Our love for processes and checklists (beware of cultural blinders!)

When I was working in the aid and development sector, I used to disagree with some of my friends on how educational resources should be written. We were keen to produce resources that would help Christians in the West to understand poverty and how they might walk with the poor. Therefore, often people wanted educational materials to include, say, “five things you can do to help the poor.”

But I think life in Christ is much more organic and dynamic. Walking with the poor—which is an integral part of walking with God—cannot be reduced to an easy action plan.

I have come to realise that there are deeper issues at play. I wonder whether our “fast food culture” has blinded us in some ways? Our desire for instant solutions and our trust in orderly processes mean that we fail to see that life is much more complex than we think. Discipleship requires a deeper engagement in both the Scripture and real life issues, as well as undivided devotion to God.

I have just finished reading Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien’s Misunderstanding Scripture with Western Eyes (Downers Grove: IVP, 2012). It is a great book about how we may remove our “cultural blinders” so as to read the Bible well. Here are several excerpts from the last chapter, which, I think, contain some great insights. (I will highlight a few things in blue.)

As we were putting the final touches on this book, I (Brandon) spoke with my good friend Phebe about it. Phebe is Syrian and speaks Arabic as a first language. She and her husband, a Canadian, are high-school sweethearts who met at a boarding school in Germany. Before moving to Europe, her husband grew up in Ecuador. After they married, they spent time as missionaries in Africa… I told her we were struggling to make the book practical, to offer concrete suggestions for how our readers could apply the information in these chapters to their own study of Scripture. (p. 211)

“That’s sort of a Western thing to want, isn’t it?” she asked with a smile. “Three easy steps for identifying our cultural presuppositions!” (p. 211)

She’s right, of course. Westerners like systems, processes and checklists. It’s easy for us to believe that if we just work the right steps in the right order, we’re guaranteed to achieve the right outcome. That’s why so much literature on biblical interpretation focuses on methodology. Many of us believe that if we simply identify the right process for reading the Bible—do the right steps in the right order—we’ll eliminate the opportunity for misinterpretation. Unfortunately, methodologies are the products of culture. And as we’ve argued throughout this book, our cultural values and assumptions are very often the problems. (pp. 211–2)

We’re not trying to teach you a new methodology. We’re trying to help you become a certain kind of reader: the kind of reader who is increasingly aware of his or her cultural assumptions. And that takes time, self-reflection and hard work… So instead of a checklist, we want to offer you some advice. (p. 212)

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