In recent years, evangelicals have been pushing for racial reconciliation, multi-ethnic congregations, and greater diversity among leaders and institutions. We know that part of our witness to the gospel is our reconciled relationships as God’s people – redeemed by the blood of Jesus and now called to have Christ’s mind as we seek unity.
But it’s difficult to get excited about “reconciliation” and “diversity” in the abstract, especially if we aren’t close friends with anyone from another ethnicity or culture.
So, let me offer another reason why we should be excited about growing diversity within evangelicalism: Our Bible will get bigger.
One reason I want to see racial reconciliation, multi-ethnic congregations, and greater diversity among evangelicals is because I want more of the Bible. And every time I get to know people from other cultures and backgrounds, my Bible grows. I see new things. I get new angles into the truth of God’s inspired Word. I find new treasures.
Every single time.
Reading with Eastern European Eyes
I can still recount insights – earth-shattering, paradigm-shifting truths – from Romanian preachers exegeting the biblical text from their Eastern European background. I remember the passages and sermons: Doru Hnatiuc on Luke 18, Marius Cruceru on John 21. Or the numerous conversations over the years with my wife, Corina, where in Bible study, she asks me questions about the text that I had never even considered.
Does it seem like 1 Peter 2 contains some difficult counsel about submitting to earthly authorities and honoring your government’s leaders when you’re not particularly fond of them? Listen to someone who was beaten and jailed for their faith preach that same passage.
My Bible got bigger when I lived in Romania because I interacted with believers who brought their Eastern European worldview to the text. They challenged me to ask different questions, and as a result, I found new treasures.
Reading with Different Frameworks
Whenever we do Bible study with believers from around the world and from other cultures, some of the most vexing and “problematic” passages of Scripture (for us Westerners, at least) get reframed.
For example, we often read the conquest narratives of the Old Testament with some apprehension. Aren’t these battles an embarrassing example of colonization? Isn’t this a narrative of subjugation and domination of other lands?
With the haunting specter of our own ancestors’ atrocities toward native peoples, we read these texts with a troubled conscience. Even more troubling is the fact that no other biblical authors – in the Old or New Testaments – seem to share the same concern.
My African-American brothers and sisters read these texts differently. Their recent history more closely resembles that of the Israelites than mine does. So, when I am editing Gospel Project sessions written by the great African-American preacher, Robert Smith, Jr., my love for the book of Joshua grows. I’m joining the story of the Israelites, one generation after their escape from bondage in Egypt. Don’t you think that the descendants of actual slaves might have interesting insights when it comes to these historical books?
Looked at from this angle, the conquest narratives take on a different feel. Israel isn’t a world power targeting small, innocent peoples in these lands, but a poor band of straggling soldiers taking on the mightiest and most wicked empires of the world. It’s a David and Goliath moment, with God turning the world upside down for the good of His people. It’s not as if Israel is like, in The Lord of the Rings, the army of Mordor bearing down on the good little folks of the shire. It’s more like the band of upstart rebel hobbits charging into Mordor and winning.
Reading with Shame and Honor
Your cultural location and your cultural background changes how you read the text.
I’ve written before about one of my favorite examples – the way Russians in St. Petersburg read the story of the Prodigal Son. They almost always cite the famine as one of the main reasons for the son’s return, whereas Westerners often miss that little detail. Fed and full, we don’t know what desperation will drive you to when you’re starving to death. That’s not something in our cultural history, so “famine” doesn’t engender the kind of immediate revulsion and fear that it does in places like St. Petersburg, where a siege in WWII killed millions.
What about when I read the Bible alongside my Asian brothers and sisters? My Bible gets bigger as I start to see just how saturated Scripture is with the themes of honor and shame – as important a facet of biblical theology as innocence and guilt. Adam and Eve running away and hiding – shame, or “losing face.” Some of Jesus’ most beloved stories are driven by the narrative tension of honor versus shame. Furthermore, the shame dimension reminds us just how awful Jesus’ death was, and just how amazing it is that a shame-based culture would promote the crucifixion as the means by which the world is saved.
More Voices, Bigger Bible
The more voices we have access to, the bigger our Bible gets — the more we see what is there, behind our cultural blinders.
I can’t wait for the day there are commentaries from cultures all over the world. I can’t wait for the day publishers don’t just translate English sermons and books into other languages but also give us access to global evangelical leaders who have been translated into English.
Just as we find it beneficial to consult commentaries from other times, so also we will benefit from the insights that come from other cultures. I’m thankful for multi-ethnic relationships, not just because we get the chance to know brothers and sisters in Christ better, but because through them we get more of God’s Word.