I was reading a blurb from a sermon by Tim Keller on Preachingtoday.com (sermons can be quite interesting) in which he talked about how the Bible will inherently contradict and offend every culture at least once. I was incredibly intrigued by this as I have trouble reading the Bible and not being offended myself. Here is what he had to say:
“Many of us read a certain passage of Scripture and say, “That’s so regressive, so offensive.” But we ought to entertain the idea that maybe we feel that way because in our particular culture that text is a problem. In other cultures that passage might not come across as regressive or offensive.
Let’s look at just one example. In individualistic, Western societies, we read the Bible, and we have a problem with what it says about sex. But then we read what the Bible says about forgiveness—”forgive your enemy;” “forgive your brother seventy times seven;” “turn the other cheek;” “when your enemy asks for your shirt, give him your cloak as well”—and we say, “How wonderful!” It’s because we are driven by a culture of guilt. But if you were to go to the Middle East, they would think that what the Bible has to say about sex is pretty good. (Actually, they might feel it’s not strict enough!) But when they would read what the Bible says about forgiving your enemies, it would strike them as absolutely crazy. It’s because their culture is not an individualistic society like ours. It’s more of a shame culture than a guilt culture.
Let me ask you a question: If you’re offended by something in the Bible, why should your cultural sensibilities trump everybody else’s? Why should we get rid of the Bible because it offends your culture? Let’s do a thought experiment for a second. If the Bible really was the revelation of God, and therefore it wasn’t the product of any one culture, wouldn’t it contradict every culture at some point? Therefore, if it’s really from God, wouldn’t it have to offend your cultural sensibilities at some point? Therefore when you read the Bible, and you find some part of it outrageous and offensive, that’s proof that it’s probably true, that it’s probably from God. It’s not a reason to say the Bible isn’t God’s Word; it’s a reason to say it is. What makes you think that because this part or that part of God’s Word is offensive, you can forget Christianity altogether?”
Tim Keller, in the sermon Literalism: Isn’t the Bible Historically Unreliable and Regressive?, PreachingToday.com
Really good stuff there. Stuff I hadn’t really given much thought or consideration before. I would agree with Tim that various cultures interpret the same text differently and may have more or less qualms about particular parts than others might. I would even take that a step further and, instead of comparing North American culture to Islam (which is really like comparing apples to oranges) I would compare different regions of America itself. The south has a far different culture than the west. California girls are much different from southern belles; They hold different values and insights about the world and the way it ought to be. So, to this degree, I believe Tim is absolutely right. However, the things that I take offense to in the Bible are not about culture to me- and that’s not just my culture talking either!
The things I take offense to in the Bible are about the infringement on universal rights, no matter what, whom or where. When the Bible describes a woman as being unclean and inferior and the origin of all sin, people should take offense because it is so blatantly hateful and wrong. Now, are men in the Middle East likely to agree with the Bible on this one? Sure. But does that make it right? Absolutely not. Not even one hundred years ago, we as Americans were hardly offended by the passages in the Bible about slavery. In fact, the Bible was used as a defense of it! Nowadays we have laws forbidding it but who’s to say that if those laws were to somehow magically disappear that we would not resort back to it? Would that be considered a cultural opinion? Shouldn’t everyone be repulsed by the idea of “owning” another human being? Cultural or not?
I think the problem with this sermon is that it had a good foundation for an argument, but fell severely short. Just because a book says something that offends some but not others based on their cultural beliefs, does not make what the book is saying right or just. As a human species, as a whole, we should not ever be unaffected by inequality, rape, murder, social injustices or anything of the like, regardless of cultural background. People should always be treated with respect, no matter their differences, and we should NEVER, under any circumstances, turn the other way when they are not. THAT is what the Bible should be about. There should be nothing in it that can be viewed as “regressive” because if an all-knowing, omnipotent god spoke it, it should outlast the test of time and be relevant in any age and in any culture. This is what makes me think I can “forget Christianity altogether”. And, it’s what made me do it.