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Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes: Patronage, Honor, and Shame in the Biblical World

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The Bible was written within collectivist cultures. When Westerners, immersed in individualism, read the Bible, it's easy to misinterpret important elements--or miss them altogether. In any culture, the most important things usually go without being said. So to read Scripture well we benefit when we uncover the unspoken social structures and values of its world. We need to The Bible was written within collectivist cultures. When Westerners, immersed in individualism, read the Bible, it's easy to misinterpret important elements--or miss them altogether. In any culture, the most important things usually go without being said. So to read Scripture well we benefit when we uncover the unspoken social structures and values of its world. We need to recalibrate our vision. Combining the expertise of a biblical scholar and a missionary practitioner, Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes is an essential guidebook to the cultural background of the Bible and how it should inform our reading. E. Randolph Richards and Richard James explore deep social structures of the ancient Mediterranean--kinship, patronage, and brokerage--along with their key social tools--honor, shame, and boundaries--that the biblical authors lived in and lie below the surface of each text. From Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar to Peter's instructions to elders, the authors strip away individualist assumptions and bring the world of the biblical writers to life. Expanding on the popular Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, this book makes clear how understanding collectivism will help us better understand the Bible, which in turn will help us live more faithfully in an increasingly globalized world.


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The Bible was written within collectivist cultures. When Westerners, immersed in individualism, read the Bible, it's easy to misinterpret important elements--or miss them altogether. In any culture, the most important things usually go without being said. So to read Scripture well we benefit when we uncover the unspoken social structures and values of its world. We need to The Bible was written within collectivist cultures. When Westerners, immersed in individualism, read the Bible, it's easy to misinterpret important elements--or miss them altogether. In any culture, the most important things usually go without being said. So to read Scripture well we benefit when we uncover the unspoken social structures and values of its world. We need to recalibrate our vision. Combining the expertise of a biblical scholar and a missionary practitioner, Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes is an essential guidebook to the cultural background of the Bible and how it should inform our reading. E. Randolph Richards and Richard James explore deep social structures of the ancient Mediterranean--kinship, patronage, and brokerage--along with their key social tools--honor, shame, and boundaries--that the biblical authors lived in and lie below the surface of each text. From Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar to Peter's instructions to elders, the authors strip away individualist assumptions and bring the world of the biblical writers to life. Expanding on the popular Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, this book makes clear how understanding collectivism will help us better understand the Bible, which in turn will help us live more faithfully in an increasingly globalized world.

30 review for Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes: Patronage, Honor, and Shame in the Biblical World

  1. 4 out of 5

    Persis

    Excellent! It makes a big difference knowing the original context, which was written to collectivist societies. If we place our individualist view over the text, it is possible to miss key themes that the original readers would have taken for granted and miss out on comfort and deeper encouragement. I commend the authors for not elevating one culture over another but raising awareness about these specific contextual themes. I also highly recommend this book because it made me want to dive into t Excellent! It makes a big difference knowing the original context, which was written to collectivist societies. If we place our individualist view over the text, it is possible to miss key themes that the original readers would have taken for granted and miss out on comfort and deeper encouragement. I commend the authors for not elevating one culture over another but raising awareness about these specific contextual themes. I also highly recommend this book because it made me want to dive into the Word.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    Summary: Shows how we may misread scripture if we do not reckon with the collectivist context in which it is written, and in which many cultures still live. It was an eyeopener for me when I discovered that the “you” in many of the New Testament letters is often a plural you–“you all” or “y’all” if you are from the American South. It turns out that this was just the tip of the iceberg. So many of the narratives in scripture are understood very differently when understood in collectivist rather th Summary: Shows how we may misread scripture if we do not reckon with the collectivist context in which it is written, and in which many cultures still live. It was an eyeopener for me when I discovered that the “you” in many of the New Testament letters is often a plural you–“you all” or “y’all” if you are from the American South. It turns out that this was just the tip of the iceberg. So many of the narratives in scripture are understood very differently when understood in collectivist rather than individualist frameworks. E. Randolph Richards and Richard James have lived in such cultures, and while each culture, including those of scripture, have their own nuances, the authors draw upon these experiences to help us read scripture through a new lens, a collectivist lens. They consider the social structures of kinship, patronage, and brokerage, and the social tools of honor, shame, and boundaries. Finally, they draw conclusions about why it matters, even in an individualist context. In collective structures, our kinship group tells us who we are–and who we marry. Remember Jacob and Laban? He wants Rachel, but he is given Leah first. That’s the way it is done in family. Then there is patronage. When Paul speaks of being saved by grace through faith, he describes a good patronage situation. God extends grace through Christ, literally charis or gift, and we both trust and are loyal to our patron, God. Finally, there is brokerage, where a third party mediates between two others. What else is Jesus but a broker or mediator between God and humans? Then there are the social tools that enforce values in collective cultures. One’s honor is one’s greatest asset. Many of the challenges to Jesus are challenges to his honor, and thus his authority to teach. David gained honor in the conflict with Saul, not merely for being a good shot, but for trusting God in the conflict. In the West we consider one who sins guilty. In other cultures, the issue is shame. We have come to think that shame is always bad, but in collectivist societies shame comes with a path to remove it. Confronting a person with whom you have a grievance minimizes shame–allowing the person to remove shame without others knowing about it. Then there are boundaries, ones that define groups, ones that define how men and women relate, or don’t. When we choose a group, we accept their boundaries. The authors show how each of these collectivist elements function at their best and worst, and explore how they may be engaged redemptively. While there are important insights individualists see in scripture, there is much we learn when we read with collectivist eyes. More than that, we discover dimensions of our collective life in Christ. Our salvation isn’t just about me but we. We are part of a people, a family, with new boundaries and new values. Sometimes our individualist outlook not only leads us to misread the Bible, but also misleads us in our participation in Christian community. At very least, we misunderstand Christians in other cultures. At most, we miss out on dimensions of life in Christ and others miss out on what we bring to the family. ____________________________ Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Adam Shields

    Summary: An exploration of individualist culture (like the modern US) and collectivist cultures (like the biblical era) and how that leads us to misread scripture and misunderstand biblical concepts. There is no way for me to adequately capture Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes in a simple review. There is no question it is among the best books I have read this year. I looked back at the pre-release PDF copy that I read, and I made notes or highlights on over 100 pages of a 300-page bo Summary: An exploration of individualist culture (like the modern US) and collectivist cultures (like the biblical era) and how that leads us to misread scripture and misunderstand biblical concepts. There is no way for me to adequately capture Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes in a simple review. There is no question it is among the best books I have read this year. I looked back at the pre-release PDF copy that I read, and I made notes or highlights on over 100 pages of a 300-page book. I also have recommended the book dozens of times since I started it. Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes is a follow-up book to Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, which I also recommend, and have read twice. Both books are pointing out how our presuppositions and the (often unwritten) assumptions of the authors and original readers impact how we understand scripture. While the Western Eyes book looked at 9 areas briefly, Individualist Eyes spends more time focusing just on three inter-related concepts, Individualist vs. Collectivist cultures, honor/shame vs guilt/innocence, and patronage. One of the problems of reading scripture is how we have been shaped to understand the culture of the  Ancient Near East by modern authors. It is common to hear that the Greek and Roman world did not value life or participate in charity. But Individualist Eyes complicates that picture because patronage, which is a type of community care, and charity, was common. Collectivist cultures do care for their community, but patronage systems thrive when there is a large wealth disparity and a low level of governance. The wealthy use their wealth for others to illustrate virtue. Those who are helped give gratitude, loyalty, and service to the patron. The Father and Jesus are both compared to patrons. Jesus' comment, 'if you love me you will follow my commands' was a reference to a requirement for his patronage. Jesus feeding people was likened to patronage in the benefits it gave the people. Where Jesus and Paul and other early Christians were radical was not in care for the poor and disenfranchised, it was in removing the boundaries between who you cared for. Patrons would care for the poor and desperate of their own family, social group, or ethnic or religious community. But the early Christians put social obligations to care for others as a family across those boundaries. NT Wright's biography of Paul talks well about how the early church crossed boundaries. In addition, our modern sensibilities emphasize the importance of 'no-strings' gifts or charity. But communal cultures view the strings as part of the reason for gifts or charity. Those strings bind people together in relationships. There can be a misuse of that binding, and so Proverbs and other places give warnings at times, but part of covenant thinking, expressed clearly in the Old Testament and the New is that there is an 'if...then...' thinking in how our relationship with God works, a patronage relationship. At the same time, Jesus (and later the early Christians) redefined the reciprocity of relationships. In Matt 5 when Jesus if someone wants to sue you for your shirt, give them your coat as well. I have heard that explained as a form of shame, which could be true, but it was more likely to be about trying to turn an "adversary into a friend." (p 82) Our cultural toolbox has limitations. In Western Christianity, there is an emphasis on sin and guilt. The Holy Spirit does use guilt to produce repentance, which should produce change. But many modern "Asian cultures don't even have a word for guilt." (p130) Instead, collectivist cultures tend to use shame as a boundary for appropriate behavior in order to draw people into the right relationship with the group. On the other side, honor functions as one of the tools to reinforce a group's values and identity, also creating inclusionary boundaries. One of the strengths of Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes is that it not just illustrates the concepts, but then uses those concepts in scriptural interpretation, highlighting areas where we modern individualists misread scripture. It is common that we 'honor' David for being a good shot in killing Goliath. But ancients would have honored David for trust God to fight for him. "We are not supposed to say 'David killed Goliath.' We are supposed to say 'God killed Goliath.'" (p 149). Or in 1 Cor 13:4 and many other places: Paul is indicating his achieved honor. In my individualist culture, boasting has negative overtones. "Don't boast," my grandmother warned. "Boasting is wrong." That's our values at work. So we quote Paul when he says love does not boast (1 Cor 13:4)...We fill in the gaps about why they are condemned: they are condemned for boasting, because boasting is wrong. Yet, if we look closely at these verses, Paul is not actually condemning boasting but boasting for the wrong reasons...Boasting in Paul's culture...was to indicate achieved honor. Furthermore, since honor is collective, everyone else in Paul's group also benefited from his boarsting. For individualists, boasting is a way to put yourself ahead of your peers. For colelctivists, boasting is a way to put you and all of your peers (group) ahead. (p 150-151) Part of what is being pointed out is the nuance that we miss because we are in a different culture. We have all heard about the many different words for snow that Eskimos have. The point isn't that our concept of snow (one English word) is just expressed by many different words, or that our concept of love was expressed by four different words in Greek, but that in modern English, we compress those four different Greek concepts or the number of different Eskimo words for snow into a single word/concept. Said another way, we have less nuance for love and snow than Greek or Eskimo languages do. So in Hebrew, there were at least ten distinct terms for what we commonly translate as shame in English (p 180). The concept of shame/guilt has been written about widely, often frame through Brene Brown's work. Her work is helpful, but her distinctions and work are about modern concepts and usages of guilt and shame, not ancient concepts of guilt and shame. And so we cannot simply listen to Brene Brown and use her work to influence how we read Proverbs 3:35. The main concept (and there is too much I am skipping over) is that shame used rightly in ancient collectivist cultures was an attempt to bring about the restoration of relationships. The misuse of shame in modern culture (as illustrated through Brene Brown) tends to push people out of relationships. The right use of shame in a modern or ancient collectivist culture is restoration. But shame can be misused in either collectivist or individualist cultures. Matthew 18 never uses the words shame, but the concept of quietly going to someone to gently correct and then slowly enlarging the circle to apply more pressure is using the concept of shame in a way that we likely miss. Boundaries are one of the areas where I think Misreading with Individualist Eyes is particularly helpful. We individualists tend to think of all boundaries as negative. But within collectivist cultures, boundaries show shared values and group identity. In the New Testament, the importance of boundaries is that: "God doesn't want to save me as an individual. God saves us into something: a community...It is true that God loves us, each and every one of us. Salvation is a deeply personal matter, and I as an individual am restored to God. He does love me. At the same time, it is also about we...God sent Jesus as a broker to reconnect us to him and to one another. The Bible teaches I'm saved--into a community. (p238, italic in the origial) That saved into a 'we' isn't just about eschatological reality, but current reality as well. Acts 2 isn't about a failed communism. "The believers were acting like family...If we call God Abba, then we cannot think of one another as brothers and sisters merely with empty words, as John notes. We must treat one another as brothers and sisters because we are a family under a new heavenly father." (p244) One of the most important passages in my reading is this one. The challenge of building a Christian community is not an individualist or collectivist problem. It is a problem of living as God's family in a fallen world. It can be hard to form a deep community from individualists because individualists often do not understand the importance of community. At the same time, it can be hard to form a deep community from collectivists because collectivists understand the importance of community--the ones they are already apart of. (p245) Right now we, our society has significant boundary issues. We are ideologically, relationally, and geographically divided. Those divides do not magically disappear because of Christ. But because of Christ, we have tools (ones that we may not recognize, but they are there) to do the hard work of breaking down inappropriate boundaries and maintaining appropriate ones. We have tools to see other Christians as a family under the same patron. And we have the ability to love in a way that illustrates God's care for us to show God's love to others.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Debbie

    "Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes" looks at the cultural background of the Bible in order to better understand what's happening in the Bible. The authors focused on the differences between individualist and collectivist cultures, specifically on kinship, patronage, brokerage, honor, shaming, and boundaries. They used modern examples to help explain a concept then showed how this shows up in the Bible. They showed how understanding these cultural differences can change how we view wha "Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes" looks at the cultural background of the Bible in order to better understand what's happening in the Bible. The authors focused on the differences between individualist and collectivist cultures, specifically on kinship, patronage, brokerage, honor, shaming, and boundaries. They used modern examples to help explain a concept then showed how this shows up in the Bible. They showed how understanding these cultural differences can change how we view what's going on in some biblical accounts or even what the main point being made is. I've read a lot of these cultural background books yet I still learned a lot. I felt that the authors explained the concepts well. Overall, I'd highly recommend this book to anyone interested in a deeper understanding of the Bible. I received an ebook review copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Barry

    Highly recommended. This book is an important reminder that our individualist culture is very different than the collectivist culture that the writers of scripture were immersed in, and if we are not careful, these differences can cause us to misunderstand some of the Bible’s teachings. Imbedded within much of the biblical accounts are foundational undercurrents that just “go without saying” because they are simply understood within the collectivist mindset as just the way things are—such as the Highly recommended. This book is an important reminder that our individualist culture is very different than the collectivist culture that the writers of scripture were immersed in, and if we are not careful, these differences can cause us to misunderstand some of the Bible’s teachings. Imbedded within much of the biblical accounts are foundational undercurrents that just “go without saying” because they are simply understood within the collectivist mindset as just the way things are—such as the concepts of shame and honor, kinship and boundaries, and the notion of patronage. We modern westerners are unlikely to adequately appreciate these essential concepts. This book provides some much-needed insight to reveal the surprising message in many otherwise familiar biblical passages. Bob and Adam both wrote valuable and helpful reviews. Check them out: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show... https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

  6. 5 out of 5

    LyndenTree63

    I finished this book a couple months ago but procrastinated on marking it read because I wanted to write a review that can do it justice but. . . IT'S SO GOOD. READ IT. That's all I've got. Honestly though, I think understanding these things in the Bible are antidotes to a lot of the nonsense that North American church has gotten itself into these days. 10/10, would recommend for any person who likes the Bible or reads the Bible. I finished this book a couple months ago but procrastinated on marking it read because I wanted to write a review that can do it justice but. . . IT'S SO GOOD. READ IT. That's all I've got. Honestly though, I think understanding these things in the Bible are antidotes to a lot of the nonsense that North American church has gotten itself into these days. 10/10, would recommend for any person who likes the Bible or reads the Bible.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Steve Irby

    I just finished "Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes: Patronage, Honor, and Shame in the Biblical World," By E. Randolph Richards and Richard James (pseudonym). Suggested in the preface is that often when reading scripture we in the West we miss out on important details because of things which were assumed in the ancient near East; Collectivism (this is not pro Collectivism/anti individualism as a political philosophy or lifestyle but a book by and for individualists about the rest of th I just finished "Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes: Patronage, Honor, and Shame in the Biblical World," By E. Randolph Richards and Richard James (pseudonym). Suggested in the preface is that often when reading scripture we in the West we miss out on important details because of things which were assumed in the ancient near East; Collectivism (this is not pro Collectivism/anti individualism as a political philosophy or lifestyle but a book by and for individualists about the rest of the world and the culture of all scripture) is a major one. Some high spots: families would include slaves. Many families made up clans and clans made up tribes (twelve of which God wants united into a People, a People of God, but possibly I get ahead of myself). Entry into a tribe was by birth, marriage, or adoption (I think this will be important so don't forget it). Adoption was usually of an adult due to the high child mortality rate. The aging head of a family wanted to make sure that the estate was entrusted to someone before they died. This was called adoption to sonship. And "Allegiance" rather than "Faith" for pistis (Salvation by Allegiance Alone, by Matthew Bates) makes even more sense in light of adoption: Allegiance to Christ makes us adopted sons in the family of the Father with our big Brother, Jesus; we are not a subculture.  The writers bring out some very interesting things when speaking about the woman at the well. There is no historical reason to believe she was the village outcast because she was drawing water at noon, though possibly she was thirsty. There is no reason to believe she was the town vixen because she had five husbands; she probably married in her early teens as was the norm allowing for more time for older husbands to die on her as well as divorce. Barrenness was a common reason for divorce (remember Rabbi Hillel allowed divorce for burned dinner and his was the common thought in the first century). If she were guilty of immorality to a previous spouse who would have married her again? We read a lot of modernity into this event. We read modernity into all of scripture. The chapters on Patronage were fantastic. In the ANE (and much of the modern non western cultures) this would be an asymmetrical relationship between a wealthy person and a poorer person. For instance: a bakers bakery burns down. The baker goes to a wealthy person in town and pleads his case. The wealthy person accommodates the requests and has a new bakery built (maybe by using others he is a patron to). The baker will now provide bread daily for the patron and maybe his extended family but the patron of much influence also hustles the bakery to his friends. This can be seen in Paul and possibly Lydia, with her as a good patron and Paul and some in Corinth who would have been bad patrons. The gift has strings attached the question is can one live with the strings? If "I follow Apolos" are the strings then no.  It should be remembered that the patron and client relationship was often referred to in the ANE as shepherd and sheep.  When a patron gave gifts to a client these gifts were called CHARIS in the Greco-Roman world, aka Grace. Now go reread how this pateon/client relationship went: it was synergistic with the patron giving more than can be repaid. The patron/client relationship was one in PISTIS in the Greco-Roman world: loyalty or fidelity (faith). Both grace and faith were reciprocal from patron to client and client to patron. Excellent stuff here. All of that is just the first section before Honor and Shame are approached (where we learn that becoming like a child doesn't mean "simple, childlike faith" but not seeking honor over others, precisely what James and John were just asking to do). I still liked the previous "Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes" more. "...Individualist Eyes" is like a finely focused book on a few chapters from "...Western Eyes." #MisreadingScriptureWithIndividualistEyes #ERandolphRichards #RandolphRichards #Missiology #BiblicalScholarship #Exegesis 

  8. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    I have a one-question survey that will reveal with near perfect accuracy whether or not you are an individualist. Set? Here it is: Would you readily consider allowing your parents to arrange a marriage for you? Those of us from a Western culture would never give this the slightest bit of serious consideration. But in collectivist cultures (which make up the majority of the world), people answer yes to this all the time. Or perhaps slightly less dramatically, what about this? Would you expect your I have a one-question survey that will reveal with near perfect accuracy whether or not you are an individualist. Set? Here it is: Would you readily consider allowing your parents to arrange a marriage for you? Those of us from a Western culture would never give this the slightest bit of serious consideration. But in collectivist cultures (which make up the majority of the world), people answer yes to this all the time. Or perhaps slightly less dramatically, what about this? Would you expect your extended family to decide where you go to college? Maybe your nuclear family but definitely not your extended family. Right? Yet this is common in Latino/a and Asian societies. For individualists, a collective culture is, well, like being in a foreign country. And that’s why, as the authors contend, we so often misunderstand the Bible which comes out of collective cultures. Yet we persistently read it through the lens of our own individualistic mindset. With many stories of their own experiences in the Middle East, Asia, and elsewhere, the authors unpack how kinship, patronage, brokering, honor, shame, and boundaries are all hidden in plain sight in the Bible. A few examples. Why does Matthew spend all that time laying out Jesus’ genealogy? Because honor often comes from your family, your family’s history, who you are related to. To be descended from Abraham and David brings great honor (Mt 1:1). Why does Nicodemus come alone at night to talk with Jesus? Not because he feared the other Pharisees. Rather he didn’t want to inadvertently shame Jesus publicly by asking a question that might be seen as a challenge to a teacher he clearly respected (Jn 3:2). When Jacob gives Rachel’s son, Joseph, the multicolored coat, the other sons aren’t jealous because he got a better Christmas gift. No. It was much more serious. They realized this meant Joseph was going to be treated as the first-born and get their father’s inheritance. They were angry that their side of the family (all being sons of Leah) would be dependent on Joseph’s generosity, which seemed unlikely from this arrogant kid. The discussion on shame is especially illuminating because we often only have one definition of shame, and it’s bad—something to always be avoided. But in Scripture and much of the world, there is also a good kind of shame that seeks to nudge people in the community back into proper behavior. It’s kind of like our conscience. Having a sense of shame beforehand can keep us from acting wrongly, not just feel bad after acting wrongly. The book offers multiple examples of when shame creates a path for restoration—which is good shame. When it seeks to exclude and cut others off, that is bad shame. From a Western perspective, we might see patronage as creating unhealthy dependence, even being oppressive. But those inside see it as providing protection, meeting needs, giving security. Yes, it can be abused, but the problem then is not the system but the people in it. Our lack of a corporate sense can minimize our commitment to the church and even to family that the Old and New Testaments assume. I am not just saved, you see. The Bible says I am saved into a community. The point of the book is not to expunge our individualism. That wouldn’t be possible in any case. Rather, we have much to learn about what the Bible is really saying by putting on collectivist glasses. And we have much to learn about living biblically from our brothers and sisters in the faith who come from such backgrounds. --- I received a prepublication complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions here are my own.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Alexis Voelker

    I loved all the stories the authors told! I’d love a book of just all their stories of their time in collectivist culture (still laughing at the story of one of the authors waking up to discover all of his furniture was gone and he asked his wife about it and she said yeah I noticed it was all gone too 🤣 spoiler alert: he got all of his furniture back and it was a great example about how siblings share things). I also enjoyed their fictional stories that pieced together ancient culture. They mad I loved all the stories the authors told! I’d love a book of just all their stories of their time in collectivist culture (still laughing at the story of one of the authors waking up to discover all of his furniture was gone and he asked his wife about it and she said yeah I noticed it was all gone too 🤣 spoiler alert: he got all of his furniture back and it was a great example about how siblings share things). I also enjoyed their fictional stories that pieced together ancient culture. They made details really come to life and connect geography and families by giving those examples! There were a lot of things that were new to me (it was common in Jesus’ time to adopt, not small children that you take care of, but to adopt grown men so that they take care of you. This was called adoption into sonship (which then made everything click into place when I’ve seen that phrase in the New Testament). Also the whole concept of patronage was really informative and fascinating to read about. I will say they sometimes drove home some points just too much for me but I think that’s because I’ve been very lucky to not have grown up in bad churches and I’ve listened to a lot of Tim Keller who does a great job of explaining the Bible and not a western view (ex: the prodigal son story is not a story about how one son was bad but look at how he repented and came back. But that it’s actually a story of how both sons fail yet the father still accepts both).

  10. 5 out of 5

    Brad

    A worthy read that gives a new set of lenses through which to read Scripture.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Wolz

    Disclaimer: I spent several years as a student of one of the authors, and I read a copy of this book while it was in pre-pub. Now that it is published, I can gladly recommend it to any who wish to understand the Bible better. The premise of the book is simple. In the West, we read the Bible as individualists. The Bible, however, was written by collectivists. In other words, we are trained to think in terms of “me,” but the Bible is usually talking about “us.” This misreading has caused Christian Disclaimer: I spent several years as a student of one of the authors, and I read a copy of this book while it was in pre-pub. Now that it is published, I can gladly recommend it to any who wish to understand the Bible better. The premise of the book is simple. In the West, we read the Bible as individualists. The Bible, however, was written by collectivists. In other words, we are trained to think in terms of “me,” but the Bible is usually talking about “us.” This misreading has caused Christians to misread beloved Bible stories for generations; this book will help you to see the social tools at work in the Bible (and even in your own life), which will in turn allow you to understand the text better.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    This book offers (most typically) Western readers a completely new set of lenses with which to read familiar texts in the Bible. Even for many of us who think we have some basic understandings and workings of collectivist cultures, this was very much an eye opener in discovering how much I didn't know and how much of the collectivist relationship framework is assumed by the biblical writers. For all the reading and learning over the years I thought I gave to this subject, there was a huge number This book offers (most typically) Western readers a completely new set of lenses with which to read familiar texts in the Bible. Even for many of us who think we have some basic understandings and workings of collectivist cultures, this was very much an eye opener in discovering how much I didn't know and how much of the collectivist relationship framework is assumed by the biblical writers. For all the reading and learning over the years I thought I gave to this subject, there was a huge number of "oh really?" and "aha" moments. The authors of this book use countless examples from their own contemporary experiences and from both the Old and New Testaments to illustrate the collectivist undercurrents that are foundational to a "better reading" of scripture. It isn't just the stories and narratives that most explicitly show these relationships, but the collectivist background forms the very basis of salvation metaphors and many of the arguments and theology found in the epistles. The authors try to explore what this means for Western readers whose culture and society are often far removed from collectivism. On the one hand, they argue that individualists shouldn't have to change their ways drastically. But on the other, the entire premise of the book is that collectivism is the assumed starting point. Do we need to move more toward collectivism? How much? Just in our church life, or should it be more inclusive of all aspects of modern life? I feel like this might be the book's weakest point. The authors come from what appear to be mainstream, traditional evangelical perspective. The book doesn't touch on much of any of the divisive theological issues of today, although I could see a few tangential references here and their to gender-related ones. I highly recommend this book as another tool in the toolkit of better reading scripture so that those of us 2000 years removed and half a globe away (at least from where I write) can see richness and nuances in familiar biblical texts that we might have missed before.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Hodgkins

    Rarely, when reviewing books, does where I live play a role. In reading “Misreading scripture with individualistic eyes” though, it feels important to note that South Africa has deep roots in collectivist culture. Authors E. Randolph Richards and Richard James set out to explain to readers from individualistic cultures the differences between the two and how that impacts the way we read the Bible, they comment: “…to understand ancient Mediterranean (and most modern Eastern) collectivist cultures, Rarely, when reviewing books, does where I live play a role. In reading “Misreading scripture with individualistic eyes” though, it feels important to note that South Africa has deep roots in collectivist culture. Authors E. Randolph Richards and Richard James set out to explain to readers from individualistic cultures the differences between the two and how that impacts the way we read the Bible, they comment: “…to understand ancient Mediterranean (and most modern Eastern) collectivist cultures, you need to understand six basic ingredients: kinship, patronage, brokerage, honor, shame, and boundaries.” However, I felt like neither fish nor fowl! I was raised as a first generation South African by British parents but in living over 30 years in South Africa, these six basic ingredients felt familiar and my interpretation of the examples given lined up on the collectivist side of things. I am a mix of the two, I can see both sides, but felt more comfortable with the collectivist than the individualist. Whichever side you find yourself on, better understanding how culture and context impact how we interpret stories is a good thing and as such, I enjoyed the book. My experience of collectivist culture meant I found having a concept explained three or four times over in different ways repetitive but, perhaps, for those less familiar with it, it will be helpful. In Africa, there is a saying about the meaning “being in the air”, unstated and yet understood. It would be seem to be similar in Eastern culture as a large part of the book explains what ISN’T said in the Bible as it “…examines some unspoken foundational social structures and tools used in the biblical world.” The authors do this through expounding on Biblical stories, sharing modern examples and writing fictional stories to highlight their points. In doing so, they achieve their objective of highlighting how different the Biblical world view was in comparison to today’s Western culture. If you haven’t experienced a collectivist culture, this book will open your eyes to a very different way of perceiving the world and change the way you see many of the familiar stories from the Bible. If you have, this may not be the one for you, it doesn’t dig deeply into particulars of the Biblical culture and admits to using generalisations to make the point. It’s a three out of five on the enJOYment scale.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Scott Carter

    Richards, E. Randolph, and Richard James. Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020. $28.00 Randolph and James have teamed up to write Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes. The book challenges those who have grown up in cultures emphasizing individualism and the way they read Scripture; this should be fairly obvious from the title. The goal is to shed light on “collectivist” read Scripture and how the culture surrounding the Biblical authors was c Richards, E. Randolph, and Richard James. Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2020. $28.00 Randolph and James have teamed up to write Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes. The book challenges those who have grown up in cultures emphasizing individualism and the way they read Scripture; this should be fairly obvious from the title. The goal is to shed light on “collectivist” read Scripture and how the culture surrounding the Biblical authors was collectivist. This term is a generalization based on the idea that much of the Western world is "individualistic" and much of the Eastern world is "collectivistic." In their introduction, they oppose resolutely saying one or the other perspective is better or worse. Rather, they recognize because of the fall we have gaps in our understanding and they want to promote our ability to read Scripture and encourage the individualist to see the value in the collectivist approach. The authors want this book to be an introduction to the gaps individualists experience and it certainly serves its purpose. They helpfully engage in topics such as kinship, patronage, honor, shame, and boundaries. Reading was a challenge at times because the authors edited each other's writing (as noted in the preface). At times there is a lack of flow or I might wish for certain parts to be more concise. I liked the effort put into the book and the goal of increasing Biblical literacy by broadening our cultural understanding. I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley for review purposes. My comments are independent and my own.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Manoske

    When we read the Bible or any text for that matter, we often read our cultural assumptions into the text rather than interpreting the text by way of an analysis of its content. We act as if the characters in the story are operating within our culture. The value of this book is in challenging our assumptions via a different viewpoint. I, as the authors, am eager to better understand other cultures. I appreciated the book’s repeated highlighting that we are not meant to judge collectivists as inhe When we read the Bible or any text for that matter, we often read our cultural assumptions into the text rather than interpreting the text by way of an analysis of its content. We act as if the characters in the story are operating within our culture. The value of this book is in challenging our assumptions via a different viewpoint. I, as the authors, am eager to better understand other cultures. I appreciated the book’s repeated highlighting that we are not meant to judge collectivists as inherently right or as inherently wrong. The authors acknowledge these systems are just different - apples and oranges. It allows a better understanding of the social and cultural dynamics playing out as we read the text thereby illuminating our pre-conceived ideas. This allows us to ferret out our own or our group's ideas from what the text actually states. Unfortunately, the authors often make statements that seem to be more built on their impressions of cultures and less on information in the text. The authors don't accurately use scripture as a foundation to understand its meaning. Instead, it seems their interpretation is rooted in their experiences or cultural interpretations. In fact, some of these odd twists to scripture seem to push an ideological agenda and appear to undermine understanding of scripture based on the text. One repeated statement in the book was particularly striking to me. “Generalizations are always wrong and usually helpful.” Rarely are generalizations helpful except to breed assumptions and assumptions are dangerous. Besides "Generalizations are always wrong" is a generalization. Overall a good read to challenge your pre-conceived assumptions, but not even a close substitute for interpreting Biblical text by way of a thorough analysis of its content.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Micah

    This is a good book providing essential perspective, but its most basic premise involves a couple of flaws. The authors argue that if we don’t know the cultural context to which the Bible is written (especially in its collectivist elements of patronage, brokerage, honor, and shame), we’re liable to misunderstand Scripture. This is true, and the argument for it is made well. I learned many things from them that I, as a 21st century American living in a culture that is very focused on the rights, This is a good book providing essential perspective, but its most basic premise involves a couple of flaws. The authors argue that if we don’t know the cultural context to which the Bible is written (especially in its collectivist elements of patronage, brokerage, honor, and shame), we’re liable to misunderstand Scripture. This is true, and the argument for it is made well. I learned many things from them that I, as a 21st century American living in a culture that is very focused on the rights, concerns, and interests of the individual, didn’t know about cultures that prioritize collective interests. It made me think, and it actually triggered and solidified changes in the way I think about subjects that might seem far removed from the topic it is focused on. I thought the chapters on shame were especially good. However, while this basic thesis is sound and overall helpfully presented, I do see a couple of significant flaws with this book. The first is that its authors relativize culture too much, and I think that is in part because they tend to equate individualism with the West. Individualism is a very recent development (last few hundred years) even in the west, and it has nothing to do with our ethnic or cultural roots. What’s more, they don’t address how their thesis relates to the understanding that Scripture is self-interpreting. A good argument could be made (and I would be strongly motivated to make it) that the collective social assumptions and values of the biblical authors are clear enough, even to us individualists, and that the reason for the disconnect is not “what goes without being said” on the part of the authors, but our own inattention as readers.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Christina O.

    While emphasizing the relevance and applicability of the Bible, we often forget that the Bible is a text that was written during a specific time and place, and that the original audience would have had insights into the book that we (as western, individualist Christians) would not easily pick up on. Richards and James use their experiences living in collectivist cultures to show how we can misread scripture by applying our own individualistic worldview over a text written about and for a culture While emphasizing the relevance and applicability of the Bible, we often forget that the Bible is a text that was written during a specific time and place, and that the original audience would have had insights into the book that we (as western, individualist Christians) would not easily pick up on. Richards and James use their experiences living in collectivist cultures to show how we can misread scripture by applying our own individualistic worldview over a text written about and for a culture that was collectivist. The authors often illustrate certain concepts by telling anecdotes from their own experiences in collectivist cultures or the experiences of friends from those cultures. My only complaints are that at times it seemed repetitive, and that I didn’t always agree with their interpretation of certain scriptures. That aside, I found the book to be easy to understand and helpful in teaching me more about collectivist cultures during ancient times and today. I believe Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes is an important book and anyone endeavoring to study the Bible should add it to their reading list. *Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me a copy in exchange for an honest review.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Carôle Ceres

    Equally as Informative as Book One. ‘Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes’, is book one. Very informative and a great introduction. This book goes deeper and totally opens up your heart and mind to the fact that, whilst the Bible was written for us - it wasn’t written TO us as Westerners!! There are a whole swath of things written in the Bible that goes without saying - which actually DO need saying, to us! Having read these 2 books, I realised that, there are So Many Things that just go over ou Equally as Informative as Book One. ‘Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes’, is book one. Very informative and a great introduction. This book goes deeper and totally opens up your heart and mind to the fact that, whilst the Bible was written for us - it wasn’t written TO us as Westerners!! There are a whole swath of things written in the Bible that goes without saying - which actually DO need saying, to us! Having read these 2 books, I realised that, there are So Many Things that just go over our heads, that our ministers don’t really have the time (in a sermon) each week, to educate us on! We really Do need to know and understand these things, in order to get ‘the point’ that Jesus, Peter, Paul and James were making to their audiences - which weren’t us!! I’ve learned quite a deal from this first pass! Both books have to be revisited, but the beauty of this book is, how it further opened my eyes to the: ‘nuclear family, all about me’ isolationist culture that we have in the West which can, on reflection, be quite limiting and lonely and not what our Triune Godhead desires for us at all. I never appreciated that before. These books are a great investment for our spiritual lives.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    This book expands upon concepts of the Honor/Shame culture that are mentioned in Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, offering further insights in the differences between more individualist focused cultures (like that of the United States) vs much of the near, middle, and far east. The authors use anecdotes from their travels and missionary work, giving a personal look at the two cultures interacting with some grace begat by kind intentions. The 'Western Eyes' book was a pretty radical eye-ope This book expands upon concepts of the Honor/Shame culture that are mentioned in Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, offering further insights in the differences between more individualist focused cultures (like that of the United States) vs much of the near, middle, and far east. The authors use anecdotes from their travels and missionary work, giving a personal look at the two cultures interacting with some grace begat by kind intentions. The 'Western Eyes' book was a pretty radical eye-opener for me, and this one less so, in part because I read the other one already. Still, I appreciate the deeper dive into Patronage, which the authors were described thoroughly and challenged the reader (listener) to grasp that the system isn't inherently bad, despite popular depictions of it. When people misbehave in a good system, the system suffers from those actions. For Christians wishing to gain a deeper understanding of the context of Old and New Testament stories, I highly recommend this and the previous work. In this one, the expansion and clarification of the tale of Joseph (Jacob's son) was probably the most eye-opening.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Katheryne

    This book is a deep dive into the collectivist cultures of the eastern and middle eastern worlds as well as the biblical worlds of the Old and New Testaments. The authors use many examples from present time - when they were living and working in these parts of the world - to explain concepts such as kinship, patronage, brokerage, honor, shame, and boundaries. They also use biblical examples as well, which offers readers a freshly nuanced way to understand these biblical texts. This is important This book is a deep dive into the collectivist cultures of the eastern and middle eastern worlds as well as the biblical worlds of the Old and New Testaments. The authors use many examples from present time - when they were living and working in these parts of the world - to explain concepts such as kinship, patronage, brokerage, honor, shame, and boundaries. They also use biblical examples as well, which offers readers a freshly nuanced way to understand these biblical texts. This is important because western readers live in individualist cultures and societies and can misinterpret and misunderstand the Bible when we don’t acknowledge the collectivism within biblical cultures. The authors carefully explain these concepts in easy to understand, conversational language while also applying detailed research to the work as well. This is an important resource for any western Christian wanting to further their study of the Bible and expand their understanding of it.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Marvy Herrera

    I received an ARC from InterVasity Press, via NetGalley. This review is my personal opinion. Usually, I do not read this type of book, however, the name caught my attention and I must say it was very enlightening and eye-opening. Well-written and thoroughly research this book will help us to see that we need to change our approach to the Bible. Our culture and specific context give us a view, a close and limit one and this book help me see the complexity inside the society represented in the Bib I received an ARC from InterVasity Press, via NetGalley. This review is my personal opinion. Usually, I do not read this type of book, however, the name caught my attention and I must say it was very enlightening and eye-opening. Well-written and thoroughly research this book will help us to see that we need to change our approach to the Bible. Our culture and specific context give us a view, a close and limit one and this book help me see the complexity inside the society represented in the Bible. I recommend this book, especially for those who like to do deep Bible study it could be a great addition.

  22. 5 out of 5

    G. Connor Salter

    The authors use a combination of anecdotes from their experiences in collectivist societies and historical research to show how beliefs in honor, familial and kinship ties, as well as other related factors, effect how collectivist societies operate. Understanding these cultural factors make Biblical stories clearer, helping Western readers understand the cultural context behind Bible stories and teachings.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Reg Hamilton

    A MUST Read to understand the Biblical world Very fascinating read! Sound doctrine and biblical research with very practical examples. Illuminating and challenging, but a must read for any student of scripture and especially some of the intriguing nuances of collectivist cultures of which most of scripture was found. Brings much more depth and understanding to the Biblical world and Gospel of Christ!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Holmes

    This book seems to zoom in on one area mentioned in Richards other book, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes. Both books are vital for any Christian leader teaching scripture and wanting to understand the Bible. The work Richards has done is absolutely critical to helping remove cultural biases in an effort to help us have a more honest grappling of biblical truth and paradigms.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Caleb

    An enjoyable and accessible dive into the collectivist cultures that make up the context of the Old and New Testaments and that form the cultural backdrop for many contemporary Christians. This book will help you to expand your exegetical toolkit, increase your contemporary cultural intelligence, and deepen your sense of empathy and community.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Robby Eckard

    His earlier work written in a similar vein, "Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes," had probably more of an impact on how I read Scripture than any other book. This work has similarly affected me, and I look forward to seeing how these insights bleed into how I read the Bible. His earlier work written in a similar vein, "Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes," had probably more of an impact on how I read Scripture than any other book. This work has similarly affected me, and I look forward to seeing how these insights bleed into how I read the Bible.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    Great commentary and secondary supplemental reading for those who are interested in diving deeper into scripture. Reading with collectivist eyes in our very individualist society, is crucial in understanding how to apply the Bible to our lives.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Maya

    I did not like this as much ad Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, which was a more high level overview of many misreadings, whereas this was a deep dive into a few concepts. Nevertheless, it was interesting, I learned a lot, and see many passages in a different light thanks to this book.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Filip Sekkelsten

    Fantastic! Very helpful on honour vs. dishonour and guilt, shame and honour as tools for teaching and perpetuating values. So thankful to have been made more aware of things that I tend to overlook or misunderstand, coming from an individualist culture.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Amy Mark

    Highly recommend!

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