What do you see when you look at this picuture?Â You may have seen it before in a previous blog, but describe what you see. Get out a piece of paper and write down the first five observations.
If I were to ask you this question again, what would you say about this picture?
It would not take you long to see that it is the exact same picture. Nevertheless, what if I pressed you to write down the top five observations about this picture. What would you write? Would you write the same things? If you are like most people, you would have no new observations that stand out and make the top five.
J.P. Moreland, in his book Kingdom Triangle, describes humanities tendency to create prejudices very early. These prejudices contribute to our worldview. Like the illustration with the picture, once we have created these prejudices, it is very difficult to see anything other than that which we have programmed ourselves to see. Our first look at the picture makes us less likely to make other observations that are as significant. This is not necessarily a bad thing in-and-of-itself, but it can become problematic when our eyes become prejudiced and unable to see anything other than whatÂ they have been trainedÂ to see.
The consequences for our worldview – our theology, our beliefs, our Christianity – are far-reaching. We create prejudices in our minds at a very early stage in our spiritual life. In particular, we create prejudices about theology – the end times, our view about spiritual gifts, the age of the earth, miracles, etc. Once these are created, it is very difficult to see the picture any other way. These prejudices are preceded by our influences, past experience, genetic make-up, education, culture, and background in general. Many times we mistakenly attribute the creation of these prejudices, not to our own formation – which is subjective and fallible – but to the illumination of the Holy Spirit – which is objective and infallible. But how can we be sure that our prejudices are the right ones? Again, this does not necessarilyÂ mean that these prejudices are always wrong or misleading, or that the Holy Spirit did not impress such things on our mind, but they can provide an uncritical framework that makes our beliefs beyond intellectual justification and ultimately, right or wrong, irresponsible.
We need to be careful understandingÂ that how we look at things is just as important as what we see. There are certain things about the pictures aboveÂ that will stand out too all. Most of you noticed that it is an office. Most also recognized that there were a lot of books. Just about all of youÂ saw the baby (Zack!) and the bike. But beyond this, there were some observations made that stood out to some and not others. The artwork in the back, the television to the right, and the globe on the desk. Some of you even took notice of the volumes of Church history on top. Why? Maybe because youÂ are a church history buff. Maybe because you have these volumesÂ yourself. Or maybe because you saw them as an organized set -Â harmony in the midst of chaos. Whatever your reasons, it is important to note that there are essential elements that stand out and others that don’t based upon who you are.
This is the same with the faith. Some people will create a list of 20-30 of the most essential observations and dogmatize all of them. Others will find hundreds, even thousands,Â of particulars and put them in a catechism. But when all is tallies, the sine qua non of this picture will be generally the same. It is an office with books, an exercise bike, and a baby on the floor. Questions such as What books? How old is the baby? and What kind of bike?Â are up for discussion and debate. IfÂ one were skilled and well researched, they could probably accurately identify many of the books. First they would quickly see that the books have a genera (religion). Then they would observe that the books go in a certain order (Systematic Theology-Apologetics-Culture-Bible Reference-Bible Commentary). Once these two observations are made, the conclusions that they come to about particular books would be more certain, yet there would always be some speculation and room for doubt.
With regards to the Scripture, the analogyÂ is proper. Some people recognize things that others don’t. Some people dogmatize things that other don’t. Some people set their eyes upon something and are unable to see anything else. This is especially dangerous if what you see is not necessarily an essential part of the big picture. If you have grown up in an environment that saw much abuse of alcohol, you may concentrate all your sites on one thing, losing the big picture. If you have been prejudice to see a certain passage one way (if the picture was described to you before you saw it), then you have trouble bringing yourself to see it any other way. You become prejudice in what you see.
Whether your conclusions are right or wrong, as important as thisÂ is,Â is not so much the issueÂ rightÂ now. What is at issue is your ability to justify your conclusions in a manner that has integrity of the mind. We have to be willing to do two things when we approach our beliefs:
1) Be confident enough to approach things with fresh eyes, setting aside our prejudice to let the evidence determine our beliefs. In this we, in humility and fear of the Lord, understand our ability to mistake our confidence based upon prejudice with the leading of the Holy Spirit.
2) Keep our eyes and passions focused on the big picture so that we can represent the Christian worldviewÂ in a way that is faithful to the common leading of the Holy Spirit throughout the ages. This does not mean that we are uninterested in the smaller things (for the big picture is an interpretive sum of its parts), but that we have a hermeneutical spiral which causes us to continually reevaluate our conclusions.
In the end, it is the process that needs to be evaluated and justified just as much as the conclusions. If the process cannot be justified, then the conclusions are going to be unworthy of serious consideration. How do you look at things? Are you led by the Spirit in what you see? If so, how do you know? Be mindful of how you look at things, realizing that your prejudice may be keeping the Holy Spirit out of the process.