Friday, April 10, 2015

How to deal with our own preconceptions or biases―in search of understanding the Scripture

Old woman is earnestly reading the Bible source

One of the things which I have been struggling is the existence of deep-rooted preconceptions or biases in my mind.

When I first came to live in Greece, I had (secretly) boasted of my Protestantism, thinking that unlike Greek orthodox people who are following human opinions or traditions, we Protestant Christians adhere to the Bible and nothing else. Sola Scriptura!

However, over the years, I have come to realize that the things were not so simple as I had thought. It is true that we don’t have “church fathers” like Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian etc, nonetheless, we Protestant/Evangelical Bible-believing Christians are also deeply indoctrinated into various human opinions or denominational biases.

Plus, I am very careful about my own pagan background, asking the Lord to help me discern the root of my thinking so as not to interpret the Bible with an carnal, non-biblical mindset.

Recently, I read the intriguing book regarding this issue; Exegetical Fallacies by D.A. Carson. It was truly an eye-opening book. The author is dealing with various fallacies which serious, well-intended Bible-believing Christians tend to be trapped in the process of understanding and interpreting the Bible. Here are some excerpts from this book;

“Careful handling of the Bible will enable us to ‘hear’ it a little better. It is all too easy to read the traditional interpretations we have received from others into the text of Scripture. Then we may unwittingly transfer the authority of Scripture to our traditional interpretations and invest them with a false, even an idolatrous, degree of certainty.

Because traditions are reshaped as they are passed on, after a while we may drift far from God’s Word while still insisting all our theological opinions are ‘biblical’ and therefore true. 
If we are in such a state we study the Bible uncritically, more than likely it will simply reinforce our errors. If the Bible is to accomplish its work of continual reformation--reformation of our lives and our doctrine—we must do all we can to listen to it afresh, and utilize the best resources at our disposal.” (p.14)

One decisive insight which I have got from this book is the concept of “distanciation.” It shed light on some of my confused points and oh, how I was delighted to know this wise counsel!

It might be a bit long but please allow me to share with you this particular discovery. Here is what the author says about the importance of “distanciation.”

“The fallacy at hand offers the clearest need for distanciation on the part of the interpreter. Unless we recognize the ‘distance’ that separates us from the text being studied, we will overlook differences of outlook, vocabulary, interest; and quite unwittingly we will read our mental baggage into the text without pausing to ask if that is appropriate.

We are truly prepared to understand a text only after we have understood some of the difference between what the text is talking about and what we gravitate to on the same subject. Failure to recognize the nature and scope of our own mental equipment is to commit what David Hackett Fischer calls the Baconian fallacy: 
"The Baconian fallacy consists in the idea that a historian can operate without the aid of preconceived questions, hypotheses, ideas, assumptions, theories, paradigms, postulates, prejudices, presumptions, or general presuppositions of any kind. He is supposed to go a-wandering through the dark forest of the past, gathering facts like nuts and berries, until he has enough to make a general truth. Then he is to store up his general truths until he has the whole truth. This idea is doubly deficient, for it commits a historian to the pursuit of an impossible object by an impracticable method." (David Hackett Fischer, Historians’ Fallacies: Toward a Logic of Historical Thought, p 4) 
This does not mean real knowledge is impossible. Rather, it means that real knowledge is close to impossible if we fail to recognize our own assumptions, questions, interests, and biases; but if we recognize them and, in dialogue with the text, seek to make allowances for them, we will be better able to avoid confusing our own world-views with those of the biblical writers. (Exegetical Fallacies,p 106-107)
I am so grateful for the above statements, for I am learning that the very recognition that I have my own preconceptions/biases will be the starting point for understanding the Scripture better. This was such a consolation to me!

Moreover, God granted us the Spirit of truth. “For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.” (I Cor 2:10 b)

This is my sincere prayer that we may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding till "we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." (Col 1:9, Eph 4:13)