As an Australian, I realise just how much American culture has influenced today’s Christian practices. Because the USA has been the world’s leading ‘Christian’ superpower, prominent evangelists often have an American worldview, church hymn books include patriotic songs, and missionaries peddle American culture to foreign fields. For better or worse, this will diminish as America’s global influence wanes.
However, 250 years ago we would have said the same about colonial England and its allegiance to King or Queen. Prior to that, the Catholic church was the leading political and ‘Christian’ denomination which integrated its ways into public faith. In our own circles, we may need to wind back the way our ‘denominational and systematic theology’ experience filters God’s Word. The point is, we may have subtly created a cultural idol base on our heritage.
Our faith in Christ should transcend both nations and times and movements. The gospel is universal. Therefore as much as possible I want to ensure that the Jesus I follow is not altered by my western frame of reference. To interpret correctly, it is important to place myself in the setting of the Biblical accounts, rather than read my circumstances into it. A good preparation for Bible study is to spend a few minutes answering these 5 questions, before meditating on a given passage.
- What was said?
- Where was it said?
- Who said it?
- To whom was it said?
- How would the audience have understood what was said, in their day?
As we do this, it will help prevent reading our culture and circumstances into passages. It will be a blessing to see that not only does Jesus love red and yellow, black and white equally, but His gospel is also for all generations and cultures. Arriving at the original message does take time and effort, but we should never take the lazy option with God’s Word. There is a richness that comes with Scripture when it is read with the understanding of the author’s setting.
One other recommendation. Where possible, try and read entire books of the Bible at once. I personally think it more beneficial to read one book of the Bible in one sitting, once per week, than to cover the same territory in a chapter per day. In my experience, the former practice results in more wholistic comprehension within the original setting. It will also helps us be expositors of the Word, rather than topical cherry-pickers.
None of this says, we can’t be thankful for our national citizenship or our heritage, but at the end of the day we are strangers in our countries and this world who are longing for our heavenly home.