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An Interview with Dr Randy Richards:
Keynote Presenter 2023
“I am always a Bible learner,” said Dr. E. Randolph Richards as we talked. He was referring to the fact that no matter how learned we become, the Bible, through the Holy Spirit, always has something new to teach us. He and co-author Brandon O’Brien have written a book to help us understand the Bible more clearly called, Misreading the Bible with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible. (IVP) This book will be the theme of Dr. Richard’s keynote addresses at the upcoming online Festival of Biblical Telling, February 3-5, 2023.
Randy, as he likes to be called, spoke to me from his home in Wisconsin via video, with his cat sharing the computer screen. This is the second time I have spoken with him. He holds a PhD from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary; his thesis having been on the apostle Paul. He currently is Research Professor of New Testament at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Randy speaks internationally and has authored and co-authored several other books that have intriguing titles, such as, Paul Behaving Badly and Misreading Scripture with Individualist Eyes. He has lived throughout the United States and spent eight years in ministry in Indonesia. It is these years that humbled and inspired him to write about culture and biblical literacy.
He, at 64, is going to be teaching online this year and living with his wife, Stacia, near two of his young grandsons. There was most definitely a happy twinkle in his eye as he announced that grandson number three was going home with his parents from the hospital that day as well. Randy and Stacia have two sons, who are accomplished academically.
He was easy to talk to, smiled a lot, and put me at ease immediately. He gently pointed out things that pulled me, the listener, in, and made me curious for him to share more of his thoughts. I asked him what it was that made him write this book. The idea for Misreading the Bible with Western Eyes first began forming when Randy was in Indonesia and experiencing living and teaching in a totally different culture.
He told me about sitting with a group of elders in a remote village near Borneo. “A young couple had relocated to their village many years before because they had committed a grievous sin in their home village. For as long as they had resided here, they had lived exemplary lives of godliness and had attended church faithfully. Now, a decade later, they wanted to join the church. 'Should we let them?' asked the obviously troubled elders.” When Randy asked them what the terrible sin was, to his surprise, they shared that it was because they had eloped and left their home village, thus had been disobedient to their parents. They asked Randy if he had never read Paul? Since his Ph D was on Paul, he thought he had. “They were willing to admit that everyone makes mistakes. We don’t always obey. But surely one should obey in what is likely the most important decision of his or her life: choosing a spouse…. My 'American Paul' clearly did not expect his command to include adult children deciding whom to marry…..”
Through a couple of decades, his thoughts about the way culture shapes our perspective on Bible teachings grew until he was ready to present a paper at Oxford University about it. He asked his former teaching assistant, Brandon, to read through his paper to make sure that everything was in order so that his presentation would go smoothly. After studying Randy’s paper, Brandon suggested that the presentation would make a good and helpful book. Randy asked Brandon to co-author the book and together they have brought new insights to help us to understand Scripture better.
Examining our own cultural mores and learning those of the cultures the Bible was written in can only help to make our by-heart telling of Scripture more informed and accurate. Accompanying these keynote addresses will be accomplished biblical tellers, sharing relevant stories from the book of Acts. They will interact with Dr. Richards about his topics in the last portion of each keynote session. Rev. Bev Brazier, United Church pastor from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and one of last year’s excellent keynote speakers, and Dr. Sandyha Ruban Hobday, a pastor and master biblical teller from India, are two of those special guests. We are so excited about this new way of learning with our keynote speaker!
Dr. Richards says, “There are about nine differences between Western and non-Western cultures that we should be aware of when we interpret the Bible.” Some of these differences are “Above the Surface,” like race and ethnicity, and language. Some are “Just Below the Surface” like individualism and collectivism, and time. Some are “Deep Below the Surface,” like rules and relationships, and virtue and vice.
Prepare to have some of your long-held ideas challenged.
Prepare to have the way you think challenged.
Prepare to learn things that help you make sense out of some of your long unanswered questions about the Bible.
As I read the book, one thing that stood out for me was that, although highly readable, it demands a willingness to come to Scripture with humility. The authors ask us to examine our own hearts for bias, for those things that we hope we do not harbour within, but, with a little bit of a searchlight upon our souls, we realize that we all have biases that can obscure our understanding.
Are we brave enough to do this?
So, how do we read Scripture differently? How do we get it right? Richards and O’Brien talk about the value of interpreting the Bible within a community. As biblical tellers, we know the beauty of ‘telling’ and the insights it brings, as it is often done in community. "[Sometimes] we misread because we read alone. That is, we often hear only the interpretations of people just like us. The worldwide church needs to learn to study Scripture together as a global community… As a result of some godly Indonesian elders who were seeking to be faithful to God’s command to obey parents, I (Randy) read Paul more seriously and listen more carefully to the sage advice of my own father. There is danger in allowing a homogenous group of [people] decide together what Scripture means… May we seek to read Scripture with “persons from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9). “
May we seek to do that as Biblical Tellers too!
February 3-5/23 ONLINE
Come and meet Dr. Randy Richards with the Network of Biblical Storytellers Canada!
Interviewed by Heather Seargeant, NBSC Vision Team
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