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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)
source

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)


5 comments:

  1. About 20 years ago,soon after believing Jesus, I had occasion to read leaflet of Q and A of cathoric. Cathoric writer answered many questions on the leaflet.
    There was a question like this.'Many churches(protestant/orthodox) seem to have many different ways of thinking on biblical faith,how does cathoric church think about this?'
    I was surprised to read author's sentence(part of answer)like that,'We believe that cathoric church is absolutely right,but there are many points of view on it....'.
    Which church can be absolutely right? Only God can be.Off course I know nowadays,cathoric people never answer like this. We christians love surely our church.But maybe we should be more carefull whether our love for our churches causes biases to other christians or not.This is what I learned from this experience.
    I think this post is very thoughtful.It may help not only us protestant/evangelical christians,but cathoric/orthodox ones. Sanae

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dear Sanae, thank you so much for your thoughtful sharing. And I agree with you that we should be more careful about our "love" for our churches/denominations so as not to be blind and biased.

    I think God's heart is not pleased on artificial unity (without the unity by the Holy Spirit) among Christians. But at the same time, we should try our best to not go to sectarian way, either. It is indeed a narrow way! May God help all of us! Kinuko

    ReplyDelete
  3. I don't want to cause needless division, but I am a Catholic, and we believe that the Holy Spirit guides and protects His Holy Catholic (Universal) Church. As Jesus said,

    "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." (Matt: 16-18)

    Now, I'm fairly sure that doctrinal chaos, where nobody had any idea what the correct belief about Jesus was, would constitute the gates of Hades overcoming the Church (since nobody would know how to be saved). This cannot be true, then, because Jesus can't lie or be wrong. Yet we see in the early days, right through the Middle Ages to the Modern Day, that there have been *heretics* - people who believed and taught things totally contrary to the True Faith. For example, the Gnostics, who hated the body, forbade people from marrying, and claimed to have secret knowledge given by Jesus that contradicted Paul & The Apostles. They were wrong, and they led people into wrong belief. They are no longer with us. Similarly with the Arians, Monophysites, Monothelites, Iconoclasts, etc. There are always people trying to pull people away from the Truth. So how can we know what the True Church is? By having a guide, a shepherd, who is truly *infallible*. This, we believe, is the Holy, Catholic & Apostolic Church, one and the same institution founded by Jesus Christ, personally, when he established Peter as the Rock. With this, we can know what the Scriptures truly mean, and know with surety how to be saved. We see the chaos among Protestantism, and weep, for we see what happens when you make the individual the ultimate authority in deciding what Scripture means - lots of seperate groups, most of which disagree with each other, many of whom are irreconcilably different. Surely this can't be what God wants? Surely these words apply:

    "And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd."
    (John 10:16 )

    So we accept the One True Church because without it, Jesus' promise here seems false.

    Sorry if I caused distress, but I feel like I should say something from the Catholic perspective, and how we can know what Church is the True Church.

    Thanks
    Cantus

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Cantus,

      Thank you for your sincere comment. I respect your honesty and straightforwardness. Moreover, I feel that you have a holy passion for our Lord and His church, which is admirable and beautiful. Your observation about the current situations of Protestant churches is correct. It is so lamentable that the Lord’s people are divisive and heteful to each other. Lord Jesus, please forgive us!

      Cantus, now let me share with you about my current perspective reagarding the church. As for “One True Church”, I do believe it exists but my understanding is that, it is “invisible”, meaning it consists of true believers who possess His Spirit. When I read the church history, for example, I have seen the true manifestation of the Holy Spirit in various belivers’ lives who belonged to different denominations.

      I have several reasons why I don’t belong to Catholic church (as well as certain Protestant churches) but at the same time, I don’t draw the boundaries according to the names of churches/denominations.

      I am very serious about teachings/doctrines but at the same time, I believe that His grace is always above our human theological boxes. For example, it is obvious that you are a true believer. I have no doubt about it. And I see true believers inside the protestant churches as well.

      Cantus, thank you so much for opening your heart and share with me.
      Oh, let me share with you one more thing. I know it is a sensitive topic and but I’d like to open my heart to you as well. It is about Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658). For years, he was my hero. However, some years ago, I was guided to search about this period more and found that “Oliver Cromwell” whom I had thought and the historical reality were not the same. And I read about the bloody, tragic invasion to Ireland, which really broke my heart.

      I have learned that when Christians started to use political power in order to accomplish their religious goals, it almost always ends up in disaster. Jesus’ Kingdom is not of the world (John 18:36).

      Thank you for reading! May God bless you and your beloved ones. Kinuko

      Delete
    2. Dear Cantus,

      Thank you for your sincere comment. I respect your honesty and straightforwardness. Moreover, I feel that you have a holy passion for our Lord and His church, which is admirable and beautiful. Your observation about the current situations of Protestant churches is correct. It is so lamentable that the Lord’s people are divisive and heteful to each other. Lord Jesus, please forgive us!

      Cantus, now let me share with you about my current perspective reagarding the church. As for “One True Church”, I do believe it exists but my understanding is that, it is “invisible”, meaning it consists of true believers who possess His Spirit. When I read the church history, for example, I have seen the true manifestation of the Holy Spirit in various belivers’ lives who belonged to different denominations.

      I have several reasons why I don’t belong to Catholic church (as well as certain Protestant churches) but at the same time, I don’t draw the boundaries according to the names of churches/denominations.

      I am very serious about teachings/doctrines but at the same time, I believe that His grace is always above our human theological boxes. For example, it is obvious that you are a true believer. I have no doubt about it. And I see true believers inside the protestant churches as well.

      Cantus, thank you so much for opening your heart and share with me.
      Oh, let me share with you one more thing. I know it is a sensitive topic and but I’d like to open my heart to you as well. It is about Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658). For years, he was my hero. However, some years ago, I was guided to search about this period more and found that “Oliver Cromwell” whom I had thought and the historical reality were not the same. And I read about the bloody, tragic invasion to Ireland, which really broke my heart.

      I have learned that when Christians started to use political power in order to accomplish their religious goals, it almost always ends up in disaster. Jesus’ Kingdom is not of the world (John 18:36).

      Thank you for reading! May God bless you and your beloved ones. Kinuko

      Delete