Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes (Book Review)

Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes

I learned more from the introduction to Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes than I have from many entire books.

When it comes down to it, there are really two categories of books that I enjoy—those that confirm what I am already preaching and those that teach me something new. This book definitely falls into the latter category.

I tend to think I have a pretty decent grasp of the Scriptures, include their context, but E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien very effectively showed me just how much I’m still misreading.

This book is not exegetical so much as it is hermeneutical. That is, it does not spend as much time describing what specific passages mean as it does describing the mindset behind them. Even more so, it describes our own Western mindset and shows us where, how, and why we differ. Still, the authors do provide plenty of fascinating biblical illustrations.

For example, take a moment to think through the story of the “prodigal son.” You can re-read it in Luke 15:11–32. Plot out the key parts of the story. What are they?

If you’re like me, you skipped right past the famine in verse 14. For all the times I’ve read this, it simply never registered to me. It was an incidental mention. Yet to Easterners reading it—especially those who are often affected by famine—it appears to be the very impetus that brought the son back to his father.

(By the way, that information is from the introduction, and you can actually read it as a free sample before purchasing the whole book.)

The authors compare our Western mindset to an iceberg, with some of our basic cultural differences as the tip above the water, some of greater importance slightly below the water, and the major differences buried deep down. The book is divided into three sections accordingly.

The tip of the iceberg includes cultural mores, race and ethnicity, and language differences. Much of this information seems like common sense, yet it is amazing how much more I have to learn in these areas.

The section just below the surface includes individualism vs. collectivism, the honor/shame system, and time. In particular, I found the section on shame to be quite illuminating. Our Western mindset thinks relatively little of shame. We can see this in such casual phrases as “that’s a shame.” Yet honor and shame seems to carry tremendous import to Easterners. My view of such concepts as they appear in the Bible will be quite a bite different now.

The deepest section includes rules vs. relationships, virtue vs. vice, and finding the center of God’s will. In this last section, I particularly enjoyed a thorough critique of the popular application of Jeremiah 29:11.

This book has had a huge impact on my thinking. I was truly amazed at just how much I really was missing. Yet the authors include a word of caution not to go too far. Another thing we Westerners are guilty of is overcorrection. We should not throw out the Western mindset entirely, but we should understand the differences and interpret carefully with them in mind.

Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes is a book I thoroughly enjoyed, benefited from tremendously, and plan to read again (something I rarely do with books). While I won’t go so far as to say that everyone needs to read this book, I highly recommend that you do.

Disclaimer: The publisher, InterVarsity Press, sent me a free copy of this book to review.