“Your epidermis is showing!” my friends gasped, struggling to keep straight faces. Noticing the mischief in their eyes, I rolled my own with feigned confidence and hoped nothing embarrassing was actually happening. Still, I felt uneasy until I learned that “epidermis” was just a fancy word for skin. Their teasing capitalized on the distress we feel when we learn that something we thought was hidden (or didn’t know existed) is on public display.
In the introduction to Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, Randy Richards writes of one such experience, which he had as a missionary in Indonesia. The elders of a church came to him with a serious problem: years earlier, a young couple had moved to the village after committing a terrible sin. Since then, they’d been exemplary Christians, and now they wanted to join the church. But the leaders were hesitant because of the couple’s checkered past.
The leaders reluctantly revealed the couple’s sin: they had eloped against their parents’ wishes. Randy responded with astonishment, “That’s it? What was the sin?”
They were floored. “Have you never read Paul?” they asked in disbelief.
They were referring to Ephesians 6:1, where Paul tells us to obey our parents. Certainly believers ought to take Paul seriously, especially concerning one of the most important decisions of one’s life! In that moment, Randy realized that his Western worldview was coloring his application of Scripture.
Worldview is much deeper than beliefs or opinions. It is composed of our fundamental ideas about the nature and purpose of everything, how we know what is true, and the resulting system of values that governs society (see Mimi Haddad, “Ideas Have Consequences,” Priscilla Papers 28.1). These elements inform and reinforce each other to create an internally consistent understanding of everything. This, in turn, scripts our interactions with the world, from friendships to politics.
Our worldviews filter how we perceive the world, causing us to absorb and process information in ways that reinforce what we already believe. Thus, we’re unlikely to recognize or question our own worldviews unless someone else exposes them. When that happens, we’re often left bewildered and troubled, at a loss as to how to proceed. This is what happened to Randy Richards in Indonesia. His worldview was showing.
In Randy’s culture, children are to obey their parents; adults make their own decisions. Indeed, an important reason children ought to obey their parents is to ensure they’ll grow up to be discerning adults who make independent decisions. Naturally, Randy thought only of children when reading Paul’s command.
In the Indonesians’ culture, even adult children are expected to obey their parents or community leaders. Naturally, they assumed this passage applied to everyone, no matter their age.
Both Randy and the Indonesian church leaders inserted their assumptions about the world into Paul’s command, conflating their respective worldviews with God’s Word.
In this case, the Indonesians’ worldview is much closer to that of Paul’s audience. So, if we are to be obedient to the Bible, shouldn’t we all trade our individualism for the Indonesian (and Paul’s) way of thinking? Shouldn’t we surrender our decision-making power to our parents? I haven’t done this, and I suspect that most people reading this won’t either.
A lot of us in the West are likely to advocate discretion, noting that Paul condones slavery and encourages head coverings and other practices not universally embraced by Christians. The Bible doesn’t condemn them, but the very nature of the gospel message challenges their necessity (and in the case of slavery, their morality). Sadly, many believers are less discerning when it comes to another element of ancient culture—patriarchy. They embrace it, citing its biblical precedent.
Of course, patriarchy is biblical. In the very same sense that slavery is biblical. It is part of the cultures in which the Bible was written, and while not explicitly condemned, is at odds with the Bible’s moral teachings.
Egalitarians suggest that just as Scripture challenges any worldview that endorses slavery or racism, it also opposes any worldview that endorses patriarchy. In response, we ought to dismantle patriarchy in the name of Jesus.
That’s easier said than done, of course. In this issue, we’ll take a first step: expose some of the ways that patriarchal worldviews are scripting our views of gender and of the Bible. And we’ll look at how to navigate differing views on gender within the Christian community in a way that tears down walls so we can pursue God together.
Let’s allow our worldviews to be exposed, and let’s ask God to reconfigure them to reflect his desire for the world.