Sjolander Road Fellowship




Declaring the God of Unconditional Love

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The Bible seen through foreign eyes

12/29/12 

 

As westerners, I don't think we very effectively see the world through the eyes of non-westerners. That is especially true as it relates to Christianity as taught and practiced  in western civilizations. As a part of a Christian heritage, we tend to inherit, at an early age, a culturally induced view of the Bible. Considering for a moment how the Bible would appear to someone outside our own culture, provides a great opportunity to reassess our own beliefs and assumptions.

 

As the basis for Orthodox Christianity, the Bible represents a profound and yet strange book. The church proclaims it as the direct revelation of the mind of God to humanity in general, outlining the divine requirements to be accepted and blessed by the Creator. In that proclamation they essentially rely on the notion that the Bible is self validating, meaning that the book, itself, presents the evidence necessary to prove that it is divine in origin. The  aspects of the Bible most often cited as providing that proof are its prophetic insights and its majestic picture of God as all powerful and yet loving and self sacrificial. This picture is said to be very different from that of other deities which are by implication the product merely of man's imagination.

 

Once the supernatural nature of the book is established, then its words can supposedly be used to instruct in right conduct and to enforce the same. This last aspect of Bible usage has fostered a longstanding and close relationship between the church and secular government wherever Christianity has grown.

 

In accepting the Bible as God's roadmap for all humanity, one must deal with a number of obvious questions, at least in presenting that view to those outside our western culture. The first question an outsider would probably ask is what demonstrates and proves the source of this book. In addition to what I already mentioned above, some point to isolated incidents of alleged scientific insights which were beyond the knowledge of the people at the time these insights were expressed in the Bible. Others want to claim the demonstrated historical accuracy of various portions of scripture as confirming the books divinity.

 

When presented with this form of proof, an unbiased hearer will very likely move on to associated issues like who recorded the words of the Bible and how were they transmitted to mankind at large, assuming that they apply to everyone alike. In pursuing that line of questioning, the outsider will ultimately come to learn that the Bible is not one book but a compendium of many books written/recorded by numerous authors over centuries of time. He will learn that this compendium was not assembled in its current form until millennia after its earliest words were recorded, meaning that for most of human history this roadmap did not exist. In addition after some further analysis, this student will read that initially the words of the Bible were directed exclusively to a small and divinely isolated portion of humanity mankind with no real effort to convey its message to everyone. The outsider would then logically wonder why an essential and universal message would begin in the hands of a small group instructed to isolate from their fellow human beings. The question of compatibility between method and purpose is strange indeed.

 

Continuing in their study, the outsiders would find that Jesus Christ is a central figure of the Bible, especially the latter books. In fact, Christianity is supposedly derived from the work and teachings of Christ. Yet none of the books of the Bible are claimed to have been written by Christ. Instead other men recorded his words and actions years and years after he lived and died. That portion of scripture which is most often referenced to substantiate church doctrine in our time was written by a man named Paul who never even met Jesus during His time on earth. Those of another culture might reasonably ask why we don't recognize Paul as the source of Christianity on at least an equal basis with Jesus, since Paul's words are so critical in defining this religion. This is doubly significant when one considers how often the words and life example of Jesus seem to get superseded in church doctrine by some Pauline reference.

 

Even after having established to the satisfaction of the outside hearer that the Bible is divinely inspired, we still must deal with the larger issue of interpreting its meaning and proving its universality. As noted above the origin and distribution of its earliest books as noted within the book itself does not support its universal applicability. Neither does the method by which the Bible was finally assembled nor the issue of linguistic diversity within humanity at large. On top of that we have the historical fact that a written revelation is not effective for an illiterate audience with no means of reproducing or disseminating that revelation in multiple languages. In response to this obvious deficiency from the outsiders perspective, the church points to the Bible's instruction to believers to be instructors of others. The logistical issues associated with that approach will not likely mitigate the outsiders concern that his eternal future has been jeopardized by a message and methodology which so favors the westerner.

 

After dealing with all of the above, this person of another culture, having been introduced to the idea of the Bible as a divine and universal revelation must then deal with what the words mean and how to apply them to his or her life. Of course, the church will propose to be the interpreter, thereby relieving the hearer of the need to figure it out personally. Again, one who is not predisposed to accept church pronouncements as true and binding would likely wonder about entrusting their life and supposed eternal destiny into the hands of a foreign institution without careful personal evaluation. In pursuing that independent study the conclusions of an outsider are not at all sure, given the length and complexity of the Bible.

 

It is hard to see the world through the eyes of someone else, especially so when that other person is not of our culture. Trying to put oneself into the place of a non-westerner hearing the message of Christian Orthodoxy, however, is perhaps the truest measure of that message. If what Christianity teaches is, in fact, God's message for all mankind, then most people will not approach the Bible and hear its words the way we in America do. It will be a new and strange sounding voice which must prove itself before being accepted. The standard church arguments are not particularly effective in that environment. 

 

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