Thursday, November 01, 2012

Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes

Scot McKnight has written about a new book,  Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible.  Here's Scot's analysis:
Back to the big idea: Westerners see things in the Bible not there and we miss things that are there. And this happens because we are Westerners. So they find nine areas where we need to become more sensitive:

1. Our mores — our social conventions shaping our behavior and beliefs about what is good and bad, right and wrong — are not the Bible’s.
2. Race and ethnicities: we may think all are the same, but we betray our realities; the ancient world was easier with ethnic identities. We impose our ethnic assumptions on the Bible’s lines. When Moses married a Cushite, probably a dark-skinned African woman, we might impose our racial stereotypes when those stereotypes are modern and not ancient.
3. Language: this one gets lots of attention in postmodernity. Use translations to experience some variation arising from various readings of the language.
4. Individualism and collectivism: the Bible’s cultures were not individualist as we are in modernity and postmodernity. Our preoccupation with “me” in Bible reading is modern. We need to learn to read in plural.
5. Honor/shame and right/wrong: honor has to do with status; shame with lowering one’s status. Our culture is more about right and wrong. What society expects shapes them far more.
6. Time: they discuss chronos vs. kairos senses of time.
7. Rules and relationships: the Bible’s relationships shaped rules while we tend to see rules shaping relationships. Take Paul and circumcision which seemed to be less a rule and more about relationships.
8. Virtue and vice:ours are not theirs — like tolerance and freedom and pax Americana and self-sufficiency. The Bible’s focus was love — is it ours?
9. Finding the center of God’s will: this is a variant on individualism. Ours is a world in which self is at the center.

The authors provide some suggestions:

1. Embrace complexity
2. Beware of overcorrection
3. Be teachable
4. Embrace error
5. Read the Bible together — with others.

"9. Finding the center of God’s will: this is a variant on individualism. Ours is a world in which self is at the center."
I'm stuck on #9.  If Michael Allen Gillespie is correct in his The Theological Foundations of Modernism, then understanding God only in terms of will is a modern phenomenon. We need to remember that "western" civilization didn't just begin with the Renaissance. There was an entire chapter called "premodernism," before the nominalists began writing the story, and telling us that what is preeminent in God is His will.

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