What do you see when you look at this picuture? 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 what they have been trained 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 necessarily 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 understanding that how we look at things is just as important as what we see. There are certain things about the pictures above 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 you 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 you are a church history buff. Maybe because you have these volumes yourself. Or maybe because you saw them as an organized set - 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, 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? are up for discussion and debate. If 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 analogy 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 this is, is not so much the issue right 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 worldview 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.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    3 replies to "Are you prejudiced in what you see?"

    • Sara

      I had two almost similiar lists (the baby and the pictures made it on both of them, mainly because they were a bit unusual to see), but I also live in a culture that is not my own and have to adapt my behaviour and mannerisms back and forth multiple times in one day. After awhile you tend to look at the same situation in two ways. I first think of how to react as an American (the way Mama raised me), and then how to react as the culture demands (which may be similiar to but does not always match what Mama said). A lot of times I approach faith in the same way. I had a liberal background in Christianity because I studied it at a secular university, and then when I finished school I had to actually practice the faith with toher Christians. The same teachings were taught in two different ways, and the same pull between how to react and what to believe takes place. Do I react as my professor trained me, or how my pastor has? The discussion seems to be very interesting (if only the program wasn’t at the same time I have to work!)…I have to make sure to pick up the book.

    • Chad Winters

      Can we go back to the good old days when all Michael’s stuff was in boxes in the garage?


    • C Michael Patton

      You would be surprised how much stuff is still in the boxes!

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