The (Western) Church has a severe problem with cultural blinders — both in reading Scripture and in expecting Scripture to be read in the same manner in all times and places. Pseudo-biblical scholars have long sought to keep them on, however. And now, when we are facing a demographic change of epic proportions, it has become the job of real scholars to attempt to give the Western Church a Damascus Road moment. This book will, for many, serve as a starting point to Ananias’ house.
This book as generally found a positive reception — I will not dampen that warmth — mostly because what these scholars are doing, under the cover as authors, is what scholars do on a daily basis, believing or otherwise. They have managed to convince many that Scripture deserves an honest reading, one respecting of the time and place of composition. This does not diminish the application of Scripture, nor the truth of it, but it requires us in our social contexts to respect not just Scripture but so too all of the receivers of Scripture the world over.
The casual reader will find no small matter of discomfort when they read about the images we have imposed upon Scripture, or how ancient writers may have borrowed images present in their own culture to write a different story. The more in depth reader will appreciate such brutal honesty, while still leaving room to question whether or not the authors went far enough (for instance, with their interpretation of a particular passage in the pastorals). A discerning reading will find something of a personal challenge in the second chapter, a chapter dealing with modern (um, Western) notions of race, culture, and other geopolitical reactionary forces. This is not just a post-racial ploy, however, as the authors in chapter three launch into a structural/post-structural discussion about the meaning of language and how it shapes or is shaped by our reality, something difficult enough to process on most days, but try reading a chapter about the inadequacy of language — try reading a chapter about how reading is sometimes not the best method of information transfer. You already see the problem, then. Or maybe you discount my words as an accurate representation of their words which is only a representation of their thoughts shaped by the inadequacy of words. The only real thing missing in this chapter is an exegesis of ]] and the language of ontology.
Throughout the book, the authors change their voices — something that bothers me in a Platonic fashion — but each can relate their stories to the topics at hand. It is not merely a diatribe against Western culture, far from it. The topics presented show our present view not as derogatory but as something hindering Scriptural reading, not something that is inherently bad, evil, or otherwise. In three parts, nine chapters, the authors discuss a meaningful, well, lexicon in reading Scripture. From mores (sex, anyone?) to individualism to time as a measurement or a timing issue. Each topic is covered with a review of Scripture, stories from the cross-cultural experiences of the authors and a way forward. As well, each chapter is completed by a series of questions to ponder. Not every point is academically accurate, but this is review, not a response. Further, I am unsure as to their suggestion that not-so-good theology should be sometimes left alone, as they seem to imply with their discussion, not of forensic justification (173) but with whether or not Junia was a woman (172). This is under the chapter on rules and relationships. This is also the one time they come dangerously close to welcoming a more robust challenge from this reviewer.
What bothers me the most, however, is the ease in which the authors are able to get to the reader. The conversational style of the work is more than pleasant — it is of such a quality as to ensure the reader will hear the words in their own voice. Further, the endnotes are plentiful as are the suggested follow-up resources. Before mission trips or in the first and last year of seminary, or in a Sunday School class, this book should become well worn.