Saturday, July 01, 2006

Presuppositions: "Pre"-"Suppositions"

There have been some very interesting topics going around the blog world lately. In interacting with others, I have noticed that we all come from different perspectives colored by our life experiences, educational backgrounds and individual stations in life. We each come to the blogosphere with our own presuppositions. I would like us to take a little time to think about our individual presuppositions, and how they affect our interactions in the world of blogging, and our day-to-day encounters with people who share our perspectives as well as those who do not.

What are presuppositions? First, lets ask what a supposition is. According to Dictionary.com, a supposition is "something supposed; an assumption." A presupposition is defined as "to believe or suppose in advance". When used as a noun, it means "the act of presupposing; a supposition made prior to having knowledge (as for the purpose of argument)". Therefore, I think it would be fair to define a presupposition as "an assumed understanding of a thing decided upon before acquiring a complete knowledge of the subject."

Is it bad to have presuppositions? I don't believe it is. As a matter of fact, I think that it is impossible not to do so. Because of factors within and beyond our control, we all enter into and experience an idea with certain core beliefs which act as a lens through which view the subject at hand. Presuppositions are not within themselves harmful, but they can quickly become so when we fail to recognize them for what they are; assumptions made without complete knowledge of a subject.

As I see it, the danger is in our confusing our own presuppositions with absolute truth. When these two become enmeshed, it is hard to separate our own opinions from the facts. This becomes especially true when dealing with theological and doctrinal issues. If we are not cautious, we quickly confuse what the Bible actually says with our own interpretation thereof. This can lead us to be uncompromising in the name of defending "biblical truth". The danger is two-fold. First, we can easily mislead ourselves and others with ideas that we superimpose upon the text. Second, we are hardly teachable because instead of being open to whatever the truth may be, we believe that we have already found it.

It is sobering to realize that the lens we look through is sometimes "a dark glass". (1 Corinthians 13:12) Many times I have staunchly defended an idea that, upon later examination, I found wanting. Many times, I have read my own ideas into the Bible, instead of letting the Bible formulate God's ideas within me. Most of the time, I have never even noticed that this was happening.

Jesus made a sobering statement:

Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind." Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, "What? Are we blind too?" Jesus said, "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains. John 9:39-41 NIV

Notice that Jesus did not condemn the Pharisees for not knowing everything about the Kingdom. Instead, He pronounced them guilty of sin because, while being ignorant, they claimed to have it all figured out. I get weary of conversing with people who seem to have all of their "doctrinal duckies" in a row. Some people package their systematic theology so air-tight, that it seems they leave little room for the Holy Spirit to bring enlightenment and correction into their lives. Instead of approaching every subject with a level of humility, we sometimes go into a discussion with a view to "winning", or changing the other person's mind. What happens is that we remain in the same level of maturity that we entered the discussion with. Instead of growth, we experience stagnation.

Why do we insist on our own viewpoints? Well, there are probably more complex reasons than I can address here, but I think that one reason I have seen in my own life is a level of personal insecurity. When my identity is based solely on how "correct" my belief system is, then my life becomes like a stack of dominoes. If I allow you to push one over, then my entire world-view and identity might come crashing down. This is very threatening to one's sense of spiritual and mental equilibrium. After all, if I am wrong about this, then I might be wrong about that, which means I might be wrong in this area....etc., etc. So, instead of looking at each conversation, each discussion as an opportunity for growth, we pull out our doctrinal armor, and begin to do battle.

This takes me back to my previous post on "Truth...Proposition or Person?". Am I called to embrace a highly-nuanced set of propositions, or a living relationship with a living Person? If it is the former, then I will fight tooth and nail to defend the "truth". If it is the latter, then I can become pliable, ready for my own ideas to be challenged, and if need be, found wanting, because I realize that my identity is in Jesus, not in how "right" I can be. After all, if my interpretations and opinions will not hold water, why should I be afraid to discard them?

So, what should we do? Well, I think that the answer is not to abandon all of our presuppositions and thus be "tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching". (Ephesians 4:14 NIV) Instead, I think that the answer lies in our recognizing what our presuppositions are: supposed ideas that are "pre"sumed, and are therefore derived prior to having a complete understanding of a subject. My presupposition is that this will help each of us to enter every conversation with humility, discerning biblical truth from our own "assumed understanding" of such. What do you think?

4 comments:

Mom & Dad said...

Good observations. I agree with you 100% We need to take all of our ideas from the past and compare them to what God has to say in His word.

Mom

Anonymous said...

Here - more than 6 years after written - your thoughtful and well written "blog" is inspiring. The last "thought" begs the question, 'What does the Bible or Scriptures REALLY say?' Why? Because even the most ancient manuscripts available to us are themselves copies and translations. Moses and David wrote their verse in Paleo-Hebrew, not Babylonian-Hebrew from which the LXX and Vulgate are derived.
The more I study the more I realize that my 'looking glass' is dark indeed.
msrk: markprep@yahoo.com

Anonymous said...

Here - more than 6 years after written - your thoughtful and well written "blog" is inspiring. The last "thought" begs the question, 'What does the Bible or Scriptures REALLY say?' Why? Because even the most ancient manuscripts available to us are themselves copies and translations. Moses and David wrote their verse in Paleo-Hebrew, not Babylonian-Hebrew from which the LXX and Vulgate are derived.
The more I study the more I realize that my 'looking glass' is dark indeed.
Mark: markprep@yahoo.com

Cindy Dy said...

It's enjoyable to learn more and more from your blog. Thanks for sharing.

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