be a strict rule. Over there, there would be exceptions.

Much of this seems foreign to our experience, and for good reason. It is. One of the greatest signs of this is our intense individualism where we think everything has to be about us. There is even a chapter in the book on how people take a passage like Jeremiah 29:11 and make it to be about God having a personal plan for them.
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As a Christian apologetics specialist who finds great value in bringing the Bible's original contexts to light, I can't recommend this enough. There are plenty of good scholarly books on this subject, by authors like Bruce Malina and John Pilch, but Richards and O'Brien do their work with a perspective that is relatively fresh.

They give us the rundown on cultural facets of the Biblical world -- like honor and shame, collectivism, patronage, and so on -- that make it so vastly different than the world of the West. What makes this book special is that the authors have spent a good deal of time ministering in Indonesia, which gives them the chance to illustrate some of those differences with real-life examples from a parallel culture. This has unique value for understanding the cultural differences in real life terms, as well as giving an extra push against those who claim that you might just be making all this sort of stuff up, or that Biblical people were actually no different than a modern Westerner, and they just lied about being honor/shame oriented, etc. (Yes -- I've had people say that. Really.)

There's one more reason to buy it: It will encourage IVP and other publishers to produce like it. Encourage them to do so -- buy a wheelbarrow, then fill it with copies of this.
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I think the primary intent of this book is to help Western Bible readers recognize their own presuppositions (the "things that go without being said"). It will probably do a good job of that.

The authors, rightly, point out that aspects our culture's teaching concerning marriage is not exactly biblical. The Scripture values marriage and celibacy, even giving greater honor to the later. They helpfully remind us that when Paul exhorts women to modesty he has immodest displays of wealth (not just sexual immodesty) in mind.

Each chapter ends with a few "questions to ponder."

Their treatment of race and language were fine.

Getting into part 2 I began to find some problems.

They stated as fact that Christians "commandeered" and "biblicize" the ancient Greek myth of the crossing of the river Styx, replacing it with the river Jordan and entry into the promised land. Perhaps the hymn writers were influenced by the Greek myth. Perhaps not. If a resource such as the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery didn't feel comfortable stating it as a fact I doubt that these guys should be. Personally, I think it's unlikely.

They also claim that the "biblical image" is not us going to heaven, but God's kingdom coming here. So, when "we superimpose our image of 'leaving this world of woe' onto the Christian story, we turn the gospel of good news into bad news for people like the Khmus." Sounds good. Except that they've left out that the Bible does use the image of travelling from here to heaven. We are "strangers and pilgrims" (Heb 11:13; 1 Pet 2:11). And Jesus will return and take us to be with him (John 14:3).
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