I recently led a book group through Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes. When I lead book discussions, I almost always read the book twice; once early in the week, I listen to it on audiobook. And then the day of the book club, I reread the same section in print and take notes and highlight the areas that I want to discuss. But this is not my first reading. My review on Audible has 196 likes. And on Amazon, the book description starts with saying that Bookwi.se (me) named it my favorite book of the year in 2015. So I believe that this is my 3rd and 4th reading of Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes.
What I like about leading book groups is seeing how others respond to a book. In virtually every book club meeting, one of the members held up the book and said a variation of, “I love this book.” By the end of the book club (which was about nine weeks), he had convinced his wife, his mother-in-law, two of his coworkers, and some others to read the book. This is a good book that really can help you see different perspectives on scripture. And that is very helpful in renewing interest in scripture.
This book group, which has been meeting on and off for about three years now, started as a church small group reading books about race. The group has expanded and changed, and because it has always been a Zoom group, it isn’t only local people or only people from one church. For several years I have been suggesting to anyone that will listen that one good way to raise consciousness about racial issues in the White Evangelical church is to start with Misreading Scripture because it is a helpful book that raises issues of culture and meaning. When we discover that other people, especially those that are from different cultures and times, have different understandings of how the world works, we can start to investigate how our understanding of the world may be culturally constructed. This isn’t “post-modernism”; this is just acknowledgment of reality, similar to the suggestion of CS Lewis about reading old books. I think, handled correctly, Misreading Scripture can be effective in introducing people who may be reluctant to discuss race and culture by concentrating on a book that is primarily about understanding scripture.
I do not want to repeat what I said in my earlier post, so anything I mentioned there I won’t mention here. I do not think it really sunk in until I read this with others about how important the iceberg metaphor is in Western Eyes. Generally, the more identifiable stuff, the visible parts of the iceberg, are those things that are less essential and more discussed. But what really riles people up are those things below the iceberg’s surface. It was the last chapter of the book that raised the most questions.
Related, a central phrase of the book is “because something went without being said.” The idea here is that as we read scripture, we often come across passages where there appears to be unrelated details or holes in the story. O’Brian and Richards are regularly pointing out areas where something important to the biblical culture was not said because the author of the passage assumed that what was central to the culture at the time did not need to be explicitly stated. To bring in the iceberg metaphor again, what is below the surface, the larger part of our culture does not need to be explicit because it is assumed. The parts that do not need to be said are the parts that are most difficult to translate to another culture because they are not explicit.
The previous two times I read this book were pre-2016. I believe that had this book been written in 2020 or later, some passages would have been written differently. I think the discussion of David and Bathsheba would be written differently in a post-#MeToo and #ChurchToo movement. Several other examples are now dated. One talks about the potential for a pandemic. And several passages I felt would be better served today if there was an explicit discussion of Christian Nationalism. It has only been 11 years since Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes came out, but reading this today is a reminder about how quickly some aspects of culture and some cultural references shift.
A few dated references and ideas aside, I still think Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes should be widely read, not just because of the specific contents of the book but because the issues it raises are helpful to broader issues of discipleship. (And while I have only read Misreading Scripture Individualistic Eyes once, it is a great follow-up book.)
Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible by E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook