NOTE: This is NOT a scholarly work: And that’s a GOOD thing!
Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards, Brandon J. O’Brien is both a pure delight, and as valuable as it is pleasurable.
I have to say at the outset, that I do not know when I have simply ENJOYED a book when reading it as much as I did this one. It was just plain fun, in the very process of being insightful, useful and, I believe, a must read for anyone wishing to understand their Bibles better.
Technically, this is a book on hermeneutics, although that word never appears anywhere in the book. There is an assiduous and successful effort to address the science of Biblical interpretation with none of the usual nomenclature associated with it. Masterful.
Richards and O’Brien write in a clear, crisp and engaging style that makes the book a fast read. But don’t let the brevity of the book nor the winsome writing style fool you into thinking this a toss away. It is anything but. In fact, my title line: This is NOT a scholarly book!” would be misleading on 2 fronts without a tag.
First, it is a scholarly treatment of an important subject, but written for a wider and non-scholarly audience. No small feat.
Second, it is aimed at making the average Bible reader more scholarly, without requiring them to become academics in the process.
Both authors have the academic chops, and the practical cross-cultural experience to make this an exceedingly practical work.
The book is divided into 3 major sections. Their own breakdown of those sections is as follows:
PART ONE: Above the Surface / In part one, we discuss cultural issues that are glaring and obvious, plainly visible above the surface and therefore least likely to cause serious misunderstanding.
PART TWO: Just Below the Surface / In part two, we discuss cultural issues that are less obvious. They reside below the surface but are visible once you know to look for them. Because they are less visible, they are more shocking and more likely to cause misunderstanding.
PART THREE: Deep Below the Surface / Finally, in part three, we address cultural issues that are not obvious at all. They lurk deep below the surface, often subtly hidden behind or beneath other values and assumptions. These are the most difficult to detect and, therefore, the most dangerous for interpretation.
This rounds off to 9 chapters, and then a concluding section offering tools to help us remove our cultural blinders when reading the Scriptures.
As the Author’s note in the introduction, each chapter is truly worthy of being its own book. But they give you enough of the meat of each key idea, to make it user-friendly right out of the box.
There are places where I would question whether or not the cultural aspects of some Bible texts as fully control that interpretation as they suggest. But in every place I am drawn to consider those aspects more completely, and to bring them to bear on the text in a more thoughtful way. Where I may have disagreed, I did not fail to also be enlightened and delightfully challenged.
I think every Church would do their congregations a great service to study this book on nearly every grade level. The study questions at the end of each chapter bring the material to you already packaged for small group and class use.
Read your Bible better this year. Take the time to digest these 200 or so quick reading pages. And you will be amazed at how some passages will open afresh. With that, you will gain some of the critical skills necessary for reading the Bible the way it was meant to be read and understood.
It’s a great book; I recommend it to all English-only literalists who shudder at the concept of “cultural” when explaining various elements of the Scriptures.
Thanks for stopping and commenting Jamie.