Reading the Bible with a multicultural lens matters. Migration and globalization has made our world smaller. Much smaller. Reading the Bible with a multicultural lens allows you to communicate to the people in your community and neighborhood who are different from you.
It gives you empathy.
One of the benefits to reading the Bible with a multicultural lens is that it causes you to be empathetic. Empathy is essential. Being empathetic with people who are not like you helps you to see where they are coming from and experience the pain and the hope that they feel as well.
This helps when it comes to understanding them. When you can understand someone you can meet their needs in a more specific and on target way.
It can help you reach to a wider audience with the gospel
Reading the Bible with a multicultural lens also helps when it comes to reaching a wider audience with the gospel. You can connect the gospel with a specific ethnicity or culture’s shared longings. You can speak directly to the pains and problems the gospel addresses.
It can help you see the blind spots in your own culture
Having a multicultural lens when you are reading the Bible can also help you see your own blind spots. Blind spots come from projecting your own culture into the text. This makes you unaware. Unaware of the ways scripture can be critical of some of the not so great things of your own culture.
It’s about seeing different angles. Reading the Bible with a multicultural lens allows you to to see multiple perspectives. Once you see it from the angle of someone who is outside of your culture then you are better able to see your own cultural blind spots.
So that’s why it matters. Here’s how to do it
You need the right tools
First you need the right tools. The one most important thing you need to do to read the Bible with a multicultural lens is to understand the text as it was first written. That’s hard to do but having the right commentaries can help a ton.
Here’s a list of commentaries from non Western and from Western authors:
- The South Asia Bible Commentary
- Africa Bible Commentary
- True to Our Native Land: An African American New Testament Commentary
- Santa Biblia (Not a commentary but very helpful with Latin American interpretations of scripture)
- IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament
- IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament
The other set of tools you need are some cultural frameworks. Although most cultures are different they can usually be classified into a few different frameworks or categories. One of the tools you can use comes from Sherwood Lingenfelter’s Ministering Cross Culturally.
In Lingenfelter’s book he talks about how different people and cultures operate in the world along a continuum of
- time vs event orientation
- dichotomist vs holistic thinking
- crisis vs non crisis orientation
- task vs person orientation
- status vs achievement focus
- willingness to conceal vs willingness to reveal vulnerability
Studying the biblical text with these things in mind can open up riches in understanding the world back then and the people down the street.
Another way to think about cultural frameworks comes from the book Leading Across Cultures by James E. Plueddemann. It show the different leadership and church styles. When you see the different styles you will immediately know which culture you lean towards individually and congregationally.
You need the right eyes
Look at the people in the text who are different from you. This may be hard at first. We all want to be the hero. The heroes are usually the people in power. But try looking for the people who are not in power. Look for the ones who are marginalized.
Look at the people in the world who are different from you. Think about your Thai neighbor. What about your Nigerian coworker who is a long way from home. How would the text affect them?
You need the right questions
Having the right tools and the right eyes are the first two steps. But nothing is better than having the right questions. The right questions always help. When we question the text empathetically and look at how this would be received from another point of view there is so much the Bible can teach us.
Here are two of the most basic questions to get you started:
How would they experience this?
How is this good news for them?
Because that’s the main point isn’t it. How is this good news for someone? And each person has an idea of what good news is according to their cultural understanding.
So this is how to get started reading the Bible multiculturally. Is there anything I missed? Anything you would add?