Many, if not most of us, have spent most of our lives in the same place. We have become accustomed to one cultural context and specific ways of thinking. For this reason, when it comes to systems of learning like theology, it is easy for us to take things for granted or to make subconscious assumptions about what we are studying. In addition, in our noisy lives, it is easy to brush off the messages of the Bible and to forget for Whom we are living. The result is that we often are limited in our understanding of the Bible, and we let our “normal lives” drown out its messages. What can we do? We ought to be more awake and alert and ready, as we wait for the Bridegroom (Matthew 25), and we ought to be attentive to the voices of those with different perspectives and understandings who are able to better our understanding of the Scriptures.
For those of us living in the twenty-first century in a Western country, we might particularly be at risk and have difficulty relating to the Biblical context. In addition, many of us in the United States have lived around wealthy people (and may ourselves be wealthy), in contrast with the poverty in so many countries outside of the West. How then can we expect to understand the Bible and its messages fully? Without careful study of the Biblical cultural context, and without the insight from people that can relate to it more, we are likely to miss some of what it says.
However, there may be an even greater danger that might apply to anyone studying the Bible. I think it is very easy to be a passive reader, to study the Bible without really considering what it says, without considering other possible interpretations of passages, and without letting it affect our daily actions and lives. We are in danger of being the person in James 1 who reads the Bible and forgets what it says, or at least “leaves it there,” reading the Bible as an old book of fiction that is not still powerful, life-changing, and active. We might even be in danger of living like those in Sodom who “had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49). I think these dangers are particularly acute in our modern Western context, where we are largely removed from the poverty and neediness of the world, and from the people with whom Jesus spent most of His time.
Where am I going with all of this? I am simply saying that I am afraid that we are not asking ourselves “what am I missing?” It is so easy for us to be complacent with where we are in our lives. We are at “prosperous ease” (Ezekiel 16:49), and I think it is dangerous. I think the devil is at work where we are figuratively asleep or satisfied and content with our lives. I am not saying that it is wrong to be satisfied and content; I am saying that I do not think Jesus meant for us to have simply passive lives.
We are called to action (James 2). In addition, we ought to heed the voices of those with different perspectives and worldviews. There are Christians all around the world, and many of them just might have a better grasp of the Scriptures because their cultural contexts and histories may be closer to the Biblical context. We ought to listen to the voices of African, Asian, and Latin-American believers more than we already do. Are we not all part of the same Church? Will not all cultures and peoples be represented in heaven (Revelation 7)? Therefore, we might do well to hear different understandings and perspectives of the truth of the Bible. In our complacent and self-assuring study of the Bible, we are bound to miss things. We ought to be vigilant, questioning of ourselves, and open to the words of many different voices, that we might not be found asleep and unfaithful when our time is up.