Edited By Dr. Mark Caldwell
for NBST610-D14 Hermeneutics
Professor Randolph Richards (R) and his former student Brandon O’Brien (B), from Palm Beach Atlantic University team up to challenge our Western individualism; R&B attempt to give Westerners a more inspired way to read Scripture—community, “because once we are all in Christ, our own individual identities are no longer of primary importance.” While Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, a Western proofreader might find themselves repeatedly looking at the cover for a hammer and sickle, which the authors would consider typical of a corrupt megalomaniac mindset. Essentially, they propose that Christianity teaches a radical departure from individuality towards a communal setting. Its own words summarize the dominant thesis proposed in this work, “_Westerners misread the biblical text when we assume that the rules, which we can see, are the total extent of the relationship, failing to see the part of the iceberg under the water, out of sight._” In many ways, it reminds us of G.K. Chesterton's fairyland thinking, where “two black riddles make a white answer.” R&B take two opaque concepts, communal Indonesian culture against capitalistic Western individualism, shake a crystal ball and divine a new hermeneutical grayscale. The idea is, by putting them together, we will ignore the Scriptures which point to individualism and embrace all Scriptures which lead us to the promised land — collaborative thinking. If a passage seems individual, but we want it to read communal, we can just hit it with our magic wand.
Magic wands aside, R&B have raised some valuable points. Westerners should not read scriptures only from an individualistic perspective but from a communal one. Regardless, this work has three primary weaknesses in addition to several others mentioned later.
Indonesian collaborative culture is as far away from first-century Judaism as the U.S. Military is from Russian Communism. The authors are disingenuous in glossing over post-communistic cultural problems in Indonesia by saying they have been “…forced to oversimplify complex issues.” They have simply repeated what scholars have been saying about cultural self-awareness in various ways since Polycarp's Epistle to Diognetus 1:1-6 around 130AD, but in a dishonest lens.  Indonesia's version of Community is held up to be a model of how Christians should be. In reality, Indonesia's communal society was the outworking of a failed communistic political system that collapsed in 1965. They seem to forget that the only reason they were allowed into these countries, in the first place to spread the Gospel, was because a constitutional democracy took over.
This entire work, is a childish knee jerk reaction of seeing community in a different light. There is value here, but not in the way that R&B describe, or for the reasons they confess.
This work is reactionary to being in a different culture for the first time. The authors are not intellectually sincere, with their hopes to teach us about community. If the authors had chosen another Indonesian author, they would have written a very different book. Instead, they made a white male western decision to exclude an easterner from the conversation; for excellent reasons, the Indonesian would have objected to many of their conclusions. Conclusions that they needed to make, in order to sell us this book. R&B make intentional fumbles to mislead readers; one of many assertions: Indonesians are ignorant of individual privacy or thinking for themselves outside of the community.Indonesians understand that individuals strengthen the whole community along with the first-century church, just like we understand the value of community (1 Cor 12-11, 18:14:12; Eph 4:1-12). Humans are human; regardless of culture, Indonesians do not need R&B to create a fake perceived reality —truth does not need to fabricate. The Indonesian church had its fill of fabrications during the reign of communism.
R&B appear to be victims of a cultural Stockholm hermeneutic, making them forget all hermeneutics in the light of their cultural goals. As an Army Officer, I traveled and lived in various parts of the world for extended periods. We must warn young soldiers of this rhetoric, not only because it is inevitable but because it often leads to illegal action (AWOL). The host country always seems impressive at first. Especially to ignorant westerners, to whom this new lifestyle seems new and unique. This is especially prevalent in countries like South Korea and Germany. Everything Korean seems fantastic: Rose-colored glasses, the food, coffee shops, churches, bars, and women. Westerners adopt many aspects of the culture and inevitably get what the military calls, “host country Stockholm syndrome”. This syndrome has happened with R&B, and it is normal and natural, if not all too often typical. Jung called this "the shadow." Since R&B, have only lived between these two remote cultures, they are creating a false dichotomy that never existed, except in their white, western, mind.
They attempt to explain how the visual impairment of individualism in the west has kept us from seeing profound and valuable biblical truths. R&B do this this by tackling nine cultural differences between Capitalistic Americans and post-Communistic Indonesians. They further break these nine portions of the iceberg differences into three subcategories. Above the surface deals with mores, race, and language. Just below the surface tackles how we view time, kinship/honor/shame, and community differently. The third portion, deep below the surface, is where the absolute powerhouse lies. Ultimately, the journey is anti-climatic.
Alabaster and Obsidian
R&B believes white-majority churches giving way to ethnic minorities in America is a step in the right direction because ethnic minorities understand the community and white people do not. In Chapter two, on race and ethnicity, R&B turns the grayscale black to The Gospel in Black and White: Theological Resources for Racial Reconciliation. Racial politics and culture, either black/white, should not have a voice in our polemics, communal or individual, as it relates to hermeneutics (Rev 7:9). Dennis Okholms's work mimic's the idea that “the foolishness of Western individualism…deceives us into thinking that a changed heart means a changed world.”
Adam Was Woke
Race and ethnicity, equality of outcome, and the new woke hermeneutically is the same gnostic, told over and over again, repackaged and resold, since Adam and Eve in Genesis three. We do well to understand Paul's literary devices' limitations in 1 Cor. 12, lest we miss Jesus’ teaching on individualism (Luke 15, 19). We should embrace our diversity, not as black and white, but as something far more complex: family, both alabaster and obsidian. We can do this without forfeiting either individual or community. We do not have to lie about Moses’ wife to do it, either.Nevertheless, far more eloquently than children do on the playground, R&B finds the words to scream, “we don’t see color, but you do!” O’Brien points to evidence in the monetary value of black adoptive children vs. white adoptive children — whites cost twice as much. Why does O’Brien think this price tag is wrong? Because it offends his tribe: his mother, brother, sister, and cousins that all live together? No, like a good westerner, it offends his individualism, the very notion of freedom and equality of outcome. He is upset that a white child could cost more because of the supply and demand without approaching the objective reality: most adoptive parents are white, while virtually no black parents adopt: according to Rose Kreiger and Elizabath Raleigh's five year study at the the United States Census Bureau (Census.gov). The two cannot be separated. Nay, they should not be separated because the general human experience is not just communal, even though individual shame may be.
White fragility places ignorant westerners who “tend to be introspective”, in opposition to communistic, majority Muslim, Indonesian cultures (that are presumably more like first-century Christianity). Putting aside how Indonesia just escaped communism; forgetting, that the only reason R&B could enter these nations was through violence. Tossing aside how individuals gave up their lives, bore great suffering, wrote political laws in blood, and threw off the oppression of a failed communist regime in one of the greatest mass genocide and oppression in our lifetime (1965). Forgetting all of this, they bravely stride out with hammer and sickle, waving a banner of brave new wokeness.
R&B makes an illusion between Pax Romana and Pax American, “suggesting that we in the United States resort to military force much to quickly...”. At first glance, it seems humorous. However, when one sees the context and the overarching point of the book, it should elicit concern: using the lie of enlightenment, hidden in the guise of a more accurate hermeneutic is the real iceberg, the kind that sunk the Titanic. Not to say that their lie did not produce some fruit. Even though R&B is not honest, when they claim that white, American, capitalist worldview think the universe centers around them — they do make some good points in general.
Let’s Be Catholic Again, Just Kidding, Not Kidding
R&B contends that “the shift to individual, reader-centered interpretation was natural, post-Gutenberg.” That is, in America, we have transitioned from people who listened to the Word of God into individual owners of God’s Word. We have made God’s Word accessible to everyone, individually. After being forced into a communal church for the vast majority of Christendom, Reformers should turn back again to “weigh men down with burdens…” (2 Cor. 11:46). R&B would rather we go full circle, back round, to a time when the Church ruled life because that worked out as well as Marxist thinking.
R&B eisegeses Je 1:5, Is 49:1, Gal 1:15, and Ps 139:13 into communal passages — we disagree. Several good passages drive home the point of communal living: it seems odd that they failed here. The human experience is an individual one: created as individuals, we experience life, joy, all pain, emotions, and thoughts. Simultaneously, we are also communal. We cannot stress one over the other, as R&B has unless the text calls for it. We cannot blame our individualism on language, whiteness, politics, or age: individualism and an individualistic outlook are written into Adam, Eve, and our hearts since we started the rebellion with them (Gen 3).
In Rod Dreher’s 2020 book Live not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents, he warns against letting these spurious woke hermeneutics gain root in our Church consciousness. It appears that R&B has not considered the consequences of where their ideas lead. However, they may do and do not care about the consequences. It's ok to lie, as long as it is for the greater good? R&B would have us believe post-communistic Indonesia is the perfect sense to view scriptures standing against western individualism. Dreher would have us believe that all the world's evils come from communistic and communal views of scripture, and we should safeguard our individualism. Dreher warns us that only a single generation stands in our way, between Christian freedom and totalitarianism, and that we should resist the leaven of communal assumptions, like those of O’Brien. Christians in the east and west should listen to both voices and all of the voices in-between. On one side of the room we have, O’Brien announcing, “the supremacy of me …[Where] Westerners are perhaps blindest” and Dreher, “Woke Capitalism is now the most transformative agent within the religion of social justice”. Maybe the answer lies somewhere in-between, “for God didn’t create the imperfect. God doesn’t cause the imperfect. But God works through the imperfect.”
 E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 108.
 Ibid., 161.
 G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York, NY: Simon & Brown, 1908), 49.
 E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 22.
 Rick Brannan, The Apostolic Fathers: A New Translation (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017), 277.
 E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 134.
 Ibid,. 209.
 Anthony Stevens, Jung: A Very Short Introduction (Great Clarendon Street, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), 64.
 E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 20.
 Ibid., 97, 17.
 Dennis L. Okholm, The Gospel in Black and White: Theological Resources for Racial Reconciliation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 47.
 E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 60.
 Ibid,. 53.
 Ibid., 113.
 Ibid., 137.
 Ibid,. 185.
 Ibid., 193.
 Ibid., 197.
 Ibid., 103.
 Ibid., 172.
 Rod Dreher, Live Not By Lies: A Manual For Christian Dissidents (New York, NY: Sentinel, 2020), 212.
 E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 74.
 Amir Tsarfati, Israel And The Church: An Israeli Examines God’s Unfolding Plans For His Chosen Peoples (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2021), 17.