Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Dress Debate and Learning to Hear Scripture

What color is it? Blue and Black. White and Gold. This debate has captured media and internet attention over the past week after the image appeared on Tumblr. On the surface, it is a simple question. It's blue and black, right? Then you meet someone who claims that it is white and gold. My own wife saw it both ways at different times of the day.

The scientific community published answers to explain why different people perceive the colors of the dress differently. Keeping it simple, we perceive color through blue, green, and red receptors in our retina. The color scheme in the dress is on the border between colors so depending on how our eyes are hardwired (my term) our brains decode the dress color as blue/black or white/gold. The dress designer intended and believed that she had created a blue/black dress. Some were able to perceive the dress as she intended, but not all. Fascinating.

As readers of Scripture, we need to be aware of what we as readers bring to the text. As we seek to hear the voice of God through an ancient text, it is critical for us to be aware of ways that we may distort its message due to our biases. We may read the text and find elements that are present in the passage, but we may not see the whole story.

For example, David Smith in the beginning of his book Mission After Christendom (pg. 1) tells the story of reading the Joseph narrative (Genesis 37–50) with a group of Nigerian Christians. As a Westerner, Smith assumed that the Nigerians would read this powerful account as a testimony of God's faithfulness and that God's people can trust in God care. To his surprise, the Nigerians interpreted the Joseph story as a a witness to family loyalty. Both of these interpretations are valid, but the believabilty of each derived in part on how it intersected with the cultural values of the readers. It also illustrates some of the cross-cultural differences between readers from Western contexts and those from non-Western (in this case West African) contexts.

To become adept at reading Scripture, the wise reader will become a specialist in studying the context in which he or she is actually reading the Bible. This does not mean that the Bible can mean anything, but it does mean that we need to be aware of our biases (rooted in our political commitments,  theological beliefs, ethnicity, socio-economic status, language, gender, and age). If we forget about these elements, we may find that our preaching, teaching, and sharing of the Bible falls on deaf ears simply because our audience cannot see Scripture in the same colors that we do.

Critical Questions to Learn to See Through the Lenses of Others:
How can we learn to be more critical and discerning readers? Here are some questions that help me:

What does this text assume to be true? 
How do these assumptions affect our reading of the text?
What elements in the text may be offensive in our contemporary context? 
What issues raised will be difficult for Christ followers to understand? 
What issues in the text will be difficult for outsiders to the Christ following movement? 
What are the obvious objections that one could raise to the claims of the text? In what ways does the text answer these objections? 
What part of the text do I wish was not present? 

Words to the Wise

1) Address the obvious issues especially those that are controversial or easy to misunderstand, 
2) Anticipate and answer objections to the message of the text, 
3) Do not assume that the audience understands the contours of the Gospel, 
4) Make sense of the text within its Scriptural context, 
5) Be sensitive to the realities and challenges of your audience, 
6) Trust the Holy Spirit is working in the midst of the community
Remember those on the Fringes of Your Faith Community

How do the Scriptures speak to the homeless teen? 
How do you communicate the Gospel to the thirty-year old Muslim woman that you encounter? 
How do we teach our children to read and talk about Scripture in the increasingly multi-cultural contexts in which they find themselves? 

It is vital for leaders who desire to lead their communities of faith to make impact on the surrounding culture to begin to listen to Scripture with new eyes and ears shaped by questions that outsiders raise.

      Walter Brueggemann believes, following the suggestion of an unnamed colleague, that seminarians need to learn how to preach by engaging in street preaching.[1] Brueggemann gives two reasons for this proposal.  First, in street preaching, one’s claims are contested in ways that normally do not occur within the “safe” environment of the Church. There will be no “preaching to the choir.” On the street, one may be heckled by the crowd. The possibility of contested speech necessitates a missional reading that attempts to communicate directly with the world rather than merely edifying those already comfortable with the claims of the Church. Second, in street preaching, one will face the “So what?” question. What does it matter if Jesus died on the cross? How does this make my life different in the 21st century? So what that the Bible is a Holy Book? How is it different from other inspired writings and holy books? Why should I believe the claims of the Gospel?

As we learn to speak meaningfully to both followers of Jesus and not-yet-followers of Jesus, let us remember the dress debate

© 2015 Brian D. Russell

[1]Walter Brueggemann, “A First Retrospect on the Consultation” in Renewing Biblical Interpretation, eds Craig Bartholomew, Colin Greene, and Karl Möller (Cumbria and Grand Rapids: Paternoster and Zondervan, 2000), 346.

No comments:

Post a Comment